You Can Count on Me

The last two weeks have been unexpectedly busy. I didn’t intend to have something to do everyday after school, but as it turns out- I did. Up until today I’ve been getting home and it’s suddenly time to get ready for bed, so I can prepare for another day just like the last.

This morning I woke up and immediately started talking out loud to the Lord. “Lord, I’m really tired. I’m pretty depleted emotionally and physically. Please speak to my heart this morning.” I could smell the coffee brewing in the kitchen and that was motivation enough to get out of bed.

I set about my normal routine of getting coffee and settling in to my favorite chair to read. I read in John 10:10 that, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” I always get stuck on that word: abundantly. I think I live an abundant life, but I wonder if I’m living the abundant life Jesus speaks of or merely abundant in the way of material goods, a steady job, and a comfortable life. Not that living abundantly in Jesus can’t include those things.

I then read in Ephesians 1:9-10, “making known to us the mystery of His will, according to His purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.” Isn’t it crazy that we get to know the mystery of His will according to His purpose? I can’t even wrap my mind around that.

As I got ready for work, I was still feeling a little- blah. Which when rereading the Scripture I read this morning, I wonder why it didn’t hit me in the same way that just reading it did. Maybe my coffee hadn’t kicked in fully.

I got in the car and started driving to work. The Bluetooth in my car immediately connected with my phone and my work-out playlist began playing. In searching for work-out playlists on different streaming platforms I’ve discovered that my idea of a work-out song is very different from the average person. Most playlists include rap or hip-hop songs, and I would rather run off a cliff than have to listen to either of those genres. I prefer music heavy on the banjo or just songs that I like even if they have a slower tempo.

About midway through my drive, the song “Count on Me” came on. I’ve heard the song a thousand times, but I’ve always listened through the lens of friendship. As I drove through the dark, early morning streets I suddenly heard it as if the Lord were speaking to me. The lyrics are in the video posted below:

I thought it was a good reminder that regardless of my feelings or circumstances, good and bad- I can count on the Lord. He doesn’t change and He has promised to never leave me. So while I was expecting to hear the Lord in one way, He surprised me and spoke to my heart through a song I’ve heard many, many times before, but it felt like I was hearing it for the first time.

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A Failed Saint Patrick’s Day

I arrived at school this morning especially tired. I think it was due partly to it being the middle of the work week and partly the fully caffeinated coffee I had an hour before going to bed last night. I thought I had made decaf, but as I lay wide awake staring up at the ceiling I mentally retraced my steps and realized I had not. There was a lot of tossing and turning and an audible groan when my alarm went off soon after I had finally gone to sleep.

In my classroom, I cracked open a window to get a little fresh morning air. I settled at my desk and prepared to grade the 36 remaining short answer discussion questions I had assigned. I made a mental note to only ever give multiple choice assignments from this point forward when I noticed the date on the board and saw that it was March 17- Saint Patrick’s Day.

I looked at what I wearing- a maroon school system shirt and jeans- and realized I didn’t have anything on that was even remotely close to the color green. In my non-teacher life this isn’t a big deal; however, in my teacher life- it is. As kids arrived they were decked out in green: green shirts, green water bottles, green knee socks, green shorts, green earrings, etc. and questioned why I didn’t have on green. Thankfully nobody pinched me.

Before the first bell rang, I went to check my mailbox. I stopped at Beth’s desk near the mailboxes and we spoke for a moment about how we both forgot to wear green and then at the same time we remembered that our friendship began over my quest for green pants- which she helped me find (Blog post about the quest). I just stared at her in disbelief, “Did I really not wear my green pants on the one day that it would have been wholly acceptable and celebrated to wear them? I have no doubt failed this Saint Patrick’s Day.”

Even in my boring, non-celebratory clothes I managed to have a good day. I don’t know why it mattered at all because I can’t think of even one time that I’ve ever celebrated Saint Patrick Day’s in any way except to wear green. But, I have been to Ireland and one of my favorite bands play Irish music, so I’ll share one of my favorite songs called, “Galway Girl” and I’ll count this as my Saint Patrick’s Day celebration. Sláinte, y’all!

Manipulation

I have a sensitive heart. I get teary-eyed when watching movies, reading books, hearing someone tell a story (real or fiction), seeing people act kindly toward one another, seeing people laugh, seeing people cry, and in pretty much every situation imaginable. The only time I don’t cry is when I can see that I’m being manipulated. Starved dog commercial. Nope, not this time Sarah. Sappy, predictable Hallmark movie- keep moving.

My friend Tommy is a master manipulator of conversations. In our circle when Tommy interjects into a conversation we joke that it must be manipulation time. He has a gift in asking questions or presenting situations that are thought provoking or allow us to get to know each other in a different way. I don’t mind that type of manipulation- in fact, I look forward to it.

In 7th grade English we have been teaching students about persuasive techniques, appealing to an audiences using emotion, logic, and authority. A fellow English teacher received a paper prayer rug in the mail recently. He brought it into his class to show his students the manipulative- er, persuasive- techniques that were used. This little paper prayer mat has sparked a lot of conversation between the two of us during planning and after school.

According to the prayer mat, it has been anointed for two people to receive a blessing and you must send it on to another person. Under those instructions is what sounds like a warning, “The Father Is Watching You, Your Heart, Your Thoughts, and This Prayer Rug.” Which makes me question why you have to send it on. If the Father knows where the prayer rug is, can’t he just send the blessing on to the recipients without having to spend the postage? I asked my co-worker when he received the prayer rug and he said on Saturday. I made sure to scold him for not having sent it on to another person because now he and that person would miss on the blessing. Some people just can’t follow directions.

I have another friend who gets really riled up when people try to manipulate situations. She has worked in several churches over the years and has witnessed many people attempt to manipulate a situation to fit their particular need/ want/ desire. This isn’t new. In the Garden, the snake used a form of manipulation on Eve and Eve in turn manipulated Adam and that lead us to where we are today.

What bothers me is when manipulative tactics are used in the name of Jesus. I’ve watched televangelists instruct people to “plant a seed of $100 and receive $1,000 from the Lord.” All over my co-worker’s prayer mat were testimonials of people who were blessed with, “6 bedroom houses, $10,000, a new job, or a fancy new car (it really read ‘fancy new car).”

I find all of this interesting since Jesus replied in Matthew 8:20, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head” when a scribe approached him as said, “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.” Jesus pretty much tells the guy that he’s homeless and that’s the life he can look forward to as a follower, so are you sure you want to follow me? As followers we are told to consider the cost of following Him and once we put our hand to the plow we aren’t to look back. Manipulation tells you to make an emotional, knee-jerk reaction.

In my reading and understanding of Scripture- and I am certainly no expert- I told my co-worker that I don’t see Jesus using manipulation to bring people to Himself. In John 8, the scribes and Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in the act of adultery to Jesus. They recite the law of Moses to Him, which He came up with, and asked what He thought. Jesus drew in the dirt and suggested that whoever was without sin could cast the first stone. The scribes and Pharisees walked away and Jesus really laid into that woman. He gave a fire and brimstone sermon, that would have had even the most saintly granny walking the aisle of the church begging for forgiveness, in the hopes that the adulterous woman would change her ways.

Actually that’s not how it went. Jesus asks the woman where all her accusers went and asked if anyone had condemned her. She replied, “No one, Lord.” His response was, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.” Jesus didn’t apologize for who He was. He didn’t water down His message so as not to offend others. He told us who He is and leaves it up to us to decide what to do with that information. He doesn’t try to lure us into a relationship with Him by offering a free bicycle, a house with a pool, a life without trouble, or wealth. I haven’t read anywhere in Scripture that He told the masses to just drop one piece of silver into the offering baskets that the disciples were passing around and when they got home from their dusty journey they would find 10,000 pieces of silver from their ‘seed’ offerings. I’ve not read about His passing out papyrus prayer mats and urging the crowds to just pass it on to one other person so He could bless them. I’ve also missed the Scripture that promises a lifetime of bad luck for not forwarding those emails.

What I see if Jesus saying in John 14:6, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” That’s pretty straight forward.

As a follower of Jesus, my desire is for others to choose to follow Him-not because I’ve manipulated them into doing so, but because they’ve investigated His words and His claims and have considered the cost for themselves.

Beware the Ides of March

Teaching in a middle school is never dull, but some days are weirder than others. Today was a day that ventured more on the weird spectrum. I packed my lunch this morning and thought about the date and realized it’s March 15 and wondered if I needed to “Beware of the Ides of March” and hoped my day wouldn’t end as Julius Ceaser’s had. So far, so good.

To begin with, today marked the first day of our last nine weeks. First of all, I’m not sure how we only have nine weeks of school left since I’m pretty sure we just started a few weeks ago. I also don’t know how we still have nine weeks left when I feel like I’ve had only these same students ever in my whole teaching career. It seems like we’ve spent approximately 13 years together.

This morning I welcomed my first class like I always do, standing by the door pumping out hand sanitizer like I’m throwing candy from a float. I had several who were returning from being virtual learners, and I was excited to see them. One returning student is, erm..interesting. He asked to go to the library and when he returned he told me that he and his friend had crystals. He stated that you aren’t supposed to let a crystal spin in a circle or you would curse someone. He said, “I told my friend I hoped I didn’t accidentally curse Ms. K.” I told him not to worry because I had Jesus so I was curse-proof, and he could spin his crystal to his heart’s delight. He looked disappointed that I didn’t think he had the power to cast a curse on me, but I don’t play around when it comes to that type of stuff.

First period left and second period came in and settled into their seats. A student walked up to me, looking quite pale and said that his stomach hurt. I sent him to the nurse, but she sent him right back. He is a frequent flier, often in the hopes of getting out of class. He returned and attempted to do his work without much of a fuss so I also assumed he just needed a walk down the hall. Near the end of class he looked up with a tear in his eye as I walked by and said, “I threw up in my mask.” I quickly told him to go to the bathroom while I attempted to suppress a gag at the thought of throwing up in my mask and just sitting there waiting to tell a teacher.

In 13 years I’ve never had anyone throw up in my room. I was hopeful that we still had time to keep my record since I had already decided that throwing up in a mask wasn’t the same as barfing in the floor and therefore didn’t count as throwing up in my class. The poor kid ran to the front of the room and then time slowed way down as I watched him rip his mask from his face, toss it aside, and projectile vomit toward the front of the room. He then stopped and together he and the rest of us stared at his mess in the middle of the floor. Time caught up with us and without warning he suddenly lurched forward and managed to hit the inside of the empty metal trash can. I’ll let you imagine how that sounded. He had thrown up at least three more times as I navigated around the first pile and calmly made my way down the hall to the office. I alerted them that I needed the custodian.

