The Prize is in the Process

One of the things I like about the instruction I am doing right now is that we don’t give grades. We don’t design instruction to meet a finish line; instead, we celebrate every step of the process — every attempt, every mistake, every win. All day long, I cheer on my students (and my staff) for showing up, for trying hard things, for taking chances, and for participating in the process.

It’s scary to participate in a process that you have no guarantee of finishing or winning. Would you register for a 5K if you didn’t think you could at least finish? What if every time you have attempted a 5K you have collapsed before the first turn? Who of us would sign up for something that has — for us — repeatedly ended in failure?

That’s what my students do every day. Students typically come to Lindamood-Bell when other attempts at reading or comprehension or school in general have ended in failure or severe difficulty, and we ask them to work on the thing that is most difficult for them — five days a week, often two or more hours every day. Even showing up is difficult for most of our students, yet they do show up. So we celebrate even that. We greet them enthusiastically, and we clap and hooray when they try something — especially something that has seemed difficult. The instruction is more focused on the process than the product, and, unfailingly, each of us — the students and the teachers — are changed.

These kids have taught me that the prize is often in the process.

My friend, Marv Fox, says in his soon-to-be-released book, Become, that all things are necessary steps toward achieving our goal. He sees every challenge, every setback, as an opportunity to build muscle that will propel him forward. If he bombs at a public speaking engagement, he learns from that experience — he evaluates the steps he took in preparation and delivery and determines what he can tweak before the next opportunity he has to speak. He doesn’t stop speaking because he bombed; he sees the ‘bomb’ as an opportunity to learn and grow — to be changed by the process.

Marv is not alone in this belief, of course. Yesterday, I participated in a conference on prayer. One of the presenters, Connie Denninger, co-founder of Visual Faith Ministries, reminded participants that everything that happens in our lives is part of our spiritual formation. She said, “I wish I wouldn’t have had to go through some of the things that I have, but they have brought me to the place that I am.” Part of her story is that, as a pastor’s wife, she had never been comfortable praying. When Connie’s mother died at a relatively early age and Connie felt that she had lost her best prayer warrior, she was devastated. Who would pray for her now? In answer to her question, God put Connie on a journey toward a life of prayer that she now chronicles through her blog. In fact, this ministry, formed with friend, Pat Maier, now involves others in Visual Faith communities across the country. Connie and Pat have invited others to join them as they celebrate their process.

For the past several months, I have been reading and writing my way through a book called The Artist’s Way. Each chapter invites the reader to engage in a rhythm of writing every morning (the morning pages), and exploring activities that invite creativity (artist dates). I really did not want to read this book (in fact I wrote about it here), but committing to this process has been transformative. Each morning, as I show up, I find reason to celebrate. I am amazed at what I find myself writing on the pages and how my attitude shifts from the first line to the last. My morning pages have no goal. I have not determined that I will write for 30 days or 60 days or a year and then quit. I have just decided to enter the process of writing every morning and to watch and see what happens. The process alone has been the prize.

Several months ago, my husband was asked to help lead the prayer conference that I participated in yesterday. He is invited to all kinds of events, and I don’t always join him. I have to be judicious about what I say yes to; I always have to be mindful of how much gas I have in the tank. So, when he told me he was going to be part of the prayer conference, I didn’t initially intend to go. He was leaving on a Friday afternoon and would be gone until Saturday night. After a long work week — all that cheering and clapping and such — I knew I wouldn’t have gas in the tank to travel to Lansing and participate all day long on Saturday. I knew that for my weekend re-fuel, I would have to be on the couch.

However, a week or so ago, I discovered that the conference would be live- streamed! So, I sat in my pajamas, with my dog by my side, and joined the discussion of five individuals who have committed to the process of prayer. They shared what they’ve learned by choosing to make prayer — conversation with our Father — part of their everyday lives. They haven’t determined to try prayer for 30 days or 60 days or until their prayer gets answered. They have chosen to daily enter the process and see what happens.

None of the presenters said that they have discovered the key to prayer or that they have arrived at some destination in their prayer life. Rather, they celebrated the fact that they get to join in what God is doing because of the gift of prayer. They each acknowledged that they often have to overcome obstacles to continue in this commitment, but they all affirmed that the activity of prayer itself — the process — is transformative.

I won’t be able to share in one blog post everything I learned yesterday by sitting on my couch and joining others in listening, thinking, writing, and praying, but I will tell you that my choice to show up and invite the change that comes with entering a process was rewarded. I learned. I shifted. I grew.

Yes, commitment to the process takes time, but as I’ve learned from watching my students and from being a student, the process has power to create change. So I’ll continue to show up and to participate in yoga, in writing, in prayer, in life. I’ll sign up, even if I keep falling down, because the running, the falling down, and the getting back up are building muscle, preparing me for what’s next, and propelling me forward.

