This is Now

I wonder how many times I am going to write the same content in this blog before I finally get it.

I’m knocked down again, because I was probably trying to do too much.

We had dinner with friends last week.  The couple asked me, “So how are you feeling?” I answered, “Well, I was doing great until I sat on the bleachers in the cold at the football game for three hours.” That was nine days ago.  Yes, it can be something that little.

I went on to explain the frustration I have with this because I used to be able to do so much.  So much.  But, as I’ve written so many times in this blog — that was then, this is now.

I knew I was in trouble last weekend when I had difficulty moving around the day after the football game.  We went to church then came home and rested.  I fussed and whined for a bit, then my husband suggested we go for a walk.  Movement always helps.  After we walked, we came home to make it an early night.

I didn’t adjust my schedule last week to allow myself time to recover, after all, I teach two hours three days a week and see a few students outside of that.  What would I need to pare down? I am already pared way down.   So, I was moving a little slowly, big deal.  Surely I could still teach and see a few students.

Well, a few students turned into ten hours of tutoring.  Add that to six hours in the classroom and five to six hours of prep and I still had a work week that was fewer than twenty-five hours.  However, we also went to dinner and a play on Thursday night. Then, we drove to a neighboring town on Saturday for a wedding.  Yesterday we spent the morning at church.  Finally, I uncharacteristically agreed to meet two students on Sunday evening.

And this morning? Well, I pried myself out of bed at 8:00am to take my meds and send messages to my doctors to see what I can do about the fact that I feel like I’ve been hit by a truck.  My body aches– neck, hips, knees, back. My eyes are the worst — aching, irritated, sensitive to light. And fatigue?  Yeah.  I’ve made a promise to myself that I will shower at 11 this morning so that I am on time for my noon class. I will probably force myself to stay dressed long enough to drive out and refill my medication at the pharmacy, otherwise I won’t have pain meds tomorrow morning.  And, I will likely make an agreement with myself that I am only allowed to watch television and crochet if I do twenty minutes of Pilates first.

And, I know I’ve got to do some preparing because I have four students tomorrow — one who is new.  Wednesday I teach and then I will see four more students. And even that, folks, is sounding like a lot right now.

It sounds like a lot to a girl who used to arrive at school before 7am, prepare for students or attend meetings until 8, teach, observe other teachers, mentor students, run with the cross country team, and still go home to make dinner, do laundry, and attend events with the family.

That was then, this is now.

I have to remind myself of what I wrote just a few days ago.  This opportunity to slow down has afforded me the time to reflect and find meaning in the ways that I have lived my life for the past forty-nine years. This new pace, this pace of now, is a blessing and an opportunity.

But today I don’t like it. At all.

Psalm 55:17

Evening, morning and noon I cry out in distress, and he hears my voice.

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Answered prayers left and right

Does God answer prayer?  Yes.

How do I know?  Because I have been writing down my prayers since November 17, 2014 and I have evidence of things asked and answered.

On November 29 I prayed that two family members would resolve their issues with one another — issues that were prohibiting them from even being in each other’s presence for any amount of time.  In fact, I didn’t just pray that prayer on November 29 — I prayed it over and over and over. On December 22 I asked that these two would turn to each other. On March 30 I asked that God would breathe new life into their relationship.  How did God answer that prayer?  He turned arguments into agreements. He turned yelling into laughter.  He turned suspicion into trust.  He turned avoidance into partnership. He answered my prayer beyond what I could ask or imagine.  I was hoping for a truce; He provided an alliance.

I’ve also been praying consistently that I would find the right kind and the right amount of employment in light of my current health status. On February 26 I asked God to put me and keep me on His path.  On March 30 I prayed that God would show me how much to do and when. On April 21 I prayed that He would help me find my rhythm. On April 22 I asked that God would give me the wisdom to live within the boundaries He has set for me. On May 7 I prayed that He would grant me discernment in my work and in my family. On May 28 I asked that God would give me His pace and direct me to His work.  On June 6 I asked for the physical strength to do the things that He is calling me to. On June 30 I prayed for God’s pace and His way for me.  Lately I have been asking over and over for God to show me how to best use my time in ways that give honor to him.

