syllabus shock

A new semester started today at Concordia University.  Students are roaming the campus with the stunned look of disbelief on their faces.  I kept my class short — about twenty-five minutes.  I introduced myself, handed out my syllabus, got an introductory feel for who is in my class, then excused them to go sort out their new realities.  Some of those students said they had had four classes today!  Four classes equals four syllabi and innumerable deadlines and assignments to consider.

The first day often serves as a warning — beware! I am going to expect a lot of you!  In fact, I informed my students that we will have our first quiz and our first in-class writing response on Wednesday.  We aren’t wasting any time.  We are jumping in with both feet.  By this time next week they will have already read Sandra Cisneros, Jamaica Kincaid, Kate Chopin, Edgar Allan Poe, and Nathaniel Hawthorne!  They will have already got in the habit of identifying author, time period, genre, and literary devices, and they will be taking some stabs at author’s intent and strategy.

Or they won’t have gotten in the habit…in that case, they might already be overwhelmed by this time next week. In fact, many of them were overwhelmed already today.  They don’t know how they are going to pay for their books.  They are on academic probation because they didn’t get in the swing of things last semester, and they are worried that this is the first day of a repeat performance.

And those are just the school-related worries.  When I stood in front of twenty-eight students today, I am sure I did not fully grasp the combined weight of concern that they dragged in with them — family issues, friendship conflicts, relationship woes, health concerns, and any number of internal conflicts.  And here I am, ever the jokester, making light of all the additional responsibility I am heaping on top of them.

Earlier today, way before my class, I attended the first chapel service of the semester.  As per usual I don’t remember all of what was said, but I do remember an admonition that Pastor Ryan Peterson gave to the students.  He said, “I want to challenge you to attend chapel everyday…to engage with this community…to connect with the Word of God…because there will never be a better use of your time than that.”

I am praying right now that the students heard that message, not because it’s a good thing to do to go to church.  Not because anyone will be taking attendance.  Not because someone is going to judge them if they don’t go to chapel.  No.  I am praying that they will hear his words of love — the invitation to enjoy the privilege of engaging with community and to feel the strength that comes from the Word of God.

Why? Because it will keep things in perspective.  The overwhelming tide of assignments, finances, and responsibilities can make us think that we are drowning.  When we believe we are drowning, we flail about, we yell for help, we try to swim for the shore, and we exhaust ourselves with all that trying.  But the Truth is that we are not indeed drowning.  Yes, it can get a bit stormy and bleak.  In fact it can get downright scary.  And, if you’re going it alone, it’s really easy to forget that you are sitting in the palm of His hand.

Have no fear, little flock, for your Father has happily given you His Kingdom. 

Luke 12: 32

Mix Tape

Yesterday I met with a student to work on a writing assignment for a 200-level English class at a Big Ten university in my town.  The assignment requires the student to, in seven pages, validate his reasons for wanting to have a particular album or playlist if he were to find himself stranded on a deserted island.  His paper, the assignment states, must have threads, or themes, that reveal why the music choices are significant to him.

(First of all, seven pages?  Seriously?  Who wants to read all that?  The instructor must have graduate student minions to do the reading for him.  All I can think is seven times twenty-six (the number of students in my class this semester) — that is a lot of pages to read and respond to!! Anyway, I digress.)

So, I was thinking after I left this student yesterday, what music would I want with me if I were to be stranded on a desert island. I don’t know how I could limit the music I would need to one album or play list, but I am going to do my best here.  In the process, we will see what kinds of threads, or themes appear.  Ok?  Let’s play!

Category 1: Music from classic guys: Billy Joel, Phil Collins, Stevie Wonder, Elton John. I mean, …. ok, I just paused my writing to turn Pandora to my Elton John station…what’s playing?  “Don’t Let the Sun go Down on Me!” Can’t you see me jamming out to this on my own island, playing my air piano, and crying out to God, “Don’t let the sun go on me…” Yeah, I’ll admit, I don’t know many more of the words, but I’ll be alone on an island; I can sing whatever  words I want!  The music of these guys — Billy, Phil, Stevie, Elton — makes me so stinking happy!  I won’t be able to be depressed; I’ll be too busy performing my own concerts at full volume!

