So much happens (and doesn’t) in a week

So much happens in a week, doesn’t it?  Although I was in the habit of blogging every day, I have found in the last several weeks that even if I write whenever I have a free chunk of time, I only fit in about once a week.  While the discipline of daily blogging provides the volume of writing that is sure to hone my craft, the necessity of weekly blogging makes me carefully consider what is going to get my time.

So what should I choose to write about?

  • One of the ten or more students that I met within the last week?
  • The Supreme Court’s decision on Gay Marriage?
  • The Controversy over the Confederate flag?
  • Seeing extended family at a funeral?
  • Welcoming my son home for his leave from the military?
  • Attending a worship service with hundreds of Lutherans at the Michigan District Convention?
  • The storm that flooded the basement in our home in Missouri?
  • The tomatoes and kale that are growing in my yard?
  • Or one of any number of other events that took place in the past week?

Although I often mention my students in my writing, I try to stay away from too much detail so as to preserve their confidentiality. Countless Americans have weighed in on the Supreme Court decision, slightly fewer have commented on the Confederate flag; I’m sure I won’t add to that discussion.  Seeing family was priceless, but I am not sure I can capture the meaning of the connection between cousins, that spans time and distance, in mere words.  The news of my son’s visit is pasted all over my Facebook page; it doesn’t need to be in my blog, too.

The worship service in Concordia’s chapel, in which hundreds of voices sang a cappella in harmony, was beautiful. Our house was preserved from devastating damage during a severe storm, Praise God. And, guys, my brown thumbs are growing things! But, I’m not sure I want to write about any of that, either!

So perhaps it would be best if I write about what didn’t happen this week.

  • I didn’t become bored with teaching; I am still enjoying every minute — from editing, to grammar instruction, to practicing sight words, to (gasp!) math.
  • My love for the freedoms we enjoy in America did not change, nor did my love for all of God’s people.
  • I didn’t suddenly decide that people who have the right to free speech should be insensitive to the meanings that words and symbols communicate to others.
  • I was not disappointed in the love exchanged between my family members.
  • I did not turn away when my daughter, who hadn’t seen her brother in eighteen months, leapt into his arms at the airport. Nor did I look away when he held her and hugged her back.
  • I was not unimpressed by the beauty of hundreds of voices lifted in praise.
  • I did not panic when the property manager called to inform us of the damage from the flooding.
  • I did not kill any plants.
  • I didn’t spend the time I like to spend in Bible study and prayer,
  • and,  God did not stop being faithful to me.

And there is the nugget, ladies and gentlemen.  Amid work and politics, family farewells and reunions, worship and loss, growth and failure, God is still God.  He is still faithful.  He still reigns.  Nothing we do or don’t do will ever change his character or consistency.  He is with us; we have nothing to fear.

And nothing formed against me shall stand
You hold the whole world in Your hands
I’m holding on to Your promises

You are faithful

-Chris Tomlin

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Calming the Storm

Yesterday morning amid the craziness of preparing for her son’s high school open house, my sister-in-love insisted that we all pause and attend a worship service.  Yes, there was plenty to do, but she really wanted to worship as a family; so we did. We left food that needed to be prepared, a house that needed to be straightened, and decorations that had yet to be placed to hear the Word of God and be changed.

We did not come back empty-handed.  At least I did not.

I have been one who has identified with Martha of Mary and Martha fame.  While Mary dutifully sits at the feet of Jesus, I am usually scurrying around fixing one more thing. In fact –full disclosure –I even suggested to my sister-in-love that if there was too much to do, we could forgo church.  (Some pastor’s wife I am, right?) No, she said, this was important to her.

It became important to me, too.

I mean, the sermon was from the classic story — the disciples and Jesus are out in the boat when a storm arises.  Jesus is sleeping soundly, and the disciples start to freak out.  “Jesus, Jesus, wake up!!!  Don’t you see the storm?” Jesus nonchalantly wakes up, says “Peace, be still,” and the storm stops. Then he looks at the disciples and says, “Uh, guys, why are you freaking out? Do you still not trust me?”

Yeah, silly disciples, do you still not trust Him?