Let’s digress for a moment to remind ourselves that since April I have been experimenting with employment.  After my ‘time of refreshing’ last fall — a period of time where my health was fairly well-managed, I took a position doing what I love to do — working with children.  For over four months I have been learning and growing along side some exceptionally professional coworkers and some inspiring students at an agency that does intensive instruction in reading, writing, and arithmetic.  But, if I’m going to be honest, the pace has been a little much.  It might have been ok if I hadn’t taken on about a half-dozen students outside of work,  but I just love those students — the ones I meet in libraries and their homes. They are adults, mostly, and some high school students, who need one-on-one coaching in writing and English. Interacting with them feeds me.  I have loved working both at the agency and through my tutoring service, but I have also been exhausted — too depleted to offer much to my family.  Hence, the prayers.

“Show me what you want me to do!” “Teach me how to pace myself.” “How much is enough?” “How much is too much?” “How can my gifts be best put to use?”

I had determined that as we moved into fall, I would reduce my hours at the agency and continue working with six to eight students on my own each week.  That sounded like a workable plan.  And then, amidst all those prayers and cries, came an email offering a direction I wasn’t expecting. It threw me a little.

Over the years, my oldest daughter has often come to me for advice with a Scenario A and a Scenario B — which option should she choose?  She spends time telling me the pros and cons of each alternative and then I usually say something like, “Is there a third option?”   In the last couple of years, she has started to say the same thing to me.  When I say “Should I A or B?” She will say, “What’s the third option?”

In all my prayers, I was thinking I had the answer.  I knew the current situation, A, was too much; I had determined the alternative, B, would likely solve the problem.  And then, God provided C.

I didn’t know what to do, so I enlisted the battalion and my husband in prayer and dialogue. I tried to stick with option B — my solution.  I really did.  But then I started seeing scenarios in my head that weren’t there before.  I started imagining myself in option C.  I started seeing how option C would provide a pace that I could live with while still providing the interactions that feed me.  I started to see the barriers that I thought existed evaporate.

This morning I told my husband my plan to move toward option C.  A few hours later I sat down at my computer to take some steps in that direction, but as I did so, I shot out a text to the battalion saying that I was moving forward but inviting God to step in and block the way.  It was at that moment that I paused to do my Bible study.  I am not making this up: the theme of today was to ‘not put God to the test’.

He has provided an answer to my prayers.  He has affirmed it through my husband and my prayer support.  Why would I invite him to step in and block the way? Do I need more proof?  Why? Because my faith is small.  Even after He blew my socks off with the answer to my prayers for the family situation.  Even after he provided over and above what was expected in financial aid for our daughter.  Even after he provided a job for our other daughter — one that she didn’t even apply for, doing exactly what she wants to do, in the major city where she wants to live. Even after all that, I still have a very small faith.

He answered my prayer.  He gave me a gift.  I shall say thank you and receive the gift. I won’t second-guess it or put God to the test.  I will trust that this answer is His.

Ephesians 3:20-21

 Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen

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.

Gulp.

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.

Next Chapter Employment

In my quest for employment, I have inquired about and applied for many positions.  I’m getting the most work from a web-based service called Wyzant — this site helps me find students and helps students find me.  So far I have tutored a high school freshman getting ready for finals and a high school senior preparing for the ACT.  The site also connects me with editing jobs– I’ve helped a high school student with a short story and a college student with a transfer application.  Each day new opportunities pop up on Wyzant.  The site provides an email portal, a place for a my schedule, and secure payment.  It’s clean and professional.  I like it.

I mean, the joke among my friends is that this is a step up from the gigs I was getting through Craigslist.  Each time I mentioned I was meeting a new client I found on Craigslist, my family and friends rolled eyes, gave cautions, and laughed a little nervously.  But to be honest, my best client is one I found on Craigslist.  He’s been with me since November as he writes his Master’s thesis for his graduate degree from Harvard.  I’ve never met him, but we send documents back and forth through email, talk on the phone, and text.  I woke up Monday morning to an email that said, “Got my draft done!” I am so looking forward to reading and editing this work on high stakes testing and educator cheating — it’s fascinating! Craigslist has also allowed me to meet a local author and an international graduate student, and not one axe murderer!

Tomorrow I am starting a journey on perhaps the most legitimate of pursuits so far — employment with the Educational Testing Service as a certified test rater.  I was unaware until my confirmation email came — after a lengthy application and verification process — that the subject area I will be working in is — gasp — math!  (As I typed that little four-letter word, I heard laughing all the way from St. Louis, Missouri and Tanzania as former colleagues envisioned me doing anything — aside from counting — with math.)  Tomorrow morning I am supposed to spend four hours — four paid hours — learning how to be a test rater.  If I don’t pass the certification tomorrow morning, they will pay me to retake it one more time.  Well, ok, I will give it a try, even if it is math.

