Making it happen, for 28 years and counting, Revisit

This weekend we will celebrate 29 years of marriage, so I thought I’d recycle this post from last year to remind myself of how blessed we are to be together in His hand.

Yesterday, when a friend heard that today was our twenty-eighth wedding anniversary, she said, “Sometime we’ll have to talk about how you made that happen…”

Yeah, so, that’s not exactly how I would characterize the last three decades.

I didn’t make anything happen.  What I’ve made are numerous mistakes, countless swift judgments, and repeated poor choices. I started off strong — making the assumption that I knew how to be the best wife and mother ever, and I’ve spent the last twenty-eight years learning humility. I’m not an expert at communicating, loving, being patient, or putting someone else first. The fact that we’re celebrating twenty-eight years of marriage is not a reflection of our success, but a testimony to the grace and steadfastness of God.

We got married in our mid-twenties both of us having been touched by divorce. We had little in our savings, and I was still paying off student debt. During the first year, we lived at three different addresses  — moving once when my job location changed and again when our son moved across the state. We changed jobs, too! My husband left teaching to be a full-time graduate student, and I switched from being a classroom teacher to a resource room teacher to a teacher in a residential school all before our first anniversary!

The stress of that first year alone might have done us in, but we were starry-eyed and convinced that we had won the lottery, and we were going to have the best life ever, even if we did have moments where insecurities led to worry that lead to yelling or tears or silence.

Because we did (and do) have those.

I remember one time, it had to be in the first month (or even week) of our marriage. Who even knew what started the squabble, but there we were in the kitchen, standing like two giant X’s, arms and legs splayed, chests out, voices raised, fingers pointing, spouting the kind of words we had never said toward one another before. It was terrifying. Ours was to be the perfect marriage — how could this happen? Doors were slammed; we fell to silence. And then we began to learn how to repair.

Undaunted, on the heels of that first year, before John had even finished his counseling degree and secured a salaried position, we decided that we’d like to start our family. Before our second anniversary, we’d moved again, he’d begun an internship, and we were expecting a baby!

Shortly after our third anniversary, he was settled into a position on a church staff, we had purchased our first home, and we were expecting another baby!

By our fifth anniversary, another was on the way!

It was the season of babies. We were elbow deep in diapers, blankies, and sippy cups. My husband worked long hours while I navigated days of feeding, reading, playing, and rocking. It was such a rich time what with all the cooing and snuggling, but the pure physicality of it all was exhausting. I was daily relieved when John joined me in the second-shift — the bathing, rough-housing, and putting to bed. We had established a partnership — he picked up where I left off and vice versa, but it wasn’t all hearts and flowers. Sometimes, utterly exhausted, I glared at him for arriving home five minutes late or for forgetting to pick up milk on the way home. Often, when he saw me hanging on by a frazzled thread, he pushed me out the door to catch a breath, take a break, or sit in silence. He’s always been quick to care for me — to see my needs often before I know I have them.

Throughout the years, we’ve shifted roles many times as we navigated five more moves, two more graduate degrees, various stages of parenting, and numerous professional positions. Recently, we’ve found the most cherished roles of our lives as Oma and Opa to our two precious granddaughters!

Photo Credit: Erin Rathje

We’ve walked many roads together. We’ve attended weddings; we’ve been eye-witnesses to divorce. We’ve visited hospitals to welcome new born babies; we’ve been in the room for the last breath of life. We’ve sat in conference rooms and court rooms, in churches and synagogues. We’ve traveled to Austin, Boston, Chicago, and Detroit. We’ve even been to Canada, Africa, Israel, and Haiti! We’ve heard the best news and the worst news — all of this,  together.

After twenty-eight years we’re still happy to sit across the table with one another and talk for hours or to share the couch as we watch a whole Netflix series in a weekend.  We can power clean our little house together in a just over an hour or spend an entire day organizing one storage closet. We are comfortable talking and laughing while surrounded by friends and coworkers or simply drinking tea on our patio in the quiet of the morning, each reading our own book and saying absolutely nothing.

How did we make that happen? How did we live through more than 10,000 days of groceries and schedules and arguments and chaos and laundry and car repairs and taxes and track meets and homework and work functions and insurance claims and health challenges and road trips and still want to spend the next twenty-eight years together?

We didn’t make that happen. None of our choices have sustained us for twenty-eight years. Except maybe one,. We decided, way back in 1989, that if we got married, we would stay married. We would make our marriage vows to God, and He, we trusted, would make it happen. Though we were young and ill-equipped, we knew already that if we were going to have a life-long marriage, God would have to carry us in the palm of His hand.

