Ode to the Green Coffee Cup

Teacher in-service began this past Wednesday and we’ll welcome students next week. I’m not exactly sure what happened to summer break. I know I had one, but it was so quick that I’m struggling to believe it really happened. We are moving into a new school building, so the last few days teachers have been busy unpacking boxes, rearranging desks and tables, decorating walls, attending meetings, and making phone calls to locate classroom phones, printers, and projectors. I went from working in a school that had only two hallways to what feels like a complicated labyrinth. This afternoon I entered through a new-to-me doorway and found myself in an unfamiliar hallway. I had no idea what wing I was in or even what floor I was on. Luckily, instead of having to battle a Minotaur, I found a teacher who was able to lead me to a familiar hallway. I left 15 minutes early for a meeting today because I knew I needed time to find the correct conference room. We used to only have one conference room to having about ten.

I enjoy the people that I work with, but if someone doesn’t teach on my floor and my end of the hallway, I have never had an opportunity to really get to know them. I often joke that the entire upper level could skip work for a month, and I’d never know.

Today we had a meeting at 8:00 am, which is actually a little late for us. We were given instructions yesterday to bring a tangible object of something that was important to us. If it was a picture, it couldn’t be on our phone, it had to be printed. An activity like this is not a strength of mine. I tend to forget all about it, and when I remember at the last minute I don’t have time to put a lot of thought into it and then I think of about 12,000 things I could have talked about.

I walked into our new cafeteria and saw all the chairs were in a circle. For the next 2 1/2 hours a microphone was passed around as people shared pictures of their families, rings given to them by their grandparents, teddy bears given when an adoption was final, baseball cards, a handmade lighthouse, a DVD given by a beloved brother, the Bible to represent a person’s faith, and many other items that offered a small glimpse into the lives of my co-workers. There were many tears shed as people shared about relatives that have passed away, but greatly impacted lives.

This time, I did put thought into what I would share. It wasn’t super profound, but I brought my $0.49 coffee cup that I purchased at Big Lots about fifteen years ago. I have three of the exact same cup. I think at one point there were four, but I vaguely remember breaking one of them. In thinking about what I feel like represents me, I thought of my green coffee cups. Every morning when I’m reading the Bible and praying, I drink coffee out of one of those cups. I then take it to school and drink out of it as I teach middle school kids because I don’t really like to drink out of travel mugs. When family and friends come to my house and we spend time together, I typically make coffee and I always choose one of my green cup if one is available. When I sit down to read or to write, I usually make coffee because a part of me thinks, “This will go better if I have something warm to drink.” And it does.

In a few days, my green cup and I will face our fourteenth first day of school. The years have passed quickly and pleasantly with my green coffee cup.

Ballad Sunday (on Monday) #2: The Curse

This is the second installment of Ballad Sunday where I share one of my favorite ballads.

Several years ago I worked at local college campus as a Resident Director. I worked with twenty-three Resident Assistants and helped them plan residence hall events. Several of the RAs became close friends and through those relationships I was introduced to the music of Josh Ritter. It didn’t take long for me to become a fan of his lyrics and style.

During my first year of teaching, one particular album, “So Runs the World Away,” was on repeat for awhile as I drove my daily hour commute. I had heard all the songs, but one day I actually heard the lyrics of the song, ‘The Curse.’ And then I listened again because I fell in love with the story of the song. It also helped that I’m a fan of anything dealing with a mummy, a curse, and a love story gone wrong.

He opens his eyes, falls in love at first sight
With the girl in the doorway
What beautiful lines, how full of life
After thousands of years, what a face to wake up to

He holds back a sigh as she touches his arm
She dusts off the bed where 'til now he's been sleeping
Under miles of stone, the dried fig of his heart
Under scarab and bone starts back to its beating

She carries him home in a beautiful boat
He watches the sea from a porthole in stowage
He can hear all she says as she sits by his bed
Then one day his lips answer her in her own language

The days quickly pass, he loves making her laugh
The first time he moves, it's her hair that he touches
She asks, "Are you cursed?" He says, "I think that I'm cured"
Then he talks of the Nile and the girls in bullrushes

In New York, he is laid in a glass-covered case
He pretends he is dead, people crowd round to see him
But each night she comes 'round and the two wander down
The halls of the tomb that she calls a museum

Often he stops to rest, but then less and less
Then it's her that looks tired, staying up asking questions
He learns how to read from the papers that she
Is writing about him and he makes corrections

It's his face on her book, more and more come to look
Families from Iowa, upper Westsiders
Then one day it's too much, he decides to get up
And as chaos ensues, he walks outside to find her

She is using a cane and her face looks too pale
But she's happy to see him, as they walk he supports her
She asks, "Are you cursed?" but his answer's obscured
In a sandstorm of flashbulbs and rowdy reporters

Such reanimation, the two tour the nation
He gets out of limos, he meets other women
He speaks of her fondly, their nights in the museum
But she's just one more rag now he's dragging behind him

She stops going out, she just lies there in bed
In hotels in whatever towns they are speaking
Then her face starts to set and her hands start to fold
And one day the dry fig of her heart stops its beating

Long ago on the ship, she asked "Why pyramids?"
He said, "Think of them as an immense invitation"
She asked, "Are you cursed?" He said, "I think that I'm cured"
Then he kissed her and hoped that she'd forget that question

-The Curse by Josh Ritter

Then I found this video and my love for this song only increased.

High, Low, and Wow: Cabin Edition #4

Last night I went to bed a little earlier than the previous days because I had a 6:00 am flight. Around 1:45 am the dogs were whining in their crate, and I woke up and checked my phone. I discovered that my flight was delayed by 3 hours. This wouldn’t have been an issue except that I would be arriving just as my connecting flight was leaving.

Suddenly, I was wide awake. I started to worry and then heard my friend Tommy’s voice, “Check and see if Romans 8:28 is still in the Bible.” I reminded myself that the Lord knew when I would be arriving home; I was just hoping He would let me in on the details. Heidi got up because of the dogs, and we discussed a plan. I called the airline about my connecting flight and after being on hold for an hour, the new flight was booked. This new flight meant that I would have a 7 hour layover. Good thing I like airports.

Although I hate to leave, I also need a job and that starts back up tomorrow. I was in the airport for awhile waiting to board and then sat in the plane as the pilot kept us abreast of when we might actually take off, always ending with, “in about 5 minutes.” I’m currently sitting on the airplane waiting for drink service and to begin my airport adventure, which I’m hoping includes some Chicago style pizza. All this waiting has given me time to reflect on yesterday as far as my high, low, and wow.

High: Heidi and I again started the day sort of slow, sitting on the porch drinking coffee, writing blog posts, and laughing at videos. Chris asked if we had made a plan for the day since it was nearing noon, but we hadn’t. We had plans to attend an Ojibwa Pow Wow later that evening, but nothing until then. I suggested we go to Biggby Coffee for a Butter Bear- a delicious iced coffee with butterscotch and caramel- before the Pow Wow.

Drinking the Butter Bear was a high for the day, and totally worth the $6 and daily calorie content. It was delicious.

After the coffee shop we stopped at a small grocery where Heidi bought gummy bears. We were snacking in the car on the way to the Pow Wow when Chris started reading Sugar-Free Gummy bear reviews on Amazon. Apparently ingesting several sugar-free Gummy bears leads to major digestive issues. The reviews were so funny that we laughed our way down the highway. A good belly laugh qualifies for a high any day.

High #2: We drove to Baraga, MI and attended an Ojibwa Pow Wow. We walked along the dusty crowded path and passed vendors selling everything from turquoise jewelry, t-shirts, animal pelts, and fry bread.

We found seats on the bleachers with a nice view and waited for the event to begin. None of us had ever been to a Pow Wow, so we weren’t sure what to expect. Again, thanks to Google, we were able to research traditional regalia, a recipe for fry bread, and the symbolism of the event.

The Pow Wow began with probably 10 or 15 drum circles performing songs of Red Bull (a man, not the energy drink) and proceeded with the entrance of over 400 dancers. It was quite the sight to see people of all ages, dressed in feathered headdresses, ornate jingle dresses, and brightly beaded moccasins dancing and chanting. One man wore a wolf skin and stood out to me, but unfortunately I wasn’t able to get a photo.

The rowdiness of the event was a stark contrast to the quiet orderliness of the monastery the previous day.

Low: Grumpy porch toad ran away a few nights ago after laying her fertilized eggs- or molting her skin, we aren’t sure which- in the dog dish. Heidi and I conducted some research via Google to discover they were fertilized, but further research showed it could just be a layer of her skin. We aren’t sure why she left Chris and Heidi responsible for raising her toadlets. Maybe she just wasn’t ready for motherhood. If it’s skin, maybe she just wanted them to have something to remember her by. At any rate she’s gone and left something behind, a cozy corner, and a nice dish complete with a diving board. We thought she had returned last night, but it turned out to be a male toad who had no interest in taking over Grumpy’s place on the porch.

