Experimentation

Ladies and gentlemen, I am about to participate in an experiment.  After two years of limited part-time employment, I am gearing up for the next level of engagement.

As you may be aware, from 2005 to 2014 I was a full-time teacher and administrator at a small private high school in St. Louis, MO.  For at least seven of those years I was a very hard-charging,  responsible faculty member who worked long hours both at school and at home.  I managed that position while being married to a seminary student turned mission-planting pastor and parenting three teenagers.  It was a very busy life full of challenges and rewards.

When chronic illness started to impact my effectiveness in that position, my husband and I began to watch and pray for God to open a path to something different.  This blog began when God answered our prayers and transplanted us in Ann Arbor where he has been serving as the Dean of Students at a small Christian university for the past three years.

When I joined him two years ago, I rested for six months and then began to experiment with different levels of employment.  I started with occasional private tutoring.  I added a summer ‘internship’ at an educational agency before transitioning to adjunct instruction coupled with private tutoring.  I’ve been doing well for the past year balancing those two positions.  I have taught a few hours a week in the classroom while supporting several private students that I meet in homes, in libraries, or in coffee shops.  I’ve loved this combination.  So, I’m continuing it this fall — at the next level.

Starting next Monday I will have three sections of college composition. (All the writing instructors in the room just gasped.) Now, to be fair, two of those sections are small at just 12-13 students each.  The third section is a more average-sized class of twenty-one. So, do your math and you will find that I am going to have 46 composition students.  That’s a solid load.  Most English teachers would say, “That’s fabulous!  What a joy to have forty-six writing students!” (My last year in St. Louis, a staffing issue created a situation where I had about 80 writing students!)  And, indeed, I am thrilled.  I am also thrilled that entering my second year as a private tutor, I have a solid student base that easily yields 8-10 hours of tutoring per week.  God has indeed engineered a sweet gig for me.

However, I am a little anxious. My health is more stable than it has been in close to four years.  With the help of my medical team I have eliminated biologic and anti-inflammatory medications.  That’s right; I take nothing for pain!  I am also currently weaning off the anti-depressants that I started taking seven or eight years ago.  I walk, do Pilates, practice yoga, and get in the water regularly. I see a physical therapist and a chiropractor,  avoid gluten and dairy, and am following my doctor’s instructions for taking homeopathic and nutritional remedies. I’m doing all the things, yet I still have a measure of pain in my hips, neck, and back.  I still have psoriasis. I still have chronic eye issues. I still get knocked down if I do too much.

So how much is too much?

That’s why this fall is an experiment.  Can I teach forty-six students in the classroom and meet with a handful outside of the classroom without spending every weekend in bed? Will I still fit in exercise? physical therapy? time with friends?  time with family? What will happen if something unexpected pops up — an out-of-state emergency, a family crisis, a family celebration? I don’t know.  Have I created a schedule that allows for these variables?  We’ll see.

I do know that the success of this semester is more likely if I continue to practice the disciplines that I have re-discovered in this time of stillness — Bible study, blogging, prayer.   It seems I struggle to fit them in, when in truth, they are the most impactful moments of my day.  Writing the prayer reminders on my mirror and my fridge is a help, but I still need to choose to act on those prompts and actually pray. My devotional materials sit out in plain sight, but I have to move toward them and take the time to engage each day.  My blog is constantly percolating in my mind and begging to be let out through my fingers, and when I allow it the space and time, I become aware of all that God is working inside of me.  When I do these three things — prayer, Bible study, and blogging — I feel centered and purposeful.  I feel at peace.

So, on Monday, I’ll step feebly forth.  I won’t try to kick any butts or take any names, I will just show up and see what God has in store in this next chapter.

Luke 12:32

“Do not be afraid, little flock,

for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom.

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Creativity

Just under two years ago, as I said goodbye to teaching in St. Louis so that I could move to Michigan with my husband, I imagined that I would take four to six months to rest and recover and then I would find a job and get back to some kind of ‘normal’ life.  My limited view couldn’t see what God had planned for me.  I couldn’t imagine how He would allow me to experiment with different types and levels of employment so that I could see for myself what would be fulfilling, draining, energizing, depleting… I couldn’t envision a life where I would have so much freedom to learn and grow.  I couldn’t see how He could provide for us financially, so He had to show me.

