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.”

 

 

 

Music

A video is circulating on Facebook that shows a young man sitting quietly at  baseball game when Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ on a Prayer” begins to blast from the speakers.  The music pulls him out of his seat and he is transformed into an exuberant happiness machine — moving among those seated around him, touching them and hugging them.  The people are not troubled by this, as you might expect.  The music has transformed them, too — they are touched by the young man’s happiness and willing to be part of his experience.

Music transforms us. 

I’ve always loved riding in the car with my daughter.  Something about moving along the highway, windows down and radio blaring, frees her from her stresses.  She sings loudly and passionately with everything from  Queen to Billy Joel to Young the Giant to David Crowder to The Black Keys.  For a while, she kept a cowboy hat in the back seat so that she could pop it on her head when she drove to signify this freedom from life’s troubles and pure abandonment to the music.

Music frees us. 

This morning at Bible study, one of our ladies came in weeping as she announced that a close friend has just a short time to live.  Many shared their condolences.  Later, as we closed our time together, we had a corporate prayer as we always do.  Women took turns lifting their praises, thanks, concerns, and requests.  The time was winding to a close when the woman whose friend is dying said, “forgive me, a song just came to me.”  She began to sing and several around the table hummed along, joining her in worship.

Music consoles us. 

Also at Bible study this morning was a woman whose husband left his life with Alzheimer’s last week to start his life in Heaven.  She was beaming when she entered the room.  She had labored with him for five hard years and was so relieved that his battle was over. She pulled a folded paper from her purse that she had found this morning in her husband’s Bible — it noted the date and time when he had accepted Jesus as his Savior.  She said, “Isn’t that wonderful?!”  She asked us if we would join her tomorrow at her husband’s funeral.  “Won’t it be fun?!”  she exclaimed.

I knew what she was talking about because she attended the funeral for my dear friend just a few weeks ago.  I happened to catch her out of the corner of my eye as the praise music played.  I knew that at the time her husband was at home with hospice workers, but I wouldn’t have been able to tell you that from looking at her.  As she sang the songs, her hands were raised and her smile was wide.  I know she is looking forward to experiencing that again tomorrow.

Music transports us. 

Yesterday morning I attended a chapel service commemorating Veteran’s Day.  A few dozen veterans, some from World War II, some from Korea and Vietnam, some from the Gulf Wars, and some just starting their service, were seated near the front of the huge sanctuary.  The choir sang “O, Beautiful, for spacious skies, for amber waves of grain…”  As they sang verse after verse, I began to hear the voices of those seated around me –men and women in uniforms, jackets, and vests, denoting their service — began to sing along.  At first it was quiet, but it built, unashamedly — that song of unity.

Music unites us. 

It’s a gift, isn’t it.  We don’t need it, surely.  It’s an unnecessary blessing that breathes life into us, refreshes us, and inspires us.  Thank you, God, for music.

Psalm 96:1

Sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord, all the earth.

Sing to the Lord, praise his name; proclaim his salvation day after day.

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.

Sign me up!

Whew!  I had a close call yesterday.  I asked the administrator, during my interview when she hoped the position would start, she said, “Monday,” and I almost said, “Sign me up!”

It’s a good thing I have all of you as witnesses to my commitment of January 5.  Because when I said, “My initial plan was to not return to work until January…”  she said, “That’s fine!  We will still need you in January.”  It’s also a good thing that I have mentioned the need to only work part-time, because when she said, “It’s Monday through Thursday 8:00-3:30,” I was able to sputter, “that’s a little bit more than I was planning on.” Her response? “How does 8:30 – 1:30 sound?”

And I haven’t even told you the exciting stuff.

The school was started by a group of individuals who did a study that revealed a college graduation rate of 12% among the residents of the south Ypsilanti area where the school is located.  This is in stark contrast to the 84% college graduation rate on the other side of Michigan Avenue where Eastern Michigan University is located.  It’s first goal was credit recovery, but quickly shifted to high school completion.  The school uses an online platform combined with project-based learning.  The halls are decorated with project plans and completed projects — among them a three-dimensional replica of Fort Michilimackinac and a comparison/contrast of Twelfth Night and 10 Things I Hate About You. 

The head administrator and the principal explained the fluidity of the curriculum to meet the needs of students who might be the first in their families to graduate.  The administrator said, “What the students need more than anything is someone who believes they can do it.”  When I asked, “So, what might my role be, would I need to come in on day one with a plan?”  She answered, “They will let you know what they need.  They want this. They will put you to work.”