I walked back to my classroom and my puker was hugging the trash can while my some students worked, others had their eyes closed and heads against the wall clearly traveling to a safe space, while others were taking the opportunity to catch up with their neighbor and talking quietly. The student continued to barf, and I stood at a safe distance and heard myself repeat over and over, “You’re okay; it’s okay.” He looked up at me pitifully and said, “I don’t think I can make it to the nurse.” I told him to sit there as long as he needed. From the back of the room a student said, “Puke doesn’t bother me. I can hold the trash can for him as we walk down the hall.” In that moment, I thought that was one of the kindest and most bizarre offers I had ever heard from a middle school boy.

The custodian showed up, and I decided there was no way he gets paid what he’s worth as he sprinkled the kitty litter material over the mess in the floor and then picked up the trash can and walked down the hall beside the student, speaking to him in soothing, hushed tones.

Second period finally ended, the last eight minutes feeling like eight hours. It’s difficult to recover a class after all that and it was basically a free for all.

The other two English teachers and I settled into planning period, meeting in my co-workers room to avoid the smell of my room. The school secretary walked over to me and hand me $12.50. She said a card had arrived from an elementary school. The card was for the “Teachers of A.B.” and had a $50 bill stuck inside. I teach the student, but since there is a custody dispute and this was sent by a grandparent and we didn’t know which grandparent, the secretary decided not to ask any questions and just divided the money between the four teachers. This was a first for all of us. I’ve received gift cards, homemade candy, coffee mugs, but never a generic card labeled, “Teacher” with cold, hard cash inside.

My last classes of the day are reading one of my favorite books, The Outsiders. My teacher heart leapt with joy the other day when we read the first turning point in the novel and the class audibly gasped and looked at me as if I were in charge and could change the situation. It makes me so happy that they are enjoying the book as much as me.

Today I told them they would have a test over the entire novel next Friday and needed to be finished reading by then. A student looked at me and said, “Can we dress up as Greasers and Socs on that day?” I emphatically said, “Absolutely! We may even do some Greasers vs. Socs games. A rumble without the actual fighting and switchblades!” to which they all got excited and immediately began Googling outfit ideas. I stood in the back and got a little misty-eyed. But maybe my eyes were still burning from the kitty litter puke cover-up from earlier.

The final bell rang, and I walked around the class as students packed up to go home. One student asked if I had ever heard of a local Christian retreat center. I told her that I had and she excitedly said, “I get to go there this weekend. Oh, and Ms. K- I decided to follow Jesus this weekend at our youth retreat.” I no stood in front of her dumbfounded. One- she had decided to follow Jesus- YAY! and Two- she wanted to tell me about it. Double YAY! We talked for a moment more and I invited her to the Christian club that I facilitate on Thursday mornings. She was excited that she gets to school in time to go, said her goodbyes, and left to go to Track practice.

I prepared myself for Board Game club and was surprised to see 10 students (we usually have four at the most) file into my classroom and break off into groups to play games.

So, no need to ‘Beware the Ides of March.’ Minus the projectile vomit, it was a day of unexpected surprises.

Little Foxes

Mr. and Mrs. Foxx

Several years ago I stood in the aisle of a TK MAXX in Galway, Ireland. My friend Jessica and I were taking a break from touring the Irish country side on a bus and were spending a day exploring Galway. We were curious to see if TK MAXX was the British cousin to the American store, TJ MAXX. Once inside we discovered that it wasn’t much different from the department store in our hometown.

We browsed the aisles slowly and soon parted ways. Jessica in the clothing section and me in home goods. I’m not much for souvenirs, especially since having lived in Hungary and coming home with a suitcase stuffed full of handmade doilies, decorated wooden eggs, paprika, and Hungarian coffee. I soon discovered that I was practically sneaking Hungarian wares into friends’ purses in an effort to get rid of my assumption that if I brought enough Hungarian stuff home with me I wouldn’t miss being there at all.

Back in Galway, I had purchased a copy of Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms in a local book shop earlier in the morning of my shopping day and decided that would be my Irish souvenir. A book was easy to get home and would provide entertainment on the long flight. As I looked at shelves full of items in which one could decorate their home, my eyes landed on a stuffed, felt fox. He looked very dapper and distinguished in brown woolen shorts and a suit coat. I picked him up and said out loud- because what adult doesn’t speak audibly to stuffed animals in public- “Hey you! Aren’t you just the cutest fella?” I then noticed a lovely girl fox, dressed in a similar outfit sitting alone on a lower shelf. I grabbed her as well because I knew heartbreak would ensue if I took her fella back home without her.

I was determined that those foxes were fitting into my suitcase, even if I had to leave all of my clothes in Ireland. There was just something about them that compelled me to make the purchase. They have been sitting, holding hands on my bookshelf ever since- well, minus the one time I discovered the Mrs. lying in the floor after having been yanked off the shelf and mauled by my cat, Henry. She was unharmed and I’m still not clear on what provoked the attack in the first place.

I’ve always had an affinity for foxes. It all started with Tod in The Fox and The Hound and only continued to grow when I discovered The Fantastic Mr. Fox. I know in literature foxes are often depicted as tricky, crafty, and sly.

Last Wednesday I sat in church and foxes were the last thing on my mind as my pastor taught on the Song of Songs. I’ve read through the book a few times, but it’s not one that I’ve taken the time to study and honestly had little interest in doing so. Well, that is until last Wednesday. My pastor spoke about the book being a love story, but not simply one between Solomon and the Shulamite, but between God and His bride- the church- which includes me. If it’s a love story I’m involved in, I should probably look into it.

One thing that amazes me about Scripture is how you can read something a dozen times and then suddenly it’s like you are seeing it- really seeing it- for the first time. Truly as if a veil has been lifted. It makes me wonder what else I’m completely blind to seeing.

In Song of Songs 2, the Bridegroom-King is calling for his bride to arise, to hurry and come away with him to the higher places and that now is the time to do so. Then he says in 2:15, “You must catch the troubling foxes, those sly little foxes that hinder our relationship. For they raid our budding vineyard of love to ruin what I’ve planted within you. Will you catch them and remove them for me? We will do it together.”

Suddenly, foxes represented something dangerous and sneaky that could hinder my relationship with the Lord. I sat in the pew considering what ‘foxes’ I had allowed into areas of my heart- compromise, sin, complacency, apathy, omission, etc. That’s something I’ve been considering all week. When reading chapter 2 again, I envisioned myself in a garden chasing foxes in the hopes of catching them and getting them out of my garden. Only, instead of getting rid of it once I caught one, I started petting it. Now, in real life, this is totally something I would do- especially since I’m up to date on my rabies shots- but in considering it metaphorically, it caused me to pause. Are there things in my life that I’m so used to, so attached to that I don’t see that it is a hinderance to my relationship with the Lord?

Fox hunting isn’t a lesson I’ll likely forget since in nearly every room of my house there is a fox printed or sewn or drawn on something.

You Don’t Even Know

When I meet new people the conversation typically turns to, “What do you do?” Before the answer has even left my mouth and traveled to the ears of the listener, I know how the person is going to react when they hear, “I teach middle school.” Usually I’m told, “Wow, middle school. It takes a special person to teach those kids” or “Oh, I could never teach middle school. They are such smart mouths. I don’t know how you do it.”

And it’s true. They are smart mouths and can be difficult to deal with as they navigate the weirdness between childhood and adulthood. We are all gifted in different areas of life, but sometimes I get irritated at that response and in my mind I think, “Man, you don’t even know what you are missing out on because I know some of the coolest people on the planet and they just happen to be 12 years old.”

They are missing out on knowing A. who, today when we read about a hateful woman who hit the protagonist in the book we are reading, looked up and said loudly, “Why I oughta…” in his best Moe voice.

They are missing out on knowing T. who during a little bit of free time that he had today turned his computer camera on, parted his hair in the middle, and started cracking up at himself. I was the only person who saw him, and I got so tickled at him. In fact, tonight at church I replayed that scene in my head and started laughing quietly to myself.

They are missing out on knowing K- the student who has such a smart mouth, but also has few stable adults in his life. He lost his dad after a lingering illness several years ago, and one day I shared about how painful it is to watch a parent die. Since that day he has asked if he can help pass out the books or clean the desks and has become so much more respectful after discovering our shared experience.

They are missing out on knowing L- the kid who was sent away to live at a group home for three years and is learning how to adjust to a new community, a new school, and his mother’s choice at an alternate lifestyle. He can be really rough around the edges and it often feels like he is on the edge of a complete meltdown- but boy does his face light up when he answers a question correctly.

They are missing out on knowing H- the girl who is confused in so many areas of life. At the first of the year she wouldn’t make eye contact, would barely respond when spoken to, and never attempted any work. She’s now answering questions in class, has completed every assignment this quarter, and will hold a conversation.

They are missing out on knowing so many awesome kids. My classroom is made up of ballerinas, cloggers, poets, athletes, artists, hikers, world travelers, sailors, musicians, potters, scholars, hunters, tech gurus, gamers, writers, equestrians, cheerleaders, amateur comedians, singers, book lovers, wood workers, robot builders, chefs, and so much more. Day in and day out I get to rub shoulders and share ideas with a group of people that bring new perspectives to discussions and show me fresh ways to look at things.

I know it sounds cheesy, but sometimes when I’m home or out and about, I’ll think of my students, see their faces in my mind, and my heart feels as if it might burst. I just really like them. Are there days that they get on my nerves with their farts, silliness, and fits of giggles? Absolutely. Are there days that I get on their nerves with my assignments and my “one day you’ll look back and wish…” lectures? I can almost guarantee that. Mainly because I see their eyes glaze over and yet I can’t seem to stop myself from imparting my words of wisdom that will most certainly fall on deaf ears.

I’m not the smartest person on earth, and I certainly wouldn’t say I’m the greatest teacher, but I do try to genuinely love my kids. Who cares if a kid can underline the noun? I want them to go to eighth grade knowing that in Ms. K’s class they were appreciated and enjoyed-especially because they are in middle school.

Dance, Mess Up, Repeat

I wrote once about a Zumba class I attended several years ago. It was a beginner class, which I selected specifically for that reason because I was tragically born with two left feet. As a child my mother enrolled me in ballet in the hopes that I would turn out graceful. To this day, I am anything but graceful. Back to the Zumba class- as soon as the instructor began the music, the entire class had apparently been holding secret meetings because everyone knew all of the moves and performed them at breakneck speeds. There was no instruction. I was expected to watch and imitate the instructor all to the beat of the music and look cool while doing it. I can’t even clap on beat at church, so needless to say Zumba was a frustrating experience. I ended up walking out of the class and getting on a treadmill to work out my frustration.

