You can learn a lot from a toddler

You can learn a lot from a toddler.

We spent last weekend with our sweet grand daughter.  As many grandparents will attest, there is nothing quite like the love one feels for a grandchild.  People had been telling me this for years, but it took gazing upon our own grandchild to give me the full picture.  In the fifteen or so months since she was born, I have spent a lot of time just observing her. I’m starting to compile a list of lessons that this wee one is teaching me.

  • Play is important.  And it’s fun!  I’ve spent so many hours of my life being serious; I have sometimes forgotten to play.  Not this little girl!  She makes everything into play — eating blueberries, getting her diaper changed, taking a bath, riding in the car, and waiting in line at a restaurant.  If she has a spare second, she’s playing peek-a-boo, chase-me,  let’s-knock-it-down, splash your Oma, or anything that will make her, and me, laugh.
  • Fun is contagious.  Every time this little one giggles, I giggle.  If she makes a silly face, I make a silly face.  I can’t hep myself.  She draws me in.  She walks right up to me, hands me a book, leans toward me with a smile, and I’ve just gotta smile back.  I don’t think I was serious for a single second all weekend, unless you count that moment when she face-planted at the mall.  At that moment she taught me another lesson.
  • If you’re hurting, you just gotta cry. In my almost fifty years of life, I have stuffed a lot of emotions.  I have concealed fear, subdued laughter, and swallowed pain.  Not my little girl; nope. When she feels something, she shows it.  When she face-planted, she cried loud and hard — the kind of crying that loses its breath and gets silent.  It was legitimate.  She bruised the very fleshy part over her cheek bone.  She hit hard. When she cried, no one tried to silence her; we let her cry.  We had seen the injury.  We felt her pain.  And she taught us another lesson.
  • When you’re really hurting, Dad is the safest place to turn.  Opa swooped her off the floor and rushed her right to her daddy who engulfed her in his extra-strong arms so that she could bury her face in his extra-large shoulder and wail.  He just held her and held her while she cried.  He kept her safe and secure while Mom checked out the injury, Opa found us a place to sit down, and Oma got some ice.  When the pain ebbed a bit, and Dad placed her in a booster seat at a table, her tear-filled eyes watched him as she drank her drink and ate her fries.  When he stood to get some ketchup, her eyes followed him to the restaurant counter and back.  She checked that we were all still sitting near her, but she didn’t smile until he was headed back toward her. It wasn’t long before she regained her composure and reminded us of another lesson.
  • When you fall down, you gotta get back up.  After the spill and the fries, our girl cautiously entered the children’s area, observed what the big kids were doing, and then tried out some of the toys herself.  Mom showed her how to push the buttons that lit up.  She ran from one end of the play area to the other. She looked up at the towering climbing apparatus and then showed us another important lesson.
  • You’ve gotta know your limitations.  She was clearly impressed by the kids who were climbing higher than their parents’ heads, but she recognized that she didn’t have the means, or perhaps the courage, to go where they were going.  She walked under the looming structure, but when she realized that none of her people had gone with her, she turned around and walked back out.  No one had told her she couldn’t go in there, she just knew that if we weren’t going with her, she wasn’t going to do it alone.  In fact, at that point, she’d had enough of the play area and was ready to go walking for a bit.
  • Exploring is interesting.  Our girl was happy to ride in the stroller as long as we were moving and changing her scenery.  We walked through the crowded mall and she had plenty to look at, but when we went into a store and the stroller stopped moving, she voiced her protest.  And there’s our next lesson.
  • Let your concerns be known.  This little girl does not shy away from communicating.  When she is ready to move, she makes some noise.  When she’s hungry, she goes to the kitchen cupboard where her snacks are stored.  When she wants up, she reaches; when she wants down, she leans.  When she’s happy, she talks and laughs. When she’s sad, she cries.  But my favorite of all is her way of communicating when she’s just tuckered out.  She goes to her Daddy, the keeper of all things safe, and gives the signal.
  • Because when you need a recharge, you go to Daddy.  She stands near him.  She rubs her eyes.  She might try to climb up in his lap.  Since he’s her dad, he recognizes the signals.  He lifts her up and holds her close.  She puts her head on his shoulder and just submits to his embrace.  She doesn’t necessarily sleep; often she just soaks up his love for five or ten minutes.   He holds her, enjoying this mutual love fest.  If she falls asleep, he lets her. If a brief charge is all that’s needed, he smiles, kisses her head, and lets her back down to go play and explore some more.