In the past two years I have worked for Reuters as an election agent, tutored students in English, writing, reading, study skills and test preparation, participated in intensive reading and writing instruction, edited everything from a young adult novel to a Master’s thesis on cancer-treating drugs, scored standardized math assessments, and taught college-level writing and literature courses.

And though that sounds like a lot, I’ve had the luxury of making new friends, participating in a regular Bible study, joining a new church family, working out consistently at a local gym, reading dozens of books, visiting family across the state, exploring Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti with my husband, and providing a refuge for my daughters as they navigated some difficult life situations.  Not only that, I’ve had time to experiment with medical strategies — discarding some, embracing others — to find ways to feel better both physically and emotionally.

Much of that journey has been chronicled in this blog. I think I started writing imagining that I would arrive at a destination — that I would someday get to “The Next Chapter.” However, I think the theme of this chapter is learning to live in the process, to trust that God knows what is coming next and He is preparing me for it. I’m learning to not look too far ahead, but to enjoy each moment.

This morning, I was supposed to be doing some online scoring, but ETS contacted me and said that due to reduced volume, I was not needed and would still receive half of my pay for the morning.  So, I stayed in bed reading a great book a little longer than usual.  I got up, straightened the kitchen, made my tea, and picked up my old faithful devotional, Whispers of Hope by Beth Moore.  After having set it down for a while to study Hosea and Breathe, I turned to the first page to start my third journey through this book.

Was I surprised that the message applied directly to my life? Not really.  I’m starting to expect it.  I no longer get stunned when I see a message like this: “What God is doing in your life right now may not make sense to you, but it’s not because He’s nonsensical.  It’s because He’s creative…In His wisdom God knew [His creation] was good because He knew what was coming next.  He knows what’s coming next for you…Give God room to be completely creative.”

Two years ago, I had no idea what was coming next.  It was pure obedience (plus exhaustion and a touch of desperation) to move here with no plan. Granted, He had made it quite obvious that we should take this leap of faith by providing a position that was custom-crafted for my husband in Michigan, which we both call home, but still, for a chronic planner and do-er, it was a totally new experience.

What God was doing in our lives did not make sense to me, but it wasn’t because He was nonsensical.  It was because He had a creative response to my self-destructive soldiering ways. He had information that was beyond my scope.  He knew what was coming next. And in my exhaustion, I was willing to allow him the room to be completely creative.

Guess how creative He is — He’s giving me the opportunity to teach high school students from across the country and around the world this summer at the University of Michigan. I’ll get to speak into their writing process and, hopefully, into their lives.  He’s allowing me to lead three sections of writing at Concordia in the fall — a three-minute walk from my kitchen to my classroom. And – gasp – He’s orchestrated an opportunity for my husband and me to chaperone a group of students to Israel for two weeks in January!

Could I have imagined all of that two short years ago? Not in a million years.  I was picturing myself shelving books at the public library. Not that that would’ve been a bad gig; perhaps that’ll be the next Next Chapter.  For now, I’m pretty content in this chapter and grateful to its Author.

Jeremiah 29:11

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord

“plans to prosper you and not to harm you,

plans to give you a hope and a future.”

 

 

 

Catch phrases, re-visit

This post, first written in April 2016 and revised in March 2019, might resonate with you if you just can’t stop trying to go it alone.

Recently, I wrote about how Jennifer Rothschild’s Hosea pointed out that I am ‘bent on turning’ away from God. Now, Priscilla Shirer has told me to “resist the urge to continue”.  Let me see if I can unpack what this phrase means to me.

