Trust in the midst of goodbye…

Our beautiful and talented Aqua Zumba instructor, Anita. (No, that amazing waterfall was not that location for our class, but it could be when we travel to Costa Rica to visit Anita next year.)

Our beautiful and talented Aqua Zumba instructor, Anita. (No, that amazing waterfall was not that location for our class, but it could be when our class travels to Costa Rica to visit Anita next year.)

“I have some news to tell you.”

My Aqua Zumba teacher gathered the class together in the pool before we began our morning workout.

“I’m moving back to Costa Rica at the end of July.”

While I was happy for her — she would be returning to her family and working with an ecotourism business — I was in dismay. Aqua Zumba is my favorite fitness class offered at the health club; it was my own version of “So You Think You Can Dance,” because when camouflaged by the water, I followed Anita’s cues and thought I could  dance — and I knew I could work hard. I imagined the sweat Anita produced on dry land as she led us was reciprocated by my action in the pool. It was a great  way to start the day, and, as we’d had a few (inferior) substitute teachers along the way, I was doubtful that anyone could replace Anita.

My belief that no one could adequately replace her caused me dismay — and helped me better understand the feelings of the students I won’t have in the fall.

“Chelsea sent me a message telling me to beg you not to leave,” my son Adam told me recently.

Chelsea is one of my homeroom students. I’ve had the same class for what we call “homebase” since they began their ninth grade year. This, their senior and final year at Cornerstone Academy, they will have a different teacher for homebase and for English.

This is the first summer I haven’t spent preparing for an upcoming school year in some manner. I knew from the beginning of last school year that it would be my last year teaching, and so I worked from Day 1 to leave a legacy, to do my utmost to leave behind a path easily followed by another teacher, to make sure the students to whom I would not teach English would return to find the new teacher prepared and competent (and, likely, better than I ever was).

However, for reasons that would be obvious to those teaching in a small, private school, I didn’t advertise my termination date. For one, I didn’t want students to reject the Cornerstone experience because I wasn’t returning; having been at the school for 11 years, I was somewhat of a fixture.  For another, it was too painful to look at every significant moment of the school year as if it were my last (except, perhaps, that last stack of essays to grade). I had to embrace every day for what it was, determined to make the most of it, to be completely “all there” until I no longer was. Certainly, God was in control; God had a plan for His school – and a plan for me. Though I knew I would miss my dear school and dearer students and they me, I knew whatever God had in store was best for all of us.

But it is hard to trust in the midst of a goodbye we don’t want to happen.

Our Aqua Zumba class.

Our Aqua Zumba class.

My fitness instructor’s announcement of her goodbye made me see that from a student’s perspective. Aqua Zumba has been my 6 a.m. staple on Tuesday and Thursday mornings the past nearly 10 months. Only sickness or vacations out of town could keep me from attending. I woke up happy on Aqua Zumba days; the 45-minute class was great exercise with a group of people who have become friends. The class was a hit because of Anita; she was friendly and energetic, smiled like Seinfeld’s Julia Louis-Dreyfus, and led us through the dance moves on dry land while we mimicked her in the water.

My classmate Connie often said, “She doesn’t have an ounce of fat,” and I was convinced the flow of traffic to the sauna — with its windows having a full view of Anita’s dance space — increased on Aqua Zumba days.

“Hello, my name is Anita,” she would say after the first song. “Welcome to Aqua Zumba. I appreciate you being here.”

She would work us through a variety of songs, encouraging us to make big movements, keep our fingers together and our knees soft. At times, she would mime wimpy versions of the routine, then shake her finger shamefully at us, before dramatically demonstrating the energy and effort she wanted to see. At key places in and between songs, we sang or yelled or “woohooed.” Even the shyest among us participated.

Daily, Anita appeared in what some of my students would term “matchy matchy” clothes; she managed to coordinate bright-colored, shorts, tops, shoes, socks, and headband — always with the word Zumba printed somewhere. Sometimes Anita would point to that word, so we would yell “Zumba” in perfect timing with the song’s end. Occasionally, we got it right. It always made me smile.