I wasn’t mad at the instructor. I was mad at my inability to step into a class and not be able to perform flawlessly from the word go. I look back on that experience and wonder why in the world I had such high expectations for myself- especially since all the dance pictures from my childhood recitals reveal that I spent every performance staring at the feet of those around me in hopes of remembering what I was supposed to be doing. I realize now that most of the people in the Zumba class had probably been attending for longer than two minutes and had learned the moves. More than knowing the moves- they were having fun. In the back corner of the room, I was choosing to have the opposite of fun because I wasn’t meeting my own unrealistic expectations.

In my heart of hearts, I am a dancer. When the flash mob craze was a thing, I would sometimes daydream about being a part of one. I just didn’t know anyone interested in being in a flash mob with me and the word mob indicates that it’s not a solitary activity. So I put that dream away. When I had an hour’s commute to my teaching job, I daydreamed about my fellow teachers and me performing a choreographed dance to the B52’s song, Love Shack while I drove the curvy mountain roads. I envisioned who would lip sync which parts, our costumes, and dance moves. That song isn’t even appropriate for children, but our performance would have been amazing. At least in my head.

Nowadays I mostly dance in my living room and that one time last semester when I taught my 1st period kids a dance in class. A few weeks ago I was reading an article on the website of the local news. The article was about a community center in another town offering art, music, and dance classes for children and adults. Out of curiosity, I clicked on the link to view the class catalogue. I’ve always wanted to take pottery, but that class was offered during the day while I work. A painting class was on a night that I have another commitment. Then I saw that there was an adult tap dancing class offered on a night that I had free.

I didn’t really think about the weekly 45 minute drive after working all day, my Zumba experience, or the fact that my feet rarely listen to my brain. I had been wanting to take a clogging class for years, but had never found one. Without any thinking, I found myself entering my credit card number to register and deciding that tap was the next best thing to clogging. I had taken tap as a child, so maybe muscle memory would kick in after 30+ years.

In that moment of spontaneity, I didn’t really know into what I was getting myself. I can say with 100% certainty that this class has been my favorite hour of the week. What makes this experience so different from the Zumba class is that I’m having fun. When I mess up during class- like tonight when I couldn’t figure out what I was doing wrong and kept ending up on the wrong foot- I just laughed it off and tried again. And again. And again. I still really don’t know what I’m doing wrong, but I’ll either figure it out while practicing this week or ask my instructor next week. Last week when a girl in my class was so focused on her steps that she nearly ran into me- we just looked at each other, smiled, apologized, and went on practicing. Everyone in the room is there for the same purpose: to learn something new, move a little, and have fun while doing it.

Maybe next time I daydream about performing that Love Shack number, I’ll throw in a little tap routine.

Running Weird

One of my favorite episodes of the show Friends involves Rachel inviting Phoebe to go running with her. They lace up their sneakers, and Rachel quickly discovers that Phoebe has a much different running style. While Rachel runs with correct form, drawing little attention to herself because she looks like every other runner, Phoebe runs with abandon, her arms failing; the way a child would run.

Rachel is embarrassed by Phoebe’s carefree nature and begins secretly running, not inviting Phoebe to avoid embarrassment. Phoebe confronts her and the two have a disagreement. At the end of the episode, Rachel is seen running , gets bored with it, and suddenly takes off running Phoebe-style. Rachel and Phoebe coincidentally meet up in the park and she admits that Phoebe’s carefree ways are better. Phoebe says, “See and you don’t care if people are staring, it’s just for a second because then you’re GONE!”

This afternoon was warm and I went to the park with my nephew Manny. He hopped out of my mom’s van and promptly handed me a laser gun. Once on the playground equipment we hid behind slides and took shots at each other. I’m pretty sure I took him out a few times, but he would never admit it.

After the laser battle, he reluctantly joined us on the trail that circles the park for a walk. Since he’s seven we didn’t think it was a good idea to just leave him alone on the playground, although that’s what he wanted because just as we were leaving a few kids showed up to play.

The final stretch of the walk was a long gently sloped path. Manny challenged me to a race, and I declined. I was being lazy and didn’t feel like exerting much energy and honestly just wanted to walk to the car. Without warming, something shifted in my mind, and I verbally agreed as I took off running. He beat me by a millisecond and boy don’t you know he was loud enough that the entire park knew I had lost. We ended up racing back to my mom and her dog and then back again to the end. If I had been alone, I never would have run that course. I would have told myself that I couldn’t do it, that I wasn’t dressed for it since I was wearing jeans, and about 10,000 other excuses. Having a carefree kid around encouraged me to adopt a devil-may-care attitude as well.

The book I was listening to while getting ready for school this morning is about a woman who has walked through some major life disappointments- a broken home growing up, marital affairs, cancer, and other major heath issues. The chapter I’m currently reading is about how much time and energy she spent listening to the voices of what others say about her instead of what God says about her.

The chapter gave me a lot to think about throughout the day. Do I give too much time and energy worrying over my insecurities? Am I putting more stock in the opinion of others or the opinion of God? I often find that I have to stop and consider what God says about me, His child; unfortunately, I’m sometimes pretty far down the road before I remember to consider and rest in the assurance of His acceptance of me, flaws and all.

This afternoon, when I was running with Manny, I had only one thing on my mind- winning and not falling flat on my face, especially as he tried to cheat and push me off the trail. I didn’t worry about form or holding my arms just right or about what I looked like while running, I just wanted to cross the finish line first and have fun with my nephew.

Our little race this afternoon brought Hebrews 12:1-2 alive for me, “Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (NASB)

I’m called to run this race with my eyes fixed on Jesus- not my insecurities or the things that I wish were different- but on Jesus who promises to redirect and guide me. Unfortunately, I often find that I’m more like Rachel in the running scene with Phoebe- uptight and worried what other people will think, but my ultimate goal is to run like carefree and fun like Phoebe.

February Seven

As I sat in the pew at church today I took out a pen and wrote the date on the bulletin where I planned to take notes. I wrote February 7 in blue pen across the top of the page; February Seven, the name of one of my favorite songs.

Music has always played a huge role in life, even if I can’t play an instrument and I’m pretty sure I’m tone deaf. I think about the complexities of creating a song, from the music to the lyrics, and it makes my brain hurt. For some reason song writing has always conjured up ideas of underground laboratories where artists sprinkle eye of newt, magic dust, and bits of their hearts into a flask and then out pops a song.

I once had a conversation with a friend about the difference between authors and musicians. We are both avid readers, and I said that I favor songwriters over authors because a song feels more personal- like the songwriter has allowed you a glimpse into their heart. She disagreed and said she would be more upset by the death of an author over the death of a songwriter. That conversation happened at least four years ago, and it’s one that has stuck with me.

I saw the Avett Brothers for the first time on a small stage downtown in the summer of 2006. I liked their energy and when they spoke to the small crowd that had gathered, they reminded me of the friends I had in college. Since then, I’ve attended shows frequently since they are around the area several times a year- before the pandemic anyway.

I’ve always like folksy, melancholy music, but the lyrics usually make a song for me. In high school, I used the lyrics from the one Christian artist I liked, Steven Curtis Chapman, for my devotional. Most music that resonates with me typically has some pretty depressing lyrics, and I find that at this stage in my life I can only listen in small doses. One thing I appreciate about songs like that is the genuineness in the lyrics. Life can be difficult and confusing, and frustrating, sometimes because of our own failures and other times because of other people’s decisions, and I think it’s best to acknowledge that and not pretend it’s not a thing. However, life can also be beautiful and redemptive and surprising and that needs to be acknowledged as well. I find few of the artists I like ever get around to the happier, redemptive view.

That’s what I like about the Avett Brothers and in particular, February Seven. I searched for the meaning of the lyrics once and Scott Avett stated that it was about a lesson he learned on February 7th. How’s that for vague? But, that’s the beauty of a song- there’s lots of room for interpretation.

For me, the song reminds me of the hope and redemption I find in the person of Jesus. How many times in my life have I messed up, found myself entangled in sin, went on the search for something true, and traded what I know for how I feel? Each time that I’ve repented I’ve found that Jesus has always been there and as John writes, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (I John 1:9 NASB).

I’ve been in situations that have felt hopeless or prayed prayers that go unanswered and despair has started to settle in my heart. Metaphorically if feels as if the ceilings and the walls are about to collapse, leaving me trapped in the darkness- but Jesus, who is the Light, steps in and rescues me.

That lyric in particular strikes a chord with me. Regardless of how I got in that place, my own doing or that of someone else, I can be sure that Jesus is true to His promise that, “…and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20 NASB). He stands me up and I can remain standing because He took my shame, He died for my sins, and because of Him, “Therefore there is now , NO condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1 NASB). He gives me another chance, a new day, a chance for a new chapter.

February 7th has become a reminder for me that because I am a follower of Jesus, no situation is hopeless, and because of Him I have no reason for despair- I think that’s a good reminder anytime, not just on a specific date.

I went on the search for something true.

I was almost there when I found you.

Sooner than my fate was wrote

the perfect blade it slit my throat

and beads of lust released into the air.

When I awoke you were standing there.

I was on the mend when I feel through.

The sky around was anything but blue.

I found as I regained my feet

A wound across my memory

That no amount of stitches would repair.

But I awoke and you were standing there.

There’s no fortune at the end of the road that has no end.

There’s no returning to the spoils

Once you’ve spoiled the thought of them.

There’s no falling back asleep

Once you’ve wakened from the dream

Now I’m rested and I’m ready,

I’m rested and I’m ready to begin.

I’m ready to begin.

I went on the search for something real.

Traded what I know for how I feel.

But the ceiling and the walls collapsed

Upon the darkness I was trapped

And as the last of breath was drawn from me

The Light broke in and brought me to my feet.

There’s no fortune at the end of the road that has no end.

There’s no returning to the spoils

Once you’ve spoiled the thought of them.

There’s no falling back to sleep

Once you’ve wakened from the dream.

Now I’m rested and I’m ready

I’m rested and I’m ready

To begin.

I’m ready to begin.

February Seven- The Avett Brothers

Perspective

This afternoon Heidi texted me a photo of her two dogs sitting in what looked like a massive pile of paper. They had gotten into her photos while she and her husband were gone. As she cleaned up the mess she sent me pictures that she found of our many adventures over the years. There was one of our college friend Nathan, and for a moment neither of us could remember his last name. Heidi was able to come up with the ‘S’ but for several minutes I had nothing. Suddenly, I texted back his last name. That text lead to a story about something he had said in Bible class that was inappropriate but funny.

I starting thinking about some of my classes in college. Actually I started thinking about my behavior in some of my classes. I went to two very small colleges, so my experience was very different from those who attended large universities. At the school where I met Heidi, there were around 20 students that lived on campus and maybe 10-20 married students and commuters students. Class sizes were very small.

When you live with people you get very comfortable with them. For three years I ate, studied, played, worked, and lived with the same few people. It got to the point that I could walk into the laundry room, peak into the dryer, and know who was clogging up the machine just by identifying their clothing. It goes without saying that we had a lot of inside jokes and knew what would make someone laugh.