Toad eggs or skin

Wow: The beauty and uniqueness of the Upper Peninsula wowed me daily. We woke yesterday to rain, which turned into sunshine and 85% humidity, which turned in a pleasant day and ended with us needing to turn the heat on in the car after watching the gorgeous sunset.

Last night’s time lapsed sunset over Lake Superior.

I love the wildness of the U.P. The dusty roads, the thick forests, the Great lake, the abundant wildlife, and the slower pace of living have made for a glorious vacation right before the crazy of the beginning of school begins tomorrow.

When I feel stressed next week- and that’s pretty much a given- I’ll have loads of memories and pictures to reflect on and revisit. I already feel my blood pressure decreasing.

High, Low, and Wow: Cabin Edition #3

Yesterday morning we sat on the porch and drank our coffee. The best thing about being here is that there isn’t a rush to do anything. It’s nice to be able to ease into a day.

After some discussion, several cups of coffee in my new U.P. mug, and a Finnish korvapuusti from the farmer’s market for breakfast, a plan for the day was formed.

High #1: Around lunchtime we drove into Houghton and stopped at Roy’s for a traditional pasty. I had never had a pasty before so I was looking forward to trying the local fare. We ordered, got the dogs out of the car, and chose a picnic table overlooking the Portage Canal. The chicken and broccoli pasty was delicious. While eating our pasties we were able to see the lift bridge in action as a sailboat glided beneath. We then walked off our lunch by strolling along the canal and allowing the dogs to swim for a bit in the water to cool off.

High #2: After lunch and our walk we dropped the dogs at the cabin and drove to the northern most point of the Keweenaw Peninsula, Copper Harbor. We stopped along the way to see two waterfalls, take some senior year and dead-on-the-rocks photos, and a giant snowmometer. The natural beauty of this area of the world is abundant and reminds me of my time in Alaska and Northern Wisconsin.

High #3: We sat down to dinner at The Fitzgerald in Eagle River, MI. The Fitz is a cozy restaurant that provides a front row seat to Lake Superior. Heidi had told me about restaurant before, so I was excited to experience it for myself. We devoured an appetizer of poutine- french fries smothered in beer gravy, cheese curds, pearl onions, and tender brisket. I tried Nashville Hot Chicken for the first time and discovered that they aren’t joking when they say hot. We finished off the meal with a scrumptious piece of chocolate bourbon pecan pie. Afterwards we drove home, and I crawled into my bed with a full heart and belly.

Low: I haven’t had a true low since I’ve been here, but the torrential downpour yesterday did put a damper on things. We decided to just look at the lighthouse on Eagle Harbor from the car. Even the rain wasn’t able to mask the beauty of the area as we drove along the forested highway.

Wow: My friends back home and I have discussed one day living in a monastic community. I don’t think head shavings and vows of silence are on the agenda, but I wouldn’t be opposed to the cool capes worn by the monks we encountered yesterday at the Society of Saint John in Eagle Harbor.

We drove along a winding two lane road and came to the Society of Saint John. It was a place that had I been on my own, I probably would have driven right past. The Society owns and operates a bakery called The Jampot. We had hoped to make it in time to enjoy some of their baked goods, but it was closed. We parked in front of the monastery with the hopes of just having a peek inside. Chris pulled on the door and we entered the darkened entryway. He looked into the sanctuary and was waved inside by a young boy who handed him several books that would be used throughout the service. We entered quietly and for the next 1 and 1/2 hours we worshiped with the monks. Words cannot describe the experience, which may sound like a cop out, but I’m still digesting the experience. Afterwards we were able to chat with the Hegumen. It was a surreal experience.

High, Low, and Wow: Cabin Edition #2

Yesterday morning Heidi, Chris, and I took our time getting started for the day. We drank our coffee on the porch looking out into the forest while being serenaded by chipmunks and humming birds. the dogs sniffed around and then settled into their napping areas.

After breakfast we went for a three mile walk that loops their property. On our walk we talked to their neighbors and they finally met the UPS man. While walking back to the cabin we stopped by their neighbors so I could take a look at their garden. They had a lovely piece of property.

After lunch Heidi and I walked around the small town of Calumet on the Keweenaw Peninsula, ate delicious Italian food, drove to the beach and watched the sunset on Lake Superior, then we came back to the cabin and the three of us sat on the porch watching the campfire, ate the s’mores cookies I had purchased from the farmers’ market, and sang songs from our college days until way up in the morning.

It is difficult to just pick on “High” for the day.

High: While driving home from watching the sunset, I screeched and told Heidi to stop. Sitting by an abandoned building was a fox. He inquisitively watched us as we sat in the car and talked to him. Heidi suggested it could be a momma fox and maybe she had kits she was protecting. I told Heidi that if I saw a baby fox I would be bringing it home, especially since I’m up to date on my rabies shots.

Low: I didn’t really have a low, unless you count the dilemma of having to choose only one dish to order.

Wow: In Calumet, Heidi and I parked in front of St. Paul the Apostle Church. We walked up the steps and tried the door, only to find that it was locked. We peeked into the windows at the ornate sanctuary. I silently prayed, “Lord, maybe somebody could let us in…” We turned and started back to the car parked on the deserted street. A guy wearing a baseball hat and black rimmed glasses appeared on the sidewalk from seemingly nowhere and said, “Would you guys like to go in?” We of course said yes and he proceeded to unlock the door. As we looked around inside, we found that Mark was a Flannery O’Connor loving seminary student from Detroit.

I’m always blown away when the Lord provides little surprises along the way.

High, Low, and Wow: Cabin Edition #1

Yesterday I flew to the Upper Peninsula in Michigan. I’m staying at a cabin in the woods with my friends Heidi, Chris, and their dogs Agnes and Helga. For the last few years, Heidi and Chris have been spending time in the summer at the cabin which is about a mile from Lake Superior. Since we are spending time together and have limited internet, I am going to post the highlights here.

High: I have been hearing about the cabin from Heidi for several years. She has sent pictures and told me about all the DYI projects she and Chris have undertaken. Everything from the drive, the yard, to the cabin, has been impressive. Last night we sat on the front porch and talked, ate a delicious steak dinner, and then went to see the sunset on Lake Superior. I woke up today and enjoyed my coffee on the front porch surrounded by the quiet forest.

Low: My encounter with the grumpy airport man.

Wow: I had several “wows” yesterday, but the beauty of Lake Superior and the family of deer that we saw on our way blew me away.

Airports and Hair Gel

I think I’m in the minority in that I really enjoy airports. This morning my friends graciously awoke at dark thirty and drove me to the airport. I always struggle to sleep the night before a big trip. I hovered just above sleep as thoughts of airplane crashes and unruly passengers visited and stuck around for awhile.

I exited the van with my suitcase and the snack bag packed by my friend, Pat. I put on a face mask and made a conscious effort to not use foul language at having to wear it, and I scanned my boarding pass. I couldn’t believe how quick and easy the whole process was.

As I made my way to security check in, the familiar excitement of being in an airport swept me up. I equate airports with awaiting travel and unknown adventures. A certain giddiness rises in my chest.

The first agent was very pleasant and we chatted as much as one cares to do at 5:30 am. I quickly moved to the second agent, marveling at how quickly everything was going. I was breezing through this process and couldn’t decide if I would read or write my blog post or peruse the internet for a bit.

Things took a dark turn when I approached the next agent. Clearly not a morning person, he gruffly asked if I had any food or liquids in my bag. I had purchased a water the day before and made sure not to open it- he told me to throw it away in the trash can by my feet. When I didn’t remove my shoes- because I passed a sign that read, “No need to remove….” And shoes were listed, he pointed to a sign and told me to read it. I was taken aback by his rudeness and put my shoes on the belt.

As I waited for my things, my suitcase was detained, and I was called to the side. I watched as my suitcase was opened and I was told my new bottle of hair gel, the 1/4 full bottle of the lotion, and just enough shower gel for the week was all over the limit. I had two options- throw it away or put it in the check bag that I didn’t have. I tried to not sound frustrated as I told her to throw it away; especially because I had been online a few days ago reading the rules of allowed liquid quantities. I considered handing her a twenty to toss in the trash as well since that seemed to be the task of the day.

I was a little huffy as I sulked away sans water and ablution tools. I couldn’t help but wonder how the shaving razor in my carry-on bag was okay, but my hair gel, lotion, and body wash were in danger of taking down the aircraft. Just how sturdy is this plane? Never mind that one look at the size of my hair should be a clue to anyone with eyes how necessary gel is in the daily wrangling.

I felt pretty justified in my irritation. After all it was early, I was slowly suffocating in my mask, I hadn’t slept well, and money had been wasted. I was at a crossroad in my mind. I could dwell on the frustrations- which in the grand scheme of life, what’s the big deal, or I could focus on the fact that I’m in an airport and headed to see friends in a few short hours. So, I adjusted my sails, and went back to enjoying the experience of air travel.