And He has.

Even to your old age and gray hairs I am He, I am He who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you.

Isaiah 46:4
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The Assignment, #2

This is #2 in a participatory series. From time to time, I will blog with the heading “The Assignment”.  I will respond to one of  300 Writing Prompts*; you can read the prompt and my post here and then decide whether or not you want to post your own response to the prompt.   You can reply in the comments on WordPress or in the comments on Facebook where I typically share blog posts. 

The Prompt: “Have you ever spoken up when you saw something going on that was wrong? Were you scared?  What ended up happening?”

Hahahahahahahahaha.  Have I ever spoken up when I saw something going on that was wrong? That’s a good one!  1) I’m a teacher and former school administrator, 2) I’m a parent, 3) I’m a bit of a know-it-all.  Yes,  Yes.  I have often spoken up when I saw something going on that was wrong.

I might even say I am compelled to speak up when I see something going on that is wrong.  It can be a problem, actually.  Particularly if I get confused about the difference between “what is wrong” and “what I don’t agree with”.  Sometimes the distinction between these two categories is pretty clear; sometimes it’s rather subtle.

For example, the other day I watched an eleven year old dump about a quarter cup of Red Hot into a baggie full of Doritos.  I used all the restraint I could muster to hold myself to “Wow!  That’s a lot of hot sauce,” rather than saying “Dude, what’s the matter with you?  No one needs that much hot sauce!”  This was an instance of “what I don’t agree with” rather than one of “what is wrong”.  Although I myself am not a fan of hot sauce, this kid did nothing “wrong”.

On the other hand, if I overhear one teenager cruelly making fun of another teenager, I will most definitely step in and correct the first teenager. I am not a fan of bullying in any form.  It’s unnecessary. And cruel.  And wrong.

Not all issues are so clear cut.  Sometimes I can’t immediately distinguish between what is simply a matter of preference and something that is most certainly wrong.  I once saw a college student walking to class barefoot.  We chatted for a minute, and I did ask, “Where are your shoes?”  She responded, “I really don’t like shoes.”  Hm. Ok, I thought,  I wouldn’t go into a public place with no shoes, but I guess you would.  Later I learned from my Dean of Students husband that students are not allowed to go into buildings without shoes — it’s a health code issue.  Being barefoot in school is wrong.  So noted.

Further muddling the topic are situations that are “not under my jurisdiction”.  I have had more than one boss tell me, “that’s not your problem.” Hmph.  I will admit here to reluctantly walking away sputtering under my breath on such occasions.  I have a hard time believing it’s not my problem if 1) it’s wrong and 2) I’ve seen it.

You can imagine my struggle with living in a world that is full of “wrong”.  I watch the news and say to the TV from my couch,  “What?  You’ve gotta be kidding me!”  Last weekend during a basketball game between the University of Michigan and Michigan State, I yelled, “why do you keep throwing the same shot?  You’ve missed it all the other times, why will this time be different?”  Driving on the highway, I reprimand other drivers, “Really?  You’re gonna cut him off like that?”

Am I scared to speak up? No. My response when I see the wrongs of others is reflexive. I am not afraid of confrontation.  The fear comes in when I realize that I myself have been “wrong”.  And, let’s be honest, this happens regularly.  Someone with such a compulsion to call out “wrong” will certainly see her own flaws.

Last week I was sitting in my therapist’s office recalling a scenario from my holiday experience with my family.  I told her that I was lying in bed one night almost frantic that I hadn’t created the “right” Christmas.  Maybe I should’ve done something different — offered more activities, participated in more conversations, created more ‘magical moments’.   What if I had done everything wrong and had missed some opportunities?

My therapist said to me, “your expectations of yourself are so high, I can’t even see them.”  Indeed.  I really don’t want to get it wrong, especially when it comes to my family. But here’s the thing.  I’m going to get it wrong.

After my last blog post wherein I discussed my realization that I am sometimes driven by prejudice, a friend made a relevant and kind comment on Facebook.  I responded, “thanks for the grace,” and she replied, “We all need grace, but do you know who we need it from the most? Ourselves.”