I spent most of my time with Heidi, Scott, and Travis. We ate our meals together, sat around and talked, and would visit each other at our jobs in town- how we got away with that is a mystery. Alaska truly is it’s own world. Despite all the time we spent outside of class, somehow we never had a class with all four of us. I had classes with Scott and Travis and class with Heidi and Scott, but never all of us together.

That is until Philosophy class.

My senior year we all ended up taking Philosophy together and sitting in the back row. If we had given it much thought or had been more mature, we would have chosen to not sit anywhere near each other. But it was senior year, and I think our last semester so were intent on spending time together. It was one of the larger classes on campus with most of the students in the school taking it. I didn’t really enjoy the content of the class, but I certainly enjoyed the people around me. One day in particular sticks out.

I had taken my seat between Travis and Heidi. Heidi and I were already tickled about something when class started, and we made comments under our breathe, which would send the other into fits of suppressed giggles. Travis kept throwing us the evil eye in an attempt to settle us down. He was really into the class; I’m not sure what Scott’s role was in all of this at the time, but he was probably writing a song or a poem or shushing us. He did that a lot that year because he was an R.A.

We had finally settled ourselves down and attempted to pay attention and actually learn something. Our friend Derek was sitting a few rows up and had turned around and made a face at us. He then turned his attention back to the professor, but slowly held his hand up and opened it toward us. He had drawn a huge eye on his hand which indicated that he was watching us.

That was it for Heidi, Scott, and me. We were on the back row, holding in our laughter and shaking in our seats. I finally just laid my head on the desk because things are always 10,000 times funnier when you are unable to just laugh out loud. Travis was enraptured with the topic at hand and turned to say something- probably for us to stop- when he saw tears streaming down our faces. He looked up and saw Derek’s hand and that ended his stoicism. Now all four of us were silently cry laughing, and I have no memory of anything we discussed in the actual learning part of the class.

After thinking about that day, I texted Heidi and said, “Now that I’m a teacher, I don’t know why Dr. Ridley didn’t throw us out of class.” Her response was, “Seriously we were bad.” I almost feel like I need to sit down and write a letter of apology.

Remembering days like that help me extend a little grace to my students who are 12 years old. I always tell them to choose their seats wisely and sometimes wisdom tells you that you aren’t going to be able to sit next to your very best friend and not get into trouble. I tell them that as a woman in her 40s I struggle to be good when sitting with my friends.

In high school I was the model student. I came in, sat down, took notes, did my homework, and barely spoke to anyone in class. Mainly because I was too busy daydreaming about college and all the fun I would have there. Things were very different from high school me once college me got to know my classmates.

We have snow in the forecast and it’s a four-day week, so I know the kids will be a little more hyper than a normal week. I guess I can thank Helga and Agnes, Heidi’s two hounds, for messing around in her stuff. This week I’ll have the fresh memory of the times that if I had been the teacher, my friends and I would have had our behavior logs signed and new seats away from each other. Far away from each other.

Laughter

Ian is a student in our school and the only thing I know about him is that he has a truly unique laugh. It’s the type of laugh that is so sincere and genuine and frequent that I find myself smiling when I hear it travel down the hallway; this happens at least two times daily. This afternoon I stood in my doorway while he spoke with Andrew, his ELA teacher. Andrew was teasing him about his friend who is a girl and Ian laughed and laughed in protest, which then had Andrew and me laughing.

My nephew Manny has the same type of laugh. One Christmas, my niece Izzy was 2 1/2 years old and Manny was almost a year old. Izzy was running in front of Manny, pulling a toy telephone on a string. The telephone had big googly eyes that rolled around as Izzy pulled it back and forth in front of Manny. Every time she ran past him, Manny would laugh so hard that he would fall over and continuing giggling. It didn’t take long until we were all laughing along with he and Izzy.

Tonight I was at my mom’s house helping Manny with homework. One thing I love about kids is their inquisitive nature. He read a story to me about a grandmother who had gone on several trips and had taken snapshots of her adventures. When her grandchildren asked her what her favorite trip had been, she said it was the one where she got to visit them. One of her adventures involved scuba diving and when the story was over Manny said, “Grandma is lying. How could she get a picture underwater?” I explained to him that there was such a thing as an underwater camera and then I showed him pictures of underwater hotels. He immediately asked if we could go there, to which I replied that we would have to save some money. After about the fifth hotel he walked off and said, “Okay, enough. I’m getting jealous.”

After a small break, we began working on the task of addressing his class Valentine’s Day cards. We agreed that I would write the name of his classmates and he would sign each one. I made a comment about a particularly odd name, which somehow lead to a conversation about popular songs the years we were born. Manny was hunched over a Valentine, signing his name when my mom said, “You think that’s bad? When I was growing up a hit song was “Sookie, Sookie Sue” which sounds a lot like “Sucky, Sucky Sue.” To that- Manny laughed the most spontaneous laugh. He couldn’t finish his signature because it was the kind of laugh that rendered him unable to complete any task regardless of how simple it might have been.

That laugh got me thinking of how fortunate I am because I’ve had many opportunities to laugh today, a few of which included:

A student telling me that only 3 people were needed to start a religion and then me overhearing him say to another student, “Hey, wanna join my cult, er…, my religion?”

Having a student ask how many hands he would be needing for class. When I replied most likely both of them, he held up his jacket sleeve which had a bottle in it. He explained that he had tragically lost his hand and only had the bottle with which to work. I told him I was sorry about his accident and hoped it wasn’t his writing hand. He kept his bottle hand for the duration of class while doing all of his work.

In another class I entered and a girl who is typically very quiet was standing at the front of the room. She looked at me with a sly smile. I asked why she was standing and she just giggled. I began class and she continued to stand. I passed out papers and as I walked by her I said, “You’ll need to sit when we watch the video because your daddy wasn’t a glass maker.” She laughed and said, “I was waiting for you to tell me to sit down.” She then sat down for the remainder of the class.

My physical therapist explained today how he came to name the owl that lives in the guttering of his home, right by his front door. He named it “Ralphie” which lead to an entire conversation about his waiting to receive his acceptance letter from Hogwarts.

The response of my students when I told them that 3D Doritos were back and to please go buy them so the makers of 3D Doritos would see how popular they are and won’t take them away from me again. I had students plotting and planning how they were going to tell their parents that this was actual homework. (If you read my post from yesterday and are wondering- 3D Doritos are just as good as I remembered.)

When reading about blood letting during the yellow fever epidemic in Philadelphia and having a student ask if the doctor was a vampire and planned to drink the blood. We discussed at length the possibility for adding a slight twist on the story we were reading.

All of the events of today had me thinking about laughter and how important it is to life. I have a couple of friends that I have tried to remember if I’ve seen them laugh recently. I always find it troubling when I can’t remember if I have. Admittedly, it is not difficult to get me laughing which is okay because laughter is the best medicine.

Small Surprises

The year before I moved to Hungary I was working as a waitress at a local restaurant. I was saving money like a mad woman and working all the overtime I could get in preparation for the upcoming year in Eastern Europe. My mom laughs about a time during that year where we went shopping for clothes. The clerk told me the total and it was more than I had expected. Mom said my face turned red, then white and I looked as if I might puke. I looked at her and said, “What should I do?” My mom replied, “Um, pay her.” When I am in saving mode, I don’t even want to spend money on basic needs.

That year was a saving year. A few months before leaving, I began scheduling appointments for check-ups in anticipation that I wouldn’t be seeing a doctor or dentist while I was away. I had been having some issues with a couple of wisdom teeth and I wanted to get that looked at before arriving in a country where I didn’t know the language. I am not sure of the details, but I ended up consulting with an oral surgeon. I have no idea how I ended up in his office. Regardless, at the end of the appointment he informed me that I needed to have all four of my wisdom teeth pulled. I asked the cost and discovered it was going to be very expensive, especially since I didn’t have insurance. After he shared the cost, I told him that I had enough money for him to remove probably one tooth, so for him to pull the one that he thought would give me the biggest issue.

After going back and forth, he insisted I needed all four pulled, and I insisted that I couldn’t afford to do that because I was moving to Hungary in just a few months. That lead us into a conversation about what I would be doing there. He left for a few moments and returned to tell me that he still believed I needed all four teeth pulled, and he wanted to help support me in my endeavors overseas. He told me that he would charge me $300. For everything- anesthesia and the removal of all four wisdom teeth. I was dumbfounded and beyond thankful.

My mom lived four hours away and called to see if I needed a ride home after having my teeth pulled. I clearly didn’t understand the extent of the surgery and told her I thought I would be fine to drive myself. Thankfully she has some sense and insisted that she would take me to my appointment. After the surgery, Mom managed to get me to the car and we made it home, despite my insistence that she was going the wrong way and that she not forget to pick up a gray puppy while she was in Walgreens getting my medication.

A few weeks later, I drove from Tennessee to Colorado to visit friends before leaving for Hungary. The surgeon had given me a syringe and instructed me to clean out my wounds after eating to avoid developing dry socket. I had heard horror stories of people getting dry socket after having their wisdom teeth removed, and I wanted nothing to do with that. So, I filled a Nalgene bottle with water and made plans to use it to fill my syringe and clean my wounds as I drove down the highway.

In preparation for the 20 hour drive, I packed lots of car snacks because I wanted to avoid eating in restaurants. In those days, my favorite driving snacks were teriyaki beef jerky, a Coke, and Nacho Cheese flavored 3D Doritos. I used to love 3D Doritos, especially while driving, but much to my disappointment they disappeared from the shelves sometime in the early 2000s. Apparently I was the only person who bought them because when I ask people if they remember eating them, I’m usually met with blank stares.

You might think my purpose in writing this blog post is to talk about provision and how awesome it was that a dentist I didn’t even know gave me such a great deal on removing my wisdom teeth. And that was amazing and I was (and am still) appreciative of such generosity. In fact, I wish I could remember his name and write a letter letting him know that 21 years later, I am still thankful.

But that’s not why I’m writing this post. When thinking about getting my wisdom teeth removed, I always think of that drive to Colorado. I remember driving and eating and syringing my wounds across the United States. I ate a lot of 3D Doritos on that trip. So, my real reason for writing is to tell you that tonight as I ordered my groceries online, I searched the site for ranch dressing. I was scanning the selections and then I saw it. A bag of 3D Doritos.

For a second I thought that maybe I had time traveled and it was 1998, but after looking around for a minute I realized that they must have heard my prayers and started making 3D Doritos again. I immediately put a couple bags in my virtual cart and tomorrow after work I’ll get them. I might even get a Coke, listen to a Counting Crows CD, and go for a long drive; thankfully I can leave the syringe behind.