So let me get this straight —  the students, many of whom are over 17, come to school voluntarily, follow their own plan for high school completion, enlist the help of school personnel to make that happen, and display virtually no behaviors unbecoming of students?  Because they know that the teachers believe they can do it and are working to make it happen?

Sign me up.

Now, perhaps I am looking through rose-colored glasses.  Perhaps I am not seeing the school’s weaknesses.  Maybe it is not all that they say it is.  There is only one way to find out.

Sign me up.

I mean, after all, it’s not a contract.  I would only be a paraprofessional.  If I don’t like it I can leave.  Right?

Let me be clear, here.  I have not actually been offered a position, but I think it’s mine if I want it. Listen to this:  I might be getting paid to encourage students to finish their high school diplomas — students who really want to finish their high school diplomas.  I am also being paid, by the way, to read and respond to a master’s thesis on cheating in educational settings.  And today, remember, I am going to be paid to report election results.

Remember last week when I was worried about finances and I climbed up onto my Dad’s lap to talk to Him about it?  See what He’s doing?

Yeah, I see it, too.

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,

to Him be the glory.

Ephesians 3:20

He will wipe every tear from their eyes

Is it possible to have the spiritual gift of tears? I have often thought I could get a gig as a professional wailer for funerals.  When I was a child, I could be counted on to cry at any given occasion, usually because I wasn’t getting my way, but also because I was sad, or tired, or hungry, or one of my brothers had poked me one too many times.

As I grew older, something changed, and I don’t always produce tears on behalf of myself.  I might get a little choked up at a goodbye, but rarely do I really sob because of something that is happening to me or about me.

But let me see someone I love hurting, and look out!  I don’t even really need to know what they are hurting about.  If someone dear to me has a tear in her eye, my eyes will well up to match it.  If someone I know has lost someone dear, I will weep with them.  But what’s really weird is the fact that I can see a total stranger sobbing and I, too, will feel overcome with emotion.  Does everyone do this?  Or is it just me?

Yesterday, I had a good reason to cry.  I attended the memorial service for a dear friend who died almost one month ago.  I hadn’t seen her in three years, so it’s not like I will miss our daily interactions.  She holds a dear place in my heart because of her impact on my life, but I am actually thanking God for taking her after eight long years of battle with breast cancer.  My body sighs relief to match her relief.  But, despite the fact that I am happy for her, I sobbed yesterday.

And, not really for myself.  I think I can be honest about that.  The service was at the church she had belonged to for twenty years — where she and her husband had raised their daughters. Many friends had come to share in the celebration of a woman who certainly beamed joy into every room she entered.  All the music was up-beat praise music, which is what my friend and her family loved.  It all proclaimed the hope she had in Jesus and the certainty of her salvation.  None of this made me cry.

What made me cry was watching the back of her tall, broad-shouldered husband of forty years, standing in the front row without her, singing the words of the songs, nodding his head in agreement. What made me leak tears was seeing her daughter embrace her granddaughter, sharing tears of loss and sadness.  What made me sob was watching her other daughter stand erect and sure, dabbing at her eyes, then walking to the front of the church to share beautifully her mother’s legacy which she challenged friends and family to carry on.

My day to day life will not be changed because my friend has changed addresses.  The lives of her family will never be the same.  For them, I wept.  For them, I pray for comfort.

Revelation 21:4

He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more,

neither shall their be mourning, nor crying, nor pain any more…

I know the plans I have for you

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

“plans to give you a future and a hope.”

Jeremiah 29:11

I’ve been sitting at my computer now for about an hour.  I keep getting distracted from my blog.  I made a hotel reservation for an upcoming trip.  I sent a few emails.  I printed a few documents. And I even started a job application.

Don’t worry, I quickly abandoned it when I realized how long it was!  I don’t think I’m ready yet!  That’s ok, it’s only October 13.  I have time, and God has a plan.  Right?  I am counting on it!

That doesn’t mean I am going to stay in my pajamas until January 1 expecting a phone call that will offer me a ridiculous amount of money to do exactly what I love.  Of course not!  Although my jammies are rather comfy, if I do say so myself.  I will apply for some jobs.  I may even complete an application today, but I’ve gotta work up to it.

God’s plan for me right now is to be doing exactly what I am doing.  I am resting.  I am processing.  I am feeling.  I am evaluating.  I am healing.  And it all takes time.