It’s true.  While I am quick to call out wrong when I see it, I am also quite dedicated to offering others fresh chances.  The student who I dressed down for picking on a peer might be forgiven and encouraged by me within a few moments.  My Spartans, who kept missing shots against the Wolverines, still have my undying support and devotion. The kiddo who downed that whole baggie of dripping Doritos received high fives from me moments later when he read some difficult words in his lesson. I don’t let anyone else’s behavior determine my love for them because I know their actions do not define them.

However, I am not as quick to offer that same grace to myself.  I tend to revisit my sins and pile them up into the shape of my identity.  My failure to cover a learning objective makes me an ineffective teacher.  My inability to offer an appropriate emotional response makes me a bad mother.  My tendency to share my personal stories makes me a narcissist.

I get so carried away with “seeing”  all the “wrong” in my life that I become paralyzed. I can’t seem to offer myself the same grace that I would be more than willing to offer a friend or even a stranger.

I don’t think I’m alone.

So here’s to calling out what’s wrong,  to being defenders of the those who can’t defend themselves, and to being willing to look in the mirror and acknowledge that I don’t get it all right myself.  And in the same breath, here’s to offering forgiveness, to holding out hope, and to offering grace to the people in our paths and to ourselves.

I think we can give that a try, can’t we?

 

Ephesians 4:32

Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.

 

 

*300 Writing Prompts. Picadilly, 2017.

It’s all about that grace…

It’s been week-long lesson time over here at the little house by the river.  It all started last Monday when I arrived twenty minutes late for my first class of the semester.  I had made a mistake — missed the mark. I felt embarrassed and ashamed.  I fumbled through that first class making apologies and praying that my students wouldn’t base their opinion of me on that gaffe.

The same class met two more times last week, and truly, my students were gracious.  They arrived on time (mostly), they did their assignments (pretty much), and they engaged in classroom activities.  They, from all appearances, had offered me grace — undeserved favor.  My performance didn’t earn respect, but they gave it to me anyway.

So, I went forward through my week and offered the same to everyone else I interacted with, right?  That would be a nice way to end the story, wouldn’t it?

However, as humans go, I’m pretty run-of-the-mill.  I have a short memory, and I don’t like to apply the same rules to others as I do to myself.  I want everyone else to be perfect and to earn the favor that I give to them.

Turns out that most humans are pretty run-of-the-mill, aren’t they?

I’ve been struggling with a few humans in particular.  Their actions, or lack thereof, have left me fussing and fuming.  I have not been quiet about my disdain for these few individuals.  Their decisions, in my opinion, have been less than ideal; they have missed the mark.  In fact, most of the people I have fussed and fumed to have agreed with my assessment.  I have every right to cast judgment on these people because of their poor choices.  Certainly they have been wrong and should be held accountable.

It’s true.  All of us, in fact, have been wrong and should be held accountable.

So, a companion of mine (who shall remain nameless) and I were recently driving on the highway.  We were missing church to go to a family event, so the thoughtful driver (no names, I promise) had brought a devotion along to read in the car.  While the driver drove, I read the devotion about grace — this was not orchestrated; it was just the devotion for the day.   When I read the words, “Remember, grace is not given to us because of our goodness, but in spite of our sin,” I gave a hard gulp.  How many times have I received grace in spite of my sin? So many times. Each day. Today. Yet, I withhold that grace from others — maybe because their sin is different from mine, maybe because I have decided that they are unrepentant, maybe because they have hurt people whom I love.  I decide that they are not worthy of my grace.  They haven’t earned it.  But grace, by definition, can’t be earned.  Or deserved.  My driving companion and I mused on this for a moment and acknowledged how each of us had failed in this arena.  We had failed Grace 101.

Not long after I finished reading the devotion and  we had finished our musings, said driver had what we like to call “the pedal to the metal” when we flew past a Michigan State Trooper stealthily resting in the median.  Just as we zipped past him, the trooper flung himself out into the lane behind us.  My driver said, “He got me,” slowed the speed of the car, and moved toward the right lane in anticipation of being pulled over.  One other car separated us from the trooper when his flashing lights went on.  We watched the other car pull to the shoulder, fully expecting the trooper to move forward and pull us over, but instead, he pulled onto the shoulder behind the other car.

My driver and I looked at each other and exhaled.  “That,” I said, “is grace.”  We had been breaking the law after all; we had missed the mark.  We deserved a ticket but received undeserved favor.  Just in case we needed an object lesson to go with our devotion.

So I moved forward from that car ride and spread grace lavishly, right?

Have I mentioned that I am a run-of-the-mill human?  Within forty-eight hours I had meted out harsh judgment on others in my life. I had determined what mark they should reach and, noticing their failure to meet it, had poured on scorn and disfavor — exactly what they deserved.