Since the day she told us she would be leaving, Anita has been working hard to find a replacement. The health club’s “non-compete” clause — and, just maybe, the 6 a.m. time slot — has made it difficult to find a new teacher, but last week she finally gave us some bad news and some good news: No Aqua Zumba in August, but a new teacher starts in September.

As Anita would say, “Can I get a ‘Woohoo!’?”

Woohoo!

It is hard to believe that someone could replace Anita, but I am happy someone is at least going to try. It makes saying goodbye a little easier.

I have a replacement too; as part of the administration team last year, I got the chance to help interview some candidates for my position and help choose the perfect fit. I have passed along lesson plans and files galore, met with the new teacher several times to help orient her to the position, and remain available should she have a question. I can leave my beloved Cornerstone Academy in perfect peace. God, indeed, had a plan for the school. Welcome, Rochelle Fairfield!

He also had a plan for me. (See “Surprised by work…” for details.)

It may be hard to trust in the midst of goodbye, but seeing God’s faithfulness so far makes it just a bit easier…

 

 

 

 

 

When work is like the Christian life…

The first time I saw this photograph, it was on my sister-in-law's cell phone. She said my nephew had shot the photo, but since that time I have seen it  in various places online and am now unsure as to the photographer. However, I am clear as to the Creator of the sunset -- and the alligator, in the clouds and in the Florida waters mentioned in this post.

The first time I saw this photograph, it was on my sister-in-law’s cell phone. She said my nephew had shot the photo, but since that time I have seen it in various places online and am now unsure as to the photographer. However, I am clear as to the Creator of the sunset — and the alligator, visible in the clouds and in the Florida waters mentioned in this post.

“Well, if I don’t get eaten by an alligator, I’ll see you tomorrow afternoon.”

That was the marketing associate’s attempt at humor when we discussed her abbreviated schedule on Friday. She was just directing a photo shoot in the morning — but it was at a local lake known for its alligator population, thus her comment.  I countered her humor in kind, knowing there was no real danger from the alligators.

“No, you can’t get eaten by an alligator,” I protested. “I don’t know enough yet.”

“Yes, you do!” she responded, cheerfully, not offended at all by my selfish reasoning. “So that settles it. You know enough, so if I get eaten by an alligator, everything’s OK.”

“No,” I disagreed.

I completely disagreed. As a newbie, I view my trainer and supervisor as “an ever present help in time of trouble,” and I was anticipating working without her presence with less than enthusiasm. She would be gone Friday morning and then the whole of the following week.

“I don’t know enough,” I pressed. “The more I know, the more I realize I don’t know.”

And with that thought quickly followed another, though unexpressed.

“My work life is so much like the Christian life.”

Over the weeks, my supervisor had praised me numerous times for the job I was doing. More than once she’d greeted me enthusiastically with “I’m so glad you’re here,” almost as if she were surprised I’d returned for more. The interns I supervised seemed to be warming up to me. My colleagues in the office were slowly introducing themselves, some saying they’d heard I’d jumped right in and was doing well. I loved what I was doing, and I’d been growing more and more confident in my position as a technical editor the past three weeks — even to the point of believing that I had some ideas that could make operations run more smoothly.

But that particular day had been tougher than usual at work for me — good overall, but with enough reminders that I am not yet perfect at what I do. It was just a moment (or two, or three) in which I saw I didn’t know everything or do everything perfectly. So by 5 p.m., I was ready to call it a day. Not a bad day. Certainly, a productive day. But a day that made me a little uncomfortable with myself and more dependent on following the Standard Operational Procedures (SOP) manual. In fact, it was a day in which work was a lot like the Christian life. (And I know I’m saying that as if it were a bad thing.)

I was beginning to understand that the more I know about my job, the more I realize I don’t know.  Wisely, my boss didn’t just hand me the entire workload I will eventually carry. She gave me training; she handed me the printed manuals; she gave me space to read those manuals and get my bearings; she walked me through processes; and she let me set out on my own. Sometimes I asked a lot of questions, sometimes I timidly ventured into new territory, and sometimes I plunged ahead, thinking I knew what to do — only to find out I didn’t know as much as I thought I did.

The Christian life is like that.