I’ve spent significant white space in this blog discussing my ‘soldiering years’ — my long period of working hard and believing that I was tackling all of life’s challenges on my own, thank you very much. Although I was removed from that life of self-sufficiency by my chronic illness, the pattern of striving is deep in my DNA and hard to leave behind. I still try to turn back to that old way of living, filling my days with work and achievement in order to convince myself that I have control over my life. Even though I have been given this opportunity to live a life that has a slower pace, fewer demands, and plenty of time to take care of myself, connect with God, and care for the people around me, I still am bent on turning back to the familiar — soldiering.

Now, sure, it looks a little different than it once did. Instead of power walking down the hall in an a-line skirt and heels intimidating poor little freshmen into tucking in their shirts and getting to class on time, I now wear comfortable clothes and sensible shoes and typically move at a much slower pace as I work with and encourage one student at a time. However, the underlying drive is the same — a need to be busy, to prove my worth, to make myself useful, to be in control.

It’s a rhythm that has felt comfortable to me for quite a while. Although I don’t always like working as hard as I do, the rhythm makes me feel safe. It assures me. It’s a way I’ve come to know.

Priscilla Shirer in Breathe: Making Room for the Sabbath, recalls that the Israelites, too, had found a rhythm that was familiar during their 400 years of slavery in Egypt. They had worked hard and long under the fearsome watch of the taskmaster. They had labored in the heat with very little rest their whole lives. You might think it would be easy to leave all that behind and live according to the commands God gave them, but old habits die hard. Perhaps one of the hardest challenges for the Israelites (and for me) was believing that God would provide for all of their needs even if they took time to rest.

Shirer points out that God did provide the Israelites with enough manna for each day — their ‘daily bread’. They were to collect only what they would eat that day, and not try to store up extra. They were to trust that the next day He would provide again. But you know, they hadn’t had plenty to eat in a long time, so they figured it would be wasteful to throw the extra away. They kept it and woke up the next day to find it rotten and worm-infested. They were given a double portion on the sixth day so that they could observe the sabbath on the seventh. Regardless, some of those Israelites still went out on the sabbath looking for manna, but they didn’t find any. They didn’t find any because they didn’t need any;  God had already provided plenty.

Silly Israelites.

Cricket — cricket.

Yeah, I’m silly, too.

All that time I was soldiering away, God had already provided for all our needs. Even though I might like to think that I somehow made the life of my family healthier, stronger, or more provided-for, I was really in all my soldiering making our experience as a family worse. I was overlooking God’s provision. I was failing to take a sabbath. I was forgetting to turn to Him with all my needs. And even though sometimes I got a glimpse at what was happening, I couldn’t resist the urge to continue. My pattern was comfortable. It felt safe. Putting down my weapons, falling to my knees, and admitting my helplessness before God was, at that time, out of the question.

It’s still tempting for me to believe that admitting my helplessness before God is out of the question. But guys, shouldn’t it be out of the question for me not to admit my helplessness before God?

It’s got to be.

It’s got to be out of the question for me to think that I can possibly work hard enough to make myself useful, to prove my own worth, or to be in control. It’s got to be beyond my imagination that I would think that I know more than God or that I am above the need for a sabbath. It’s got to be completely ludicrous for me to believe for one minute that I can do anything at all that God hasn’t already done for me.

It’s got to be.

And yet, I’m bent on turning…turning back to that old life, that old comfortable way. I’m just like the Israelites. So, when I see myself turning, and I almost always do, I’ve got an opportunity to resist the urge to continue.  I can stop dead in my tracks as I’m heading back to Egypt. I can say to myself, “Really? You wanna go back there?”

I can choose to admit to myself that all my soldiering was a façade on a frightened little girl who didn’t believe that her Father had gladly given her the kingdom. But He has, guys, He has gladly given us His kingdom.

I think it’s time I learned to resist the urge to continue.

Luke 12:32

Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom.

Marvel with me

No wallowing today. Period. I declare this a day of marvel.  Want to marvel with me?

First, I got out of bed after only 40 minutes of wakefulness today!  Woo-hoo!  And what did I find after I had maneuvered from horizontal to vertical?  A fresh blanket of snow reflecting a beautiful sunny day.