I was feeling pretty smug until the preacher referred to St. Augustine’s suggestion that Christ is asleep within us when the storms of our lives hit.  We see the turmoil and  disruption and start to freak out. We forget that Christ is within us and fully able to calm whatever this ‘storm’ may be.  Why am I freaking out? Do I still not trust Him?

So today I was at work feeling pretty good about myself.  In each of the lessons I was leading, things were going pretty well. I was feeling confident — maybe a little too confident.

And then a storm hit.  I was working with my last student of the day and he was resisting me.  We were being silly, and we got off on a sidetrack.  He was testing my ability to bring him back. I couldn’t do it.  What’s worse is that my mentor was in the room with us.  The student was getting frustrated.  I was getting frustrated. The mentor was getting frustrated.  We limped through the rest of the session with little to no productivity.

When the session was over, I asked my mentor what she thought had happened.  What was up with the kid today?  (Surely it was him, not me!) She hypothesized a few things that could’ve been up with him and then she said, “I think you need to be firmer with him.  He is taking advantage of the fact that you haven’t been holding the line with him.”

Ouch.  I was at fault.  I did something wrong.

Now, this shouldn’t be a big deal, right? Everyone makes mistakes.  All day long I tell my students that the best learning happens when we make mistakes.  In fact, about half of the strategies I have learned at this job are for error-handling.  We praise what the student got right, then help him identify his own errors and self-correct.  In seeing his own errors, he learns how to make the correction.

That’s all that happened to me today.  I made an error, I tried to blame it on the kid, and my mentor helped me identify the real source of the problem.  So, I should just learn where the error happened so that I can prevent it in the future, right?

Well, then why do I feel so lousy? Because I think I am in charge of calming the storm!  I think that my worth and acceptance are based on what I do or don’t do, what I achieve or don’t achieve, what I get right or what I get wrong.

But they don’t!  My worth and acceptance are based on the Guy who is ‘sleeping’ within me.  And, guys, He’s not really asleep!  I have just forgotten that He is with me and that He is fully capable to calming the storm.

Well, I got home today, feeling a bit lousy about what happened with this student.  And guess what happened…a real storm showed up on the weather forecast — a severe thunderstorm warning.  I was scheduled to meet another student about twenty minutes away, but we agreed that because of the weather, we should postpone.

Well, you know, I had nothing better going on, so I did my Bible study. (Insert sigh here.) The reading for today was from Exodus 33 where God says He will not go forward with the Israelites because they are ‘stiff-necked’ (ouch).  Moses, who was way smarter than me said, “If your presence will not go with me, do not bring us from here.” He knew more than the disciples did.  He knew that if the Lord went with him he would have everything he needed.  He knew that if the Lord went with him, it would be known that he had found favor in God’s sight.

Have you connected the dots with me? God indeed does go with me.  He is inside of me.  His very presence declares to me and to the world that I have found favor in His sight — whether I do a good job or a lousy job with my students, whether I feel good about the way or look or not, whether I am sick or healthy, whether I am rich or poor.

When I drink in that truth — that I have found favor in His sight — the storms around me and within me calm.  I am no longer in the wind and the waves.  I am resting securely in the boat, coasting on lake, basking in the sun.

That’s what He has for us — calm, security, and basking in the sun — because He has and will continue to calm the storms.

Psalm 107:29

He made the storms be still, and the waves of the sea were hushed.

Reviewing Observations

Last June I resigned my full-time teaching/school administrator position to relocate to Michigan from Missouri.  I did this because a) I love my husband; and  b) I have a life-style changing auto-immune disease. I took six months off from work and have been gradually introducing more and more work into my life since January. I’m almost a year into this grand experiment, and  I’m eady to review some of my observations.

After the initial dust settled from our cross-country move, I spent a significant amount of time on the couch watching Netflix, in my bed resting, at the gym exercising, and on my computer blogging.  I really needed that time to recover after over 20 years of parenting, schooling, and working at or above my human capacity.  It was lovely — I had time to make friends, I began to listen to my body, I reconnected with my love for writing. It was healing physically, yes, and also emotionally.  For the first time in twenty-two years, my husband and I were living alone, enjoying a slower pace, and sucking up every minute of it.