Now the real fun begins as I prepare to board. Hopefully I’m not robbed of anything else along the way.

Parking Lot Friends

I arrived a week lake to college in Alaska in September 1997. I had been a bridesmaid in a wedding in Minnesota and caught a flight to the land of the Midnight Sun on a Sunday afternoon. The previous year I had taken a year off from college to work and was returning to my junior year. I was nervous because the college was very small, and I knew only a few people who still attended.

I landed in Anchorage and was greeted by Connie, the Admissions Counselor who had served as a mentor to me during my sophomore year. We had kept up with each other over the previous year and we chatted cheerfully as we traveled four hours along the winding highway through jagged mountains and the autumn tundra. September in Alaska was the beginning of cooler weather and changing leaves.

Once we arrived at the school, Connie helped unload my belongings and introduced me to my roommate, Rachel. College, like camp, doesn’t follow the rules of time that govern the rest of the world. A week in college can easily feel like two months and it’s difficult to remember life before meeting college friends. I was worried that having missed the first week would mean friendships would be established, and I would be left out in a place that was already shrouded in darkness and isolation. The year that I had spent there before had been a lonely one.

I settled in and attempted to unpack and get caught up on the work I had missed from the first week of classes. It was a school tradition that early in the year, before the snow began to fall, the girls would go on a camping trip to Tangle Lakes which was about a 2 1/2 hours drive from campus. We would pitch our tents and spend the days canoeing, picking blueberries, eating, and talking around a campfire. As we waited in the parking lot to board the van, I remember standing outside in the low autumn sun talking to a redhead from Minnesota named Heidi. I don’t remember our conversation, but I remember laughing and thinking she was really funny and like I had known her my whole life. In that moment I didn’t realize that I was meeting someone who would become a significant person in my life.

From that moment in the parking lot, we’ve been friends.

When we weren’t in class, we sat in the lounge and looked through J. Crew catalogues and talked about how we should try to dress preppy, we stayed up late and ate meals we could make in a hot pot, played dress up with make-up and clothes, and one night I put my hair up in a pony tail and allowed Heidi to cut it off so I could have one of the cool stacked bobs that were popular at that time. It was one of the best haircuts I’ve ever received.

After college we both ended up working at group homes for teenage girls. She was in Michigan, and I was in Southern California. It was nice to be able to commiserate with someone in a similar situation. She came to visit me twice in California, once just to hang out and another time to keep me company while I drove back home. She continued at the group home and returned to college to get her teaching degree, and I moved to Hungary to teach high school. Heidi came to visit me in Hungary, and I joyfully showed her the sights of Budapest, took her to school with me, on a class field trip to the Opera, and to the home of a student where the family attempted to murder us through overfeeding.

I don’t remember how Heidi and I communicated while I was in Hungary. We must have called occasionally, but phone calls were expensive in those days, so I’m guessing we used email and letters. Somehow she knew to bring two thick, white rolls of toilet paper, Listerine mouthwash, and a bag of Doritos. On that trip she told me about a boy she had met. His name was Chris and she thought he was pretty cool, and I was excited for her. A few years later I got to meet Chris, and I was excited for me because he and Heidi got married and I get to call him friend too.

After I moved back to the states, Heidi and I became middle school teachers. We never really talked about it, and we didn’t make a pact, but here we are. It’s nice to talk to my oldest friend- and by oldest I mean person I’ve been friends with the longest- and be able to share about my students and my day and the joys and frustrations and know that she understands because it’s her daily life too.

Over the last several years we have visited each other almost yearly. I’m behind in my visits, but tomorrow I’ll be getting on a plane to visit she and Chris and their dogs, Agnes and Helga, at a cabin in the woods on the shore of Lake Superior and we’ll make some new memories to file away with the old.

The Pool

Sometimes I’ll read a passage or watch a movie and will be struck by something that I find fascinating. I’ll share my excitement with others and often be met with blank, confused stares or the kind smile of a friend trying to understand what the big deal is. It’s always nice to run into someone who gets as excited as I do about whatever it is.

Several years ago I sat in a Bible study with fifteen other women in a crowded church attic space that was always too hot or too cold with low, sloping ceilings. Every week we pulled our chairs in a circle and would discuss what we had read and studied the previous week. This particular Tuesday night, we had read John 5. I was struck by verses 3 and 4 and couldn’t wait to hear what everyone else had to say. John 5:3-4 reads, “In these lay a multitude of those who were sick, blind, lame, and withered, [waiting for the moving of the waters; for an angel of the Lord went down at certain seasons into the pool and stirred up the water; whoever then first, after the stirring up of the water, stepped in was made well from whatever disease with which he was afflicted.]

We read over those verses and moved right on along. During discussion I even said, “Does anyone else wonder about this magic healing pool stirred up by an angel’s wing? The mad dash of the sick to be healed? That this was apparently a pretty normal thing?” I was surprised by the head nods and how quickly we went on to the next set of verses.

I wonder if the pool was stirred every few weeks, every month, once a year? Did people know when it was coming or did you just have to lie around and wait? I imagine the scene wasn’t a very happy one- people in pain, hoping to have a friend or relative who will assist in getting in the pool once it’s stirred. Hoping it didn’t occur while using the bathroom, taking or a nap, or while the companion took a leave of absence. Was this something really of the Lord or was it a tradition of a false religion? A person could literally spend years of their life waiting and never receiving healing. I imagine one would be filled with competitiveness and despair.

The whole scene of these verses brings up so many questions for me, but lately I’ve been struck more by Jesus’ actions than by the angel stirring up the healing waters. According to the passage, Jesus was at the pool and saw a man who had been crippled for 38 years. It’s not clear if this was a condition he had from birth or if there had been an accident of some sort, but Jesus approached him and said, “Do you wish to get well?” Jesus approached him. The guy was so focused on an arbitrary stirring of the waters that he didn’t seem to notice the presence of the True Healer.

Jesus asking this question to someone who is lying near a healing pool for who knows how long, seems silly. I imagine if I were in that situation I would respond, “Of course I want to be healed! Why else would I lie around day after day hoping to be the first?” The man’s response doesn’t really answer Jesus’ question, “Sir, I have no man to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, but while I am coming, another steps down before me.” Jesus then tells the man to do the one thing he is incapable of doing, “Get up, pick up your pallet and walk.” Miraculously, he does.

“Do you wish to get well?” That question has lingered in my mind for some time. I suppose for the man, there was some comfort in lying by the pool- albeit probably not preferred. It was predictable, surrounded by a community of others like him, and I’m guessing there wasn’t a lot expected of you. Being made well would mean a whole new way of life. He would no longer identify as being sick or a part of that community. His day to day life would change in every way. He would probably need to get a job or at the very least figure out what to do with his time now that he wasn’t waiting for the waters to stir. His identity would no longer be that of an unwell person.

The answer seems like a no brainer, but I think the reality would be/ is very difficult. Change is hard. Even little changes like giving up drinking soda or choosing to try a new exercise routine. Anything that is outside of the norm throws everything else off.

As a believer, it seems that Jesus is asking this question of His followers, “Do you want to be made well?” He tells us to do exactly what we can’t do on our own: Stop sinning because you are dead to sin (Romans 6:11), change what you think about (Colossians 3:2), don’t worry about anything (Philippians 4:6), and so many other impossible things. Well, impossible if I seek to do this on my own, but completely possible if I depend on Him to provide the power and ability.

Do you want to made well?

Ballad Sunday #1: Rounder

While washing dishes at camp last week I was subjected to listening to what I consider some really terrible music. I don’t consider myself a music snob; I can appreciate songs from different genres- except for most rap music- and sometimes I can’t even verbalize why I do or do not like a certain song.

While cleaning up we listened to a lot of Disney, which I enjoyed. There was even a little bit of praise and worship that I was okay listening to. “My Best Friend’s Brother” or BFB as the song repeated over and over and over again in the chorus was not a favorite. After the 12th time hearing it, I finally said out loud, “This song is the literal worst!” The teenagers in the room, which was everyone except me, gave me the look that adults receive when they make a particularly adulty comment.

Every night, after clean-up chores were complete, we had a time of worship together. I really have a difficult time with most new praise and worship songs. One night I did stop in the middle of singing a worship song I had never heard before and thought, “Man, this song stinks. I hate this.” This was after we repeated the same meaningless phrase 40,000 times. For the remainder of the song I questioned if it was appropriate to use the word, “hate” when expressing my feelings about the song and to dwell on how vapid the lyrics of the song are when you are supposed to be worshipping. I decided it was okay since the song didn’t inspire any worship of the Creator and merely repeated a phrase that appeared to be intended to only get the worshipper excited about themselves. This is a constant internal conversation I have with myself and most modern worship songs.