Snow Caves and Cremation

Before attending college in Wisconsin, I didn’t realize that people actually did things when it snowed. While living in Tennessee, a big snow meant everything ceased. School was cancelled, and we stayed around the house- except for the times that my dad wanted to go driving in the snow for fun. Generally, we would build a snowman and go tubing and then it would melt and be gone the next day. Snow didn’t last long enough to really do anything with or in it. You didn’t plan snow activities, because snow just sort of surprised you and interrupted your regular routine.

In Wisconsin, I quickly discovered that life went on with or without snow. My college was on a small contained campus, so no amount of snow or cold would get in the way of our learning. Class was only cancelled if our director decided it was a good day to go for a hike, but never for inclement weather. The weekends were for scheduled outdoor fun, and I assumed that once it snowed our fun would move indoors. I was wrong, the adventures continued outdoors with snow activities I had never experienced.

In P.E. class, our semester assignment was to cross- country ski 25K a week, keeping track of our monthly ski time on a single sheet of paper. I soon discovered that although I was slow, I really enjoyed that activity. On one of our weekend adventures we were given snowshoes to make hiking in the deep snow of the forest easier; I discovered that this was also a great deal of fun and good exercise. Especially if you could manage to stand on someone’s snowshoe and push them.

Our classes were organized into week-long modules. Every week a new professor flew in from the main campus in Philadelphia and taught class from 8 am-4 pm, Monday-Friday. All projects, assigned readings, and essays were due every Friday morning, which meant I rarely slept on Thursday nights. As a freshman I hadn’t mastered time management. In fact, all these years later, I’m still working on that.

One Friday afternoon we had taken our final and several of us were sitting in a sleep-deprived stupor at a table in the cafeteria waiting for lunch to begin. We didn’t have any school sponsored events that weekend, so as we drank coffee we discussed what to do with our free time. Some suggested trying a longer ski trail nearby or a snowshoe hike or possibly a game night. Someone lamented that they missed camping and suddenly a plan came together. I didn’t know it was even possible to camp in the snow because I assumed camping was an every season activity except winter. I soon discovered that I was wrong.

We managed to find transportation, food for the weekend, and pack our gear soon after lunch. We had a little way to drive and wanted to get our camp set up before it got dark. The director from the school dropped the twelve of us off at a nearby lake. We strapped on our cross-country skis, hoisted our backpacks, and loaded a few sleds full of gear and food and tied them to the two guys who volunteered to pull them across the lake to the island where we would set up camp.

The snow was deep and the area quiet. A few set up tents and others decided to build snow caves to sleep in. While setting everything up, I had learned that if snow was piled up in a mound and left to sit for a bit it would “bond” (excuse my lack of real scientific terms) and one could dig a hole in the center and voila! you would have a snow cave in which you could sleep!

My friend Jenn and I grabbed a big metal bowl that someone had packed and took turns making a large snow pile. I feel like we must have had other tools, but I can only remember the bowl. I know for a fact that we weren’t expecting to build a snow cave- that just sort of came about when someone mentioned how to do it. Suddenly several snow caves popped up around our centrally located campfire. After Jenn and I piled the snow about 3 or 4 feet high, we warmed up to the campfire to give our cave time to settle. When it seemed like an appropriate amount of time had passed, we then began to dig an opening and hollow out our cave. That part took quite a bit of time and effort. Jenn and I kept climbing in and out making sure that we could both fit comfortably. We finished up just in time to walk out onto the frozen lake and watch a beautiful sunset.

That night we slept well in our cozy snow cave, each of us snuggled down into our sleeping bags. The next day we awoke to a beautiful sunny day. We had breakfast and then skied for several hours before returning to the campsite to eat dinner, sit around the fire, and tell stories. We talked into the night regularly feeding the fire until we were all sleepy and ready for bed.

Jenn and I climbed into the snow cave. I discovered that my sleeping bag was damp, but being unexperienced with winter camping, I climbed in and hoped for the best. That was not a good plan. I was up most of the night, wondering if I would literally freeze to death. I slept with my snow boots on and all of my gear and still lay shivering, praying for morning to come. I felt like I needed to ask a favor of Jenn much like Sam McGee did in Robert Service’s poem by the same name, “And that very night, as we lay packed tight in our robes beneath the snow, And the dogs were fed, and the stars o’erhead were dancing heel and toe, He turned to me, and “Cap,” says he, “I’ll cash in this trip, I guess; And if I do, I’m asking that you won’t refuse my last request.” Well, he seemed so low that I couldn’t say no; then he says with a sort of moan: “It’s the cursèd cold, and it’s got right hold till I’m chilled clean through to the bone. Yet ’tain’t being dead—it’s my awful dread of the icy grave that pains; So I want you to swear that, foul or fair, you’ll cremate my last remains.”

Thankfully I didn’t have to ask Jenn to cremate my frozen remains. The next morning came after what felt like many nights, and we drank coffee by the fire, ate breakfast, and packed up to head back to school. I casually mentioned that the night before my sleeping bag had been wet, and I had spent the night shivering. The looks I received from the experienced winter campers told me that it was not a good thing. I decided that should I ever go camping and build a snow cave again, I would pull my sleeping bag out during the day and allow it to dry by the fire.

Looking back, I realize how this was a truly dangerous situation, and I really could have died from hypothermia; however, in the moment I figured I would just tough it out and warm up to the campfire in the morning. When I was 19 I never thought about potential dangers; I guess that’s the blessing of being young and stupid. I’m mostly thankful that I didn’t have to burden Jenn with the task of caring for my remains.

We Go Back, Snow and Me

This morning I was able to get an extra hour of sleep because I had been informed last night that my school would have a 2-hour delay. I was leisurely drinking my coffee and reading while trying to decide if I would use my extra time to cook a big breakfast or just eat the boring blueberry oatmeal I had packed for school. As I weighed my options, I received notification that we were going to be closed for the day. I put off breakfast choices and continued with my coffee and book.

When I see snowflakes on my weather app I get excited. The thought of snow stirs up good memories. I figure if it’s going to be cold, there might as well be snow to make everything look fresh and clean. The fact that it snowed on Christmas almost made up for all the awfulness that was 2020. I love snow.

Growing up it seems like we got at least one good snow a year, sometimes a few more. We would go tubing in the cow fields beside our house and then when it melted the next day we would go back to wearing a heavy sweatshirt for a coat. Winter didn’t necessarily equate snow and happiness in my mind. I was typically putting up with winter so I could get to summer and work at camp.

During my senior year of high school I made the decision to attend college in Wisconsin. Thankfully the school sent an informational packet with a list of suggested winter weather gear. My parents and I set out to purchase the necessary items: a sleeping bag rated for -30 degrees, heavy winter boots, a real winter coat, and various other things we had never needed for our mild winters.

The fall season in Wisconsin was like that in which I had ever only seen in movies and on T.V. We enjoyed the cooler weather and the glorious display of autumn leaves as we spent our evenings and weekends going on hikes and bike rides and canoe trips.

For Thanksgiving, several friends and I went to our friend Anna’s house in Minnesota. On our way back to school, winter showed up in the form of a blizzard. I had only experienced one blizzard in my life, and I was safe in my house and not on the road in an old station wagon piled high with all my friends. The road conditions got so treacherous that we pulled the station wagon over and checked into a hotel for the night. When we arrived back at school, everything was layered in a thick blanket of snow, and I was beside myself with joy. I discovered that the sun could shine and not melt all the snow away, especially if the high temperature for the day was only -15.

The snow stuck around until I left for Christmas break. I loved walking outside and seeing my campus covered in white fluff. I was a little sad when I arrived back in Tennessee and was greeted with an unseasonably warm winter. I enjoyed seeing my family and spending Christmas at home, but I missed the snowy winter of Wisconsin. I wondered if there was a way to transport the weather of Wisconsin to my home in Tennessee.

When I arrived back at school I was happy to see that snow was still on the ground. As classes began, we shuffled into our first day of P.E. and discovered that we would be cross-country skiing for the semester. We were told to get into outside weather gear and meet up at the van after lunch. I was nervous because I had skied only once in my life and it had been disastrous. I didn’t even know the difference between cross-country skiing and downhill skiing so I didn’t have a clue how I was going to manage the afternoon without breaking something.

We packed into the van and drove just a few miles down the road to a trail that had been groomed for cross-country skiing. I learned that one of the largest professional cross-country skiing races took place every year in our tiny Wisconsin town. Once we arrived, our professor opened up the back of the trailer and gave each of us a pair of long, skinny skis and a set of poles. I hooked the skis on to my shoes and used my poles to stay upright.

We were told to ski the length of the trail, about 5 kilometers. Initially, I flailed around but eventually found my stride. I only remember a few things about that day. I was wearing the new purple fleece I had just recently purchased. I also have a very vivid memory of one part of the trail where I had skied out of an area of snow covered trees to a clearing. I was alone- probably because I was a super slow skier when I first started-and the sun was shining, and I remember smelling a mixture of snow, fleece, sweat and Carmex and thinking nothing in the world smelled so good. I will sometimes catch that smell on the rare days I’m out in the snow and I’m transported back to that moment. I think that may be the day that I fell in love in with snow. Or at least the day that I decided to accept and acknowledge that I loved snow.

The rest of that winter was spent skiing, snowshoeing, and winter camping. I had never had a chance to be so active and involved with snow. After that year, I attended college in Alaska where I discovered a whole new level of winter and snow.

So, it’s no wonder that this morning, when I looked out my window and saw my snow-covered yard, that my mind was flooded with wonderful memories of snow. As I sat staring, I quoted Lorelai Gilmore (from the show Gilmore Girls), “It’s just my favorite time of year. The whole world changes color.”

Entanglement

For the past several summers I have worked a week at a beautiful summer camp nestled in the mountains of West Virginia. The camp is managed by my friends and when I’m able to be there it is always an enjoyable time. I spent 20 years working at summer camp; I can’t imagine my life without time spent at camp.

A few summers ago my work week in West Virginia was in full swing. I had made No-Bake cookies, torn the meat off several turkeys, and browned a lot of ground beef. That Wednesday, my friends and I were leaving camp early to drive two hours to pick their son up from the airport; Ethan was returning from a school trip to France. After working in the kitchen that afternoon, Jamie, her daughter Laken, Ethan’s girlfriend Katelyn, and I went into the office to create posters to wave about at the airport as we welcomed Ethan home.

We spread out around the office, each armed with a poster board and markers. We discussed ideas and every got to work. I was lying on my stomach attempting to draw a realistic looking Eiffel Tower and the moon face from Moulin Rouge. Our work didn’t require a lot of movement, so the automatic light turned off. We were engrossed in our artistry and continued to work in the darkened room when the door opened in walked Jamie’s dad, Rick.

