Calling an Audible

I was standing in our son’s kitchen Sunday morning, two granddaughters moving around between us. Just chatting, I said, “I have about four things on my checklist for tomorrow, and you know how when you order at a restaurant thinking, ‘I can definitely eat all that,’ and then having eaten only half, you realize that your eyes were bigger than your stomach? Well, I think my plan for tomorrow might be bigger than my stamina. I want to do it all, but I don’t know if I’ll have the steam. I get so attached to my list; I need to find a way to adapt in the middle of it.”

Very matter of factly, my son said, “It’s hard being comfortable calling an audible.”

And that little phrase has been echoing in my head all week.

The day that we were talking about, Monday of this week, my husband and I planned to get up early and drive a few hours so that we could be present for a family member’s surgery. He was going to stay with that family member for the week, and I wanted to drive home stopping once to visit an aunt and uncle, another time to pick up a gift, and a third time to attend a going away party for a coworker. It was going to be a long day packed with things that I really wanted to do, each of which had the potential to use up my energy. I had to admit from the start that I might not be able to do it all. I had to prepare myself to ‘call an audible’.

This is not easy for me. Remember me? the one who does all the things? After all these years and all this writing, I still hate to admit that I have limits, but I do. I need to get comfortable calling an audible.

A quarterback or coach, my son told me, calls an audible when he recognizes that the defense is set up to stop a play or that the conditions aren’t favorable for success. Seeing that his initial plan is not going to work, he calls an alternate plan right in the moment.

Why is that so hard for me?

I think in my soldiering years I became rigid — inflexible — because I was trying to pack so much into every moment in order to get every detail managed; I didn’t leave myself any margin for an alternate plan. If I had three hours to get groceries, swing by the dry cleaner, and get the dog to the vet, ALL of those things had to happen in that window or they just wouldn’t happen. I didn’t have another three hours in that week, so I set my focus, gripped the steering wheel, and got moving. I got it done, dammit.

I got it done, but not without damaging my body and my psyche and not without missing countless opportunities. I was moving with purpose leaving no margin for chance encounters, incidental conversations, or calling audibles.

What I didn’t realize was that it is in the moments that we don’t put in our plan where we often find the gold.

On Monday, in the midst of my checklist, two sisters-in-law and one brother-in-law arrived at the hospital for the surgery, too. We weren’t planning on seeing them — what a treat! The surgery was cancelled so we got to go out to a family lunch — what a surprise! My husband didn’t end up staying with the family member for the entire week, so we got to ride home together! A friend from three decades ago called me on the phone right before the party, and I got to take a few minutes to hear her voice, share some stories, and laugh! None of this had been part of my plan!

All the success of the day, all the stuff I will remember, all the interactions that mattered were born out of audibles. The day didn’t match my original plan — it was much richer than I had expected.

I have long struggled with mid-stream changes. When things haven’t gone according to plan, I have tried to cope, begrudgingly huffing and puffing all the while, but I have often missed the gold because I have not been comfortable calling an audible.

Coaches and players get comfortable with audibles, according to our son, when they get very good at recognizing and diagnosing situations and when they know the playbook and all the backup/alternate plays that might work well in given situations. They anticipate that things won’t always go according to plan, so they imagine alternatives in advance.

That’s what I did this week. We got in the car on Monday morning and I thought to myself and spoke out loud — “I have these four things I would like to do today, but I am going to see how it goes and adapt as needed.” Simply taking this one step, I was able imagine a variety of outcomes. I didn’t paint a full picture of the day in my mind, but I left the canvas mostly blank with just a few light pencil lines sketching out the plan.

This one shift left me in a position to adapt. I was able to recognize when the day wasn’t going according to plan and to change my mental direction in the moment. I wasn’t disappointed that the surgery was cancelled but was able to be compassionate and understanding. I wasn’t in a hurry to leave lunch to go visit my aunt and uncle, but could sit in the moment and enjoy the conversation. When we discovered we had plenty of time to drop by unexpectedly, we were pleasantly surprised to find my aunt and uncle together and available for a visit. After a leisurely visit with them, we were able to take the time to browse and find the gifts I was looking for, receive the call from my long-lost friend, and still get to the party on time! And, the biggest unexpected bonus was that my husband and I were able to spend the day and the rest of the week together.

All of that adapting had felt pretty comfortable. It’s a new way for me, this being flexible, but I am thankful to have had the practice this week when the stakes were low so that I might be be more comfortable calling audibles in the future.