One afternoon, as I washed the 90th pan of the day, I thought about my favorite songs and genres of music. I really like ballads, which I think comes from my appreciation for stories. Merriam-Webster defines a ballad as, “a narrative composition in rhythmic verse suitable for singing.” I like music and I like stories so a ballad is the perfect marriage of mediums. While washing those pans I had the idea to share some of my favorite ballads here. So, for the next few weeks, or however long it takes for me to run out of my favorite ballads, I’m going to share one every Sunday.

This week, the ballad is called, “Rounder” by the band formally know as Mandolin Orange (they recently changed their name to Watchhouse). You can listen to it here: Rounder

I'm just a lonesome old rounder
Never meant to hurt no one
But some flames are hard to simmer
I wore my pride on my bad side
And on the other get my hand close by the trigger
Some folks are guided by the weight of their tongues
But we all fall silent at the end of a gun
And now I'm just a lonesome old rounder
With a number for my name and a rope to haunt my dreams
They're going to hang me boys from a tall, tall tree
Those demons they'll be the death of me
Some folks are guided by some light of the Lord
But me, I was blinded, and I'll never afford
My salvation
I'm just a lonesome old rounder
Darkness grows and then it's gone
And at the end of this lonely road
Those deeds you've done, say you'll never go home
Some folks are guided by the love they share
But darkness called and left me unaware
And now I'm just a lonesome old rounder
But the few last words and one last meal
They're going to hang me boys come the morning light
When darkness smiles and all is still
All is still

-Rounder by Mandolin Orange

I’ve listened to this song a lot and each time it brings with it a certain sadness. I am always reminded of the rounders I know who have succumbed to evil and now must live with the consequences of their choices. Although none are facing a literal noose, many are trapped in darkness and no longer see hope for the future, but only disappointment, death and decay. I think of the rounder in this song, and I want to somehow enter in and tell him that even with the looming noose, there is hope and forgiveness and redemption in the person of Jesus Christ; that all hope is not lost and there is no need to afford your own salvation because it’s a free gift. I want to do that for all the real rounders that I know, too.

High, Low, and Wow: Day 6

This past week I’ve been writing a reflection of the previous day using, “High, Low, and Wow”. This will be the final day of those reflections since camp ended yesterday. Although the week is over, I have come to believe that it is a good practice to think through a day’s highs, lows, and wows. It fits nicely with my normal life as a teacher because we are instructed to daily reflect on lessons to see what needs to be changed, kept the same, or thrown out entirely and that has proven helpful over the years.

High: This whole week I have ended up at what is called, ‘Three Sink’ in the camp kitchen. The name is not too difficult to decipher- it’s three sinks, the first sink is filled with hot water and detergent, the second is plain water for rinsing, and the third is filled with water and bleach for sanitizing. The campers hated working three sink, but I didn’t mind doing it. That’s how I ended up doing it three times a day for four days. My hands are destroyed and look a shade lighter than the rest of me. I’m pretty sure I’ve lost a few layers of hand skin.

Since all the campers were waiting in the gym for their parents and the kitchen was officially closed for the week, we did a deep clean in the kitchen. This meant that I needed to wash about 50 large baking pans, 12 hood vents, and various bowls, measuring cups, and utensils. The only thing that I didn’t like washing were the hood vents because they were caked with gunky built-up black grease. I used about half a bottle of dish detergent and 12 sponges in an attempt to remove the grease. I’m not sure what type of grease it was, but once it got on my hands they became water resistant and nearly impossible to get clean. Why is this my high for the day? Mostly because I don’t have to be at three sink ever again. Well, unless I decide to work at camp again next year, but surely by that point I’ll have gotten the layer of grease off my hands and have regrown my skin.

Low: It is always difficult for me to say goodbye and yesterday was no exception. I really enjoyed getting to spend time with former students and meeting new teenagers. As a teacher I come in contact with students who are struggling in many ways and the future seems bleak; however, this week I met teenagers who are truly amazing people and if they continue to follow Jesus they will make a difference in our world. Saying goodbye and knowing that it is difficult to keep up with people once everyone gets back to real life is never a happy time.

Wow: Once I was home, had unpacked, thrown clothes in the wash, taken a nap, and had settled on the couch, I picked up my Bible to read a bit. As I was reading, I had nagging thoughts about checking on my airline ticket for my upcoming trip this week. I finally pulled up the website where I had purchased my ticket last February. I discovered that instead of coming in on Sunday like I had thought, I was scheduled to come home on Monday. This wouldn’t be an issue except that I have friends picking me up on Sunday, and I have to be at work on Monday at 2:00 pm.

My flight was scheduled to arrive at 1:15 pm on Monday afternoon and the airport is 2 hours from my school. I don’t mind missing work, especially because I think it’s ridiculous to start school in July, but I have an assigned position and didn’t want to have to explain to my principal that I would be missing the first day of the work year. It also wouldn’t hurt my feelings to stay an extra day with Heidi and Chris, but I also didn’t know if I would wreck the schedule of my friends who are picking me up. I had a little bit of a mess on my hands.

As panic started rising up in my chest, I noticed a message at the top of the page that stated, “You are permitted one free flight change. Click here.” I clicked and was easily able to change my flight to the correct day and same arrival time at no additional cost. Huzzah! This is a wow because I was thankful to the Lord for the the mental prompting to check on my ticket and for a quick, easy solution to my mess up.

High, Low, and Wow: Day 5

High: I’ve always liked having jobs that kept me busy. I’ve worked in restaurants, a daycare, as a hotel maid, and in a lot of other positions. The jobs I have liked most were fast paced, provided some time to talk with and get to know coworkers, and allowed me to work with my hands. I did not enjoy working at a boys’ lockdown facility because for 8 hours I monitored camera and opened doors for people from a control panel. Even when working with the boys we pretty much sat around and waited for their bedtime. Those 8 hours always felt like an eternity. I felt the same when working in a call center. I wore a headset and waited for the phone to ring, then I would pull up the customer information on the computer, answer a few questions, and then wait for another call. It was mind numbing and I discovered there is a limit to how often you can clean and organize a desk in one shift.

This is why I love camp. No matter the time of day, there are always a myriad of jobs that need completing. In all my years of camp I’ve found people with which I enjoy working. We are always able to either discuss the hard things about life or laugh about the silly things. Songs are spontaneously created and sung, new dances are danced, and puns fly around haphazardly all while scrubbing baked egg from a pan or sweeping the floor.

So, my high yesterday was just simply enjoying the camp environment.

Low: I frequently struggle to believe that I’m 45 years old because I feel like I’m in my twenties. That is until I’m around people in their teens and early twenties- then I realize that I’m most definitely NOT that age anymore.

So many things have made me feel old this week: I have kept my morning routine of getting up at 6, drinking coffee, and reading even after the late nights. Most of them get up about 3 minutes before we have to be somewhere. I need time to transition into the next activity- that wasn’t a thing when I was 20. I could also run on 2 hours of sleep and that’s most definitely not a thing now.

I am constantly asking, “Were you speaking a foreign language? What does that even mean?” as they use their teenage speak. I knew middle school children had their own language, but didn’t realize that they learn a new language when they go to high school and college.

My energy level is way lower than theirs. From the moment their eyes pop open they are running full speed, talking, fooling around, playing practical jokes, and plotting the next activity. As I finally catch up from lagging behind, they are moving on to the next thing. At this age all I need for entertainment is a comfy chair, strong coffee, and good conversation. But I’ve made an attempt to be involved as much as an old person can when stepping into a teenagers’ world.

Wow: Because of our early morning today, we had an indoor campfire last night. We crowded around a mock fire which was created by placing a hard plastic reusable water bottle over a light source. Last night we had a blue water bottle on a flashlight. The room was washed in a soft blue light and One of the counselors said, “Oh, this is so pretty. I feel like I’m in one of those museums of fish.” To which someone quipped, “you mean an aquarium?”

High, Low, and Wow: Day 4

Wednesdays at camp are always the most difficult. The jobs and projects remain the same, but I typically find all the late nights and early mornings catch up with me on Wednesday, and I struggle to function. Yesterday was no exception.

High: Last night we went to the pool and played the game, ‘Spoons’. Someone had brought waterproof cards and the spoons were thrown into the pool. The first person to get a four of a kind jumped in the pool- then everyone else followed- in the hopes of finding one of the spoons that had been thrown in the water. The kids had so much fun that it made my day just to watch them. They have really bonded as a group and that has been fun to watch.

Low: I woke up tired, and for a good portion of the day I wanted to sneak away to my bed and have a nap. I didn’t because I didn’t want to be labeled the slacker, so I pushed through and drank a little more coffee. In the afternoon we went to the park and ate ice cream and that helped revive me. Thank goodness for salted caramel ice cream.

Wow: I have had such a good time with my former students. I’ve told them repeatedly that they can call me, “Audrey,” but they say that’s impossible and still call me, Ms. K. Now the other campers call me that as well.