I probably don’t have to spell it out for you.  You’re smarter than that. You can see what I saw, can’t you?  You can learn from a toddler, too.

    and a little child will lead them.

Isaiah 11:6

still learning, re-visit

after writing about what some of my students are learning on Monday, I re-discovered this post, first written almost three years ago, about the lessons I have learned from my children and my students. re-examined on February 28, 2019

Parenting and teaching have changed me. At one time I was quick to pass judgment on apparent ‘misbehavior’, I often fell prey to either/or reasoning, and I saw most arguments as very black and white. However, through more than two decades of parenting and almost that many years of interacting with students, my firm — almost rigid — beliefs about almost everything have been challenged and re-shaped.

One of the lessons that my kids and students taught me is that there is always more to a situation than first meets the eyes. Let’s say a student walks into my class late, unprepared, and seemingly unengaged. It would be easy to assume that this student is apathetic about my class specifically, and perhaps education in general. However, a closer look might reveal that the student was doing everything he could to get to my class on time, but his parents had their own timetable — they made him take care of a younger sibling all night, they got home from work late in the morning, and then made my student wait while they showered before they brought him to school. My student wanted to complete the homework, but his sibling was demanding. He wanted to be on time, but he had no alternate way to get to class.

Or, let’s say one of my children is snarky, disrespectful, and seemingly bent on opposing every direction I give. I might assume that my role is to demand respect, give firmer demands, and heap on consequences, but a closer look, and some long hours of listening, may uncover some deep pain that the child is afraid, even ashamed, to share with me. Acting out is not the problem; it’s a symptom.

Another lesson I’ve learned from my kids and my students is that there is always a third option. “Mrs. Rathje, should I study education or medicine?”  “Mom, should I run track or play soccer?” “Would it be better if I took this job or if I didn’t work at all?” My answer — “Is there a third option?”  Why not consider a career as a nurse educator? Is there any other sport or activity that seems interesting to you? Is there a different job you could consider? more schooling? service learning?

Too often I have found myself trapped in either/or thinking:

  • Do I want to be a vegetarian or eat meat?
  • Am I a night person or a morning person?
  • Do I like contemporary or traditional worship?
  • Am I conservative or liberal?
  • Should I teach or write?
  • Am I a Spartan or a Wolverine.

Don’t be ridiculous, that last one was just to see if you were still paying attention.

In my earlier life, I found it safest to ‘choose a side’. I was forming my identity, after all. I wanted to find my place. It felt too risky to remain fluid. I wanted the security of saying that I was Lutheran or Republican. I wanted a box to check. I was anti-Disney, pro-Life, for the environment, and against dying my hair.

Here’s the thing: putting myself in those boxes positioned me against those who put themselves in other boxes. If I liked only wheat bread, I might judge someone who only bought white bread. If I only shopped at Kroger, I might look down on someone who only shopped at Wal-Mart. I didn’t want to talk about it. I didn’t want to listen to why they preferred white bread or Wal-Mart. I knew I was right. No discussion was needed.

My attitude limited me. I unwittingly cut myself off from all kinds of people and experiences.  

Enter my children. And my students. Early on they were willing to listen to whatever I had to say. They were pliable. They wanted to please me. But over time, as they developed minds of their own, they began to question my positions. They began to challenge my opinions.

How dare they? I did not like this at all!! After all, I had been being right for so long. If I allowed myself to think differently, I was admitting that I had been — gasp — wrong!

But not really. That was some more either/or thinking. Here is what I have come to believe: once upon a time I held certain opinions based on what I knew at the time. Over the years, I have had many experiences that have caused me to re-think those positions. Based on what I know now, some of my opinions have changed. That, my friends is called human growth and development.

And here is the most important thing that I have learned. Life is complex. We can hold conflicting truths. I can, for instance, like the story line of The Lion King and still hate the over- commercialization of Disney and its portrayal of female characters. These opinions can co-exist. I can understand the health benefits of whole grains and still appreciate a nice loaf of French white bread. I can appreciate Wal-Mart’s low prices and still object to the business practices of the Waltons. I can eat both meat and vegetables, just vegetables, or choose a third option — vegetarianism on the weekdays and carnivorism on the weekends.