Because let’s be honest, things rarely go according to our own plans.

In their hearts humans plan their course,
    but the Lord establishes their steps.

Proverbs 16:9
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Sorbet before Lunch

So much is jangling around inside my head this morning.  Over three weeks ago my husband and I left on a two-week vacation — we slipped away to an undisclosed location where no one recognizes us and we could begin to recognize one another again.  We spent hours together, just the two of us.  It was quiet; it was restful; it was lovely.  At the end of the two weeks, I jetted off, instead of coming straight home, to a week of AP English Literature Exam scoring with hundreds of strangers.  Inside of those three weeks, I read a couple of books and several articles, I listened to podcasts, I watched meaningless television, I had long, and short, conversations in person and over the phone, and I read thousands of words written by high school students.

Now I’m home.

I’m back at my desk in my little house by the river.  My dog is under my desk at my feet. I’m halfway through the first cup of tea, and I am trying to get the jangling to coalesce into some kind of meaning.

What do you learn from three weeks outside of your routine?  If you sort all the pieces into piles, what do you have?

First, I have the realization that the things that I planned — the ones that we just had to do– weren’t the ones that I valued the most. In fact, the sandwich that I just had to eat from that particular restaurant did taste delicious, but its gluten- and dairy-rich delicious-ness left me feeling miserable for the next twenty-four hours.  The things that I thought would make the experience ‘perfect’ weren’t really the highlights.  No, the unexpecteds, the ad libs, were the nuggets I will cherish — a last minute detour, a lunch time phone call, impromptu sorbet right before lunch.

This plan-happy girl needs to be reminded from time to time that her plans aren’t always the best and that she can’t plan for everything.  In fact, often the best parts of life are the ones I didn’t, or couldn’t anticipate.

In the weeks leading up to the AP Reading, I was feeling a bit apprehensive because I had been assigned a random hotel roommate.  Although, you might not expect it, I tend a little to introversion.  While my career has involved standing up in front of students, cracking jokes and calling out bad behavior, I truly love my end-of-day quiet alone time. What if my roommate loved to chat until all hours of the night? What if she was a slob? What if her personality got on my nerves.  It’s not like we would just have to get through a weekend.  We would be co-existing for eight days!!  I had a plan, though — if she was super creepy, I told myself, I would request a single room and just pay the difference. Phew!  Glad I solved that dilemma.

Since I arrived at the hotel before she did, I situated my stuff, got myself registered, went for a swim, showered, and then waited…..She arrived on a different schedule, so we didn’t actually meet until almost 8pm on the first day.  I quelled my anxiety by staying busy, of course, but my worries evaporated when she finally arrived. The Southern twang in her greeting —  a virtual “Hi honey, I ho-ome!” — put me at ease even though I was already in pajamas, reading in bed.

Not for one minute did I feel that awkward let-me-ask-questions-to-get-to-know-you feeling. From the start we chatted like old friends, laughing over ridiculousness and tearfully sharing our hearts.  We were ok being quiet together, too.  I didn’t feel like I was imposing when I felt poorly and had to cash-in early.  I didn’t feel like I had to explain myself or justify my actions.  I felt like I was living with a sister.  Probably my favorite moment of the week was the last night when our conversation went something like this:

“Hey, thanks for not being a creepy roommate.”

“Hey, thanks for not snoring.”

“And thanks for not being a slob or watching tv until 4 in the morning.”

“And thanks for not judging me for going to bed before 9.”

I couldn’t have hand-picked a better roommate.

So what’s the take-away here?  Do I suddenly turn from my planner-ly ways and go forth in a life of abandon? (She says as she glances over at the to-do list she made for today and the one she made for this week.) Every teacher-fiber of my being loves to plan.  In fact, two items on my to-do list involve planning — for the summer class that starts next week and for the new course I’m teaching in the fall.  Writing lists and anticipating alternatives is in my DNA. I won’t ever not be a planner, but is there a way for me to plan for spontaneity? for margin that allows for ad lib?  Of course! Many books have been written on the topic — I’ve read several!

Something about filling my days with plans reduces my anxiety.  If I fill in all the spaces, I leave no room for the big scary unknown, but, also, if I fill in all the spaces, I leave no room for surprise, for serendipity, for spontaneity.

Leaving space is taking a risk.

Do I dare? Do I dare let myself sit quietly in the chair on my patio, watching nothing, anticipating nothing, expecting nothing? Do I dare have a day that’s not planned wall-to-wall with activity? What could happen?