Lydia was in my class three years ago. We have spent a lot of time working together this week. I had forgotten how funny she is. As we were headed to dinner yesterday she reminded me of a day a few years ago that she invited some male students to our girls’ after-school Bible study. You must understand that Lydia is a petite, blond hair blue-eyed girl with a very sweet voice. During the Bible study the topic of lobsters came up (I don’t think lobsters are mentioned in the Bible, but it was middle school, so…). In the middle of the conversation, Lydia misspoke and said, “I kissed a lobster once at Wyldlife Club. I kissed his little testicles.” I quickly said, “I think you meant tentacles.” She looked at me quizzically, suddenly understood what she had said, and her face turned bright red. She was mortified. Her best friend and I helped the situation by laughing uncontrollably. The boys never came back to Bible study. Until yesterday, I had forgotten that story so I spent a good portion of the evening laughing again.

Today is our last full day. I can’t believe how quickly the week has passed.

High, Low, and Wow: Day 3

Working at summer camp is no joke. Since Sunday I have swept more floors, scrubbed more pots, pulled more weeds, and broken down more boxes than I have in the last three years combined. According to my watch, I typically have about 11,000 steps by lunch. In my real life, I’m lucky to get 10,000 steps in an entire day. At the end of the working day we all walk to the cabin and melt into the furniture. Teenagers recover a little more quickly than I do, but after a small rest we fear of for worship, a message, and a group activity. We are in bed by 11:30 with no protests.

Yesterday’s high: Last night we played a game called, “Moose, Moose.” It would be difficult to explain here, but anytime you are in a room full of people cry laughing it is a good time. The thing I enjoyed most about this game was witnessing a boy who appeared to be shy and a little backward at the first of the week, really come out of his shell and engage fully with everyone else. My face hurts a little from laughing so much.

Low: We have a about an hour free time time in the afternoon. Beforehand we had been raking leaves, moving rocks, and pulling weeds in the hot sun for a couple of hours. I’m in the middle of a rather long board game with a couple of campers and a staff member, and I decided I would get an ice cream at the pool before starting the game back up. I stood in line and ordered a Big Alaska, which is very much a Klondike Bar. As I was waiting a 10-year-old male camper said, “You are going to have to eat that fast because it melts almost instantly. If you want to eat your ice cream slowly, you should have ordered an ice cream sandwich.” I enjoyed this bit of wisdom, but didn’t put a lot of stock in it since I’m older and have a lot of experience with ice cream eating. Seconds later as I had ice cream running down my arm and struggled to eat quickly and yet avoid an ice cream headache, I realized I should have listened to the sage advice of the young ice cream wizard. Next time I’ll go for the ice cream sandwich.

Wow: As I walked to the Cabana to get my ice cream, I was struck by what a wonderful place summer camp is. We are surrounded by beautiful mountains and as I walked from my cabin to the pool I heard the sounds of kids squealing with delight as they played pool volleyball, laughter permeated the atmosphere from the sandpit water balloon volleyball game, and conversations floated through the air all around. I would describe the whole scene as joyful. And that’s just the kind of place that so many kids need these days.

High, Low, and Wow: Day 2

The camp I’m working at has a discipleship week for high school students. In addition to campfires, morning devotions, and camp games, we are responsible for setting out and cleaning up meals, cleaning dorms, and general camp projects. Yesterday we worked hard. I love the feeling of sitting down at night after a day’s work. It’s very satisfying.

High: As I worked alongside the campers washing dishes, setting tables, raking, and rebuilding the rock barrier of a flower bed I was able to get to know many of them. I’m a bit of a dreamer and often find myself thinking of what other careers I might like to try. I have about 70 things on my list. Students who are either on the cusp of graduating high school or college have a certain air of excitement and anticipation of the future that is contagious. I remember around the time I was graduating college I had the thought, “Wow- life is really wide-open- I could do anything and end up anywhere.” I haven’t really lost that feeling because with the Lord, I could end up anywhere doing anything. I loved spending yesterday hearing their dreams and varied interests.

Low: I did not enjoying digging huge rocks out of the ground and finding a nest of frenzied ants and their eggs. I’m not a fan of large quantities of things- especially if they are crawling all over each other. Disgusting.

Wow: At breakfast I looked up and made eye contact with two more students who are here serving as junior counselors for the other camp that is here. It was fun to chat with them and find out how they are doing. They were super surprised to see me here. I offered to do a few English lessons during free time, but they graciously turned down the offer.

High, Low, and Wow: Day 1

I spent my summers as a child, teenager, and adult working at summer camp. In my adult years I flounder between wanting to be a teacher and wanting to work full time at camp. I ended up choosing to be a teacher, in part because that meant summers off and volunteering at camp still being an option.

This past April I received a text asking if I would work a high school week of camp. I had never worked at the camp but had gotten to know some of the staff over the last few years. I replied that I was available.

Yesterday I nervously arrived at camp. Nervous because I don’t know how this camp runs, but also nervous because I haven’t been a camp counselor since 2005. I’m also older, and I really like to keep a regular sleep schedule- an impossibility at camp.

Last night at camp fire we shared our day’s high, low, and wow. I thought I would share mine here this week.

High: when checking in campers I noticed three of my former students and the daughter of a good friend. I was excited for a chance to get to speak into their lives again in a different capacity. One girl moved to a city 5 hours away a couple of years ago, so it has really been a blessing to get to see and catch up with her.

Low: As I was preparing to leave for camp, I had a thought: “it’s suppose to rain all week, grab your raincoat.” I did not heed that voice, and as I was standing outside in the rain checking the temperatures of arriving campers I regretted not doing so very much.

Wow: I was the first to arrive and another counselor came soon after me. At my age I struggle to know if people are in high school or college because everyone under 30 looks about 12 years old to me. We began talking and I asked where she lived while not at school. She said her parents were missionaries and she had lived overseas. I asked where, figuring it was somewhere in Southeast Asia or a similar area. I was ecstatic when she said, “Budapest, Hungary.” When I say ecstatic, I mean, totally overreacted, could not suppress my joy in having someone in which to discuss Hungarian things. We even discovered that I know her fifth grade teacher.

As I make my way to breakfast and that sort of a new day, I’m filled with anticipation that only a day of camp can bring.

Be Encouraged

In a typical day I often check the national and local news on a few different sources a couple of times. Given the current state of affairs globally, I struggle with wanting to never read the news in an effort to bury my head in the sand and wanting to stay informed of the world around me.

Last night several friends came over for a game night. We ate Mexican food, cookies and ice cream, drank coffee, laughed, and shared stories of our lives while we gamed. We played several games, some cooperative and some involving individual battles between Bruce Lee, Dinosaurs, vampires, and Robin Hood.

As the night died down, four of us were left attempting to have a ‘perfect day’ in the final game of the night “Groundhog Day.” We were not successful and after packing up the game we began talking about current events in our nation and the world. As you can imagine given the events of this past week, the conversation was not upbeat. As a believer in Jesus, it is disheartening to see laws passed that celebrate and encourage sin and outright disobedience to God’s law. It’s heartbreaking to see nations destroyed and people suffering globally because of selfishness, dishonesty, and greed- not only at the political level, but also within individuals.

As the conversation grew heavier and heavier, a verse that I had read that morning popped into my head. In that moment, I think we needed encouragement that there is light in the darkness.

“For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore, encourage one another with these words.”

1 Thessalonians 4:16-18 (ESV)

It’s a difficult time in our world right now and it often seems like everything is falling apart and that things will only continue to decline. And through the revelation of God’s Word, we know that this is actually the truth of things to come. It would be easy to fret and wring our hands and become discouraged if it weren’t for all of the encouragement we have against such actions throughout Scripture. We aren’t a people called to hole up in our homes and insulate ourselves against the potential for hurt in the world or to just throw our hands up and say, “Welp, that’s just how it is. Nothing I can do about it.”

Current events do not change Jesus’ command to us in Matthew 28:19-20 which is to go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to observe all that He has commanded us. At the end of the command, Jesus left us with a promise that He would be with us always to the end of the age which I read as Him telling us we can do all of those things because He will be with us.

David wrote in Psalm 109:31, “For you stand right next to the broken ones as their saving hero to rescue them from all their accusers!” What greater hope can we offer to all those around us than the promise of a Savior who forgives, provides, loves, encourages, keeps promises, redeems, comes through, and will in the end make all things right again?

Oh Yeah.

In my old classroom I had pictures of all my favorite writers- books and music- lining the tops of the white boards. Out of the twenty or thirty photos, my students recognized about three of the people- J. K. Rowling was really the only one, unless you count “the guy with the weird head” (Edgar Allan Poe), and “that one with the weird clothes” (Shakespeare). The first day or so of school I usually have a kid who asks, “Is that Jesus?” I take that opportunity to tell them that cameras weren’t invented during the time that Jesus walked the earth and that it is a picture of musician David Crowder, but that he sings about Jesus.