Category 2: Some female pipes: Christina Aguilera, Aretha Franklin, Crystal Lewis, Kim Massie, Alicia Keyes.  Since I’m performing concerts, I might as well channel my inner diva and belt out some soulful tunes.  I mean, “R-E-S-P-E-C-T,” “Ain’t No Other Man,” “People Get Ready Jesus is Coming,” Mm–mm–mm.  I’m holding my palm frond microphone, closing my eyes, and sainging. 

Category 3:  Queen. Yes.  They get their own category.  Clicked my Pandora, and what started playing? “Don’t Stop Me Now!” This is my jam!!!!  “…two hundred degrees, that’s why they call me Mr. Fahrenheit! I’m traveling at the speed of light!” I’m picturing me singing this and dancing through the jungle on my island, picking bananas, and laughing as loudly as I can.  I think I’m going to like island living.

Category 4: Crowder and company.  David Crowder has a way shifting my jam to worship.  In one little click I went from being the master of my own universe to remembering that “You Make Everything Glorious.”  I’m sitting on my beach, looking out at the crashing waves, drinking in the sunshine, arms in the air, worshiping with abandon, “…from glory to glory, You are glorious!…and I am Yours!”

Category 5: Fernando Ortega. Crowder paved the way for Ortega’s even more worshipful and reflective acoustic sounds.  As I sit on the beach, the sun starts to set on the horizon. I hear “I need thee every hour…” and I realize all of a sudden that the concert and the dancing are over for the day. The darkness is falling and I am utterly alone.  I needed Him all day, but in the darkness, I am painfully of aware of that need.  So, I let the music continue to play and I hear the words from my youth, “…just as I am without one plea…I come, I come.” I dare to harmonize with Fernando, because, I mean, no one’s listening.  If I am flat, who will know? who will care? And as, in my mind, our voices blend, the words sink into my soul and I feel the presence of God. I am not alone.

And that’s my thread, isn’t it? That although I would be the only person on my deserted island, I wouldn’t actually be, you know, deserted. I would be in the company of Greatness and I would celebrate that, ponder that, and be thankful for that.

Thanks for the help, ladies and gentlemen, you make a great mixtape.

 

 

Sharing oxygen

Did you ever think about how many you share oxygen with during the week? Some weeks the number is higher than others.  This has been one of those weeks!

On Sunday we were with my in-laws in the Thumb of Michigan.  We worshipped with them at their little Lutheran church. In that small space we shared oxygen with about a hundred people — among them were a former college classmate, two additional relatives, and a young woman who is looking for her first job after college.

On Monday I got to share oxygen with an eye doctor who is doing his fellowship at the University of Michigan, a nurse, and a cornea specialist.  Then, I was able to share food and laughter with several of my husband’s coworkers.

Tuesday I had the blessing of inhaling hope at my physical therapist’s office, exhaling stress at the gym, and then breathing calmly over a table at a library where I leaned in with two students — a woman from Romania who is studying to become a nurse and a man from China who is an automotive engineer.

Wednesday the sweet aroma of my Bible study battalion filled me up before I headed to meet three more students — all children of Indian professionals, eagerly breathing and learning with me.

Thursday, back at the gym, I panted and sweat among many I do not know. Then, I was refreshed by sharing space with my chiropractor and his office manager before I headed to meet another student — a  Chinese man who shared the aroma of my tea and his goals for improving his English.

This morning, my dog and I are sharing space and oxygen.  We are snuggled in together on the futon. He’s been patient with me as I have read my Bible study, chatted on Facebook, and responded to emails.  He knows that in a while I will leave him so that I can sit beside two more students this afternoon — an International college student and an American high school student.

Then tomorrow I will be surrounded again at the gym before I share space, ideas, and air with, first, a Jamaican woman and , then, an Indian young man.

Many times throughout the week, my husband and I have sat side-by-side, often exhausted after very full days, breathing deeply, drinking in each other’s quiet company.

I’ve shared a lot of oxygen this week.   And in all of my encounters, I have not had one single conflict.  I have not felt betrayed. I have not been abused.  I have not been taken advantage of.  I have not been intimidated or afraid. Rather, I have been encouraged, inspired, enriched, and blessed.