The amazing human mind is capable of far more complexity than we give it credit for. We limit its capacity to grow when we compartmentalize ideology into false dichotomies.

You might think I feel afraid now that I’ve moved outside of my previously confining boxes. Not at all. I find more room to breathe out here.

I’m telling you — a mother can learn a lot from her kids, and a teacher often learns from her students.

It is not only the old who are wise,
    not only the aged who understand what is right.

Job 32:9

Reunited, and it feels so good! (Revisit)

As I prepare for family reunions this week and next, I share this post, written in November 2015 and dusted off in July 2019. It celebrates family and friends, and echoes some of the thoughts from last week’s post about eternity.

One of the blessings of moving back to Michigan has been the chance to reunite with people we hadn’t seen in a long time, or at least hadn’t seen as often as we would’ve liked to for a long time. I will never get tired of locking eyes with familiarity, embracing family, or laughing with dear, dear friends.

When we lived in St. Louis, a trip to see our parents, any of our parents, took thoughtful planning, time off work, and long hours in the car. Now that we are in Michigan, we can be with parents in as little as 2, 3, or 4 hours. And often, when we visit our parents, we get to see siblings as well. In fact, we have four siblings living in Michigan, plus three nieces and five nephews and their families! Since we’ve been back, we have been able to attend holiday celebrations, birthday parties, and informal gatherings with all of them! We’ve told ‘remember when’ stories that make our parents cringe and smile, re-filled plates with family reunion fried chicken, and snapped all kinds of squished onto the couch holiday photos. After ten years in another state, these moments have an added richness — the smell of home.

We’ve also been able to reunite with friends. Proximity has allowed us the privilege of seeing some we hadn’t seen for twenty years or more! Several months ago, my husband preached at the church where we were married– we saw friends who recalled when we were dating and remembered decorating our car after our wedding. Last month, we attended my high school homecoming festivities and laughed with friends I have known most of my life as we watched a classic small town parade of decorated tractors, candy-throwing school children, and the red and black clad high school marching band. Just two weeks ago some dear old friends brought their son for a campus visit and ended up joining us for dinner. Each visit, each connection, brings me joy — the familiarity, the shared experience, the expressions of love.

You know, I don’t remember being so happy to see these people before I couldn’t see them whenever I wanted to. When I was around them every day, I’m sure that I took their presence for granted. I know that I brushed people off, moved past them in haste, and was even annoyed by them from time to time.  But after having been away for so long, every reunion — yes, every reunion — is filled with smiles, hugs, joy, and gratitude.

This past weekend, my sister, who lives in Texas, flew into Detroit. We laughed and reminisced as we drove the familiar highways to our mother’s house where our brothers joined us for a weekend of eating, laughing, and casually hanging out together. We didn’t go to any events. We had no milestone to celebrate. We just had time to sit together, poke fun at one another, and hug each other. We shared stories as we sat around the kitchen table late into the night. We loved being with one another.

When I was a little girl, my parents would tuck me in at night and say prayers with me. When our prayers were finished, they would leave me to go to sleep, but instead I would think about what would happen “if I die(d) before I wake(d)”. Little-girl-me often worried herself frantic — what if “my soul” didn’t like where it was “take(n)”? Forever is a very long time! The immensity of eternity totally terrified me, and I was often afraid to fall asleep.

Sometimes still today I think about heaven and I get a little anxious — it’s unknown territory, isn’t it? But when I consider all the connections of the past year, all the visits with family and friends, I start to picture heaven as one big reunion.

I will see my great grandmother who is likely in charge of a particular mansion. She’s got it spotlessly clean — the beds made with freshly pressed 100% cotton sheets, the smell of freshly baked cookies wafting through the hallways. I’ll see my grandfather who is very happy to be singing in four different choirs in between coffee and donut sessions with all of his friends. My grandmother will probably greet me, unassumingly, at the gates. She’ll smile her sweet smile, hug me, and ask what she can get for me. I’m pretty sure I’ll find my friend John laughing and telling colorful stories to his buddies, Twila buzzing around, cheering everyone up with her broad smile and tender heart, and dear Win, looking over her glasses at me and uttering sarcastically, “What took you so long?”