One thing to note about Rick is that he is a trickster. In fact, I had a student who had attended camp and randomly approached me one day and asked if I had recently talked to “Tricky Rick.” I didn’t question if he meant a student, but immediately knew he meant Rick from camp.

I can’t remember the first time I met Rick. He and his family are the type of people that you meet and feel like you’ve always known them. I’ve never been around Rick without him telling me a joke or showing me a magic trick. He typically fools me and just laughs and laughs. He is a hit with the kids at camp. I find myself laughing most when Rick says something that he doesn’t even mean as funny, mostly comments aimed at Jamie.

That afternoon, Rick entered the office while I was lying in the floor drawing. When he kicked my leg, I assumed he was being Rick and just being silly. I lifted my legs in an attempt to allow him to pass by just as he went to step over whatever was in his way. For several seconds, Rick was entangled in my legs which I moved back and forth in an attempt to “help” the situation. I had not realized that Rick had no idea there were people strewn about his office floor working on art projects in the dark. Instead of kicking my leg in a joking manner, he had really just run into me. While he was attempting to free himself of whatever he had gotten entangled in, I further exacerbated the situation as I moved my legs and ensnared him. Thankfully, Rick was able to steady himself and didn’t fall, although he did accuse me of trying to trip him.

The moment passed and the signs were finished; we picked Ethan up at the airport and enjoyed a delicious Mexican dinner before heading back to camp. Later that night, as I was drifting off to sleep, I replayed the incident in the office with Rick from that afternoon. Knowing that everything turned out okay and nobody was hurt, I found myself belly laughing at the misunderstanding. I laughed so hard that tears spilled out of my eyes as I attempted to suppress my giggles since I was sharing a room with Laken and she was asleep.

The other day I was teaching the word entangle to my students. I found myself telling them this story about Rick as an object lesson for the definition of the word. I would like to pretend that I just told the story and didn’t have to stop and gain control over my laughter- but that would be a lie.

A Dot

Last week I sat in church and listened to my friend, Tommy, preach on eternity. He asked the congregation to attempt to consider the length of eternity and to realize that our time on this earth is just a dot on the long line of eternity. He went on to have us consider if what we get upset over or spend time fretting about is temporal or eternal. He reasoned that most of what gets us in a lather is but a dot in the grand scheme of things. I didn’t have to do a whole lot of considering to know that he was right.

I’ve thought a lot about that message this past week. I thought about it on Monday when a big red dump truck pulled out in front of me. I didn’t think about it immediately though. First, I said out loud as if the driver could hear me, “Seriously guy? Your monstrosity is like 15 times bigger than my Subaru and there is literally nobody behind me. You couldn’t wait half a second without risking my life?” Next as I passed him, I gave him my best side-eye look just to insure that he knew I was not happy with his driving decisions. I then spent the next 2 minutes scolding him and his driving abilities in my head and wondered if citizen’s arrest was a real thing. I then realized how much of my mental energy I had spent on an imaginary conversation with a person I didn’t even know. I realized that I was giving a whole lot of attention to something that was certainly a dot when considering eternity.

This week in class my students were rewriting an essay. I had two students who have pretty spotty attendance show up on the last day for the rewrite. They had both missed the days where I actually gave instructions on how to write the essay. One of the boys arrived in a police car, because he refused to come to school, about 3 minutes before walking into my class. The other had been removed from his home a few days before and is currently living with the one person in his life who managed to pass a drug test.

While the other students were finishing up their essays, I got those two started on reading the articles so they could begin the writing process. After a few minutes I noticed that my police car kid was at least pretending to work. I reasoned that he was probably a little afraid to not comply with the adults in his life after the morning he had just experienced. The other was staring off into space. It was obvious from his face and his darkened laptop screen that he was distracted by his own thoughts.

I stood behind him at my desk and wondered what I should do. He wasn’t doing what I had asked him to do and was clearly off task. I waited to see if he redirected himself and wandered around the room to check on other students and their progress. When I returned, he was still lost in his own world. I determined that my essay was just not the most important thing in the universe and in a few weeks after they were graded I wouldn’t even remember the topic or the assignment. So, I checked on him a few times before the class ended and he left not having typed a word.

I had a lot of other opportunities this week to ask myself if what I was focusing on was of eternal or temporal value. It was really helpful in stopping some of the useless scenarios on which I invest my brain power (refer back to the red dump truck scene a few paragraphs back for an example). This thought process helped me decide to invest in a few other things that I believe have eternal value. I am always appreciative when someone explains a verse in such a way that it seems very practical and easy to apply- “Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the tings which are not seen are eternal” (II Corinthians 4:16-18).

I hope to apply the same verse to this week ahead.

Behind the Scenes

As a teacher, I love snow days. I’m usually drinking coffee and reading when I receive the text alert that we will be closed for the day. I celebrate by drinking more coffee, taking my time with my reading, and refusing to do anything school related- an action I typically regret the next day when I realize all that I could have accomplished but will now have to do once I get home.

The school system I previously worked for had twenty stockpiled snow days, and except for one year, we took all twenty and then some. One year we went to school one day in the month of January. There were some years that we would be out for two or more weeks straight. I’m not going to lie; I miss those days.

In my current school system it appears they have installed heated streets and an invisible dome that prevents snow from falling and sticking anywhere near the school. I’ll leave my snow-covered house and drive down the snow blown road only to arrive at school where it is raining or completely dry. I live exactly seven minutes from school, so the heated street and invisible dome are the only viable explanation for such a phenomenon.

I am usually a junior meteorologist in the winter as I study my weather app like it’s my real job. Maybe it’s the pandemic or not wanting to face the disappointment of every school system around us having a snow day while we go on regular schedule, but I’ve not been as attentive this winter.

So, imagine my surprise last Thursday when I opened the curtains and saw a snow covered yard AND snow sticking to the road. I was already dressed for work and about to get in the car when I checked my phone to see if I had missed the text alert. I didn’t see a text, so I checked the local news and saw that, per usual, others were on a delay or closed, but no mention of our system. Regular schedule it was.

I cautiously drove to work because the snow was sticking on the road and coming down sideways. I slowly rounded a curve and saw that a car, with it’s headlights still shining into the darkness, had slid into the other lane and off the shoulder into the ditch. I gripped the wheel tighter and continued on my way, grumbling that we weren’t at least on a delay. Someone must have turned off the heated streets and opened the dome because the snow was falling in sheets as I pulled into what I hoped was a parking spot because I couldn’t see the lines. I walked in with a co-worker, and we complained that we were on a regular schedule as the snow fell into piles around us.

My students arrived, each one with a story to tell about their trek to school. Absences were up because parents decided to keep their kids home and allowed them to attend virtually. I was still grumbly, but that dissipated as we began our day, and I realized my bad attitude wouldn’t be conducive to anything positive.

J was in class that day. He had missed the day before because I remember asking him if he had the study guide I had given out on Monday. We stood looking at each other trying to remember what days he had been there and what days he had missed. I finally said that I could barely remember my own name, so I handed him a study guide and a pencil and class began. At the end of class, as students were waiting for the dismissal bell, I asked a kid if he had any siblings. He said that he didn’t. J spoke up and said that he had younger siblings, and I asked their ages. Both were school aged and he said they could sometimes be annoying. He then made a remark that most of the time he liked them. Later that evening I received an email that J and his siblings were removed from their home for good and the he may or may not be at school the following day depending on his temporary placement.

On Friday, I was hoping J would be in class. More than anything I wanted to hug him and tell him he was loved and about a Savior who knew exactly who he was. As my students filed in and settled, his desk remained empty, and I fought back tears as I realized that there may not be a formal goodbye between us.

Every Friday our superintendent sends out an inspirational email. They aren’t hokey and have become something in which I look forward to receiving each week. Her email this past Friday began with admitting it was a failure to not call a delay or a snow day, but the snow began falling at 6:25 when all of our buses were already on the road and filled with students. She worried all day because she had missed making the call for a delay, and that could have resulted in a serious accident. However, she received a text that evening detailing the events that my student and his siblings would have witnessed had they been home for a snow day and not at school.

Reading that email just blessed my heart. From my point of view, I wanted a snow day, but because we were at school on time, those precious children were spared even more traumatic events. I was shamed when thinking that my concern was a day off from a great job when there are so many in the world- my student included- who have much greater concerns. Not that wanting a day off is a bad thing, but I often need perspective of the big picture. So what if I didn’t get a day to look out at the snow and enjoy a lazy day of lounging in pajama pants while sipping hot chocolate and reading? I guess that’s why we have Saturdays.

Working at Home

One thing I wasn’t told in teacher school is that the teacher also has homework every night. And on the weekends. And holiday breaks. Work chores continually hover over my head because there is always something that I could be doing.

For the first eight years of my career, I didn’t have a curriculum, and it was expected that I would look at the state standards and create a curriculum that would wow the administration and increase student learning a hundredfold. Since my colleagues and I had no experience with creating curriculum, the experience was much like what I imagine building an airplane while attempting to fly it would be. Stressful. Unproductive. We would often spend our free period discussing what we needed to prepare for the next day, then we would go home and make the documents or create the activities.

This year we were given curriculum. There are still adjustments to be made, but it’s easier to build something when you have the parts than to have to create the parts before you start building. This year we have been able to use our free period to grade and email and make necessary phone calls or look way ahead into the future and plan. This has also meant that I don’t have to do so much when I get home. I love my students, but I also like to leave my work at work and think about non-school things once in a while.

I arrived home from work today and since I’m giving a unit test tomorrow, I didn’t have to do much school work. So, I settled onto the couch and picked up the Hemingway novel I’m reading. After spending time in Italy during World War I, I decided to crack open my laptop.

Instead of frantic emails from students about the unit test, I had a short email from the school counselor. I read that one of my students had been taken from his home by Child Protective Services this evening. His placement is unknown, so we don’t know if he’ll be at school tomorrow or if he’ll be moving. It appears that he will not be returning to his parents and will be placed in long term care.

This is the kind of work that I wish I didn’t have to face. I would rather grade 10,000 essays- and I despise grading essays- than to have to hear that one of my students is having what must feel like the worst day of their lives while I’ve been siting comfortably in my quiet, clean home.

He wasn’t at school two days this week, but he was there today, sitting in the seat in front of my desk so I can keep an eye on him because he tends to get off task. When he first arrived, I thought he was going to be a handful. Mostly because he was. Then one day I made a comment about a dog and he started telling me about his dogs- what they looked like, their names, and which one slept with him. He sometimes interrupts my teaching to tell me something about his life that is loosely related to the lesson, and I often let he and his classmates finish their tales because it feels like they want to share their lives with others. It makes me sad to think that he won’t have his dogs tonight. From the day that he told me about his dogs, we’ve had a connection.