It’s pretty amazing to me that the whole time I was running around in St. Louis, working full-time plus, parenting, maintaining a large home, and barely keeping my head above the water line, God was planning for me to take this break.  He knew it was coming. I had no idea.  I just kept pushing.  Wash another load of laundry, grade another stack of papers, buy another cart of groceries, fill another prescription, cook another meal, make another appointment.  It was non-stop.  Until God said, “Stop.”

I never expected a break.  I longed for a shift, a different position, a lighter load, an emptier nest, but never in a million years, did I imagine six months of not working, just resting, just recovering, just contemplating.

But He knew.  He knew I needed time to do nothing.  Hours to read, to play Words with Friends, to sleep, to watch Law and Order (there, I finally outed myself), to try new recipes, to drink coffee and tea, to connect with old friends, to make new friends. I had no idea I needed this.  But He did.

It’s a bit overwhelming, to be honest.  The one who created the universe– the trees, the river, the deer, coffee, and every single person — noticed me running frantically about like the squirrels in the trees outside my window.  He saw me fussing and fretting and trying to order my world.  And, instead of just being entertained my my futile attempts, he stepped into my life and provided what I needed.

So, why would I worry that he doesn’t have the next phase planned, too? I have no idea.  For forty-eight years he has provided just what I needed at exactly the right time — friends, mentors, experiences, finances, food, shelter, clothing, spouse, children, employment, and even rest.  Why would He stop now?

Luke 12:6-7

Are not five sparrows sold for two cents?  Yet not one of them is forgotten before God.

…Do not fear, you are more valuable than many sparrows.

One remedy

Ahhhhh….I woke up from a restful sleep this morning and said to my husband, “It’s amazing what we take for granted, until we don’t have it for a couple of days.” I was, of course, referring to a good night’s sleep. And, I must say, it was lovely.

But then I did my usual routine of checking Facebook, email, and messages to find that once again there was an officer-involved shooting in St. Louis last night, and once again, it was racially charged.

I take living in a peaceful community for granted. I am very insulated at the moment. When I was in college, way back in the 80s, we called it ‘the Concordia bubble’.  It’s nice and shiny in here, guys. I have mentioned, ad nauseum, the river, the deer, blah, blah, blah.  We live in virtual peace with God and man inside this little bubble. When we drive down to little Gallup Park, we walk alongside people of a variety of backgrounds all smiling and nodding at one another. We pick up our messes and leave the park how we found it.  It’s eerily Utopian. When I go out for lunches, all the ladies play nice, smile, laugh, share… I don’t really experience conflict.

Yeah, it’s weird.

I mean just three months ago, I was living in the heart of pre-Ferguson St. Louis. I won’t say I experienced conflict at all. Actually I lived in my racially mixed neighborhood in relative peace. We exchanged pleasantries with neighbors, moved among people from countless backgrounds, and had very few bumps of any kind. But the tension was there to be sure. It runs like an electrical current under all of St. Louis. It would be naive to say that I was unaware. Centuries of history have bred mistrust and anger among the people in St. Louis and the electricity is tangible.

It was just a matter of time before a spark ignited the explosive emotions that people can barely keep in check. And I have to believe that that is the reason that Ferguson is not over and forgotten. Everyone there knows that the divide between blacks and whites exists. And now that the current of suspicion and hatred has been exposed, the citizens want to make sure it stays in the open. I mean, seriously, grown adults are making public statements at Cardinals games — hurtful statements in a nation-wide arena where the whole country will see. “Notice us, America, we are hurting over here and we don’t know what to do about it!”

And how is anyone, inside or outside of St. Louis, supposed to see the actual truth when years of emotion are clouding the issues? I am not able, from this distance, inside this skin, to tell you what is happening — who is right, who is wrong — but I am able to tell you that these people are hurting. They’ve been hurting for a very long time.

I would love to say that the courts will sort it all out.  But the courts are made up of humans and the courts in St. Louis are made up of hurting St. Louis humans. It’s gonna be difficult for anyone to get a fair and impartial trial at a time like this.

And really, is one trial going to solve the hurts of centuries of conflict? Would one hundred trials solve the hurts?  a thousand?

After all, no one, really, is innocent. We all have sinned. We all fall short of the glory of God. But, He has promised…”If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (I John 1:9).