Second, having gone to bed without a lesson prepared for my 1pm class today, I woke to purposefulness, started with the end in mind, and prepared a process-oriented lesson that will allow my students some practice in critical analysis.

Third, while I was preparing this lesson, I heard from a couple of former students. One young man who I spent several years trying to convince of his giftedness shared a link to his recent appearance on an AOL sponsored webcast in which he brilliantly articulated the power of technology as a platform for young black voices (Here’s his link.); similarly a  young woman who was in my first high school class in Missouri shared her Christian maturity via social media. I get to know these brilliant young people!

Fourth, I found a forgotten gift card I received for Christmas and purchased two new pillows online.

Fifth, I discovered that a savings bond that we received as a wedding gift over twenty-five years ago will more than cover the cost of passports for me and my husband.

Six, I was offered a position teaching composition to high school students in a summer program at the University of Michigan.

Seven, I get to teach college students in just a couple of hours.

Eight, I get to work with two middle school students later today.

Nine, when I sat down to write, I first read a blog post by another former student. She reminded me that although I am prone to wander, my wandering never satisfies. Here’s her blog.

I read my devotion this morning and it reminded me that just as I have been blessed with following in the footsteps of many faithful believers, I am granted an opportunity to leave some footprints of my own.  I’d hate to spend all of those footprints on the path to wallowing.  So, I’m taking the opportunity, once again, to turn.

My life is rich. I am blessed. I’m just going to marvel at that today. Hope you’ll join me.

Psalm 71:17

Since my youth, God, you have taught me, and to this day I declare your marvelous deeds.

Struggling Still

So, I’ve been sitting here with my laptop open for quite a while now.  I’ve finished my Bible study.  I’ve responded to several student emails.  I’ve looked at and managed my calendar for the week. But I’m not feeling inspired to write anything.

I have this problem.  I want to be authentic — to not sound cheesy, or preachy, or packaged in any way.  I want what comes out of my fingers to be a genuine reflection of where I’m at.  And, to be honest, ‘where I’m at’ is in my pajamas, sitting on a futon in my office, covered in warmed flaxseed pillows with my dog squished up next to me.  It’s a pretty good life, actually, but it’s not much to write about.

Yet, I’ve committed to writing more.  So, I’m going to write.  And then, for the most part, I’m going to spend my day being still.

I still struggle with this — with stillness, that is.  In my former life, I didn’t have very many times of stillness.  Days, weeks, months, and years, were full of activity — of doing, going, achieving, completing, accomplishing.  So, sitting here halfway through a Monday morning , still dressed in the same clothes I slept in with no intention of changing anytime soon, still seems odd.

I’m telling you, my Missouri friends would not recognize me.  I had a colleague who used to say, “I wish I understood how you get so much done.”  Me, too, friend, me, too.  I’ve said before on this blog how by this time of day in my former life I would’ve showered, put dinner in the crock pot, transported three or four kids to their various schools, tidied my classroom, reviewed my lesson plans, met with a family and their child to craft an educational contract, set up an appointment to observe a teacher, tracked down two delinquent students in the hallway, taught one section of composition, attended chapel, and managed any number of other administrative tasks.

Today? I’ve played my turn in about ten games of Words with Friends, started a load of laundry, finished last night’s dishes, drank some tea and a smoothie, heated some flaxseed pillows, sat down next to my dog, completed my Bible study, and sent some emails.

The rest of my day includes some lesson planning for the upcoming semester and editing a short paper for a student. Period. Ok, fine, I will try to do some Pilates. But seriously, I’m not doing anything else.  I’m not leaving the house.  At all.

And why am I struggling with this?  This is the new reality that was Hand-crafted for me.  This is the Next Chapter I’ve been blessed with.  It’s not boring. It’s not unsatisfying.  In fact, it is exactly what the Doctor ordered to put me back on the path to health.