But God, being ever gracious and merciful, gave me the lesson once more this morning.  He reminded me, through the gentle words of my physical therapist, of His great love for me and His great love for others.  Not only that, He reminded me of the privilege I have of bearing witness to His grace in the lives of those who desperately need to hear it.

I’ve missed the mark so many times, yet He continues to pour grace on me — through students, through pre-packaged devotions, through State Troopers, and through physical therapists.  Perhaps I’ll be able to bear witness to that this week.

John 1:16

For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.

Pray continually

People who have read my blog often ask me if I mind being so transparent.  Does it bother me that everyone can see my thoughts, witness my frailties, know the specifics of my challenges? Nope.

I’m kind of a right-out-there kind of a girl.  I always have been.  I am sometimes jealous of those who are able to conceal their true feelings, withhold information, or refrain from commenting.  I mean, I’m learning…I am 50, after all…but at heart, I’m truly ‘what you see is what you get’.

And where else should this be so than in my personal blog?  I just pointed out yesterday that one of my main purposes in writing this blog is to reflect.  I do this best through writing and not holding back.  Now, I do realize that not everyone functions this way.  It’s just the way I am wired.  I often, as I have written numerous times, don’t know what is going to pop out of my fingers until it does. I surprise myself.  And while, at least for the sake of blogging,  some topics are off limits for me — such as what happens in the bedroom or the bathroom — I don’t want to suppress myself or compromise the integrity of my writing.

I read somewhere this summer — I’ve read so.many.books. about writing this summer — that writing is all about finding your truth.  And, for me, writing this blog is, if nothing else, an exercise in telling the truth.  Often that truth is framed by what I am studying in the Bible on a particular day, so when my devotion this afternoon was about prayer and Daniel’s faithfulness in his daily exercise of prayer, I knew I had to go there.

So here I go: I’m not a faithful pray-er.

It’s not that I don’t believe in the power of prayer — I do!  It’s not that I don’t know what to pray for — I do!  It’s not that people don’t share their requests with me — they do!  It’s not that I’m so busy that I don’t have time to pray — I’m not!  I have no excuses!! I just am not a faithful pray-er.

That is why I started reading the book by Beth Moore, Whispers of Hope: Ten Weeks of Devotional Prayer.  I started reading this book over a year ago!  I’m on my third time through.  The idea is that you read a devotion every day, and at the end of the devotion,you write out your prayers.  Wouldn’t you think this would be a great fit for me?  It is!  In fact, I have written about the effectiveness of this book in this blog before!

[Oh my gosh, guys, I just Google searched “Whispers of Hope” and “Kristinsnextchapter” and I found a whole bunch of blog posts written by … Me! That is super weird!]

So the concept is great, and when I am disciplined about reading my daily devotion, I am usually good about writing down my prayers in my little notebook.  In fact, I’m on my second notebook!  However, you can probably already guess that I’m not super disciplined about doing my daily devotion!  I’m about as disciplined with my devotion as I am with my blog.  And I’m a little less disciplined with daily prayer as I am with either of those!

This blog entry is turning into true confessions of the poorly praying pastor’s wife.

Gulp.

But I haven’t given up. I am a work in progress.

I have champion prayer warrior examples all around me.  I have mentioned before, our great pastor friend, Rev. Wm. Gatz whose life-long ministry is teaching others the power of prayer.  His prayer life is inspiring. I think he’s been praying for our family for well over twenty years at least weekly, if not daily.  I don’t believe I know anyone who prays more, with the exception, possibly, of our good friend, Laurel, who I haven’t seen in years.  We haven’t lived in the same state in over ten years, but I am confident that Laurel prays for me and my family regularly.  That is terribly humbling for someone who often forgets to pray for her own husband and children, let alone anyone else.

Just this week, a good friend, who recently received his first call as a pastor mentioned on Facebook that he is creating a prayer wall in his new office.  He was soliciting requests to put on his wall.  You know I was one of the first to submit a request, but it never occurred to me that I could create my own prayer wall.  (Ok, I do realize that it just occurred to me now.)

So, I just had an idea. While I was in Boston last weekend, I was standing in the kitchen of one of my daughters.  She and her roommates use the front of their fridge as a white board to keep track of what items need to be purchased and who did what chore last — brilliant.  I have also been in the bathrooms of friends who use the mirror to list the prayer needs of family and friends.  So, I’m thinking that if I use a dry-erase marker on the side of my fridge that faces the sink where I stand to do dishes several times a day and on the mirror I stand in front of to dry my excessively thick hair each morning, I would find two (or more) times each day to be reminded to pray.