To be fair, the content is elementary level. And there was that one year when I was a long-term substitute teacher in the fourth grade and I lead math lessons from the chalk (yes, chalk) board.  I don’t remember anyone complaining that their number sense was destroyed for the rest of their educational career, but I have moved around a lot; maybe they haven’t been able to find me.

This journey has been very interesting.  I have no idea where I am headed, but I am exploring several different paths.  The good news is that I feel energized.  I love meeting students who want to learn.  Yesterday, as I was headed to meet a new student at a library I had never been to before, I received a text. “Mrs. Rathje, This is S________.  I am at the library.  I secured a private study room, 2B.  It is up the stairs and on your left.  See you soon.”  Did you get that? A high school senior arrived 30 minutes before I did, found us a room, logged into the internet, got a login code for me to use, pulled up her ACT score report, and greeted me with a smile and a handshake when I walked in.  (All the high school teachers out there are reading this with their mouths hanging open.)  This girl, who is a full-time student, a cheerleader, and part-time McDonald’s employee, leaned in with me for two hours and learned strategies for improving her score on the ACT.  She looked in my eyes, asked me questions, and agreed to do extensive homework before we meet next time — on a Saturday morning for two hours.  

Pretty sweet, isn’t it?  So, I have no idea where I am going to end up, but I am not minding it one bit.  Each day I have a new experience.  I’m not bored in this next chapter. 

Psalm 90:17

May the favor of the Lord our God rest on us; establish the work of our hands for us —

yes, establish the work of our hands.

Whatever you do…

“whatever you do, do it all to the glory of God.”

I Corinthians 10:31

Last night at dinner sat a student, a teacher, a pastor, a cardiologist, and a soldier…It sounds like the beginning of a joke, doesn’t it?  It’s not a joke.  They were all at our table last night.  It was interesting to hear each tell about a ‘day in the life’ — the good, the bad, and the boring.  The soldier asked the cardiologist, “so what exactly do you do?”  The cardiologist answered, “the sexy answer is that I stop heart attacks and save lives, but the reality is that I take a lot of measurements and do a lot of diagnostics.”  The soldier answered, “well, my sexy answer is that I jump out of planes and blow things up, but the reality is that I do a lot of paper work and a lot of cleaning.”

We wanna give the sexy answer, don’t we? “I’m editing a novel and coaching a Harvard graduate student.”  But, we gotta face the reality, “I do laundry and pick up dog poop.”

As each day goes on, I become more convinced that although our professional roles are important, the “goods” are in the interpersonal exchanges.  It makes no difference if I am a student or a janitor; if I cared about someone today — listened, answered, provided, encouraged — that is the money.  It doesn’t matter if my house was clean, my clothing smart, or my bills paid; if I was available for another human when she needed me, my day is made.

Why do I forget that so often?  I chase after position, title, paycheck, prestige, authority, when I have been given simple instructions:

Carry each other’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. Galatians 6:2

Love the Lord with all your heart, soul, and mind…love your neighbor Matt. 22

Whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. I Cor. 10:31

He didn’t tell me to get a job, or a degree; He said to use my gifts to the glory of God.  Sometimes I interpret that to mean that if I am not using my writing than I am not giving glory to God.  But, He has given all of us many gifts, among them the spiritual gifts of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, self-control…These gifts don’t require position or prestige…just willingness.  Am I willing to love the person in front of me?  Am I willing to be patient?  Am I willing to be gentle? To exercise self-control?

Sometimes I think that following God’s simple commands is much more difficult than having a career.  His commands require me to lay my own needs aside.  I am not always willing to do that.  I want to be able to give the sexy answer.

However, when I look back over my life, the people who really made a difference for me weren’t too concerned about the sexy answer.  The professor who held my coat for me on a cold winter day in the mid 1980s, the friend’s mother who responded “I love you” to my fierce “I hate you!”, the college nurse who listened kindly every day when I weighed (and judged) myself, the friend who came to my house to care for my kids while I had the stomach flu, the church members who loaded our possessions into a moving truck…Nope, not too sexy, but so meaningful.  Each was willing to give of themselves — time, attention, energy, love, patience, kindness — for me.  And I can honestly say that I knew, in each of these instances, that God was motivating, providing, using these people to love me.

That is some powerful stuff.  When we acknowledge that God, who is God, cares enough to provide someone to care for our stomach flu, to help us on with our coat, to notice us in the vastness of life…that’s not sexy, it’s breathtaking.

I wanna be that someone that God uses, to His glory.