Lately while driving I’ve been listening to audio books instead of music. Today I had a few errands to run so I shuffled the music on my phone. A song by David Crowder began playing and I had the thought, “Oh yeah. I sort of forgot that I like Crowder.”

Tonight I was mopping the kitchen floor and decided to give David Crowder’s album, Illuminate a listen. It had been a long time. In the middle of wondering how it was possible that the cats still have hair on their bodies while I swept up mounds of cat hair, the song, “Heaven Came Down” stopped me in my tracks. There, in the middle of my kitchen while performing a mundane task, I was reminded of exactly what it means to know Jesus and my heart felt as if it might burst.

Heaven came down and glory filled my soul

When at the cross my Savior made me whole

My sins were washed away and my night was turned to day

Heaven came down and glory filled my soul

Oh, what a wonderful, wonderful day

Day I will never forget

When I was wandering in darkness away

Jesus my Savior I met

When Heaven came down and glory filled my soul

When at the cross my Savior made me whole

My sins were washed away and my night was turned to day

When Heaven came down and glory filled my soul

Oh, what a tender compassionate Friend

He met the need of my heart

The shadows dispelling, with joy am I telling

He made all the darkness depart

And oh, what a wonderful, wonderful day, yeah, today

Oh, what a glorious, glorious day

The day You came to save me

Oh, what a wonderful, wonderful day

The day You came and You saved me

Lyricist John W. Peterson

P.S- I just swept a few days ago lest you think I’m lacking in the housekeeping department. I just can’t seem to keep up with the hairy beasts.

Turn Your Head

Aside from celebrating the Independence of my country on July 4th, for me the date is synonymous with fireworks. For as long as I can remember, our family has celebrated with a lot of fireworks. We’ve also spent a good deal of that time running from and dodging errant fireworks. Even with all of our practice, we typically had a bottle rocket tip over at the last minute and send colorful balls of fire into the suddenly screaming clan.

My parents lived out in the country, surrounded on one side by a forest and cow fields on two sides; we had a big yard that was perfect for celebrating with fireworks. On July 4th we could enjoy our own fireworks display and then sit on the front porch and see two neighboring town’s fireworks.

This year the holiday sort of came out of nowhere. My mom and I had fleeting discussions about hosting at her house and the menu, but we never settled on anything and didn’t invite anyone else. In fact, my mom and nephew hadn’t even taken their yearly trip to the local fire station to buy fireworks. My mom likes to support the local fire fighters by buying fireworks from them. She rationalizes that if we set anything on fire, they’ll be the ones to help out.

After church yesterday we still didn’t have solid plans. A friend had spent the weekend with me and when she left I decided to take a nap. I woke up later to a voicemail from my mom asking me to call her. I returned her call and discovered that she and my nephew had bought a few fireworks and once I stated that I had chicken ready to grill and homemade strawberry shortcake ready to make, it was determined that they would just come to my house for dinner, and then we could shoot fireworks off in my backyard. My sister was able to get off work early, so she came up as well.

After dinner, we sat around and played games and watched a movie while we waited for it to get dark enough to start the firework show. My eight-year-old nephew was excited because being a typical boy, he likes anything that involves fire and a potential explosion. Actually, I’m a girl and find that I really like fire and protentional explosions as well.

Mom had stated earlier that she and Manny hadn’t purchased the big fireworks like they normally do, but had instead gotten some smaller ones. Manny had picked out a firework that was called, “Pooping Dog.” He thrust it into my hands, I read the instructions by the flashlight on my phone, and walked a safe distance away to light the fuse. No matter the size of the firework, I always run after lighting the fuse. I ran to where my family was standing and the four of us watched as the cardboard dog shot fire out of its butt and a long ash rope turd slowly grew longer and longer. Even the eight-year-old boy was underwhelmed.

At the very moment that we stood watching the fiery pooping cardboard dog, we heard a very loud pop! bang! as my neighbors across the street began setting off professional grade fireworks. We quickly turned our attention from our lame ‘firework’ and moved so we could see the magnificent shower of color falling overhead. Suddenly our fireworks paled in comparison (figurately and literally).

My anticipation, or lack thereof, for this upcoming school year reminds me of that pooping cardboard dog.

Here are a few of my reasons for equating the new school year with a lame firework: (1) We are moving into a new building. The parts of my classroom are sitting in my basement and there has not been a date announced as to when we might actually get into the building to set up our classrooms. School starts August 2. (2) School starts August 2. (3) The team I’ve worked with for the last five years has been adjusted, and two of us will be working with a brand new person- she’s very nice, I just really liked my teammates. (4) We have an entirely new Admin team- two of which have not worked in a middle school setting. (5) There are other concerns, but no need to whine about them here.

I have exactly zero control over any of the aforementioned things. I can only control how I’m looking at the situation. Last night it only took shifting my gaze to go from looking at a flaming pile of poo to seeing a brilliant fireworks display. Despite my wishes that summer break were longer, I have hope that by changing my gaze, the current circumstances- which look very much like a pile of poo- will actually turn out to be as surprisingly magnificent as last night’s fireworks. Because in reality, our meager fireworks brought us joy. laughter, and entertainment; the show across the street was an added bonus.

Thankfulness

I woke up in the basement this morning. I rolled over, turned off my alarm, and saw a text message from the air conditioning company stating they would be arriving in the next few hours to install my new heat pump. I breathed a, “Glory Hallelujah” and got out of bed. I carried my one fan upstairs and as coffee brewed, I opened every window in the house, turned on the ceiling fan, and plugged in my fan right by the couch. Even in the early morning hours I could tell it was going to be a hot day. The morning had a stuffiness to it.

Luckily, my air went out on Saturday so I only spent two days without AC, but unfortunately it was nearly 90 degrees here today. While the technicians worked on installing my new unit, I sat on the couch with the fan blowing on me, drinking gallons of water while I started a new book.

As I read, the inside temperature of my house continued to rise. The cats were laid out in various odd places: under the side table, curled up in the bathroom sink, and splayed across the bed. The basement is typically 10 degrees cooler than the upstairs and it was reading 77 degrees. The cats, the fan, and I moved downstairs to finish reading after the technicians stated they would return tomorrow to complete the process.

I was tempted to grumble. I had spent the day being miserably hot, so hot that I didn’t want to eat or move. I thought about going to work out or mowing my lawn, but couldn’t bear the thought of sweating and entering my oven of a house. So ,I sat and drank water and iced coffee while I continued reading. The book was easy to get absorbed in as the heat filled the room.

It was the reading that reminded me to count my blessings. I’m reading The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah, a book about America during The DustBowl and The Great Depression. I find this topic fascinating and heartbreaking. It’s difficult to imagine what life was like for many during that time period. Although I felt that I had a pretty good idea of how the oppressive heat of the drought might have felt. The characters in my book didn’t have air conditioners. Or a refrigerator full of food. Or a home. Or a job. They also had huge dust storms with which to contend.

I wasn’t too far into the book before I started counting my blessings instead of grumbling: I am a teacher, so I don’t have to take days off work to be here for the repairmen. I had the opportunity to work summer school, so I can afford to pay for a new unit. I have clean, cold water that runs straight out of my faucet. I have a mother who offered to allow me and my cats to come spend the night in her air-conditioned house. Not to mention that a large portion of the world doesn’t have the luxury of an air-conditioned home. I have the internet so I was able to attend a weekly online Bible study to be reminded of the Hope I have in Jesus. So what if I spend a day or two uncomfortable?

So, as I head to the basement to sleep again tonight, I’ll be drifting off with thankfulness in my heart instead of complaints. Philippians 2:14 states, “Do all things without grumbling or disputing.” It’s difficult to do so, but looking at what I can be thankful for helps to quell the grumbling.

June Hymn

Today was the first day of summer school. Typically, every April when the email requesting teachers for summer school plops into my inbox, I delete it without even opening it. I have worked summer school only two years in the 13 years that I’ve been a teacher. Both times I only did it to increase my chances for getting a job in the school system- it worked, but my experiences of summer school do not bring up any warm fuzzy feelings for me.

Since I’m adult, I sometimes have to make hard choices and that was the case this spring. My heat pump gave up the ghost and since I really like having air conditioning and heat, I thought I should get a new one. Funny thing is they aren’t cheap- thus my signing up for summer school.

The last week I’ve been giving myself pep talks. I determined in my heart that I would make the best of the next 11 days. I’ve wanted to complain many times, but I have been reminding myself that I chose this and my attitude plays a large role in how much I’ll actually enjoy it. I’ve had that talk with myself a lot.

This morning I arrived at my friend’s house for our 6 am walk. It was a cool morning, and as we walked we chatted about our weekends and the events of the upcoming week. I was prepared for the day and thought I could afford waltzing into work right on time rather than 1/2 hour early like I normally do. After our walk, I got in the car ready to start the day. I naively went into school thinking that everything I had planned for the day would occur without a hitch.