There will be so. much. hugging. And smiling. And laughing.

And then I’ll see Jesus himself.  

Although I haven’t met Him face to face, I know I will recognize Him the minute I see Him. He’ll be the one running to meet me, arms outstretched, smile wide, eyes sparkling. He will wrap me in His arms, and all my childhood (and adulthood) fears will fall away. The tears will be wiped from my eyes.

I won’t be afraid. After all of my travels, I’ll be with the ones I have loved, and I’ll finally be home.

Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God[a]; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.”

John 14:1-3

Just a Dot

Once upon a time, way back in the 1970s, I was in confirmation class.  The pastor drew a long line down the length of the chalkboard (Kids, a chalkboard is a pre-historic white board). Then he took his chalk (marker) and placed one dot on that very long line.  He said, “Imagine that the long line is all of eternity and that the dot is your life.”  He wanted us to understand that in the grand scheme of all creation we were but blips. Actually, I think the point was the immensity of God, not the brevity of man, but as an adolescent, my focus was all on me — the little dot.

David must have realized he was just a dot when he said in Psalm 39, “You have made my days a mere handbreadth; the span of my years is as nothing before you.  Each man’s life is but a breath.”

Little old ladies echo this sentiment when they approach young mothers who are weary from the endless hours of parenting and say, “Honey, treasure these moments, the years will be gone before you know it.” When I was a young mother, toting three children aged three and under, I could barely control myself in the presence of these senior ladies.  I so wanted to reply, “The years may fly by, but the minutes are killing me!”

Yesterday my father-in-law turned eighty.  Today we are meeting with all of my husband’s siblings to take him out for dinner. He was born in 1935 — before television, computers, cell phones, and the Internet.  I wonder if his years have flown by.

I wonder if when his mother died before his second birthday the year flew by.

I wonder if when his step-mother was abusive toward him the years flew by.

I wonder if when he left home at thirteen the year flew by.

I wonder if his years of service in the Army flew by.

I wonder if his years of working the third shift in an automotive factory flew by.

I wonder if his years of parenting four children, who were born within the space of five years, flew by.

Perhaps I will ask him tonight, because he has never told me.

Here is what he has shown me in the twenty-five years I have known him:

He loves life.  He had his first heart attack in his forties and never expected to make it to sixty, let alone eighty.  He gets out of bed each morning, does whatever exercises he is able to do, showers, dresses, and tackles whatever tasks are on the agenda for the day.

He loves people.  The man spends his days interacting with others.  In his younger days he worked all night and spent his days advocating for other union members and even running for public office.  He still, at 80, spends many days at retiree luncheons, city council meetings, church functions, and family get-togethers.

He loves helping.  He’s served in the Army, worked for the United Way, volunteered for the Red Cross, and serves his local congregation.  He’s done home repairs, provided financial assistance, given advice, and simply shown up for absolutely everything.

He loves family.  He and my mother-in-law have no greater joy than chatting with family — around their kitchen table, over the phone, or wherever they can find them.  Each Monday morning, he writes an email — he calls it ‘the update’ — and sends it to everyone in the extended family — siblings, children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, and cousins.  He shares the news and often an extra-corny joke to help us start our week.

But mostly, this man loves God.  Maybe it’s because he, like David, learned early on that his life was just a dot — just a handbreadth. Each time I’ve eaten breakfast with my father-in-law for the past twenty-five years, he has started with Luther’s morning prayer, the reading of a devotion, and the Lord’s prayer.  Each time I have eaten dinner with him for the past twenty-five years, he has ended with Luther’s evening prayer and the reading of a devotion. He is at church every time the doors open — often standing at the door, greeting those who enter, shaking a hand, telling a joke, or pulling someone aside to share concern over a life event that hasn’t gone unnoticed by him.  His life is a testimony to God’s faithfulness.

Since 1935 my father-in-law has been carried in the palm of the hand of God. And he knows it.  He understands the frailty and brevity of life; I can tell because of the way he squeezes every drop out of every day. I can see because of the way he leans in and listens, the way he looks in my eyes, the way he laughs out loud.

He sees the value in his little dot of a life.  Let’s go and do likewise.

Psalm 90:12

Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.

Thanksgiving in the Next Chapter, the rest of the story

I gotta tell you that Thanksgiving in the Next Chapter is different!  I really was planning on making the green bean casserole and baking the pie on Wednesday.  I was!  But it didn’t happen.  And it was ok! Let me tell you how it went down.