I might eat sorbet before lunch. I might take a last-minute detour.  I might make a new friend.

Psalm 130:5

I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits, and in his word I put my hope.

Uniquely Made

I did it!  I got through all seventy days in the book Whispers of Hope: Ten Weeks of Devotional Prayer.  I’m pretty sure it took me closer to twenty weeks….but I did it!  So, what did I do today?  I turned back to day one and started all over again!  Guess what, I didn’t remember a thing from day one — it was like a new experience.  That’s the beauty of middle age.

The message of day one, or at least the message I got today, was that God is creative — He has made each of us exquisitely unique.  We were not created to walk identical paths.  We were each created for our own path.  Isn’t that amazing?  God created each of us for our own path and He alone “knows the plans” He has for us.  That’s why we need to hear from Him every day, because He’s the only one who knows our unique needs — the only one who can give us specific made-to-order direction.

So why have I spent so many minutes of my life checking with others, comparing myself to others, and judging others? I look at someone else’s path and I think to myself — well, that’s a different path than mine — it must be better or worse.  Then, having passed judgment, I try to adapt my path to make it more, or less, like that other person’s path.

I know I’m not alone here.  In fact, our society — schools, businesses, governments — exist to provide equality or sameness to the masses.  They are trying to be fair, or to motivate us to purchase, or to create order.  And, to be fair, I think we are bent toward wanting to be ‘just like everyone else’.  We want to fit in, to blend, to belong.

However, all of our attempts at trying to be the same, blend in, and belong ultimately force us to deny our uniqueness. Now, we don’t seem to mind uniqueness if it comes in the form of exceptional athletic ability, extreme good looks, or undeniable wit.  But what about uniqueness that creates physical challenge, an odd appearance, or cognitive difficulty? We seem to make concessions for ‘those’ people, don’t we?  What about the kind of uniqueness that believes differently than we do, tackles problems in ways we haven’t thought of, or decides to go against the flow of the masses? Do we celebrate that?

Or do we ridicule it? If we are conservative, do we ridicule the liberals? If we are liberal, do we berate conservatives? If we went to college, do we judge those who went straight to work? If we choose simplicity, do we frown on those who treasure extravagance?

My, oh, my.  I do believe we have a tangent (or two, or three) here, ladies and gentlemen. Let me get back to the point.

God created each of us uniquely.  We are not the same.  He has specific plans for each of us — “plans to prosper and not to harm” us.  Sure, sometimes humans point us directly to the plans God has for us, but more often, we get distracted by looking at what others are doing.  Sometimes so distracted, that we forget to check with the Creator himself.  Who knows better what is best for us than He?

If you’ve read my blog for more than a day, you know that I don’t check with God first, I try to tackle everything myself.  However, in this next chapter I am being challenged to turn from my old ways, to turn toward His Word, to consult with Him about my path.  It’s a day-by-day challenge for me.  That is why, kids, I am going to spend the next ten (or twenty) weeks continuing to develop my prayer life.

Once again, I need the bonus lesson.

Psalm 139:13-14

You created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.

I am fearfully, [uniquely], wonderfully made.

A Lesson in Planning

When our children were little, three aged five and under, I built a pretty concrete schedule for how our days would go.  I literally wrote it down.  The teachers out there might understand this, or those who desperately crave control in their lives.  It literally looked something like this.

  • 6:30am Wake up and breakfast
  • 7:00  Clean up and get dressed
  • 7:30 Play time
  • 8:00 Morning Lesson — Letter of the day, songs, play-doh
  • 9:00 Outside play
  • 10:00 Quiet time

It really was that planned out.  My mother, who raised four children of her own without killing anyone, once came to stay with the kids while my husband and I went out of town for the weekend.  I actually typed up the daily schedule including menu recommendations and clothing options and printed it out for her.  I believe it was three pages long.

Yeah, you can judge me.

Looking back, I believe that I was utterly overwhelmed by the fact that I had three children so close together.  One way to not feel so overwhelmed was to order my day down to the minute.  We ate at the same time every day, slept at the same time every day, went to the library the same day every week, and never missed an activity at church.  In fact, even after the kids were all in school, I would create themes for the summer and plan activities to support the theme.  I really wanted order, control, and predictability.