It’s worth noticing, don’t you think? It’s worth reporting on a life so blessed.

Let everything that has breath praise the Lord.

Psalm 150:6

 

Just add this to the pot

So, do you know what simmering does?  It cooks slowly and gently so as not to damage.

Yesterday, a lot of ingredients were tossed into my brain.  I was thinking about pain and illness.  I was wondering about healing. I encountered the idea of spiritual warfare.  I read about pride, identity,  and temptation.  All of these ingredients were sitting there in my brain, and I didn’t know what to do with them.

Often, the recipe is clear — knead, bake, slice, serve. But yesterday, I had no idea what I was ‘making’.  Probably because I wasn’t intended to ‘make’ anything at all.  I felt the nudge to put the pot on simmer and walk away.

Sometimes I do this in our house.  I have a lovely crock pot that I fill with a pale chunk of pork or chicken, a couple tablespoons of slimy olive oil, some sea salt and other dry pungent spices.  I turn the dial to ‘simmer’, and I walk away.  It’s lazy cooking, yes, but’s it’s pretty effective.  Those ingredients, which look less than appetizing at the start, start to simmer, and as they do, they give off a pleasing aroma that fills my house and greets my husband when he walks into the house after a long day.

So, yesterday, as I was taking in some thoughts that were less than pleasing — pain, illness, temptation, spiritual warfare, pride, sin — instead of tossing them all into the trash, I decided to allow them to simmer for a while.  I mean, it couldn’t hurt.

While they were simmering, I went to the gym and walked on the treadmill for a half an hour or so.  Then, I submersed myself in the warm bubbling waters of the jacuzzi.  I showered, dressed, then drove to meet with two students in a neighboring town.

I drove home, ate some dinner, watched some television, crocheted, read, and went to bed.  And the ideas were still simmering.  I didn’t open the pot to stir.  I didn’t turn the heat up or down.  I just let them cook slowly and gently.

This morning, the battalion met to continue in our study of Hosea. I think I was hoping that I would be able to open the crock pot and see that all the ingredients were ‘done’ simmering.  That didn’t happen.

Instead, as they continued to simmer, I observed this sisterhood that I have been plunked down into.  I watched as they cared for one another — observing a swollen toe, praying for an ailing husband, applauding successful surgeries, and joining in to sing together.

Today’s topic was the idea that we often wander from God because we don’t truly know Him — really know His character and appreciate His love for us.  We acknowledged together that we are “prone to leave the God we love,” and learned together that this is because we know of God, but we don’t fully know Him.

Yet, in spite of our wandering ways, God continuously pursues us.  He puts obstacles in our self-destructive paths so that we will turn around and wander back toward Him.  Sometimes when we are redirected in this way, we get close enough to see His face beaming with love for usHis beloved.  And if we can get our eyes off the distracting shiny objects long enough, we can look into His eyes and see ourselves reflected there.  And that, my friends, is when we get a glimpse at our identity.  Not our estimation of ourselves in relationship to our peers, but our true identity as children loved by God.

I think I’ll let that simmer a little longer.

“I have loved you with an everlasting love;

therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you.”

Jeremiah 31: 3

Let it simmer

So today is a ‘let it simmer’ kind of day.  You know what I mean?

I rolled out of bed rather reluctantly, muttering under my breath something about, “I am so sick and tired of being sick and tired…” I made my smoothie and my tea.  I got in the car and drove to the physical therapist.  When she asked me how I was doing, I admitted that I was feeling frustrated, defeated, and maybe even hopeless.

In her gentle physical therapy whisperer way, she put her hands on me, played an audio recording that spoke directly to my need, and spoke directly to my body, soul, and spirit.

Her words, and the words on the recording, reminded me that I had just celebrated in this blog yesterday the fact that I have been blessed by this illness. Blessed to pause.  Blessed to process.  And, as I see in the first paragraph I wrote above, I have been blessed with a home,  a rather comfortable bed,  tea,  the luxury of a smoothie every morning,  a vehicle, and the privilege of going to physical therapy once a week.