But, I couldn’t quite rest easily because I didn’t have any students in my life. I know, I know –over the past umpteen years I have fussed and fumed about the menagerie of kids that have sat across the table from me — they are egocentric, they don’t meet deadlines, and, indeed, they smell bad.  But, you know, I love them. I can’t seem to get enough of them.  Something magical exists within each of us — an innate ability to learn, to process, to interact and be changed — that will never cease to take my breath away.  I had to have students back in my life.

It started with just one guy — a graduate student who needed help on his dissertation.  What a joy that was!  I got to have a text-based conversation with him about educational practices and how they impact learning!  That taste just whetted my appetite, so I moved onto a retired writing instructor who had written a novel and just wanted a final proof for grammar and punctuation errors.  That led me to set up a profile on an online service connecting teachers with students for one-on-one assistance.  In six months I have logged over 120 hours with almost twenty different students ranging from sixth graders to graduate students.  I’ve worked on research papers, vocabulary lessons, dissertations, speeches, and test preparation.  Each lesson is different, each student a challenge.

So why didn’t I stop there?  While tutoring independently, I could still maintain my exercise regimen, still build friendships, still find time to rest.  Why did I have to push the limits and take on a job that will soon be at forty hours a week for the duration of the summer? Because I had to know. I had to know if I was imagining my limitations or if they were real.  Maybe I was just burnt out from teaching and sorely in need of a vacation.  Maybe I had imagined all my symptoms.  Surely I didn’t have that much pain, that much fatigue, that much stiffness.  How could a regular job be too difficult for me?

Because it is.  This week I worked thirty-two hours at the agency and an additional seven hours tutoring.  Not quite 40 hours, but it was a bit too much.  Yesterday, at the end of an eight-hour shift, I met some friends for drinks and dinner.  I called one of my friends by the wrong name — twice!  This is a friend I have known since the fall! I was mortified. I thoroughly enjoyed the evening, but I was home before nine and crawled straight into bed — no reading, no television, no nothing.  I was entirely depleted.

This morning I woke up crabbily.  I can feel the inflammation through my body like an electric current.  It is as if I am electric blanket that has been turned up to ‘high’ —   I can feel all the wires as they heat up.  My lips are dry and tingling. My back and hips ache.  My eyes are screaming, “If you think you are going to put those contacts in, think again!”

Yup, it’s too much.  And, just to be sure, I am going to push it a little further.  This week will be a little lighter because of a trip I am taking for the second half of the week, but then I am certain I will be working over forty hours a week for the duration of the summer.  Why don’t I just walk away now?  Because I know me.  If I walk away right now, I will rest up for a few weeks then start thinking that perhaps I was imagining my fatigue, maybe I didn’t really have all that pain, maybe my symptoms weren’t real.

Nope, I’m not going to walk away right now.  I am going to finish the experiment all the way to the end to be sure I come to all the right conclusions. My hypothesis is that I am going to be utterly exhausted and ready to slow back down, but I’ve got to complete this experiment to be sure.

Psalm 103:8

The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.

for my Stephen

Twenty-one years ago today, twelve days after his due date, my son arrived after a mere four hours of labor weighing over ten pounds — and so began a life that has been marked by a refusal to conform to expectations.

Born to two extremely type-A personalities, this kid is so laid back that behaviorists have almost decided to create a type-C.  He does everything when he wants to, not when convention has determined he should.  For instance, he walked at nine months, but potty trained at three years. At six, he read Popular Science and asked if he could learn how to play the violin– about the same time that we were trying to teach him how to ride a bike.   When all his classmates were looking forward to senior year, he decided to take the GED and try out college.  At twenty-one, he still doesn’t have a license to drive a car, even though he’s driven many vehicles, including large Army machinery.

Some people are impressed with my kid. I mean he’s good-looking, he’s run hundreds of miles already this year, and for his job he has fired weapons and jumped out of planes.  He can talk about any kind of music, or history, or art, or religion or simply laugh with you while watching slapstick. He can clean and reassemble a weapon in no time flat, cook a killer breakfast, and alter or embellish his own clothing.

