At bat

I stood at the plate yesterday afternoon; my bat was in place, my eye was fixed on the ball. I swung and connected. It was a grounder to third, but I ran like nobody’s business and made it safely to first base. Phew!

When I showed up at the home of my ACT student — a high school junior who had just spent seven hours at school — I could see the reluctance in his eyes.  He remembered; so did I.  We hadn’t gotten very far last week.  But we were both ready.  I had come with a plan, and so had he.  I had several strategies for our hour cued up on my laptop, but he beat me to the punch.  “I did a practice test last night and scored it; here are my results.” Bam.  It was a line drive to center field and I advanced to second.

I sorted his missed items into categories and we attacked them one at a time.  I relentlessly tried to get him to understand what an appositive is, how to correctly show possession, and to understand the difference between active and passive voice.  He hung with me.  As the clock turned, his (and my) apprehension turned to satisfaction.  As I started packing up, he said, “I’ll do another English test before I see you next time.”

“Yes,” I agreed.  “That was a great strategy.  Good job taking the extra time to prepare for our lesson.”

I breathed a sigh of relief as I walked to my car.

This morning, I met with the college-level student with whom my faux pas occurred yesterday.  I arrived fifteen minutes ahead of her, I reviewed her lesson plan and goals, I gathered our materials, and I thought through our lesson. She arrived smiling and ready to work.  Together we read and took notes.  She gave me a summary and a main idea then answered questions.  She connected with the ball and all the runners advanced as she safely made it to first.

That’s right, ladies and gentlemen.  The bases were loaded.

My last student of the morning came to the plate.  He was a bit distracted.  He’s been working on a research paper for over two weeks — Leonardo da Vinci — and he’s had about enough.  He’s eleven years old and he’s hung in there through research, note taking, MLA documentation, outlining, and even drafting.  All the hard work is done, and he can taste the finish.  He knows that when this paper is done we will move on to reading a novel, and he is ready.  He eye is no longer on the research paper; it’s on the book.  Our task for today was that I would type while he read his draft, editing as we went.  Shoulda been a piece of cake.  The pitcher wound up and threw one straight across the plate. My student was looking up at the stands. Strike one. The second pitch was just like the first, but my student didn’t even see it coming.  He shook himself off, steadied himself and stared at the pitcher, but it was just a little too late to start paying attention.  The curve ball came and he struck out. It’s ok.  He needed a break any way.  He got another turn at bat the following hour.

So I’m sitting on third waiting for the next player to warm up.  I’ll see him today at 4:30.  He’s another junior preparing for the ACT — nicest kid you’d ever want to meet.  He’s really my designated hitter.  His eye is always on the ball, he’s always warmed up, he sees the situation and is prepared to deliver.  I’m thinking I’m going to score a run.

And then I’ll be right back up to the plate with another student at 6:00.  Maybe she’ll strike out, maybe she’ll get a hit, heck, maybe she’ll even hit a homer. I hope so, this kid has been putting forth her best effort and has been called out time after time after time.

Maybe it’s good I got a little taste of struggle this week — a little reminder of what it feels like to fail.  I didn’t like it. Nobody does.  I need to remember that parents and students don’t hire me to come help when everything is going great; they call me because they need help.  It hasn’t been going well.  They need an encourager to come beside them and say, “Good job!”  “You’ve got this!” “Stand like this. Hold your bat this way. Relax into your swing.”

“Come on, knock one out of the park!”

Success is so sweet after struggle, but getting from struggle to success takes determination and support.  That is what I am learning from my students.  They keep walking up to the plate because they want to hit the ball, but they wouldn’t get there without their fans cheering them on or their coaches stepping in to give guidance or their teammates believing they can.  I forget that I need that support, too.  I forget that I need my fans, my team,  and my Coach. This week has been a good reminder.

Romans 5:2-4

“…we rejoice in our [struggle], knowing that struggle produces endurance,

endurance produces character, and character produces hope,…”

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.