It seems too often that just when I think I’ve got the Christian life — or some aspect of it mastered — that I blow it (or merely see with more clarity and realize how wrong I am). It’s a bit humbling.

One particular time in my life was during those single years I experienced after the death of my first husband. It was a time of pain, of struggle, and, thankfully, of spiritual growth. I felt I was able to look away from things of this Earth — that aren’t lasting — and focus on my dear heavenly Father as the source of true joy. I was growing in my faith; I thought I was pretty close to maturity. After all, I’d survived the loss of the love of my life and was managing to trust God with all my dashed hopes that had included marriage and children. When I bought a house, my sister told me I’d elevated the “eligible husband” field to men who owned homes. When I adopted a cat who then left toys all over the house, I thought that God was preparing me for children.

Apparently, we were both right. I met and married a homeowner, who was also a widower with four children (who were exponentially more messy than a cat, mind you) . When he proposed marriage, he said it would be “an excellent opportunity for personal growth.” I thought I was grown up and took the challenge. While I went into the marriage courageously, the cat panicked and then returned to live with my former roommate. It took only weeks into the marriage to realize that the cat was smarter than I was — and how far short of “spiritually mature” I was. In fact, through the years, as I’ve entered each new stage of my life, I’ve discovered I’m really not all that spiritually mature. But I usually determine that only after that whole “pride” followed by “fall” thing.

The Westminster Catechism in a question-answer format responds to questions crucial to the Christian faith (as set forth in Protestant Calvinism). It says that “the chief end of man is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.” (The thought is based on Scripture such as Romans 11:361 Corinthians 10:31, and others.)

Knowing that helps me — as I struggle to do better at work and be better at the Christian walk of faith. My “chief end” isn’t perfection in the workplace or even perfect character demonstrated in spiritual maturity in my Christian walk; it is bringing glory to God wherever I am and enjoying Him in the process.

I figure I can do that in my workplace — not necessarily by being perfect, though that will remain my aim, but by humbling admitting my failures, working to remedy them — and probably by making the occasional brownie or two. (I’m sure that seems random, but you’d be surprised how much glory God gets from a simple brownie.) :)

In my Christian walk, I can purpose to bring God glory and to enjoy His presence on a daily basis. He is so close that He truly is my “ever present help in time of trouble” — not my wonderful supervisor, who might be absent due to a photo shoot or conference or vacation or an untimely death by alligators.

(She survived the photo shoot Friday, by the way.) :)

 

Surprised by work…

(When you're not great at shooting selfies while driving, transform them into sketches.... ) While I did ask my son how I looked before I left for my first day on the job, I didn't think about shooting a photo -- until I reached my first STOP sign. I look more happy than anxious. :)

(When you’re not great at shooting selfies while driving, transform them into sketches…. ) While I did ask my son how I looked before I left for my first day on the job, I didn’t think about shooting a photo — until I reached my first STOP sign. I look more happy than anxious. :)

What surprised me about my first day of work was not what it entailed but the “when.”

I had long entertained the desire to work for my alma mater, and by the time my final year of teaching ended this spring, I already had numerous applications in the university’s system, all positions for which I was qualified. One job, in particular, caught my attention because it seemed to require every aspect of my eclectic background — an ability to understand technology and science, an ability to write and edit, and an ability to work with upper level students. I had taught middle and high school students Algebra and English for 15 years, often using technology to do so, but I had come into teaching through my journalism background, and I came into journalism through my passion for science and my desire to communicate environmental issues to the general public.

Within the job description was this detail: “translate highly technical information and scientific jargon into descriptions the general public can understand,” and I felt as if I were reading my own words. A large part of the job included acting as a writing coach to a dozen or so interns, mostly upper level undergraduates or law students. I believed that this position was a fit for me — but I had thought that about numerous job descriptions without much result.

As weeks passed after submitting my application, I wasn’t overly hopeful and was having communications with a couple other businesses that were displaying interest. Those potential employers scheduled a series of phone interviews, and I had just completed one of them when my cell phone rang again. It was the university’s Office of Technology Licensing.

Thirty minutes later, I had a paper filled with scribbled information and a smile on my face. I had been completely honest, completely myself; I had answered questions and then asked my own. I liked the voice on the other end of the phone, and the voice seemed to like me. I hung up with a face-to-face job interview scheduled three days later.