That’s a negative, ghost rider.

I hadn’t even finished my prepacked oatmeal before finding out that a teacher had called out, so instead of 7th grade, I would be teaching 6th grade. No problemo- except what I had planned wouldn’t work for teaching one day of 6th grade. So, I did what every teacher does in that situation, and I pretended like I knew what I was doing and was just following my plans. Talk about the longest 3 hours of my life.

In addition to my grade change, about 30 kids arrived who hadn’t found the time to preregister even though we started sending out the forms in February. One was a kid who is homeschooled and has no connection with our school whatsoever. It was half a day before we realized and they were told we were not offering a community service, but rather a school-wide service. I recognized most of surprise students from the daily email announcements throughout the school year stating which kids were in out-of-school suspension, in-school suspension, or alternative school.

After a confusing morning, I sat down and was leisurely eating my lunch. My boss walked in and informed me that in about 5 minutes I would be teaching a 7th grade class since so many unexpected students showed up. I stopped mid-chew, went to my classroom and frantically starting gathering up materials. In the midst of my panic, students wandered in and took their seats. The class got off to a rough start, mostly because students were testing to see exactly what they could get away with, and I wondered several times if anyone would notice if I just slipped out to my car and drove home; magic must have occurred or an army of people were impressed to pray for me at that moment because by the end of class we were laughing and kids were volunteering to help me with tasks like taking up books, collecting pencils, etc.

When that class ended, for most, the day was over. Kids piled onto their busses and teachers got into their cars as I looked longingly at their freedom harboring jealousy in my heart. I took a deep breath and turned toward about 25 children who stayed for the afterschool program with which I had foolishly volunteered to help.

After it all ended, instead of driving home or into the sunset or to move to a new city, I drove to a local ice cream shop to celebrate my niece’s birthday. The air conditioning was blowing in my face and a randomly selected playlist had started playing when I turned on the car. I was too tired to notice or turn it off, so it played while I attempted to process the day and prepare my heart for tomorrow.

I arrived at the shop earlier than those I was meeting there, so I parked and sat in my car. I leaned my head back and contemplated a small nap when one of my favorite songs, “June Hymn” came on. I realized that today was June 1st. So I sat back and had a listen while I waited. June has always been one of my favorite months and this is a favorite song, so I turned up the volume and had a small celebration welcoming June and deciding that this summer school thing could be good and enjoyable and the first day of anything isn’t typically how the whole thing turns out to be. I then went in to the ice cream shop and had a very good mint chocolate chip ice cream cone while I spent time with my niece and nephew and sister and mom.

Later, I drove home and sat on the back porch in the late afternoon sun, warmed my face, and hummed a little bit of “June Hymn.” Happy June!

Sing a Song

I spent the summers of my childhood at a small Christian camp near my hometown. I don’t remember having a choice about going to summer camp; I only remember my mom telling my sister and me when we would be going. I was so busy at camp that I never had time to think about home, so I was never homesick.

Thursdays at camp were simultaneously my favorite and least favorite day of the week. It was my least favorite because it was the last full day of camp before going back home, but it was my favorite because every Thursday night we would leave evening chapel and walk up the narrow path in the woods that led to the Outdoor Chapel.

Regardless of my role, whether I was a camper or a counselor, Thursday night campfires were always something in which I looked forward to attending. We sat in a half circle in the forest on wooden benches with our cabinmates, facing a large bonfire. The Program Director stood beside the fire with his guitar and led us in singing worship songs and campers and counselors had the opportunity to share their thoughts on the week of camp. While I enjoyed the testimonies, my favorite part was the singing. Although not on my list of natural talents, I do enjoy singing. Especially when there is a guitar. Outside. Around a campfire.

The college I attended was similar to camp in that it was a small environment and my daily schedule was pretty packed. Like camp, in the evenings I would find myself in the lounge with friends playing the guitar and singing. Those moments led to a depth of conversation and relationships that I hadn’t experienced with high school friends. I’ve since learned that this was not everyone’s experience in college, which I just think is a shame.

But, time stops for no one and I graduated and moved on. I was so busy trying to figure out how to live life and what my part in it was going to be, and I didn’t notice the singing had stopped. I figured sitting around and singing with friends was something reserved for children and those in their early twenties and was apparently not for adults.

Several years after graduating college, I moved to Hungary. I spent a wonderful year teaching high school students how to speak English and on the weekends I was lucky enough to have the chance to explore Hungary and other parts of Eastern Europe. One day about a month before I was leaving Hungary, a Hungarian teacher told me that our school was going to take the teachers on weekend trip to Croatia and she asked if my roommates and I like to go. It was a real sacrifice, but we accepted the free trip to Croatia.

Two weeks later, my roommates and I boarded a coach bus with 30 Hungarian teachers. Two of them spoke English and my roommates and I collectively knew about 20 Hungarian words and phrases. We rode to Zadar, Croatia, having conversations via charades and stopped to sightsee along the way.

That evening we checked into a small inn in which we were the only guests. The inn had set up a buffet dinner, and we ate outside in the early spring evening. As the sky grew dark, we moved into a time of dessert and coffee and people left briefly to get a blanket or a sweater as the temperature decreased. We sat in a circle and someone brought out a radio and as the music played, my colleagues got up to dance.

As it got later and people were tired from a day of travel, the dancing ceased and we settled back into our seats. The cool night air was mixed with conversation and laughter. And without warning, the singing returned. Talk faded into quiet singing of Hungarian folk songs. I didn’t understand a word of what was being sung, but that didn’t make it any less beautiful. While my colleagues sang, I pondered how corporate singing- while not at church- seemed to be a thing of the past in my own culture, meant only for summer camps and small Bible colleges tucked in the woods. I couldn’t even imagine a group of American professionals singing together while on retreat.

That was twenty years ago, and I remember that night very clearly because I was able to recognize that the singing hadn’t returned to stay in my own life, but had stopped by for a visit or as a reminder of it’s importance. It wasn’t until about six years ago when I met my friends the Oaks (and their friends) that I found myself singing songs again. The funny thing is, I didn’t realize how much I had missed it until this past weekend.

On Saturday night I sat in a semi circle with friends in a dark room gathered around an artificial campfire, and we sang together. While we were singing, my mind brought up my childhood spent around campfires, the lounge at college, the songs of the Hungarian teachers, and the years of singing drought in my life. My heart squeezed with joy as I looked around the room filled with my friends and realized the singing had returned, settled in, and taken up residence. Welcome back, friend.

The Best Day Ever

I have two days left in the school year with my students. Two days. 14 hours. I know that these next two days will go like all the other last days of school- slow. Molasses slow.

I woke up today and my first thought was, “You only have to do this three more times.” Well, that my really my second thought. My first thought was, “It’s Monday. You have to go to work. Don’t hit snooze.” So, I got up, drank coffee, read, and slogged to my bedroom to get dressed. I started to grab my favorite school district polo when I remembered that we were doing our 7th grade Kickball Tournament today and my first period class had decided that we would all wear blue shirts. I spent a lot of time looking for a blue shirt– the one color of clothing that I started to wonder if I had in t-shirt form. I finally found one of my favorite shirts that I had forgotten I owned, pulled it over my head, laced up my tennis shoes, and headed out the door.

Once at school I continued to pack up my room. We are moving to a new building in August, so the contents of my room must be packed in 10 system issued cardboard boxes. I’ve been giving things away lately, so I’ve managed to fill up only 6 of the boxes. As I packed and threw away, my students came in with the energy that is only felt at the end of the school year. I saw a similar energy when I watched the running of the bulls on tv once. Right before the first rocket is set off to signal that the corral gate is opening and the bulls will be bursting forth, the camera turned to the runners who were filled with anticipation as they bounced, stretched, and jumped. That’s pretty much what it’s like in a middle school the last three days.

Today, we managed to make it through three class periods and then my first period students returned to me so we could walk to the kickball field together. Before leaving the classroom, my kids insister that we make a roster with who would kick in what order, who would pitch, and who be on what base. I quickly discovered that they were much more competitive than I could ever hope to be. It never even dawned on me to consider making a roster. Luckily in my class of 23 students about 20 of them are athletes.

After the official roster was made, we made our way to the field all dressed in blue and discussing which classes we would win against and which classes might pose an issue. I was already having a good day with my kids, appreciating the fact that I would get to see them be kids playing a game instead of the formality of the classroom. I was also excited that it was a warm, sunny day.

Once on the field, the gym teacher approached us and said, “Okay, masks can come off for the day.” We all stood, mouths gaped opened, and I said, “Wait, no masks for the whole day?” She confirmed that I had heard right and was, in fact, not hallucinating (much to my chagrin, we are the only school district in our area that has not eased up on the masks restrictions). My kids had surrounded me, removed their masks, and I said with tears in my eyes, “Oh! I get to see all of your faces at one time.”