That’s it.  I’m gonna go start my lists right now.  You know I’m gonna let you know how this goes, right?   Wanna give it a try with me?

I Thessalonians 5:17

[Start, and then} “pray continually.”

Sumballo

But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.

Luke 2:19

As is my practice, I was just reading my morning devotion from Beth Moore’s Whispers of Hope: 10 Weeks of Devotional Prayer. I’m on my second time through this book and the accompanying Bible readings, yet I continue to be surprised by the content.  Perhaps that is because I am less than faithful in my ‘daily’ Bible study.  Or, perhaps it is because I have a short attention span.  For whatever reason, I am surprised and thrilled by the newness of God’s message to me.

Although my Bible reading has been haphazard, today’s ‘assigned’ reading is Luke 2 –the Christmas story.  The focus verse is the one above that describes Mary’s thoughtfulness after the birth of Christ.  Beth Moore says in her book that the word for pondered is sumballo “which describes taking many things, casting them together, and considering them as one”.  I can only imagine the moments that Mary had to ‘cast together’ — that long journey to Bethlehem, the moment when her parents discovered her ‘situation’, the tense conversations with Joseph, the labor and delivery in a less-than-ideal setting, the first glance at her child, the knock on the wall of the stable when the shepherds arrived, the visit from foreign dignitaries bearing gifts. When she pondered those moments “as one” what did they add up to for her?

I’m sitting here three days after Christmas in my little house by the river, and I, too, am taking a moment to ‘sumballo’. As a matter of fact, this blog has had a theme of ‘sumballo’.  For the last eighteen months I have been looking back over sections of my life, trying to ‘cast them together’ to ‘consider them as one’.  In doing this, I am finding so much meaning.

Sometimes we are  tempted to look at isolated moments as defining moments — that time that you lied to a trusted a friend, the year that your parents were divorced, the semester that you failed a class, that car accident that nearly claimed your life, the winning football championship, the Homecoming coronation, the birth of a child.  Certainly these moments shape us, but they do not define us.  From time to time we have to sumballo to put these moments into perspective as parts of a whole.

So, yes, I soldiered for ten years of my life.  This behavior was costly to my physical, spiritual, and emotional health and to the physical, spiritual, and emotional health of my family.  However, prior to that season, I stayed at home with my children for almost ten years — nurturing, hugging, reading, teaching, correcting, and guiding.  Within each of those periods were awesome moments  — young children singing happily in the car on a road trip — and devastating moments — the ones that you hope and pray will never happen to your family.  If we grasp onto any one moment and let it define us, we rob ourselves of the bigger message — the theme of our lives.

And what is that theme? I have said for years that the theme of my life is that I am ‘rescued by grace’.  I started saying that way back in my twenties when someone challenged me to write my testimony.  Even in those early years, I had a sense that God had rescued me even though I didn’t deserve it.  When I was careless, he protected me.  When I was selfish, He was benevolent.  When I was hateful toward others, He poured love on me.

As I am approaching fifty, I look back at all the events of my life, and I ponder them all in my heart.  Time and again I see my  failed attempts to do things on my own followed by God’s miraculous provision.  I see God transforming my pain into compassion for others.  I see my pride falling into humility.  I see the love of God.

I wonder what Mary thought as she pondered ‘all these things’ in her heart.  She had to see God’s miraculous provision in a faithful husband, a place of shelter, and safety from Herod.  She had to see God transforming her pain and embarrassment into compassion for others.  She had to feel humbled in the presence of the Christ child.  She had to see the love of God for herself and for all of humanity.

Despite our weaknesses, our poor choices, our sin — He loves us.  That is the message that I find when I sumballo.

Play Ball!

I am not too proud of myself at the moment.  I’ve had a series of less-than-stellar performances and I’m starting to feel like I’m going to get put on the bench.

Last Thursday I had a dud of a session with one of my students.  We were working on ACT prep and we just weren’t making progress.  We kept getting stymied and bogged down in words.  When I left him, I was frustrated and so was he.

I left him to go to another student.  She and I worked for an hour and a half on an outline for a research paper she is writing.  We referred to the teacher’s model, we attended to his rubric, and we created a finished product.  Her mom messaged me the next day — the outline earned a 60%.