 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us,  fixing our eyes on Jesus,

Hebrews 12:1-2
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For Us

A friend of mine is writing a book, and he asked me if I would read a couple of chapters. Actually, two weeks ago, ‘friend’ might have been assuming too much on my part.  I knew this guy from church and from around the university, but other than a few standing-around-after-church conversations, we hadn’t spoken much.  However, in one of those conversations, he mentioned a book that he is writing.  He said he’d been giving chunks to people to read, and I casually said that I’d be willing to take a look.

Not long after that I found a stack of papers on my desk with a note on top that said, “Please call me before you take a look at this.”  Last Monday, the day before the first day of fall classes, I called.  We chatted about his goals in writing  and his purpose for my reading. The whole conversation lasted maybe fifteen minutes before I said, “You know, God’s timing is very interesting.  I think this is a book I need to look at as I face yet another transition in my life.” He said, and I’m paraphrasing here, “If you are getting ready to step into something big, you’ve got to settle in your mind that God is for you.  Obstacles are going to pop up and you need to see them as God preparing you, strengthening you, using those very obstacles in your favor. You have got to believe that Romans 8:28 is true; God will work all things together for good.”

Well, I hadn’t anticipated the conversation going there.  I heard those words as though they had been the main intention of the call, even though they were an impromptu 90-second add-on.

The rest of that day was a blur of activity —  helping my daughter prepare to go back to college and preparing myself for the first day of class.  The next morning I woke up early, checked and double-checked my schedule, my bag, my clothes, my hair.  I ate my standard bowl of oatmeal and prepared my cup of green tea, my cup of black tea, and a tumbler of water.  My daughter snapped my ‘first day of school’ pic which I quickly uploaded to Facebook and Instagram, and then, realizing that I had better get going if I wanted to rearrange the classroom into a circle before the students arrived, I tucked my Macbook, my notebooks, and my water tumbler into my school bag and grabbed both cups of tea because I hadn’t had time to drink either yet.

Yeah, that was a juncture.  You can see it coming, can’t you?

I mean, why? Why do I have to take all those drinks to a 75-minute class.  I end up drinking my tea at room temp most days anyway.  Why not take one cup of tea in one hand and one tumbler of water in the other hand? Two drinks is plenty.

Nope.  I had to have all three.

I  walked to class, set my bag down, placed all three cups on the teacher’s stand, and rearranged the classroom.  As the students filed in, I grabbed my Macbook and noticed that a few drops of water were on its cover.  I wiped them off casually as I opened it up. As it came to life, I also noticed that a few drops were on the keyboard and on the screen.  A little frantically, I wiped those away as I looked around the classroom and noted the students filling the seats.  I clicked a couple keys to pull up attendance and noticed that my MacBook was not responding. I panicked a little, then set it aside; I had student relationships to establish and a lesson plan to complete.  The laptop would wait, but guys, I knew it was dead.

As I moved through my day — that first class, chapel, online chatting with Apple, a trip to a local computer store — I kept hearing my friend’s words in my head.  You have got to settle in your mind that God is for you. Did I believe that?  Did I believe that God could be for me even when I made a very careless mistake? Could He be working even my mistakes together for my good?

Well, apparently I was intended to get this lesson settled because also during the same week, I lost a notebook that I was using as a model with my composition students, the lenses on my glasses became ‘crazed’, we lost both of the keys to our house, and let’s not forget that I am still dealing with compromised health and the stress of observing two adult children move out of our place and go back to school.

Of course you know that if I am willing to write about all of this, a few of the issues have been resolved — I have filed an insurance claim and my MacBook has been sent off for repairs, the university has given me a loaner to bridge the gap, the optical shop has ordered replacement lenses because mine were still under warranty, a student found my notebook in an adjacent classroom, and the keys? Well, the keys are still missing.  We’re working on that.

But more importantly, I finished reading the chapters my friend had given me to read, and we agreed to meet to discuss them.  I gave him my feedback on content and, less importantly, mechanical issues, and then I told him the story I just told you.  I said that even when I was yelling, crying, and fighting my way through all these setbacks, I wasn’t without hope, because I kept hearing him say, You have got to settle in your mind that God is for you. I kept reciting Romans 8:28.

He smiled and nodded as I told him everything that had happened, and he said something like this, “God is strengthening you because He is getting ready to use you. As you managed all these difficulties, He was building your stamina, getting you ready for what is coming next.”

He doesn’t know me.  He doesn’t know that for years I have told students that “God is always preparing us for what is coming next.”  He doesn’t know that I have been kind of beaten down lately — grieving a bit, wallowing a bit.  He doesn’t know that I needed a dramatic reminder that God is still God and that even in the midst of my failures He is for me.

But God knew.

It still blows my mind. Every time.

I’ve got a new friend, guys, and a fresh perspective.

God is for us.

Romans 8:26-28, The Message

26-28 Meanwhile, the moment we get tired in the waiting, God’s Spirit is right alongside helping us along. If we don’t know how or what to pray, it doesn’t matter. He does our praying in and for us, making prayer out of our wordless sighs, our aching groans. He knows us far better than we know ourselves, knows our pregnant condition, and keeps us present before God. That’s why we can be so sure that every detail in our lives of love for God is worked into something good.