And not just any physical therapy — a physical therapy session wherein my therapist speaks Biblical words of truth into my life.

And it’s not oppressive. Or preachy.  Or false.  It is true.

How do I know it’s true?  Because as I am lying on the table, feeling her hands on my head, hearing her utter simple words of truth, I feel tears — soft, quiet, tears — dripping down my face.

She’s known me for two months, yet God’s spirit inhabiting her could see the need in my spirit and speak directly to me.  I don’t even remember what she said to tell you the truth.  All I know is that in those moments on that table I was reminded that He loves me, He pursues me, and He will heal me.

Yeah, I’m just gonna let that simmer for a bit today.

Psalm 107:43

Let the one who is wise heed these things
    and ponder the loving deeds of the Lord.

Divine Intervention

After a weekend away, I started my morning slowly — putting some things away, thinking through the tasks of today, and generally shuffling around avoiding my Bible study time.  Why was I avoiding it?  No particular reason.  Just out of the flow.

You may have noticed that I haven’t posted in several days again.  A few things got in my way — an appointment here, a symptom flare-up there, a weekend trip to see the in-laws. And I find that when I get out of the routine, it is a little difficult for me to jump back in.  It’s like merging into traffic.  I’ve got to find an opening and just move in.

So, finally I did.  As I mentioned last week, I am studying the book of Hosea with my Bible study battalion.  The book is all about God choosing us, even though we are bent on pursuing other ‘gods’.  He didn’t choose us once, but He chooses us continuously.  It’s not over and over again, but perpetual choosing.  Even though we are perpetually wandering, perpetually looking around at all the shiny objects, perpetually taking our focus off of Him.

He is The. Faithful. Love. of our lives.  Period.

So, small example — He loves me and is faithful to me even though I was inconsistent in my Bible study and daydreamed during church yesterday.  (I’m telling you, this pastor’s wife is far less than ideal.) He’s so faithful that today when I picked up my Bible study, He had the page turned to a huge example.

(I know I’ve written before about how, in some ways, I am thankful for the health issues that I have.  Although I am often uncomfortable, fatigued, and frustrated with running from one doctor to the next, I have been granted an opportunity to slow down, reflect, and enter this new chapter.  In fact, I’ve been slowed down so much that I can do nothing else but sit in amazement at His provision during this time.)

The Big Example — the very first words on my devotion today, I kid you not:

Therefore, this is what I will do:

I will block her way with thorns;

I will enclose her with a wall,

So that she cannot find her paths. Hosea 2:6

Now of course, this passage is talking about Gomer, the unfaithful wife who wandered off to other men.  It is also about Israel, who wandered off to worship other gods.  However, it is also about me.  That’s how the Bible works.  It is, as it says, “living and active, sharper than any double-edged sword.”  And those words this morning cut through my foggy stupor to say, “Hello, Kristin, are you ready to sit down and hear this story about how I loved you enough to block your way with thorns so that you couldn’t continue to follow your butt-kicking, name-taking paths? Are you ready to hear again how much I love you and that I am able to keep you in this pattern of life so that you will make time to fit me into your routine?”

I mean, yes. Yes, I am ready. If I didn’t get caught by that scripture, I would’ve gotten caught by the first question that the author posed,

Can you think of any ‘thorns’ that God may have put in your path to slow you down and make you think twice about something you were doing? 

Maybe some people can get slowed down by hearing a song on the radio, listening to a sermon, or having a good talk with a friend over coffee.  Me?  I need industrial strength slowing down.  I wasn’t about to turn around of my own volition.  I had to be stopped dead in my path by the thorns of chronic illness.  I had to be relocated to a different home, state, and lifestyle.  I needed a re-boot.  Or should I say a re-built hard drive.  I needed a next chapter. 

And because He loved me, He gave it to me. And just like Gomer, even though I have been pursued and claimed, even though I have been given a new identity, I still sometimes try to go back to my old soldiering ways.  I mean, I’m still human.  And He knows that.  So, he perpetually pursues me and reminds me that He has called me by name and that I am His.

Jeremiah 31:3

I have loved you with an everlasting love;
    I have drawn you with unfailing kindness.