This morning I worked with a student on reading comprehension.  We were pouring over college-level text that involved math. I am not inept when it comes to math, but I am rusty.  Very rusty.  We each read the text silently creating notes at the same time.  We compared our notes, then I asked her some higher order thinking questions about the content.  Without getting into the gory details let me just say that my student became acutely aware that I was out of my comfort zone.  I could have left it there.  I didn’t.  I asked a colleague, in the student’s presence, to help me understand what I did wrong.  And I didn’t just ask once, I blathered on and on, joking about my inability to set up a proportion correctly. That doesn’t sound like a horrible sin, but I had been told before working with this student that I should not reveal that I was a newbie — the student is very intelligent and needs to know that I am qualified to do this job. I  blew it.

The colleague pulled me aside and reminded me that this student’s success is contingent on the fact that she trusts our credibility. That’s when I remembered the explicit instructions.

It was time for me to go home, so I clocked out and walked to the car feeling a physical sensation I haven’t felt in years.  A dull ache was in my throat and through my chest.  I had blown it.  I couldn’t take it back.  What if this student didn’t want to work with me any more? What hardship would that cause for the agency?  What will it take to rebuild her confidence in me.

Really, I was a mess.

I texted the colleague expressing my grief.  When I got home and realized she hadn’t texted me back, I started to draft an email about how devastated I was at my failure, etc., etc.   That’s when I heard the ‘ping’.  My colleague texted me back! “Don’t worry about it!  It’s all part of this crazy steep learning curve!”

We texted back and forth for a few minutes and I began to breathe more regularly, to release the tension in my muscles, and to prepare for the student that I have this afternoon — the same ACT student that I tanked with last week.

I have had a lot of successes as a teacher.  I know I am capable, but lately I feel like I’ve been falling a little (or a lot) short.  I don’t cut myself much slack.  I expect to hit it out of the park every time I get up to bat, but even the best hitter in the MLB isn’t getting a hit even half of the time.  I don’t expect my students to get a hit every time they are at bat either, but they still get discouraged when they strike out.

They often want to throw the bat, stomp to the dugout and sulk. That is how I felt today.  I was sure I would collapse on my bed when I got home and cry for a while — I know better!  How could I make such a novice mistake!!

And I made another one, didn’t I?  My last post was about trajectory and how success is often related to how well we are able to adapt, bounce back, get back on the horse.

So I’ve had a few rough spots in the last week.  Who hasn’t?  I’ve said from the beginning that working with students is as much about lessons for me as it is about lessons for them.  Why would I be surprised when my learning gets a little uglier than I am comfortable with.  It happens for my students all the time.  And yet they continue to walk to the plate, pick up the bat, put their eye on the ball, and swing. I can learn a lot from these kids.

So, here I am picking up the bat and walking back to the plate.

Because of the Lord’s great love, we are not consumed; His compassions never fail.

His mercies are new every morning. Great is Your faithfulness.

Lamentations 3:22-23

The Tough Cookie Crumbles

In my former job, I was often called upon to mete out justice — all teachers are.  It falls upon all school staff to make sure that students follow the rules: wear the uniform appropriately, keep your hands to yourselves, respect others, abide by the honor code, etc. Any of my students would tell you that if I saw a shirt untucked, I would address it.  If a student was eating in the hallway, I would take their food and throw it in the trash.  If two students began a verbal exchange that threatened to escalate, I was quick to march them to the office to see the Dean of Students.  I was on it. I often joked that I actually worked for the FBI, teaching was merely my cover.

Perhaps the fact that I owned that responsibility so tightly contributed to my soldiering.  While teaching in the high school, I could quickly “put on” my Michelle Pfeiffer Dangerous Minds persona if I needed to “kick some butts and take some names”.  Tough times call for tough personas.  Truth is, that persona often clung to me a little longer than necessary.   I was in the business of “getting it done” for many years.  I was a tough cookie. As with anything else in life — being a tough cookie has its pros and cons.

Tough cookies don’t have a lot of time to be sensitive to the needs of others, but they can hold it together under extreme pressure.

Tough cookies don’t let their guard down very often, so they are often first to see when something isn’t quite right.

Tough cookies demand respect and often get it, but at what price?

Tough cookies are difficult to enjoy — they have to be dunked and dunked and dunked before they soften up enough to make them palatable.

Did I go too far?  Probably.

Here’s the thing…the past 2.5 years of dealing with health issues have put Michelle Pfeiffer on the shelf, probably permanently.  I don’t have enough energy for all that bravado.