The interview was nothing short of miraculous. As a teacher, I enjoyed the knowledge that I was making a difference in the lives of my students every day, and the thought of doing just “any old job to earn a buck and benefits” didn’t excite me at all. (See “Why I teach…”   for more insight.) On top of my own efforts to make a positive impact while teaching, I had worked with my seniors on their Capstone Projects, projects in which they had to change the world in some way. In the interview, I realized that making the world a better place was the vision statement for this office at the university. Changing the world in some way every day would be my job.

So when the director asked me why I wanted the position, I honestly (and, perhaps naively) said,

“This job is like my fairy-tale ending. It is the culmination of everything I have done so far — the science, the journalism, the teaching, and even my desire to change the world. That has been the goal of my seniors’ Capstone Projects, and now it can be my daily goal, too.”

I felt confident and comfortable; the two women who interviewed me laughed with me (at appropriate times) and seemed genuinely interested in me as a candidate. Afterward, though I had some of those second (panicked) thoughts about my responses to questions, I thought if I didn’t get a job offer then I could never trust my senses again.

We had parted with a few, less-than-heartening statements: “We have a few more interviews” and the dreadful “If you don’t hear from us in a week or so, give me a call.”

Sigh.

The next morning, a Friday, at 9:42 a.m., I got the 4 minute and 29 second call, a job offer at the highest number in the advertised salary range.

Score!

The person I was replacing already had moved to another state, and I was wanted immediately. Of course, “immediately” translates into something more like “eventually” when a huge organization is involved. Or so I had been told.

Minutes after the phoned offer — even before I accepted the job — Human Resources called to start the background check. By Monday, I had passed. By Tuesday afternoon, all my references had been contacted.

“Could you start this week?” was the next question.

All I needed was to have the university vice president sign the paperwork — and then I could begin. But that was delayed by vacation time or sick time, and I got the word that the earliest I could start would be Wednesday of the next  week.

On Tuesday morning of that  week, I got word that the earliest start date would be Friday (doubtful) or the following Monday.

But that same afternoon, I got the official offer letter. Tuesday evening, a call from HR to schedule an appointment to sign paperwork the next day.

Wednesday morning, at 8:37, I got word that I could start. Immediately. As in that very day.

“Well, just give me a few minutes to change into something more professional,” I said.

They were more than gracious about the time. We settled on 12:30.

Timing is everything, as they say. God’s timing is an expression of His love — and so perfect. I had no time for nerves and no loss of sleep, anxiously anticipating that first day in the office.

Being surprised by the first day of work is a beautiful thing.

Being surprised by how much I could love a new job is even more beautiful. Each day I work is a reminder of how much God knows and loves me.

And that should be no surprise.

 

A teacher’s lament…

2014-05-29 10.50.17editedIt’s the calm after the storm. Exams are taken. Yearbooks are signed. Ceremonies and celebrations applauded. The countdown completed. The final day cheered. Hallways emptied of raucous students. Teachers have finished grading those final exams and stacks of papers, the office staff have mailed final report cards, and the toils and struggles of the school year – like memories of childbirth – have faded in intensity.

School’s out for summer.

In my classroom, the floor is cleanly swept but dull and dingy, lacking sheen, evidence of the sandy shoes that have shuffled across it these past ten months. The windows, the blinds, the shelves, the desks, the chairs, like the white board, are shiny clean; the room has passed its annual “white glove inspection.” The desks are stacked, the books and supplies are boxed, and the walls emptied of décor. Everything is ready for the summer renewal – the repairs, the fresh paint, the stripping and waxing of the tile floors. And like the classroom, we teachers anticipate a summer renewal – a chance to refresh our neglected homes and yards and diet and exercise plans. A chance to renew our minds, to fortify our resolve to do it all again – better – next year.

Because in between our goodbyes to students and that last box in which we seal the evidence from the past year, we pause and reflect and – perhaps – lament. I know I do. For no matter the accolades and appreciation demonstrated, the knowledge of some successes along the way, I feel remorse, that sense that I could have done more, I could have done better.