Yes, yes you have.

All the Feelings

The inclement weather has given me another day of virtual stillness and I am noticing something — when I am still, I think about the words that others have said and I have time to consider them fully.

I don’t always like considering the words of others, you know, fully, because then I get, you know, feelings.  And feelings make me, you know, feel things. 

As a child and adolescent I felt a lot of things.  I was an emoter.   Ok, ok, I know I still am, but really, I felt things. How do I know this? I remember being told that I laughed too loud and cried too much.  I can picture my chubby-cheeked, blonde-headed self being told that it was time to leave my grandparents’ house, protesting with angry face, stomping feet, and clenched fists.  I can feel my throat tighten as Frosty the Snow Man melted into a puddle. I remember stomping through the hallways at school or flinging myself onto my bed and wailing into my pillow when I felt wronged by a friend or a boyfriend.

Now, over the years I learned, of course, not to be quite so demonstrative. I mean, it’s not socially acceptable to have all the feelings.  In fact, I remember my cooperating teacher, during my student teaching experience, telling me to ‘not wear my heart on my sleeve’. Well, where else was I going to wear it?

Sadly, my strategy became to shove a lot of my feelings deep, deep down into my subconscious self.  Of course I’m not a pro at this. In fact, my face has often revealed what my guts are feeling, even when my mind hasn’t gotten the memo.  So, even when I haven’t been able to see my face, people around me have seen it and have taken meaning from it.  They have picked up that I am angry, apathetic, shocked, judgmental, or horrified, even when I haven’t realized that I am having those feelings.

I have been too busy to have feelings, after all.  Soldiers don’t have time for feelings.  They are soldiering, you know.  They are kicking butts and taking names.  They don’t feel sad about it.  And, they don’t really care if you feel sad about it.  They have a job to do, doggone it. So, either help or get out of the way.

Yeah, that has been me for a very long time.  I have pushed people aside without considering how they were feeling.  I wasn’t intending to do that.  Really.  I was just on a mission.  I was focused.

Here’s the thing, though.  The people who love you don’t really care if you are on a mission.  They just need you to care. They need you to stop butt-kicking and name-taking for a minute so that you can see that they, too, are having some feelings.  They might also be shoving their feelings into their subconscious, but if you stop moving and look at their faces, you will see that their faces are revealing what they aren’t even aware of.  You might be able to pick up that they are hurt, shocked, angry, lonely, overlooked, or terrified.

And when you see that, you can sit down beside them and be still with them together.   You don’t have to have an answer.  You don’t have to solve the problem.  You just need to sit in the stillness with them, which will give them the time and the permission to feel, really feel. 

And when we feel together, we are joined by bonds that are not soon separated.

Aren’t those bonds far more valuable than all the butt-kicking and name-taking in the world? Yes.  The answer is yes.  Learn from me, grasshopper.  Take time in the stillness to feel all the feelings. 

John 15:13

Greater love has no one than this:

to lay down one’s life for a friend

The Teacher You Need

Perhaps I should finish out this series of blog posts on my ‘threads’ with a post about teaching.

I can’t get away from it.  I am a teacher.  I’ve been teaching since I lined up my friends in chairs or desks in any garage or basement we were allowed to play in and ‘taught’ them the lesson of the day.

Some people might say I was ‘bossy’. I prefer the term ‘authoritative’.  I had to start practicing early to hone the skills I would need to manage a classroom of teenagers and convince them that yes, they would write a three-page paper on the use of dashes in Emily Dickinson’s poetry.

Now that is not to say that I am the warden of the classroom.  I can be. I will be if I need to be.

I prefer to be the Ellen DeGeneres of the classroom.  I like to make my students laugh.  I like to learn about my students.  I like to showcase their strengths.  I like to celebrate them.  That’s my sweet-spot. Kids need a little Ellen in their lives.  They need someone to be happy to see them, to dance with them, and to applaud them.

However, for some reason, students sometimes need a warden.  They need to know that a limit exists.  They need to understand that they are expected to comply with the teacher’s demands.  They need to know that if they choose not to comply, there will be a consequence.  Not a punishment, necessarily, but a consequence.