The good news is that I am no longer in a position where I have to scrutinize the behavior of others.  I am no longer required to mete out justice.  I am now in a position where I can offer grace — a second chance.

Ahhhh…..

Let’s look at all the places that God has provided for me to offer grace:

  • I’m a new grandmother — guys, all I have for that little girl is love and grace.
  • My new job is working with students who have failed and failed and failed.  They think they will never read and never be successful in school.  The strategies I am learning can and often do,  in a matter of weeks, result in improved reading and comprehension scores — often multiple grade levels! I get to watch kids get another chance at success!
  • I am the only mother living on a college campus — I have already had a few opportunities to walk students through decisions or to provide resources with no strings attached.
  • In all of the roles I’m in right now (including my new job) I am easily twenty years older than everyone else.  I am praying that the wisdom of those years will transform into grace in all my interchanges.

Dear Michelle Pfeiffer,

It’s been a good run.  I’ve appreciated borrowing your leather jacket; you can have it back now. This tough cookie has begun to crumble, I think I’ll be buying a few cardigans.

John 1:17

Now the law was given through Moses;

grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.

So many sermons

Since Sunday I have heard four sermons.  I am not sure I have ever listened to four sermons in four days — until now.

On Sunday, we joined our son at the church he and our daughter-in-law are joining.  The pastor spoke about “Tough Truths for Hard Times”.  He pointed out that hard times are normal; they are a gift; they call for hard questions; and they are an opportunity to live by faith. I wrote in the service folder, “Live by the Word of God, even when I don’t know if it’ll work out.”

At home on Monday, after hearing from our pastor that I had missed his “best sermon ever” (wink, wink), I listened to his message “Beauty for Ashes” online.  The message recalled a time when Jesus interrupted a funeral procession to bring a dead man back to life.  He said that God also interrupts us as we live our lives; He enters into our circumstances and breathes life into us.

On Tuesday, I attended a women’s luncheon with a thousand other Lutheran women and heard Dr. Dale Meyer preach about “Life’s Crosses”.  He pointed out that throughout life we have many crosses to bear — illness, financial hardship, relationship struggles, etc. — and that the key to carrying these crosses is clinging to God in faith, trusting that He will bring us safely through.

Finally, on Wednesday night, I attended Lenten service where our pastor spoke about the beauty of grace.  He recalled the parable of Jesus in which the workers, all hired at different times of the day, received the same wages. He painted a picture of God as one who desires to give His best to everyone. I wrote in my notes, “God dispenses gifts, not wages.  The only thing we can do, by His grace, is receive them.”

Four sermons in four days.  I’m sitting here this morning at my computer thinking, “Ok, connect the dots.  What is the overall message God is bringing to you?”  And you know, the sermons are indeed meaningful, but He also has been speaking to me in the spaces around these sermons.

On the drive home from church with our son, we were discussing applying for jobs (my continuing quest) and I heard myself say, “I have applied for so many jobs, I have lost count.  I don’t even get upset any more when I get an email that says they’ve “gone in another direction”.

Riding to the luncheon on Tuesday, I heard my friend, a 72-year-old widow say, “I’m God’s worker.  I get up every morning and see what work He has for me to do.”

Last night after church, a friend asked me, “So how’s the job hunt going?” I heard myself respond, “I have applied for dozens of jobs.  I know God has me where He wants me; I am just impatient.”

This morning, I was updating information on the FAFSA for our daughter.  There was a message highlighted in red that said, “Your parents’ reported income is significantly lower than last year.”  Yeah.  I know.

Times aren’t really that hard in the little house by the river: we are well-fed and clothed, we love one another.  God is providing for all of our needs. Sure finances are a bit tight.  Sure I have to move at a different pace than I ever have before. But we have been given a gift of time and space to ask some hard questions and to sit with some of the answers.

God has indeed interrupted our lives with a career change, a move, a chronic illness, and some lifestyle changes. But in that interruption, He has breathed life through new friendships and new circumstances.

We do have some crosses — some challenges– on our plates.  I am learning that these challenges, the ones for which I don’t see resolution, keep me in a posture of dependence on God.  They keep me near to Him. They have me clinging.

And we have been given so much grace.  Not only at this particular time — but even when we were soldiering through, kicking butts and taking names.

So, the message of the last four days? Life is hard.  God is good. You’ve got struggles?  Yeah, that’s life.  You’ve got God?  That’s grace.  Keep your perspective, Kristin, keep your perspective.