Yet the do-er in my still sometimes feels like I should be accomplishing something, checking more off my list, making a difference, proving my worth. There it is. Something in me (and in you?) tells me that I don’t have worth unless I have accomplished something in my day. My value is in direct proportion to all the things I have managed to complete.  But ladies and gentlemen, that is a lie.  It’s a lie that I chose to believe for a long time.  And I believed it really well.  So well that I denied myself the opportunity to be still and recover from all the doing.  So, really, (wink, wink) I’m making up for lost time.

Do yourself a favor today.  Remind yourself that your worth is not based on what you do.  It is based on Whose you are. You have been purchased at a great price.  Your value is unfathomable.  Sit down for a minute and fathom that.  Drink it in for a moment while you are being still.

I Corinthians 6:19-20

 Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; 20 you were bought at a price.Therefore honor God with your bodies.

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

Finding Balance

In April of this year I started an experiment.  After almost ten months (gasp!) of not reporting to an employer, I took a gamble and accepted a position that would get close to full-time for several months. Four months later, I am nearing the end of the ‘busy season’ at the agency I am working for, and I am ready to report some findings.

  • I love working. I love being around other people, even if they are all approximately half my age. I love the joking, the camaraderie, the sense of belonging.  I love having a regular schedule — I get to work at a certain time, I set up my area, I greet my students, I work through the program, I send them on their way.  I like learning from my colleagues and from my students. Yes, I am the oldest employee at our office, but I am continually learning new things — new strategies that work with students, new ways of thinking about instruction, and even the latest slang terms (FYI, according to a student ‘whip’ means ‘to drive’).
  • Working is good for me.  On days that I work, I move more, I laugh more, I think more, and I interact more.  All of these ‘mores’ make me feel better. While I am working, I very rarely notice any symptoms of my illness.  I focus on my students and the task at hand, not on the pain in my hip or the inflammation in my joints.
  • After a certain point, the number of hours I work is inversely related to the number of hours that I can effectively interact with my family.  (Did you see that? I think I did math!) In other words, the more I work, the less mental energy I have left to communicate with, love on, and support my immediate family members.  I haven’t quite found the threshold at which this inverse relationship occurs.  I suspect that if I keep my work hours around 20-25 per week, I will still be able to hold real conversations, answer the phone at 7pm, and occasionally chat over dinner.  I have learned that after 40 hours, 35 hours, or even 32 hours of interaction with students, my ability to be available to my people after 6pm is dramatically limited.
  • In order to keep working, I have to schedule in time for exercise — not just a leisurely walk a couple of days a week after work, but real exercise. At the gym. Weights. Cardio. Pilates. All of it. When I realized how much I would be working this summer, I put a hold on my gym membership from April 15-August 15.  My theory was that the weather would be nice, so I would be walking. I could do Pilates at home.  Yeah, yeah.  Good intentions.  I have certainly gone for many walks this summer.  In fact, on my lunch hour at work, I often eat while walking.  I usually walk for close to 45 minutes during my one-hour break.  That’s good, but it’s not enough.  I need to do Pilates more consistently, not just once or twice a week.  I need to get back in the pool to decrease my inflammation and increase my mobility.  It’s got to be part of the schedule.  Starting August 15, it will be.
  • Family and friends are more important than working.  I am going to have to be disciplined enough to limit my hours so that I don’t sacrifice a chat on the phone with my sister, catching up with my daughters or sons over Skype, or spending the afternoon at a family reunion.  I asked for Wednesday mornings off starting after Labor Day so that I can get my weekly time with my Bible study battalion. I plan to reserve every Friday afternoon for walkabout with the husband.  Skyping and phone chats will be scheduled for Saturdays and Sundays.
  • Working reshapes my time for blogging.  Before I started working, I blogged every morning while enjoying my morning beverages.  This summer I have blogged whenever I have found time to spare.  For the fall?  Well, I am hoping to find a new rhythm that will include work, exercise, Bible study, family and friends, and blogging.  Because all of these things add up to a healthy and happy me.
  • And those other things that have to be done in life — cooking, cleaning, shopping, etc?  I am finding that they aren’t that important and that they happen when they truly need to happen.