This year, especially, I feel I have failed my students. My school called me to different roles, exchanging my Algebra classes for administrative roles while continuing to use me as an English teacher and department head. I was spread thin (not physically, unfortunately… still have to refresh that neglected diet plan). But, to be honest, this feeling of remorse – a teacher’s lament – is not an isolated event. It has haunted me as long as I have taught. In the past, that lament has been constructive – pushing me to find solutions, to improve my craft, to better inspire and motivate my students come fall.

But this August, I am not coming back. My days in the classroom are completed. And so this year’s lament is not followed by hope and action.

Somehow through the years, I have managed to straddle my school supplies between my home and my classroom. Daily, I dragged a wheeled crate of supplies to and from school. But during teacher post planning, in an effort to leave a fully stocked and properly organized classroom, I united the items from home with what I had at school and created an itemized inventory before boxing them for the summer. As I entered each item one by one, I too often thought, “Wow. Now that would have been helpful when we were studying ____.”

What I had at my fingertips – or at least at home to bring within reach of my fingertips in the classroom – were valuable tools that might have helped me teach better and lament less. You can be sure I am passing those tools along to my hand-picked and personally trained successor. But I have to admit that finding those unused tools makes me wonder if I might be lamenting less had I, in fact, put those tools to good use.

Thankfully, they remind me of something that does offer me hope and spur action, something much deeper — my walk with God — and what Peter wrote in 2 Peter 1:3:

“His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.”

Through the knowledge of Christ, I have all the tools I need as a Christian to live a godly life. To my replacement English teacher, I am passing along a full inventory of the tools that just might be everything she needs to be an effective teacher who has no need to lament next summer. But to myself, I am passing along the reminder that I have everything I need to lead a godly life.

I leave the teaching — and the lamentations — behind. In Him is hope.

 

 

The photos I didn’t take…

photos I did not takeDown at the beach, as the sun begins to set, the photography begins in earnest. Romantic couples and lovely families – bedecked in coordinated clothing — are stalked by professional photographers with mammoth cameras. You can hear commands such as “OK, Mom and Dad, get close together. Kids, do you know how to ‘Ring Around the Rosie’? OK. Join hands in a circle and run around Mom and Dad as fast as you can.”

Click, click, click. The sand, the surf, the sunset make a perfect backdrop to those perfect poses.

Perhaps if I considered myself more photogenic, I might be more inclined to hire a photographer to create beautiful images for my family. When my children were young, we did the occasional Olan Mills professional studio shot, but those captured images, not reality. I look at those old photos and note how we appear – how young we look or how hideous those styles of hair, glasses, and clothing were way back when. I don’t remember an experience or a special moment in a relationship.

My oldest son and soon-to-be daughter-in-law recently got engaged at a beautiful park. My son had gotten on one knee, nervously extending both a ring and a question, before a “Yes!” made his girlfriend his fiancé.  A passing photographer, who had just happened upon the couple, approached them, saying she had captured the whole thing on her camera and would happily email the photos. That is life well photographed.

Unfortunately, that doesn’t happen often.

As I reflected on my recent beach vacation with my husband, I realized I had more memories than photos. No professional photographer chanced upon our moments of life to offer megapixels of memories. I shot the obligatory sunsets and captured a few of my husband’s finer moments – wading with the stingrays, enjoying dinner with his sister, and peeling after too many days without sunscreen.

But it was what I hadn’t shot that most touched my heart. It was what I couldn’t capture in photos that I most want to remember or don’t think I can ever forget.

I might have enjoyed capturing my face the moment I felt a stingray scurry out from under my foot, my urgent shuffling toward the beach as I fled the spot, or my fearful vigil on the beach as I watched for other stingrays while my husband defiantly remained  in the water.

But what I really would have liked to capture would have been that moment I really grasped how much my husband loved and cared about me.

That man is generally teasing me – and my rational fear of stingrays made great fodder for his jabs. But his persistent comments didn’t sway me from the shore; his insistence on finding a solution to the stingray problem tormented rather than relieved me. But when he put the plan into action, I saw love behind it all.