As I sat on the couch, I started to allow my thoughts to wander to dark places, but then I remembered that several years ago I had a student who never returned to school due to a similar situation. For years I had no idea what happened to him, and it weighed on my mind. Then one Christmas Eve I saw him in a grocery store that I never go to in another towns over. I discovered he had been adopted by a wonderful family, played football, and was looking forward to graduating high school and considering to which colleges to apply.

While I can’t really do anything physically about the situation for this student, I can pray. While I can do very little, I know when I bring this student before the Lord, He can do much more for him than I ever could. My tonight prayer for this student is found in Ephesian 3:14-21:

“For this reason I bend my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name, that He would grant J, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner self, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that J, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that J may be filled to all the fullness of God. Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen. (NASB2020)

Jammed Copiers

For the first time in my teaching career, I had today off. In America, today is a national holiday honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Students have the day off, but we teachers typically report for duty in the form of a day-long meeting. The highlight of such a day is that we get a little longer for lunch and get to enjoy a meal out with colleagues. In 13 years I’ve attended only one in-service training that was worthwhile and memorable and that was 11 years ago. Needless to say, I was ecstatic to have the day off.

I began my day by waking up a little later than normal and drinking a little more coffee than normal. I spent some time with my seven-year-old nephew, helping him complete homework and attempting to play a video game with him. Whatever we were playing involved our characters getting packages from vending machines and delivering them via helicopters, golf carts, trucks, and cars. While Manny picked up packages and delivered them with ease, I on the other hand, did not fair as well. My character stood in front of vending machines for several minutes as I tried to remember how to grip the handle and retrieve the package. Once I had the package out of the machine, I couldn’t figure out how to pick it up. I fell into the lake and drowned several times, knocked myself out when I tried jumping over a rock wall but ran into it, lost a package in the lake, and I dumped us both out of the helicopter- after Manny had managed to get me in the helicopter and showed me how to grip the controls. I finally left in frustration and washed dishes. You can pretty much guarantee that if I choose washing dishes over an activity, that activity must be the absolute worst because dish washing is my least favorite chore.

This weekend I have really tried to have my entire week ahead planned out. I know what I’ll be wearing each day, my meals are written out and planned, and all laundry and house cleaning is caught up so I don’t have those chores hanging over my head. I decided that I would go to school today, on my day off, and make copies of the study guide I’m giving students tomorrow. The study guide is 6 pages, front and back, and I knew it would take awhile to make 100 copies. I decided that I would prefer to go to school for a half hour today rather than have to go extra early tomorrow and risk someone else needing the copier.

I keyed into the building and was surprised to see Beth, the green pants sleuth- see previous post, sitting at her desk. I didn’t realize that anyone would be working, but saw that the office staff were acting as if it were a normal school day. I approached the copier, placed the study guide in the tray, entered my code, and instructed the copier that I wanted the copies front and back, hole punched, and stapled into packets. I pressed, ‘copy’ and waited for the antiquated machine to warm up.

After about five packets, the copier jammed. I unlatched about twelve different doors and drawers and finally found the crumpled culprit. Another three packets printed and I again, unlatched and removed the paper. The next time ten packets printed. As I unlatched and pulled out drawers and threw paper away, I wondered what it was like to work at a wealthy school where attempting to make copies didn’t require prayer and the laying on of hands. All the while, Beth had been watching and commenting on the trials and tribulations of the copier, offering to help if needed.

Finally, the copier realized that I wasn’t going to give up and complied. While I stood just outside her office waiting for my packets, Beth commented that she had absolutely nothing to do and the time had been creeping by all day long. We began to chat and laugh and that turned into a full-blown conversation about life and faith and Jesus and how good God is and finally in an agreement to hold each other accountable in daily Scripture reading.

While I still wish the copier would have just worked from the get go, I see that having it jam 4011 times, opened up a opportunity for Beth and me to engage in a conversation that wouldn’t have been possible during the school day. I never have the luxury to stand around and talk to co-workers for an uninterrupted hour and a half. I ended up spending nearly two hours at school on my day off and left with a stack of hole-punched, stapled packets and an encouraged heart that was reminded of the goodness of God that sometimes comes in the form of a broke down Xerox machine.

The Quest

As far as clothing goes, when I find something I like I tend to wear it over and over and over. Several years ago I had a gray cardigan that I wore almost daily with jeans. At the time I was my three-year-old nephew’s nanny, and we didn’t leave the house very much. I lived in a climate that didn’t require much more than a cardigan even in the winter. My nephew and I were sitting on the floor, with him on my lap, when he looked at me and said, “Why are you always wearing this uniform?” In that moment I realized that maybe I was in a fashion rut if a three-year-old boy had taken notice.

I’m in a similar rut now. About five years ago, I discovered some comfy pants that went with nearly any type of shirt and paired nicely with my varied collection of cardigans. The perfect outfit for teaching which was comfortable and professional. A few years ago a student stood in front me early in the morning, eating a chicken biscuit while he danced. He stopped in front of me and asked if I liked his outfit. When I responded that I thought he looked stylish, he made a comment about how I always wore my “uniform with your little pants, shirt, and cardigan.” I informed him that my clothing choices were practical and affordable. I do not like to spend a lot of money on clothes, so I tend to wait for sales, and I keep clothes for a long time- the shorts I purchased in 1997 for 99 cents that are folded up in my drawer are proof of that.

Over the last few years I’ve been building my collection of these comfy pants when they go on sale. I now have every color and pattern imaginable- except for my favorite color which is spring green. I don’t know why, but I’ve been wanting spring green pants for awhile, but I’ve never found them. It’s almost become an obsession as I’ve spent more time than I’m comfortable sharing looking online. A lady at work has a pair, and I asked her one day where she got them and she couldn’t remember. I’ve thought about offering to buy them from her, but I don’t know her that well, and I think it might come across as weird if you offer to buy someone’s pants that you don’t know well.

Last Thursday I wore my red plaid pants to school. Right before first period started, I walked through the counseling office to check my mailbox. The Counseling Secretary, Beth, complimented my pants, which lead to an in-depth discussion of the comfort of the pants, the affordability, and the fun colors and patterns available. I commented that I have every color but that elusive kelly green and once I bought those, my collection would be complete, and I would never need to buy pants ever again. Beth laughed and said she would be on the lookout for my pants, and I went to class and taught about sentence types via Zoom.

The next day, I was again in the mailroom. Beth stopped me and said she had found kelly green pants in the style and size I wanted. They were even on sale! I shrieked with delight and took note of the store. Once in my classroom, my students worked on an assignment and as they finished they were allowed to leave the call. I found myself with twenty minutes to spare between classes, so I went online and purchased the pants. I knew it was meant to be because the pants were called, “Audrey Ankle Pants.”

Now, finding and buying a pair of pants shouldn’t be a big deal, but there are two things I can take away from this. One- it never occurred to me to ask anyone else to join my green pant quest. All it took was me casually mentioning my desire for green pants and a day later (and at 60% off!)–I have the exact pants ordered. I thought about how many things that are infinitely more important than a specific color of pants with which I don’t ask for assistance. There are a lot of things that would probably be a lot easier if I would think to reach out to those around me.

Secondly, the kindness of Beth to even give my silly desire a second thought had a big impact. You see, I don’t really know Beth. She is new to our school this year, and I’m rarely in the counseling office- maybe once or twice a week and often she is on the phone or working with students. I’ve always thought she was very friendly, but I think we have had maybe two conversations all year because of the differences in our jobs and the proximity of my classroom to her office. I starting thinking that I need to keep my ears open to the needs of others and do what I can to help them- even if it’s something as silly as green pants.

Choosing To Be Old

As I pulled out of my garage last night, I realized that I’ve become an old lady. I’ve been attending my church for about a year on Sunday mornings, but I’ve only attended on Wednesday evenings a couple of times. I have good intentions every week, but somehow end up not leaving my house or forgetting that it’s even Wednesday, and when I realize what day it is, the service is finished and everyone has gone home. I always think, “Ah, maybe next week.”

The Wednesday night crowd is smaller than the Sunday crowd, and I thought I would have a chance to get to know more people in the church, so as part of my new year’s resolution, I decided that I would make a real effort to attend services in the middle of the week.

When yesterday evening showed up, I really just wanted to stay home. I came straight home from school and had settled into my routine of working on lesson plans, writing letters, reading, texting friends, eating dinner, and cleaning up the house. I was in my comfy clothes and since they are not acceptable wear around the general public, attending service would require putting on real clothes and making sure my hair wasn’t a big hot mess. I decided these were all excuses and reminded myself that I always benefit from the messages and how easy is my life if this is the type of trial I’m facing?

So, I got dressed and in my car. This is where the realization that I’m an old lady dawned on me. As I pulled out of the garage into the darkness of the night, I realized that I typically get home from school around 3:00 in the afternoon and rarely leave my house until the next morning when I go to work. I might run by the grocery or go to the pharmacy, but during the work week I basically hang out in my house when I’m not at work. It was 6:30 pm and I felt like it was midnight. I had a fleeting thought that I was going to be so tired for work the next day.

I arrive at one of the main roads in my town and was genuinely surprised that there was traffic and quite a lot of people were out and about. The grocery store, gas stations, and restaurant parking lots were full. I had no idea that all of this was occurring just a few miles from where I am usually living my hermit life. I thought it was funny that for a person who used to pull all nighters and start movies at 10 pm, acting old had really snuck up on me because 6:30 pm shouldn’t feel super late, and I shouldn’t be surprised that people are going about life in public at that hour. Especially since on the weekend I’m usually out and about and unaware of the actual time.

It turns out that getting home at 8:45 pm after a service (that did my heart some good) didn’t mean that I was extra tired today for work. To my surprise, there was still traffic and full parking lots at nearly 9 o’clock at night. I came home, went to bed, and found that I wasn’t extra tired just because I left my house in the dark. This realization has made me question what other areas of life I’ve allowed myself to get old….that’s something I’ll have to ponder and be on the look out for in the coming weeks.

I didn’t realize how sneaky this aging thing was.

A Natural Saleswoman

During planning today I sat talking with another teacher about the pitfalls of being a teacher during school fundraiser season. With over 100 students a year, I am frequently bombarded by requests to buy boxes of oranges, pizza kits, generic candy bars, name brand candy bars, candles, cookie dough, mixed nuts, dried fruit, and various other goods.

I was a sap my first year teaching and had a difficult time saying no to my fundraising students. I spent a small fortune on items I didn’t want and a great deal of time frantically searching for the cheapest item in the catalogue as a waiting child stood beside me in between my classes. The pressure of time and a waiting child typically resulted in me making impulsive choices and then being surprised when the goods arrived because I had forgotten I had ever ordered anything.

I smartened up my second year and announced to the children at the beginning of the year that if they were fundraising, I would only buy from the first one to ask. So if I had three students selling oranges for the Band Boosters, I only bought from the first to approach me. The others were just out of luck because I was busy buying pencils to loan to students.