Sometimes teenagers need a mom in the classroom.  My “mom” self shows up when a student reveals that his mother is in the hospital, that her dog died this morning, or that he hasn’t eaten since yesterday. The mom of the classroom has snacks in her desk, a shoulder to cry on, and the ability to grant an extension on any assignment.  The mom oozes grace.

Occasionally a little Jack Nicholson shows up in my classroom.  You know, Crazy Jack — the guy who looks a little possessed and like he might snap at any moment.  That is not to say that my students push me to the brink of snapping — they sometimes do, but that is not when my “Jack Nicholson” shows up.  No, Jack shows up out of the blue.  He makes comments that keep students wondering if I am losing my mind.  He sometimes says things just to get a reaction.  He keeps class interesting.

I guess I developed a cast of personas to keep my students engaged, to keep them on task, and to help them feel loved.  I wasn’t trying to do this; it just happened.

Sometimes when the warden showed up on the heels of an Ellen appearance my students would say, “Mrs. Rathje, what’s wrong? Are you mad?” I would reply, “No, I’m not mad. I’m just willing to be whatever teacher you need me to be today.”

I was reading my Bible study a little while ago; God used Hosea to announce that He he had had enough.  He was going to punish His people, have no compassion on them, and refuse to acknowledge them (Hosea 1).  Yikes!  Why so harsh!  How could God do that to his own people?

Because He was willing to be whatever His people needed Him to be.

When we need a line, a barrier, a boundary — He will provide it.

When we need affirmation, celebration, applause — He will give it.

When we need mercy — He has it in abundance.

I don’t know that He ever plays Jack Nicholson, but He does keep us wondering sometimes, doesn’t He?

Why does He do all these things?  Because He loves us, knows way more than us, and understands the consequences of us going our own way.  He is Creator, Redeemer, Father, Lord.  He is the Teacher who is exactly what we need Him to be.

Matthew 8:18

“Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.”

Confessions of a Job Searcher

Since we are talking threads, I should probably address my obsession with working.  Many times in this blog I have discussed my thoughts on working and searching for jobs.  I love to work.  When I’m not working, I like to search for jobs. Ok, I’ll admit it — even when I am working I like to search for jobs.

This is nothing new.  Before the internet, even when I was not in the market for a job, I would comb the classifieds every Sunday,  just to see what was out there.  Once the Internet showed up, I took up job hunting as a hobby.  It’s weird; I know.

Yes, I hunted for jobs even when I was fully and happily employed prior to my diagnosis.  Yes, I continued my search even when I was sick and working full-time.  I mean, you never know what’s out there, right?  I’ve mentioned on this page how hard it was for me the first few months of this next chapter not to apply for jobs while I was ‘being still’.

You may be under the impression, if you are a regular reader, that since I have found my niche through Wyzant tutoring and my adjunct teaching that I have ceased searching and that I am done applying to jobs. Ha-ha. No.  I’m still at it.  In fact, Wyzant was made for me — each day new ‘jobs’ are posted, and I can choose to apply to these jobs or not.  For instance, this morning I have ‘applied’ to work with three or four different students already.  One 10th grader in a nearby town needs an English tutor; I replied to the post, sharing my interest, availability, and qualifications so that the parent knows that I’m out here, willing to help.  A young professional whose first language is not English has posted that she would like online speaking practice; ok, I’ll give that a shot. Why not?

Additionally, I routinely check Indeed, an online job search site, for positions in my area.  And, yes, ok, I’ll admit it — I still check Craigslist job postings, too.  Why?  I have plenty of work!  Well, you never know what’s out there, unless you look!

I guess it’s a hobby? Or maybe it’s an indicator.  Maybe it’s some sign that I’m not yet settled.  I don’t know.  Analyze it if you want.  Meanwhile, I’ll be over here filling out an application to be a freelance editor or completing the requirements to renew my Michigan Teacher Certification. I mean, you never know, maybe I’ll head back to the classroom.

Nevermind that it’s  10:45 am and I’m still on the couch in my pajamas.  A girl can dream, can’t she?

Psalm 90:17

Let the favor of the Lord be upon us,

and establish the work of our hands.