On May 17, 2021- after 177 days of teaching-I saw the faces of all of my students for the first time. And they were precious. I saw that Michael has dimples. Eliana has braces. Hannah, whose eyes are so sad, has one of the most beautiful smiles I’ve ever seen. When I told her so, her eyes matched her smile.

It’s crazy how much this meant to me. It also seems a little unfair, like I’ve missed out.

We ended up winning 3 out of 4 games. I spent my time cutting blue ribbon and tying it Karate Kid style around the boys’ heads and tying bows in the girls’ hair. I supervised as they painted each others’ faces, kept score, cheered, and just stared at them.

I always get a little nostalgic at the end of the school year. I look forward to summer and the much needed break, but I hate the saying goodbye part. This year in particular because they’ll never be another year like it- these kids and I have been through a lot. We’ve had about 7 daily schedules, we’ve eaten lunch in the classroom and then in the cafeteria in assigned seats. We’ve worn masks and used gallons of hand sanitizer. We’ve cleaned desks at least 6 times a day. We’ve been digital learning and hybrid learning and in-person learning, sometimes simultaneously. And today I got to see them without masks, laughing, cheering, and just being kids who were outside playing games with their friends. That alone made it the best day ever.

Dancing…Falling…Whatever

During my first few years of teaching I chaperoned a lot of middle school dances. The air in the gym reeked of awkwardness, Axe body spray, and hormones. The boys would arrive, some of them dressed in a collared shirt and others in whatever they wore to school that day, and would immediately start running and chasing each other around the gym. The girls would stumble in the door either wearing too-high heeled shoes and something akin to a prom dress or looking as close to a hooker as our dress code would allow. A lot of kids would form a circle in the middle of the gym floor and dance, while smaller groups stood giggling along the fringes. There was always a steady stream of girls moving from the circle to the bathroom in clumps that either had a giggling mob or sobbing girl. The more ‘mature’ couples would attempt to disappear into the shadows in the hopes of getting as close to knowing each other in the biblical sense as possible. If it would have been possible to harness the energy in the room, we could have provided power for the entire town for at least a week.

I would always end up working concessions, which I preferred. If I was busy selling candy bars and cokes, my chances of stumbling upon those on the outer circle was much more slim. It’s difficult to go back to teaching a child once you’ve happened upon them in a compromising situation. Trust me on this one. I have images in my head that I’ll never be able to unsee.

One particular night, in between passing out Dr. Peppers and moon pies, I noticed that a lot of kids were falling. Because of the running and dancing and inexperienced high heeled shoe wearing, a fall wasn’t uncommon at a dance, but this night it was happening pretty frequently. I would give back change from the sweaty twenty dollar bill I had been handed and would see a kid slide across the floor and take out a group of giggling teens. At first we thought they had just invented a new game of human bowling, but after some investigating we realized the fallers had no idea how they ended up on the ground.

After two hours that felt like about fifteen, it was time to pack up the concession stand and wait with the kids whose parents thought a 9:30 pick-up time actually meant pick your child up whenever you feel like it. While we were waiting with the last four kids, my friend Jessica and I were talking with the students. The topic turned to different types of dancing and up came the subject of clogging. Jessica casually mentioned that she was the North Carolina State Champion Clogger a few years before. I have always wanted to learn to clog, so since we didn’t have anything else to do, I ask her to teach me a few steps.

Jessica showed me a few moves which I did fairly well with until I ended up lying on the floor. I didn’t realize I had fallen until Jessica was attempting to help me up but was weakened by her laughter. When I was standing again, I mentioned that the floor was really slick where I had been attempting my clogging step. A student stated that earlier that day gym class had been cancelled because the custodians had waxed the floor incorrectly and there were slick spots all over the gym. According to that student, kids had been flying all over the place during gym class so they had to retreat to the bleachers and do book work. That explained all of the falling during the dance. Our custodians were known more for their shortcuts rather than their efficiency, so it wasn’t surprising to learn that we basically had an ice skating rink for a gym floor; however, this would have been super handy information to have known before gathering two hundred uncoordinated individuals into a room for a dance.

Vampire Ballerinas

For the last 10 weeks I’ve been going every Tuesday night to a tap class, and I’ve had an absolute blast. Despite the long drive after working all day, it is something that I have eagerly anticipated each week. So, it comes as no surprise that I was sad last week when class ended. I had been looking around for another class, but was unable to find one, so I decided to repeat the course when it was offered again in the fall and watch YouTube videos to learn new steps in the meantime.

While silently lamenting the impending end of the tap class as I watched my class take their state tests, I remembered that several years ago I had spoken to a lady in a nearby town who taught adult clogging classes. I was all set to begin, when the week before my first class, I hurt my foot and was unable to attend. My foot issue lasted for awhile, and I forgot about the class.

During my planning period that same day, I texted the instructor to see if it was possible to take the clogging class. I received a response immediately, and I went to my first clogging class last night.

I was nervous about joining a class so late in the year, but the instructor assured me that I would catch on and have a great time. I walked into the large gym, registered and watched a little girls’ ballet class practice while I waited. The girls were adorable in their leotards and tutus as they went through the moves of their recital routine. Pretty soon they were all running toward the bleachers I was sitting upon and began changing out of their ballet slippers and into clogging shoes. I took that as my cue to put on my shoes as well.

The first half of the adult class is spent going over basic steps with the little kids’ class. I stepped into the back line and was immediately questioned by a 7-year-old girl who was staring at my shoes, “Why are you wearing tap shoes instead of clogging shoes?” I was taken aback by being called out by a child, but for some reason I felt the need to go into a long explanation of how I had ordered my clogging shoes, but they hadn’t arrived and the teacher told me to just wear my tap shoes, but my clogging shoes should hopefully arrive before next week’s class. Judging from her stare I’m not sure she bought my story, but telling her the teacher told me I could wear tap shoes seemed to appease her.

As we moved through the routine, all of which I didn’t know, but tried my hardest to do, the little girls on both sides and in front, kept throwing looks at me when I would mess up. It’s really difficult to not be noticed when you mess up and have on tap shoes. I had no idea how brutal a little girls’ dance class could be. I figured that as a 45-year-old middle school teacher I could take a couple of 7-year-old girls, but I had grossly overestimated myself.

The child’s class ended, and we adults then moved up to the stage. A lady welcomed me and said she was going to run through the steps for me so I would be familiar with the routine. I think I blacked out because all I remember seeing were feet and legs flying in every direction at breakneck speed. When she had finished she looked at me and said, “We do four of each step in that routine” as if that explained everything, “Jump in anytime.” I just stared at her and chuckled in response. I reminded her that I had had 10 weeks of a basic tap class. She smiled in return and counted off to start the class; I was clearly on my own.

The lady next to me offered a smile and said, “You’ll get the hang of it, but when they do “Rocky Top”, just step back to the wall.” The girl standing in front of me turned and laughed, “Yep- at “Rocky Top” we just step back, you’ll see.” I wasn’t entirely clear on what they meant, but when I heard the familiar opening chords of “Rocky Top” I understood fully. Within seconds of the song starting, the experienced dancers moved so quickly and with such precision that I got a little teary-eyed. I also had to laugh a little to think that they thought I might just ‘jump in’ at any given moment. I quietly wondered if the Lord could just grant me the gift of clogging, sort of like the gift of tongues or discernment.

Although I spent most of the class recording the feet of my new classmates so I could practice the steps at home, I’ve never had more fun. Just being on the same stage as the other dancers and thinking that one day I might actually be able to move through a routine with them got me all excited. The class ended with me feeling a tad overwhelmed, but also determined to learn something new.

I walked off the stage and over to the bleachers. I sat down to put my street shoes on when three tiny ballerinas from the first class wandered over to me and eyed me suspiciously. I prepared myself for a lecture on wearing the correct shoes to next week’s class. They had me surrounded when one asked, “Are you a vampire?” I had to suppress laughter because that was the very last thing I expected to be asked. I don’t know if I was looking particularly pale or if it was the black cape I was wearing (just kidding, I don’t own a black cape), but I responded by telling them that vampires don’t typically share their identities, so they would just have to wait and find out. They giggled and one of them asked to see my teeth. I bared my teeth to show them that I didn’t have fangs. I then asked if perhaps they were vampires and were they just trying to see if I was one of their kind. They again giggled and all three showed me their teeth to prove they weren’t vampires.

I got up from the bleachers and started to walk out the door. I turned and told them that I would be sure to bring garlic next week so I could ensure they were telling me the truth. I walked out of the gym to the delighted squeals of three little girls begging me to not bring garlic near them. I left feeling thankful for the opportunity to do something I’ve wanted to do for so long, and I had made some new friends who were potential vampires. I should have figured that a discussion on vampires would be the connecting factor for me and those little ballerinas.