He ventured into the water first, scouting for stingrays. Then he returned to the shore, and he had me follow him, holding onto his sides, while he carried a raft and shuffled his feet dramatically in the sandy bottom. He instructed me to walk closely behind him in his footsteps. I did. Within mere inches. Safely. It was like a dance train of two – minus the music. When we reached deeper water, he helped me onto the raft, out of danger of the stingrays that might have buried themselves below, and we ventured out into the clear, deep water where swimming was pure joy. When we had had enough, we swam toward the shore. My husband then bravely stepped onto the sandy bottom, and I walked in his steps, his shuffling steps, “dance train”-style, until we were out of the water.

Did we look goofy? Was I embarrassed to be so fearful that it took my ingenious and brave husband’s act to get me back into the water?

Yes and yes.

Would a photo of our “dance train” be the highlight of a professional photographer’s collection?

Probably not.

But that photo I didn’t take says “love” to me as no photogenic pose before sand, surf, and sunset ever could. And that is the best backdrop of all.

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Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.

John 15:13

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One stingray a chicken doth make…

Me, this morning, with the trusty float destined to save me from all the denizens of the deep -- and the shallows.

Me, this morning, with the trusty float destined to save me from all the denizens of the deep — and the shallows.

In addition to my ability to return from a beach vacation as pale as when I arrived, I pride myself on my X-ray vision. My polarized, prescription sunglasses make me invincible on the Gulf Coast. When the sun is shining on the emerald Gulf of Mexico, my glasses allow me to see right to the bottom.

“Oooh, needle fish!” I exclaim, pointing. “Swimming in that direction.”

And, again, a little later.

“I see a school of fish with black-tipped, forked tails,” I say to my husband, who doesn’t wear sunglasses when swimming (or standing in water, as the case may be). And thus begins the Q&A in which we determine via my vision and his knowledge the types of fish swimming about us.

The first day of our vacation – after my husband had had the luxury of an hours-long bike ride while I had shopped for groceries to meet his every need and, thus, not exercised – we had gone for a swim. He was preheated; I was thawing after exposure to air conditioning; we did not approach the seawater the same way.

“This is how you do it,” said my dear husband. “One, two, three… “ and he dunked himself into the emerald coolness, surfacing to note that I still was only waist deep.

“You’re being disobedient,” he jokingly nagged. “Come, swim with me to the buoy.”

“Nope,” I said – keeping my two feet down. “I’m Goldilocks, letting the water feel ‘just right’ before I submerge.

“If I submerge,” I continued.

Eventually, I was floating, not standing, and basking in the water Mama Bear and Goldilocks would have deemed “just right.” And so we did make the trek to the buoy that designated the outskirts of the swim zone and had just made our way closer to the shore when I looked back and saw two large, dark shapes gliding underwater toward my husband.

“Look!” I pointed.

Even without X-ray vision sunglasses, my husband could see the dark shapes. We saw no dorsal fins and were intrigued rather than frightened.

“Manatee?” I suggested, though they were moving quite fast.

“Maybe manta rays,” Steve said. “But if they are manatee, we should see their noses surface.”

So intent on watching for the tell-tale noses, we watched, unafraid, as the dark shapes continued their swim past us and down the shoreline – toward a somewhat romantic couple, oblivious of anything but each other.

“Should we warn them?” I asked, clearly too late to play the Good Samaritan.

A family on the shore had noticed the shapes too.

“Sharks!” called the two young boys.

No blood bath followed, the oblivious couple remained so, and we never determined what the creatures were.

The next day, we entered the water again – me slowly, despite my husband’s “one, two, three, dive” edict. I had exercised but still wasn’t preheated enough to crave the chill, and so I stood in waist-deep water, where I could see clearly to the bottom. I watched a crab and a few fish, but mostly conversed with my husband, as I apparently shifted my feet unconsciously on the sandy bottom.

Suddenly, my foot stepped down on the smooth thickness of a stingray’s body.

“Aa-eek-yick!” I yelled (always clear and helpful with my exclamations), as I jumped and hoofed it for the shore before managing a more intelligible, “Stingray!”

Even without X-ray vision, my husband saw the small creature flit out to sea – while he stayed put. I made it to the shore unmolested but there, in no more than ankle-deep water, held vigil for our remaining time, no matter the level of protest from my husband.