Wednesday I did go to the Post Office and I did try to look the clerk in the eyes, but he wouldn’t have it.  I swear he is a cyborg.  Every time I go in he says the exact same thing, moves in the exact same fashion, and perfectly avoids all eye contact or casual conversation.  I did manage to say, “Have a great day!” I think his automatic response was “You, too.”

I did hit the gym — thirty minutes on the elliptical, a few reps on the weights, ten laps in the pool, a short sit in the jacuzzi, a run through the shower and I was on my way.

I drove through Starbucks en route to the grocery store thinking to myself, “Really? You planned all week to go to the grocery story on the day before Thanksgiving?”

My daughter joined me on the phone and walked with me round the store, up and down the aisles, back and forth as I remembered and forgot different items on my list.  I let others go ahead of me and intentionally moved slowly. I think I was there for almost two hours.

I got regular text updates from my other daughter as she made her way across the country to join us for the holiday.  And I did pray over and over that her trip would be safe.

And by the time I got home from the grocery, I didn’t even have the steam to unload. Bye-bye, pie.  Bye-bye, green bean casserole.

I did have the presence of mind to purchase a rotisserie chicken, some deli cheese, assorted crackers, and such, so that I wouldn’t have to make dinner, but I had to lie down and rest before I could even think about attempting to put out the spread.

My son carried in the groceries, and he did also vacuum.  No one dusted.  And, you know, I watched as the new Kristin was ok with all of this.  She sat in bed watching three episodes of Gilmore Girls.  She closed her eyes for a while.  When she felt she could, she rose out of bed and put out some food for supper.

After hugging, eating, and chatting, everyone slept.

On Thanksgiving morning, we all rolled leisurely out of bed.  I put the turkey in the oven and made the green bean casserole.  The stuffing was a group effort with three people contributing their expertise.  A daughter made cranberry sauce expertly and whisked gravy like an old pro.  A boyfriend owned the pumpkin pie.  A son mashed potatoes and set the table.  The husband did the heavy lifting and much of the pre-, during-, and after-dinner clean-up.  Everyone helped get the feast on the table. We all chatted and enjoyed one another. And ultimately, everyone was delightfully stuffed.

We had no schedule.  No pressure.  No disappointment.

I climbed in bed with a book around 6:30.  I read and rested for a few hours before I was finally ready for sleep.

For the forty-eight hours of Thanksgiving, I didn’t once rush, and it all went perfectly.  Why didn’t I figure this out twenty years ago?  Because I thought my soldier strategy was working just fine, thankyouverymuch.  Let me be clear here, my soldier strategy sucked. (Sorry, Mom — she hates when I say ‘sucked’.) This is one more lesson in process over product, journey over destination, being over doing.  I’m getting it, guys.  It’s taking a while, but I am getting the message.  I can be still and know that He is God.  I can rest in the palm of his hand.   And, it’s much better for everyone when I do.

Psalm 46:10

Be still and know that I am God

Luke 12:32

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

Thank you

Military roots run deep in this family.

My father-in-law enlisted in the Army in the mid 1950s, and stayed in the Reserves until his retirement.

My father enlisted in Marines in the late 1950s and served his tour in California. His brothers all served, too.

My brother-in-law attended West Point in the early 1980s and served in Germany before he became a Reservist. He later re-activated and did two tours in the Middle East, worked in the Pentagon, and retired just recently.  He now works for FEMA, continuing to serve our country.

My husband enlisted in the Army ROTC at Central Michigan University in the early 1980s. He served as a reservist until we were married in 1990.

My sister enlisted in the Navy in the mid 1980s and served as a recruiter until her retirement.  She also now works for the federal government.

My nephew enlisted in the Air Force ROTC when he began his studies at MIT. He is now an officer and an aeronautical engineer working for the USAF.

It came as no surprise two and a half years ago when our son told us he was enlisting in the Army.  He has been wearing fatigues since he was 18 months old.  He and his dad (and certainly his sisters) spent hours on the floor setting up little plastic green Army guys in intricate patterns.  He was awe-struck by his uncle — his uniform and his huge responsibilities.  And, he always knew the serious calling that the military was — the willingness to lay it all down for people you love and for people you don’t even know.  He knew that signing on the line was agreeing to that.