I know what you are thinking.  All of my planning didn’t prevent the unpredictable.  You are right.  I couldn’t plan for illnesses, for accidents that took us to the emergency room, or for unexpected visitors at the front door.   In fact, I didn’t do well when these interruptions occurred.  I often got crabby and grumbled around the house because reality didn’t match my expectations.

But I learned my lesson, right?

I wish I could say that I had.  I am still learning how to be fluid, to roll with the punches.  This past week was a refresher course.  I would go to bed thinking I knew what the next day held, only to realize, upon waking, that something totally different was in store.  Probably the capstone of the week was yesterday — my husband and I had decided we would have a slow Saturday morning, followed by some errand running, a walk with the dog, and then a date night at home.  Doesn’t that sound lovely?  Here’s what really happened.  We woke to find that about a hundred ants had moved into our kitchen.  We handled that situation, one of us more graciously than the other.  Then, once I had a good snit worked up, I insisted on cleaning not just the floor where the ants had been, but the entire kitchen.  While I was at it, I might as well make a huge breakfast, which was delicious, but created more clean up.  We got through about half the errands then stopped off at home for a moment where we were greeted by out of town guests that we had forgotten “were passing through”.  After a lovely visit with them, we decided we could still fit in a short walk, scrounge some food together, and watch some NCAA basketball — our date night.

My Friday night planning didn’t circumvent the unexpected of Saturday.  I spent about an hour or two of my morning fussing and fuming, but thankfully, was able to start “rolling” with the alternate plan by around noon.  It turns out that sipping tea while reading children’s books in a local bookstore is pretty relaxing.  Chatting with family that we hadn’t seen in a while was a lovely break in our day.  Watching the Spartans lose (poor Izzo!) was not necessarily enjoyable, but it was time spent with the guy I would choose over everyone else.

So, I re-learned the lesson yesterday, right?

Nope.  I needed a refresher course today.  Almost all of the things we had planned for today have changed.  Almost every single one. Did I roll with it?  Not at first.  I fussed and fumed a bit.  Verbalized my frustration.  Then, settled in to what was going to be.  Turns out I got lots of quiet time, a nice little rest, a second cup of tea, and a delicious meal is roasting in the oven.  Not exactly what I had planned.  It’s actually an improvement.  Maybe this time the lesson will stick.

Psalm 33:11

But plans of the Lord stand firm forever, the purposes of his heart through all generations.

Tick, Tick, Tick

It’s December 3.  Can you hear that clock ticking?  I’ve been saying all along that I was going back to work on January 5.  That is just over one month away.

And not just any month — December!  December is busy for everyone, but for the Rathjes it might be just a bit crazier than it is for most.  We have four, yes 4, birthdays in our immediate family during December.  Two of our members are on academic calendars which have final exams during December.  And, we are involved in church work which is especially dense with activities during December.

So, after just three days in this month of all months I am sitting here thinking to myself, “am I really going to be ready to go to work on January 5?”

Now, if you’ve been paying attention, you know that I have cheated a little — I just finished editing a novel for a local author, I am coaching a graduate student through his dissertation, I have been blogging, I jumped in with both feet to a project making hygiene kits for women in Kenya, and I have been pretty busy exploring avenues for improving my health. I haven’t really been ‘sitting around eating bonbons’.

Certainly I haven’t been working nearly as hard as I had in years past.  I do take time almost every day to exercise and to rest, but I have been, at least in the last six weeks or so, fairly productive.  Yet I’m not sure I am quite ready to go back to work.

I saw a job posting today at the University of Michigan for an English Language Arts Specialist.  Doesn’t that sound fancy?  It’s a position that supports beginning teachers and the educators of beginning teachers. My wheels started turning and I thought, “Wouldn’t that be exciting to help shape tomorrow’s educators?” And then I remembered that I came home from my Bible study this morning, ate a bowl of soup, then plunked myself on the couch for a couple of hours.  “Come on, Kristin, what about that position working with non-traditional students trying to complete their diplomas, wouldn’t that be great?”  Yes, it would; I would love it, if I could be sure I would be able to get out of bed and to school every morning by 8:00.

Sigh.  I’m tired.

I know the plans I have for you…

I know.

Do not fear, for I have been pleased to give you the kingdom. 

I remember.

Don’t worry about tomorrow…each day has enough trouble of its own.

So true.

Many are the plans in your heart, but My purpose prevails. 

You promise?

I promise. 

Ok. Thanks.

I Peter 5:7

I will cast all my anxiety on You, because You care for me.

(Rathje Revised Version)