It’s the only remedy that exists. And in order for it to work, everyone will have to put down their weapons, admit they’ve been wrong, and trust in something larger than themselves.  Then conversations can start and healing can begin.

be still, there is a healer

His love is deeper than the sea

His mercy is unfailing

His arms are a fortress for the weak.

Let faith arise…

–Chris Tomlin

Hope does not disappoint

So many thoughts in my head this morning.  It’s like I can see words swirling all around inside of my brain and the one that sticks out the most is hope. 

Now, as one who has been tossed about in the sea of depression on and off for most of life, hope is the flotation device that I cling to.  When hope gets submerged, I start to sink.

Had enough of my analogy?  Ok, I will leave it alone for a moment.

Why am I thinking about hope this morning?  I’m not entirely sure, so let’s look back over the last couple of days.  Let’s have a little Story time with Mrs. Rathje.

On Friday afternoon, my husband and I drove to my hometown in the ‘geographical center of lower Michigan’ to attend the homecoming parade and football game. We parked the car behind a shop at one end of the main drag and walked through a swarm (ok, it’s a small town, but for St. Louis, Michigan, it was a swarm) of people toward the restaurant/bar where some of my high school classmates had planned to meet.  When I was in high school, I thought I knew everybody in this town of 4,000 people, but walking through the crowd, I didn’t recognize anyone.  In fact, I told my husband that my fear was that someone would recognize me and I would not recognize them at all.  I mean, I did graduate (gasp) thirty years ago. But before I knew it, I saw a face I recognized.  I said his name, and he immediately hugged me.  I said, “I’m Kristin Rathje, I mean Kristin Kolb!”  He said, “I know who you are!”

Isn’t that something? This guy and I weren’t best friends in school.  We really didn’t even run in the same circle, but we knew each other.  We went to middle school and high school together.  We had a shared experience, and those words, “I know who you are!” were so powerful to me.

As I left his embrace and turned to enter the bar, another former classmate stepped through the door and said, “Hey, that’s who I was looking for!” He hugged me, too, introduced me to his kids, and chatted for a few moments.  Guys, I had not seen this man in thirty years and he was looking for me!

Now let’s take a little trip back in time and meet high school aged Kristin.  I was voted ‘moodiest’ for the yearbook superlatives.  No, I am not kidding.  I was on an emotional roller coaster most of my childhood and even into adulthood.  I was grasping through most of those years at hopebut it was eluding me.  I could see it bobbing in the distance, and I was reaching for it, but I just couldn’t grasp it.  So, what did I do?  I flailed about, grasping at other things, and yelled when I couldn’t reach them, or when they let me down.  I was not entirely pleasant to be around.  I was demanding, emotional, and unpredictable.

So, why, on Friday night, did I meet so many people who were willing to hug me? to smile? to welcome me?  

We were watching the parade and one of my best buddies from high school snuck up behind me like he always did in high school and tried to startle me!  Just like old times!  We hugged, he pointed out the children of school mates in the parade, and made me laugh.  Later, my best friend from high school and her best guy, also a classmate, joined us.  It was one reunion after another.  With a dozen or more of us around a table, I didn’t stop smiling for hours.

It was like their memories were clouded and they didn’t remember the bad stuff. They only remembered the good. They didn’t remember my bad days, they remembered our connection, our relationship, our shared experience.  No matter how long it had been, I belonged.

This morning I was reading my Bible study, and we were focused on I Thessalonians 4:13 where Paul says, “we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.” Now, I realize that Paul was talking about people who have died, ‘those who are asleep’, and that is not lost on me since my good friend, Twila, finished her fight with cancer last week.  I am grieving because she is no longer here, and because I haven’t seen her in so long, and because I didn’t get to properly tell her how much she meant to me. But, I do have hope.  I am confident that Twila was reunited with Jesus, and her parents, and all the hospice patients that she cared for.  I am confident that she walked through the swarm only to be embraced by friends she hadn’t seen in years who said, “I know who you are!”  or “That’s who I was looking for!”  They didn’t remember any human shortcoming or flaw, they just knew she belonged.

And I know that one day, after many more earthly reunions with those who I have connected with throughout my life, I too, will find my way through the crowds of heaven to be embraced by my grandparents, Twila, and Jesus.  They will say, “We’ve been waiting for you to get here.”

Thanks to my St. Louis High School classmates for giving me a taste of that this weekend.  It gave me a tangible picture of hope and reminded me of how blessed I am.

Psalm 146:5

How blessed is [s]he whose help is the God of Jacob,

whose hope is in the Lord his God.