So did all the others, and they still agreed to it.  Every one of them.

Countless men and women have signed on the line.  They have agreed to wear the uniform day in and day out.  They have agreed to years of minimal pay, mediocre food, long hours, and looming danger to protect people they love and people they have never met.

They get a few perks.  This past weekend our son got four days off from work.  He got to run a 10-mile race for his battalion with a team of fifteen other guys. They get camaraderie — buddies they will have for the rest of their lives.  They get world travel — our son went for three weeks to South Africa on a training mission. They get world class training — in everything from navigation to first aid to strategy to firearms.

They also have the daily risk, even when they are just training, that someone won’t make it.  They train hard to be in the top physical condition so that they will be able to withstand extreme circumstances.  They learn to jump out of aircraft in the dark of night so that they can land in territory where they have never walked. They practice firing weapons so that they can with speed and accuracy take out an enemy.

They do a lot of things that you and I would rather not know about.  And they do them willingly to protect us at risk of their own lives.

For this we take one day each year, today, to say thank you.

So, thank you.  We are proud of you and of your sacrifice.

John 15:13

Greater love has no one than this; to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.

Changing

I got home at 2:30 am today. That’s a real time.  I left the Washtenaw County Courthouse around 2:15 and drove through a mostly abandoned Ann Arbor, past the medical center, and the VA.  I was less than a mile from home, near Gallup Park, when I thought, “Oh, I better watch for deer—” and as I said it,  one appeared, as my son would say, “at eleven o’clock.”  I stopped in the middle of the road, met eyes with the critter, and nodded for him to go ahead and cross.  I swear he nodded back and then sprang across the road in front of me.

After over seven hours of chatting with the two agents from the Associated Press, entering tallies into my iPhone app, and playing countless rounds of CandyCrush (yes, I re-installed that dumb game on my phone!), I was not quite ready for sleep.  So I plunked down on the couch and read.

A friend recently loaned me a book called, Still Alice, which chronicles the life of a woman about my age who is diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s.  It is told from her point of view from before the diagnosis until she no longer recognizes the people in her family or even herself. I read and I cried.  I’m not sure what touched me more, her sense of loss, or the ways that her family learned to love and care for her as she became something that she had never been.

Around 4:30am, with only about thirteen pages left, I decided I was too drained to finish the book, so I crawled into bed and knocked out.  I woke up of my own volition around 11.  Chester may have been willing me awake, because when I stirred, he leapt to his feet and pleaded with me to take him outside.  Apparently I understand deer and golden retrievers.

I took him out, went back to the couch, tried some more to conquer Candy Crush and pushed away thoughts of eating, making tea, blogging, and working out. I wasn’t sure I would do much at all today.  My body ached and I was tired. I didn’t feel hungry and I wasn’t even really interested in tea.  Maybe I would just lose the day to couch-dom.

I hadn’t been in my position long when the front door opened.  My husband entered and found me looking, I’m sure, pathetic in my jammies with a glazed look on my face.  “I thought you might be up.  Can I make you some lunch?”

“I guess I should eat something.”

“Can I make you some tea, too?”

“I’ll come join you in the kitchen.  Maybe if I washed the dishes my hands would feel better.”

He sautéed onions and spinach in butter and stirred in scrambled eggs, just how I like them.  I washed dishes and told him about my night downtown.  We ate and laughed together and by the time he left I was ready to go back to my book, to think about driving to the gym, and to sit for a few minutes at my computer to blog.

It’s not lost on me — the connection I am making between my life and the book.  I am a someone I have never been.  Sometimes I don’t recognize myself.  Yet, I have a husband, and children, who are learning new ways to love and support me.

Oh, and I think I am learning to talk to animals.

Lamentations 3:22-23

Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,

for His compassions never fail.

They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.

Evaluating Exchanges

It came this morning — my first rejection notice.  “Thank you for taking the time to apply.  We are contacting you to let you know that the position has been filled.”  I should have kept every letter or email like this I have received over the years.  You can’t be addicted to applying for jobs without experiencing the rejection letter.  And, just like with parking tickets and library fines, I take rejection letters in stride.