Some people get annoyed with him. I’ve been there myself — when he disassembled the thermostat when he was two, tried to melt crayons in my oven when he was seven, and got kicked off the school bus for ‘testing’ the emergency door when he was ten. Teachers wrung their hands when he couldn’t be bothered to do homework because he had a “philosophical objection to it.”  He argues sometimes just for the sake of arguing.

Most people are confused by him. Why would he not want to graduate with his class? Why would he decide to join the Army at seventeen? What do you mean he doesn’t want to drive or buy a car? He runs how many miles a week? Studies Art History? Attends college classes when he’s home on leave?

Me? I love the kid. He invades my space, pushes my boundaries, alters my plans, and makes me laugh.  He has refused to be what others have expected him to be, even when they have mocked him, bullied him, or shunned him.  He has continued to stand tall and determine for himself what paths he will take. What could make me prouder? Not one thing.

Over twenty-one years ago I was sound asleep in my bed when I suddenly woke in the middle of the night.  Although I was large with child, we had no idea if we would be having a boy or a girl. In that midnight moment, I felt an overwhelming urge to pray for this unborn child who I felt compelled to name ‘Stephen’.  I felt led to pray that he would have the staying power, as did the Biblical Stephen, to stand in the middle of the rock-throwers and not crumble, to hold true to his faith and his convictions even when others didn’t agree or understand. I was a little overwhelmed in that moment — not knowing what our guy would be up against.  But I’ve watched him for twenty-one years now. I’ve seen him defend his faith, share it with others (even during boot camp or in the belly of an aircraft), and I’ve seen him take his share of rocks.  Let me assure you that God heard that prayer so many years ago. He has made my boy into a man who can stand and not crumble.

 Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom…. and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit..

from Acts 7

Finally time to blog

What a week!  I’ve been so busy, I’ve barely had time to eat, let alone blog!  I know, I know, I have a tendency to speak in hyperbole, but I really am not kidding this time.

In the past seven days I’ve picked up one family member from a trip to Chicago, sent another on a trip to Chicago and the Twin Cities, worked twenty hours, tutored an additional ten, gone to two doctor’s appointments and one hair appointment, grocery shopped, attended a new member class at our church, and that was all before yesterday!

But yesterday — yesterday was the icing on the cake.  I just can’t move on with today before I write about it.

I woke around 5:30 am because our family car was being used elsewhere and I had to be to work at 8:00.  I showered, drank my smoothie, chugged my green tea, donned the clothes I had set out the night before and dashed to the bus stop for a 6:50 pick-up time.  I had placed cash, a chapstick, and my debit card in my pocket in advance so that I wouldn’t have to carry a purse.  I was checking emails on my phone when the bus pulled up.  I slid my hand into my pocket to grab a couple of singles to pay the bus fare.

Once downtown, I hopped off one bus and onto another, checking to make sure I was on the right one (I have a history….).  When I was close to work, I pulled on the cord to request a stop.  I thanked the driver and walked the remaining few blocks to our office.   I chatted with coworkers, punched the time clock, set up for my first student, and made a cup of tea.

During my first hour, as I worked with an eleven-year-old, my mentor observed me, taking notes.  My second hour, the seven-year-old I was working with challenged me to pull all my newly-learned tricks out of my bag to keep him engaged.  The third hour, I was paired with an employee who is newer than me so that could show her the ropes.  (Really? I’m still getting my bearings myself!) The fourth hour I was back with my initial eleven-year-old for his fourth hour of instruction of the day — and we were tasked with outlining and finding quotes for a quasi-analytical paper on The Giver.  Yeah, that was all before noon.

My coworkers and I joined for a staff meeting with lunch provided, then I went out to find my bus home.  I checked my phone to find the closest/quickest route and walked to the stop.  After waiting for about 15 minutes, a bus pulled up.  I checked with the driver, as is becoming my habit, to see if I had the right bus.  Nope — I had missed it.  I rechecked my phone and walked about a half mile to intersect the bus a little further down the route.  I got there, waited a few minutes, boarded, and started the journey home.

After switching at the transit center downtown, I made my way back to campus, picked up our mail, and walked back to our place.  Time? Just after 2pm.  I found the inhabitants of the house napping, so I crawled into bed to edit an assignment for a tutoring client.  I was already wiped out, but her paper was due last night; I had to do it.