So, the experiment has been good.  Yes, I have had some rough days.  Yes, I have cried some tears of exhaustion and frustration.  Yes, I have missed out on some opportunities.  However, I have made some great friends, I have learned so much, and I have been able to recognize some of my limitations and make a plan to adapt my schedule accordingly.  So now, onto the next phase of the experiment.

Psalm 25:4

Show me Your ways, O Lord,

Teach me Your paths;

Guide me in Your truth and teach me.

Red-letter Day

Yesterday was what I like to call a red-letter day.  In fact, if I still kept a paper calendar I would get out a red sharpie and circle July 23, 2015 so that I would not forget it.

It started first thing in the morning.  I worked with my first student, who is autistic.  Just a few weeks ago it was difficult for him to describe any object beyond its color — usually black or blue — and its shape — typically a circle or a square.  Yesterday we looked at a small picture of a pile of nails.  I took the picture away and asked him what he had seen.  He said, “nails”,  of course. When I asked him what they looked like,  he said they had a circle on the top.  “Yes, good!” I said.  “What else?”  “They are sharp on the bottom.”  “Yes!”  Now, this may not seem like a big deal to you, but for my little guy, it’s a pretty big deal.  He used a complete sentence and he moved beyond his generic descriptors to something more specific.  That, my friends, is worth marking on the calendar.

It didn’t stop there.  My second student has been known to be quite noncompliant — to the point of refusing to work, day after day after day.  Yesterday appeared, at first, to be another one of those days, but for some reason, we started our session with some talk about her toys and she began to work with me.  We were moving forward slowly in our lesson when one of the supervisors joined us to do some ‘pacing’ — this happens quite often.  The more senior members of the team come and interact with the students to push them a bit and determine how to best tweak their lessons for the most impact.  The supervisor asked me to do a task with the student.  I wasn’t quite sure of the method, so I invited her to show me her ‘special way’ of using the materials.  I was so glad that I did this — she made several changes in the setting and the climate of that lesson.  She worked with the student for about fifteen minutes.  I watched, took notes, and learned a whole lot about how to work with this difficult little peanut.

I had two more students before I left for the afternoon.  Walking to my car, I checked my phone for messages and emails.  We had been exchanging information with the financial aid office at our daughter’s university.  They wanted to verify some information we had submitted, so we had sent documents back and forth over the last few weeks.  It was exhausting and tedious, but we kept at it. When I saw an email from the officer we had been working with, I opened it to find that the school had decided to give her another huge chunk of grant money — so much, in fact, that she will not have to take one of the loans that she had been approved for!

Then, I received a text from another daughter who said that an employer had contacted her out of the blue and wanted to interview her over the phone — that day!  The position is almost a perfect fit for this particular daughter, her skill set, and her interests, and she hadn’t even applied for the position!

And the news kept coming!  It was like it was my birthday and people kept arriving with gifts that I wasn’t expecting — healing for this person, encouragement for that one, resolved conflict here, restored relationships there…

Late in the afternoon, my husband arrived home from work with the day’s mail.  He was carrying a package from my mother — I had mentioned that my rubbermaid containers kept disappearing, so she sent me a whole new set!

I am telling you, it was a red letter day!

So, I grabbed my dog and my phone and headed out for a walk.  I called my mom to thank her for the gift and I started telling her about all the good things that had happened yesterday.  I kept saying, “I can’t believe it, I can’t believe it!”  She said, “I know it’s hard to believe, but just think of all the time you have spent praying for these things.  God says, if you ask for it, He will answer. I know you weren’t expecting Him to answer all in one day, but He answers whenever He wants to!”

Yes, He does!  Sometimes the answers trickle in so subtly that we might not even realize that they are answers to prayer.  They can slip by me unnoticed, and I take them for granted.  But, when He overwhelms me with answers all in one day, I can hardly ignore His work.  It took my breath away.

This morning, I did my devotion which I always follow with writing in my prayer journal.  I follow a pattern called PRAISE — Praise, Repentance,  Acknowledgement, Intercession, Supplication, and Equipping.  When I got to the Supplication section I recalled all the prayers I had written for ‘my people’ over the past several months.  My mother wasn’t wrong — they have been many.  I never doubted that God was hearing them; I never doubted that He had my people in the palm of His hand.  But it sure was wonderful to sit in amazement and watch so many answers all in one day.