I actually was not surprised by this one at all.  The position needed to be filled as soon as possible, and I recorded that I would be available starting January 5.  This letter didn’t sting.  Actually, it spurred me on to look for more openings and to put in more applications.  You know, improve my chances.  So, I checked all my usual spots for jobs, to no avail, and then said to myself, “OK, on to blogging.”

The fact is, as much as I am looking forward to finding a position, I know I will make an exchange when I am actually hired.  I will exchange availability for schedule.  I will exchange boredom for activity.  I will exchange rest for work.  I will exchange energy for pay.  It’s math, guys.  24 hours – 0 working hours = 24 Kristin hours.  Right now I spend each of those hours virtually as I please.  I sleep for 8-10 of them.  Yeah, I know — luxury.  I cook for 1.  I read for 1-2.  I exercise for 1-2.  I socialize for 1-2.  I do Bible study and blog for 1-2.  I rest for 1-2.  I clean or run errands for 1-2.  And pretty soon, my twenty-four hours is used up!

Now, one thing I know about math (besides the fact that I am lousy at teaching it) is that it is consistent.  It always works.  So, if I work for 4 hours a day and sleep for 10 hours a day, that leaves for 10 hours for everything else — exercise, cooking, cleaning, shopping, socializing, spending time with family (including my husband, of course), and resting.  That might work.  If I spend 8 hours a day working and 10 hours a day sleeping, I have six hours left for everything else.

Before I slowed down due to my physical limitations, I was spending about eleven hours a day with work-related activities — travel to and from work, actual time at school, grading and prepping, and extracurricular activities.  I started to realize that something needed to change when I would drive dazedly (I think that’s a word!) home from work, collapse onto my couch, and then crawl off to bed before I started the whole cycle again.  After all, 24 minus 11 hours at work minus 10 hours of sleep = enough time to shower, eat, switch one load of laundry, and respond gruntingly to the people I love the most.

I can’t go back to that. I would exchange too much.  I am not willing to trade time on the phone with a daughter or son for time in the car.  I am not willing to trade dinners with my husband for supervising a hallway.  I am not willing to trade time blogging for time grading papers.

But I think I am willing to trade a couple hours of Netflix for a couple hours in a library, or teaching a community college course, or editing a dissertation. I am willing to trade time spent hunting for jobs for doing an actual job. I am willing to let my husband cook dinner occasionally so that I can use my God-given gifts to connect with others.

I am close to the time when I will be ready to make an exchange. But I won’t trade time with my son who is coming home on leave next month. I won’t trade the Christmas holidays with my daughters who will both be here.  I won’t trade meeting my new granddaughter.  I won’t trade walks with my husband.  I won’t trade time re-connecting with Jesus.

This gift of time, of being still has allowed me to appreciate the value of time with those I love the most.  It’s worth more to me than any job, any title, any paycheck.

I won’t trade it for anything.

Matthew 6:21

For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

True story

Once upon a time there was a confused little college girl who was struggling to figure out life.  One day her friend asked her to cover a babysitting shift.  The girl agreed, and waited to be picked up at her dorm.  A snarky young youth minister named Lloyd  drove her to his nearby home where he introduced her to his perky little wife, Twila, and their energetic and wide-eyed daughters Angie and Megan.

Over the months and years, the girl played games, watched television shows, did homework, and ate snacks with the young girls while their parents went to Bible studies, led youth events, taught classes, and handled other responsibilities.

While Lloyd had a very busy position at the church, Twila, in addition to supporting him and caring for the girls, was a hospice nurse.  She went to homes and cared for many who were packing their bags.  She prayed with them and even waved goodbye as many went to meet Jesus.

The girl watched Lloyd and Twila serve everyone around them, claiming no fame for themselves, but always doing what was best for others. (It’s true, I’m not just saying that.) In fact, when the girl was in need of a place to stay, not once, but twice, Lloyd and Twila moved Angie and Megan into one bedroom so that the girl could have the other.  They allowed the girl to ‘cook’ (lots of oopses along the way), ‘clean’, and transport the girls in exchange for room and board.

Many years later, when the girl was grown with children of her own, and living far away in another state, Lloyd and Twila moved with their granddaughters just a literal stone’s throw away.  Again the girl was touched by the servant hearts of Lloyd and Twila who, even though they were busy, were never too busy to give a hug, sincere eye contact, and a listening ear.