I rested for a bit, made some tea, cleaned up the kitchen, and then invited my daughter and her boyfriend to help me make rhubarb pie.  While they made the crust, I cleaned and chopped up the rhubarb.  While they made the filling, I prepared a chicken for roasting. Meanwhile, I started laundry so that this daughter could pack for her move to Boston — which was also happening yesterday.

At about 4:30 the pie and the chicken were in the oven so I sat down to rest for a little while.  And by ‘rest’, I mean fold laundry.  When the other daughter arrived home around 6:30, we ate chicken and rice and broccoli and the fabulous pie.  After dinner, I straightened the kitchen again then joined the kids to watch television for a while.

Around 8:00pm I crawled into bed to read Siddhartha. I knew I had to get up around 1:00 am to drive my daughter to the train station in Toledo, but I also knew that I would be writing an essay on Siddhartha with a student later today, so I was trying to kill two birds with one stone.  Too tired to engage with the text, I closed my eyes and was soon asleep.

Until I heard my phone vibrating.  At 11:40pm

I picked up.  The kids had run to the store to get some last minute snacks for the train ride, and a deer had come out of nowhere onto the highway. They were fine, but the car had some damage.  Tears. Apologies. Reassurances.

I was awake, and I knew we would leave in the next couple of hours for the train station, so I got up and worked on the puzzle for a while, comforted the traumatized driver when they returned to the house, assessed the damage to the car, and drank some water to wake myself up for the drive.

I started putting my purse together around 1:00am.  I figured we were low on gas, so I thought I’d check to make sure I’d put my debit card away from earlier in the morning.  Hmmm…where is my debit card.  That’s right, I put it in my pants pocket. Check the pockets.  Nope.  Double check my wallet; I probably put it away. Nope.  Hmmm….did I drop it at work? No way to find out at 1:00am.  I decided to put gas on the credit card, filled my water glass again, grabbed a snack in case I needed one, grabbed the keys and headed to the car.

It was a quick trip to Toledo, even with the stop for gas.  We unloaded the suitcases from the car around 2:45, hugged the kids, gave motherly advice, hugged again, reminded them to text often, then climbed back in the car.  After checking the GPS, I started driving.  Construction re-routed me and I ended up practically driving to Detroit before heading back to Ann Arbor.  I listened to music and talk radio, watched for deer, and mentally retraced my steps to see if I could picture where my debit card might be.

Not long into the retracing, I pictured myself pulling the singles out of my pocket at 6:45am — almost 24 hours earlier.  Could I have dropped my debit card as I stood at the bus stop before I even left for work?  What if I pulled over to the side of the road across from campus and checked before I went back home?  Certainly no one will be on the roads at 3:45am.  It’s a hair-brained idea — surely it won’t be there almost twenty-four hours later.  But, when I took my exit, I noticed no cars on the road, so put on my blinker, pulled over, jumped out of the car, and scanned the sidewalk next to the bus stop.  Nope.  I looked a little closer and there in the grass sat my debit card, right where I’d dropped it, now cool from the dew.

I laughed. Then I literally thanked God — not only for taking me back to my debit card, but for giving me a sense of humor at 3:45 in the morning, almost twenty-four hours after this day had started.  I pulled a U-turn in the middle of the road and turned into campus.

That’s when I saw the lights behind me.  Campus Security was tailing me.  Oh, yeah, it’s almost four in the morning.  They probably wonder why someone is entering campus.  They’ll probably turn around when they see it’s our car.  I wind down the drive to our house and park.  I am texting my daughter to see if she is on the train when I notice that the security officer, with flashlight, is walking up to my window.

“Everything ok?” he asks.

“Oh, yeah,” I explain, “I just took my kids to Toledo to meet the train. Then I stopped at the bus stop to find the debit card I lost this morning. I bet you weren’t expecting to see someone drive into campus at 4am.”

I’m sure every Dean’s wife has had this conversation, right?

More laughing, then crawling back into bed, then trying again to read Siddhartha, then giving up again to fall back asleep.

Yeah, the whole week has been like that.  A little busy.

Today? Today it’s after noon and I am still in my pajamas; I finally found the time to blog.

Exodus 33: 14

“My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.”