There is one organization, which shall remain nameless, that had their members selling mixed nuts, bagged popcorn, and chocolate covered everything. The cheapest thing in the catalogue was a $20 bag of popcorn. I have zero concept of estimations, distance, or the size of a bag of popcorn in a catalogue. I paid $20 and was delivered the smallest bag of popcorn I’ve ever seen. I almost demanded my money back, but decided I would count it as a donation and never buy from that organization again. The popcorn was terrible, which I didn’t even know was possible, and I ended up throwing the majority of it away. I’m still mad about that wasted $20.

When students ask if I will buy something, they usually come up to me and thrust a brochure in my direction and mumble about the organization they are representing. Like most of my students, if my livelihood depended on my selling anything, I would be dead from starvation and exposure to the elements. In over a decade of teaching, one student stands out from a long list of student fundraisers.

Makayla was a natural saleswoman. One afternoon, I was standing at my desk waiting for class to start. Makayla approached me and asked if I liked pizza. I enthusiastically said yes because pizza is one of my favorite things on earth. She showed me a small card that had coupons for Pizza Hut and asked if I wanted it. I took it from her hand, looked at the coupons, some of which were for free pizza, and I thanked her for the coupon. She then casually said, “Great, that will be $20. I’m raising money for band.” I was stunned because the way the conversation was going, or so I thought, she was just giving me the card. I felt so stupid that I just handed her a $20. To make matters worse, my mom is a supervisor for Papa John’s Pizza, and I can get pizza pretty much anytime I want.

Later on in the year, I was in the hallway monitoring students. I was standing with two other teachers when I coughed and muttered something about my throat being dry. Makayla suddenly appeared out of the crowd, held up a bag of colorful suckers, and asked if I wanted one for my throat. I was so touched by her thoughtfulness that I had forgotten her deception with the pizza card. I dug around in the bag for a cherry flavored sucker and thanked her. True to fashion, she held out her hand and said, “That will be 50 cents. I’m raising money for my youth group.” I couldn’t believe that she had gotten me again. Since I was impressed, and a little afraid, of her cunning skills, I forked over the 50 cents and decided then and there that even if I were on fire and she offered me a bucket of water, I would refuse because it would probably cost me $30 for whatever organization Makayla was raising money.

I’m not sure what she did after the 8th grade, but if she’s not in sales, she has missed her calling.

The Power of a Story

My first encounter with the story of the 5 American missionaries who were speared to death by Waodani in Ecuador on January 8, 1956, occurred one summer at camp. I remember Uncle Paul standing in the chapel explaining how missionary Nate Saint had figured out how to keep a lowered bucket completely still while flying his plane in circles. He and his fellow missionaries were hoping to make contact with the Waodani people in the hopes of one day sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Uncle Paul went on to explain that soon after making contact, the missionaries had been killed by the Waodani people.

Later on, while in college, I would pick up a copy of Elisabeth Elliot’s book, “Through the Gates of Splendor.” In reading the book, I was amazed that after losing her husband at the hands of the Waodani people, Elisabeth and her daughter had returned to live among them in order to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The story stuck with me and I read more (if not all) of Elisabeth Elliot’s books. In fact, the commitment of those five missionaries and their wives was instrumental in my own commitment to following Jesus.

I can’t explain it, but there are certain songs, stories, or books that have grabbed my attention, and I’ve never been able to shake them. It’s almost like they have become part of me, but I struggle to explain why they are so powerful. The story of the five missionaries who were killed 65 years ago today, is one of those events.

The Lord has been very kind to me in allowing me to meet Elisabeth Elliot and Steve Saint, whose father Nate was one of the missionaries killed. In 1999, on my birthday, I was able to meet Elisabeth Elliot. I was beside myself with joy and had the opportunity to sit beside her and tell her how much her life and her faith had impacted my own. At least I think that’s what I told her. That’s what I intended to tell her, but I can’t be sure what words actually fell out or in what order they came. Then, on my 30th birthday, after my friend wrote and asked Elisabeth to wish me happy birthday, I received a birthday card and a cassette tape of Elisabeth and her husband Lars singing me happy birthday and giving me a birthday message.

Several years later I was working at a local Christian university. The movie, “End of the Spear” had recently been released and Steve Saint came to speak at the university. I cleared my schedule for the week, making sure that I attended every chapel service where he spoke. During one of his messages, I learned that when Steve was 9, his aunt also went to live among the Waodani people. Steve would spend his summers deep in the jungle with the very people who murdered his father. In fact, the man who murdered his father became like a father to Steve and a grandfather to Steve’s children. Recognizing the power of the Holy Spirit in that level of forgiveness just blew my mind.

One evening in a chapel service, we watched the film and Steve sat behind me. I spent the entire time thinking, “This isn’t just a movie, this is his real life. This is the power of the Gospel lived out.” I had the opportunity to share with Steve the impact the story of his father’s death and the redemption story of the Waodani people had on my own walk with Jesus. To make a long story short, before the week had ended he did tell me that he wanted to adopt me.

Although I’ve read many books and articles and watched videos regarding the lives and deaths of Pete Fleming, Jim Elliot, Nate Saint, Roger Youderian, and Ed McCully, there is always something fresh and new to learn from this story for me. Every year, on January 8th, I think about their commitment to sharing the Gospel with a group of people who had never heard of Jesus Christ. I think about those I know, in my corner of the world, who do not know about Jesus and that I am called to, “go and make disciples.” That can be a scary thing, especially when I consider that I could lose friends or face uncomfortable conversations, but I’m reminded of the words of Jim Elliot,  “He is no fool to give up what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.”

Tonight I stumbled upon these videos and wanted to share them here:

The Longest Day

Today students returned from winter break. And by returned, I mean they logged on to their computers from the comfort of their homes while I sat in a big empty classroom. We will be learning remotely for the next two weeks and then hopefully students will return to the classroom. While it was nice to drink two big bottles of water since I could freely go to the bathroom between classes, I did miss having kids in the class with me. I don’t enjoy being tethered to my desk since I can’t leave my laptop.

During first period I had tech issues and could only see students if they spoke, otherwise they were just little round avatars of their choosing. I had a few that used their picture, but most are cartoon characters, celebrities, or popular name brands. On one of my bathroom breaks I saw a kid from my first period class who was at school to get a hearing and vision test. I was so excited to see an actual kid that I think I startled him with my enthusiastic, “Hey why didn’t you just come to my first period class because I was all alone in that classroom? How was your break? Did you watch more of that TV show you really like? I miss seeing you in person. I can’t wait for all of you to come back.” As I peppered him with questions he looked at me the way one would look when being accosted by a crazy person.

By the time second period ended I felt like I had lived all 45 years of my life only in that classroom. I was convinced that teaching online should be classified as a form of torture. Thankfully, my sixth and seventh period classes were enjoyable, my tech issues had been resolved, and students participated. In fact, they were so involved they were talking over each other. I will take that over not talking at all any day.

As I was walking to my car, I learned in a phone conversation that the nation’s Capitol building had been stormed by rioters. My heart sank. I was already disturbed after watching a leader in our country pray a prayer to “the monotheistic god, Brahma, and god known by many names in many different faiths. Amen and a woman.” The state of the nation has been burdensome for some time, and in all honesty the news of today was not shocking, but still disheartening.

I’ve been reading in Exodus where Moses approached Pharaoh asking for the Israelites to be allowed to leave and worship God. Their conversation goes back and forth with God sending a plague, Pharaoh agreeing to let the people go, and then changing his mind because God hardened his heart. I’ve read this account many times, but for the first time I realized that while God, Moses, Aaron, Pharaoh, and some in Pharaoh’s court knew about the situation, the citizens of Egypt probably didn’t know all that was going on behind the scenes while they faced plague after plague after plague. Through the plagues, God showed the people that He was the one, true Living God.

I know that our country is a big hot mess right now. It’s difficult to have this knowledge and at the same time feel powerless to change anything. Like most, I watch the news and wonder what in the world has happened. While I don’t have any insight into what is really happening behind the scenes in my nation, I do have the ability to pray for my country and to seek what the Lord would have me do in my corner of it. Regardless of what occurs, our country being drawn together or pulled apart, I claim Psalms 56:3, “When I am afraid, I will put my trust in You” because at the end of the day- He is the only constant, the only sure thing.

Seeking

I have always enjoyed a chance for a new beginning. I know that one doesn’t have to have a new year to start a new habit or to make a change in life, but it just always seems like the perfect time. When January 1, 2018 landed on a Monday- that was perfection in the realm of starting something new. I was beside myself with joy. I’ll have to wait until 2024 for that good fortune to return.

At some point during the last week of December, I like to sit down with my journal and pen in hand while I dream and write out my plans for the upcoming year. While I wait to write out my plans- because we all know that once you’ve written something down you are bound to- I have typically been thinking about my goals for the new year since around my birthday in early November. There is something about all the possibilities that I find exhilarating. So much can happen in a year- as we are all aware given all that 2020 provided us.

This year I plopped down on the couch in a Covid induced stupor and finalized my plans for the new year. My steroid high could be to blame for some of my loftier goals, but my list included:

  • Read 35 books (my goal on Good Reads)
  • Once I’ve finished a book, I have to give it away (unless it’s Steinbeck or Hemingway).
  • Eating healthier (especially after two weeks of eating nothing but chicken noodle soup and bread. A lot of bread. With butter.)
  • Making exercise a regular part of my life instead of a rare occurrence.
  • Write something daily- journal, short stories, blog posts, etc.
  • Memorize Scripture

While I’m not competitive with other people, I do like to challenge myself. I like to look back on the previous year’s goals and see what I’ve accomplished and what I need to continue towards, adjust, or abandon all together.

According to Webster, the word seek means, “to resort to, to go in search of, to ask for, to try to acquire or gain, aim at.” I’ve never been a person who had a ‘word’ or ‘phrase’ for the new year. However, over the last few months I’ve been intrigued by the word SEEK’ in Scripture. It seems to show up everywhere I turn. After giving it some thought, I have decided to make SEEK my word for the year. I’ve been looking up verses with this word and using my concordance to see how it’s used in each verse. A friend said that she used the word HOPE to guide her Scripture memory and I’m going to do the same with the word SEEK. The first verses I’m working on are found in I Chronicles 16:10-11, “Boast in His holy name; Let the heart of those who SEEK the Lord be joyful. SEEK the Lord and His strength; SEEK His face continually.” (NASB2020)

In 12 months, I hope to look back and find that above all the other things on my list for 2021, that I have learned how to seek His face continually, and I’ve obeyed Matthew 6:33, “But SEEK first His Kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be provided to you.” Regardless of what 2021 may bring- and after 2020, I’m not sure anything will surprise me- I know if my focus is placed on Him and not surrounding circumstances, I will be doing fine.