Even when Twila got breast cancer, she still seemed to give more to those who were caring for her than they could give to her.  The girl watched her minister to other women who thought they were bringing meals and cards to encourage Twila.  Even when she was loaded with chemo, Twila beamed at everyone who came into her view. She remembered faces and names, and prayed for others continually.

Later, as they once again moved far away, the girl watched Twila tolerate cancer for many, many years.  She also watched Lloyd,  in his matter-of-fact way, care for Twila and love her through that long battle.  She admired Angela and Megan as they grew into adulthood watching their mother fight and learning how to love like she did.  She marveled at the granddaughters who had front row seats for such models of love and faithfulness.

Then, one day, at just the right time, the family noticed that Twila’s bags were packed.  They gathered around her, called out to legions of friends far and wide to pray,  and waved goodbye as she went to meet Jesus.

The girl watched from afar, thanked God for touching her life with these people , and wept.

[she] fought the good fight, [she] finished the race,

[she] kept the faith…

2 Tim 4:7

Love that lasts

During this time of transition, my husband and I are visiting many churches — some of them because he is speaking there, others because we want to get to know the area and find a church home, and still others because we want to learn where those we are serving with are worshiping.  Today was option three.

We worshiped with one of my husband’s coworkers at an area church that is focused on outreach — they are very intentional about connecting with the community in very tangible ways. Pretty cool place.

The message today was centered on how to have love that lasts — sure, marital love, but also love between friends, between parent and child, etc.

I will take a short commercial break to let you know that my husband and I, along with a half-dozen other couples, were asked to stand in the aisles of the church and dance.  It’s not what you think…the pastor had all the married couples stand like they often do at weddings.  Then he asked those who had been married five years or more to remain standing, then those who were married ten years or more, etc.  Finally, all the couples who were married more than twenty-three years were invited into the aisles. Music was played.  The couples danced, and then were invited to sit as the years ticked on.  You know the drill.  The final couple standing had been married forty-three years! What a blessing!

The pastor then suggested three methods for planning for a ‘love that will last’.

  • Worship God
  • Work on yourself
  • Serve your spouse

Three steps.  Should be easy, right?  Read them again.  Not so easy.

However, I have to say that after twenty-four years of marriage I have to agree with his strategy.  Although we are flawed human beings who have not always put God first in our lives, we did marry with the intent of serving God together.  I believe that this foundation is the sole reason that we are still together after all these years.  It hasn’t all been a walk in the park.  There have been some (very) difficult days, weeks, months, and even years.   The grace of God coupled with our commitment from the beginning to hang in there, no matter what, has held us together.

Now, I may have started this marriage thinking that both of us were perfect and that we were perfect for each other, but I have since faced reality.  I will admit that I noticed his flaws before my own.  Shocking, I know.  But I remember quite clearly one day, in a living room with sculpted brown carpeting, when I was very upset with my husband. He had the audacity to suggest that he was not the one who would ever make me happy.  What?  Well, then, why in the world did I marry him?  Amidst my fussing and fuming, he reminded me that the only one who would truly bring me contentment would be God, since He is the only one who is not selfish or flawed.  Well, then.

It may have been about that time that I began to look in the mirror.  Small glances at first.  A lot needed to be addressed; it would take a life time.  I’m still working on it.

As far as the third area that the pastor suggested, I must say that my husband has always been better at serving me than I am him.  In fact, it began on the night that he proposed to me.  He washed my feet, yes, literally washed my feet with a basin and a towel, and then told me that he wanted to serve me for the rest of our lives.  And, so far, he has done that.  Even during the ugly times, he has put me, and the children before himself.  He has gone without to make sure that we wouldn’t have to. He has stayed up late and gotten up early to make sure that we could all sleep as much as we needed.  He has worked his tail off to provide for us.  But most importantly, he has served us by serving God first.  We haven’t all always appreciated that, but it was precisely the right thing to do.

I don’t know if I will ever be as much of a servant to him as he has been to me.  I still get distracted by protecting myself, you know, kicking butts and taking names.  But, it is getting easier all the time to take care of him, especially when I realize how well cared-for I have been.

This morning was a good reminder of how blessed we have been.  I am glad that we have this grace period to pause and take stock. We are rich to have a love that lasts.

Matthew 19:6

…what God has joined together, let no one separate.