Matthew 7:

Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.

January 5th-ish

Today is the day!  In less than two hours I will clock in at my new job!  I am excited, and nervous!  I’ve probably felt this way every time I have started a new job — and I’ve had plenty of them!  I’ve worked everywhere from a dress shop to McDonald’s to summer camp to pubic schools to day care centers to residential facilities.  I like to work. I also like change.  So, why am I nervous?  I have been thinking it’s because I don’t know how my body will handle the demands of consistent work after eight months or so of concentrating on improving my health.  But I got up this morning, had the parade of beverages, read my devotion and realized that this is an opportunity I haven’t had in a while. Now I’m a little more nervous than I was before!

Since 2005 I have been working at a Christian high school.  Almost all of my colleagues were Christian, and the majority of our students were, too!  In fact, daily prayer with our students was encouraged, each day started with a devotion read over the public address system, every day included twenty minutes for a chapel service or devotion, and issues of faith were freely discussed in our classrooms.  Our Christian beliefs were on display at every turn.

What a blessing, right?  Right!  It was an incredible privilege to work in an environment that was supportive of my faith and in which I could freely share my faith with my students.  However, it was also a bit of a safety zone.  My students and I, I believe, took this for granted.  It was a given.  We started most conversations on an even and familiar playing field. We knew, to some degree at least, where the other was coming from.  Conflicts were in the minutiae, not in the big ticket items.  Parents counted on that; so did we.

Here in Ann Arbor, which is, as a whole, a very diverse environment, we sit on a small Christian college campus that is very similar to the high school environment where I taught.  The majority of employees/faculty/staff are Christian and I would say that more than half of the students are, too.  So, again, we are operating in a somewhat predictable environment.

My tutoring experiences have allowed me to interact with students from a variety of backgrounds for one hour at a time. In the one hour that we are bent over my students’ school work or writing we spend very little time on personal matters–we joke a little, talk about sports, or share our plans for the weekend.  We don’t often have time for deeper conversations.  But today —  today I enter an unknown environment.

I have been in the office once.  Situated on the second floor of an office building on the south side of Ann Arbor, the learning center is very professional.  All employees are in business attire (khakis are only allowed if they ‘appear to be professionally laundered’), students and parents buzz to get in and are greeted at the door by an employee.  The waiting room is clean and orderly.  The rooms within the office suite are tastefully furnished and impeccably kept.

The employees I interacted with during my two-hour interview were very professional.  They taught us a strategy and then practiced it with us, coaching us in the ways that they would coach students.  I have no idea how many employees there are.  I have no idea what backgrounds they come from.  I don’t know what students and parents I will be working with.

I just know who I am.

This morning’s devotion said that when Peter referred to believers in his letter I Peter, he used the word lithos, which is the same word that was used for the stone that was rolled away from the tomb. Beth Moore, in this study, said, “Wouldn’t it be something if our lives became living stones exposing the empty tomb…what if people were convinced we worship a living Savior simply by watching the effervescent life of the Spirit within us?”

What if in this new environment, where we don’t start with morning devotions over the public address, where I don’t attend chapel with my students, where I don’t start every session with prayer, my students and their parents and my coworkers can still see evidence that I “worship a living Savior”.  What does that look like?

I don’t know.

So that is my prayer today.  My prayer is that I will not be focused on how my physical body is feeling but that I will face each student in front of me as a gift, that I will recognize the awesome opportunity I have been given, and that I will see God working in all of it.  Stay tuned.

2 Corinthians 2:14

But thanks be to God, who always leads us as captives in Christ’s triumphal procession and uses us to spread the aroma of the knowledge of Him everywhere.

Continue reading “January 5th-ish”

Every t crossed, every i dotted

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

But, guys, I got a job!

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

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

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

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

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

Because, guys, I’ve got a job!

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

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

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

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

Matthew 6:8

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