John 16:33

I have told you these things so that in me you may have peace.

In this world you will have trouble.  But, take heart!  I have overcome the world.

Rescued by Grace

Born and raised in a Wisconsin Synod Lutheran Church, I didn’t grow up hearing testimonies.  We walked into church reverently, sat quietly on a wooden pew, tried to behave through the sermon, sang the liturgy and all the hymns, and shook the pastor’s hand on the way out.  It sounds rather non-emotional and stark, but still today if I hear that old liturgy or any of the old hymns I feel as though I have gone home and peace floods my soul.

But testimonies?  No.  The only person who spoke in church was the pastor.

So imagine my intrigue over the years when I attended church with friends — Nazarene, Assembly of God, Church of Christ, Church of God in Christ, Missionary Baptist — where others not only read the Scripture, but burst out of the pew from time to time to share a ‘testimony’.  I am sure my eyes were wide the first time I saw someone stand before the congregation declaring how God had rescued him from whatever peril he had been chasing, but over the years I have experienced a variety of forms of worship and not much surprises me any more.

God’s pretty amazing.  He shows up in a very formal Wisconsin Synod worship service, and He shows up in lot of other places, too!  And, get this, they aren’t all church.  He meets us wherever we we have need.

Years ago someone challenged me to write out my testimony.  I did.  I have misplaced it over the years, but I remember I titled it ‘Rescued by Grace’.  So, this morning when I was reading the last lesson in my Bible study workbook and the topic was ‘grace’, I was reminded of the different places that God has shown up in my life. So, kids, buckle up, I’m bursting from my pew.

The first time that I am aware of being Rescued by Grace was the day I was born.  My mother is only 5’2″ and I, her largest baby at 8 lbs. 13 oz., was trapped in the birth canal.  The doctor in the delivery room didn’t know how to get me out, but if I have the story right, it just so happened (you might read that as ‘it came to pass’) that a specialist was at the small community hospital in rural Michigan.  He swooped in and delivered me with forceps.  Rescued by Grace.

While I was in elementary school, my dad was a traveling salesman (not like Harold Hill, although his name is Harold, he was a respectable hardware salesman).  He was gone a lot and my mother also worked part-time.  I needed a safe place to play after school, and there was a family at the end of our street who had a daughter my age.  Her mother worked from home caring for her disabled husband and specially challenged adult daughter.  Almost every day after school I went to this house as though it were my own.  If money changed hands, I never knew about it.  What I knew is that I was safe and loved unconditionally.  I could be a real pistol to my friend and also to her mother, but they hung in there and loved me unfailingly. Rescued by Grace.

As a young adolescent, recently tossed about by my parents’ divorce and subsequent remarriages, I found stability through my confirmation classes.  It’s true.  It was the late 1970s and my pastor was fresh from the seminary.  He convinced me through his comments in class and in my confirmation workbook (which I still have) that I was called by God. So later, when I found myself distracted and hurting on a detour that landed me at a large university, I was able to hear that call myself and get back on the path to professional church work by transferring to a small Lutheran college.  Rescued by Grace.

Now, by the time I transferred I had a full-blown eating disorder.  But, God had placed me in a very small place where I could not go unnoticed.  In fact, every day when I dropped by the nurse’s office to weigh myself, she engaged me in conversation, not about my weight, but about my life.  So a year after I transferred, when I walked into her office and said, “I can’t do this any more,” she lifted up a card that had been sitting on her desk for who knows how long and, with me, called the eating disorders clinic and got me an appointment the next day.  Rescued by Grace.

I mean it goes on and on.  I see that I am now at over 700 words and I am not sure how much longer you will read.  But surely you have seen through this blog how the rescuing continues.  I was soldiering on in St. Louis over the past several years, trying to hold my life together “by myself, thank you very much” (the toddler comes out from time to time) and God swooped in.  A friend sent a note pointing out a position that truly is perfect for my husband. She didn’t have to, but she listened to the prodding of the Spirit and was a small cog in the wheel that was planning to Rescue me by Grace once again.

I’m probably going to have to turn this one into a book because as I write the situations keep popping into my head.  Our God is relentless in pursuing us, kids.  He doesn’t care how stubborn you are.  He doesn’t care if your church doesn’t share testimonies publicly.  He is going to keep coming after you, waiting for the day that you will turn and run to Him.

Luke 15: 20

But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him, and kissed him.