“If I get stung, you’ll come and save me, right?” called my husband, as he swam about undaunted.

“No.”

“But who will save me from the denizens of the deep? I need your X-ray vision.”

As if.

Eventually, he joined me on the shore, and we walked toward the pool area.

“Oooh. I hope the stingray didn’t make it to the pool,” he teased.

I knew I was being silly. I had lived in Florida since I was six, shuffling my feet through the warm summer waters, without ever once getting stung.

But I’d never actually felt one with my shuffling feet, either.

And one stingray this chicken did make.

Later that afternoon…

My husband, ever the problem solver, wanted a snorkel and mask to better appreciate the denizens of the deep, and he suggested we purchase a raft of sorts so I could soar above the stingrays instead of shuffling. We did.

The next morning…

I had my husband snap a photo of me with my new float, and then we headed toward the shore. As we arrived, a man and his wife approached us and told us the water was littered with stingrays.

“There’s a whole bunch of them,” the man said. “I stepped on one and felt it flutter against my foot.”

“Were you shuffling?” my husband asked.

“Well, if I wasn’t, I certainly started shuffling,” answered the man. “But that didn’t seem to make them move. Trust me.”

I did, and so I waded knee-deep in the water, content to allow my husband full use of the float while he enjoyed the underwater scenery with his mask and snorkel. I waded, that is, until I saw a stingray swim nearby, and then I hustled, shuffling, from the water. I congregated on the shore with other beachgoers, as they told their stingray sagas.

Eventually, my husband returned with stories of all he’d seen – no stingrays, of course – and he persuaded me to follow in his footsteps. I shuffled behind him, clinging to his suit, until we got about waist deep, when I happened to look to our left and saw not one but three stingrays camouflaged beneath the sand, their pink tails alone giving them away. I quickly shuffled back to the shore, certain that was the end of my swimming adventures for this trip.

My husband, however, ventured forth again, wearing his slides on his feet, contemplating yet another solution for this chicken who is his wife.

When we finally returned to the pool, my husband told me of the next plan. He would wear the slides, shuffling a path, then toss the slides to me, so I could shuffle after him. Then when we were deep enough, I could use the float, keeping me above the stingrays. His reasoning was that I would feel more comfortable shuffling away stingrays if I were wearing shoes…

Sigh. I thought I had X-ray vision, but I did not see this coming.

We are returning to the water for an afternoon swim soon. Yay, me.

Hurry up and stop…

The graduating class of 2014 as we neared the end of the ceremony. (Photo by Bill Thompson.)

The graduating class of 2014 as we neared the end of the ceremony. (Photo by Bill Thompson.)

I have issues with braking. Back in the early days of our marriage, as I would — rapidly — approach a red traffic light, my facetious husband would say, “Hurry up and stop.” When, in fact, he wished I would slow down and stop.

Meanwhile, I was trying to obey the speed limit sign AND the traffic signal. (I am a model citizen, after all.) Plus I didn’t want anyone to get in front of me before I reached the intersection. Apparently, this leads to brakes that wear out prematurely. Who knew? (I think I have mended my ways — or else my husband has stopped trying to reform me.)

It has been years since I’ve heard that sentence emitted, but it has been on my mind as high school graduation weekend came and went. My work life — especially my role as 12th grade English teacher and administrator with graduation duties – combined with my personal life — most significantly as the mother of a graduating senior — has been a bit hectic.

As the 12th grade English teacher, I am used to assigning students their speeches — a last will and testament, a thank-you speech, and a graduation speech on “What does my school mean to me?” All seniors actually go on stage to state their last will and testament and to thank those who have helped them make it to this point in life. Only a select few — this year, four students — say their speeches at graduation; the remainder’s speeches appear, shortened, in the program at the ceremony.

This year, the job of shortening (and editing) those speeches and the program fell to me, as did writing the lengthy narratives of student accomplishments read as each student receives his or her diploma. It took me days to get those completed to what I hope was perfection — all while doing my “regular” teaching and administrative jobs. The school year was winding down; regular classes had ceased and I only had finals to administer. But instead of activity winding down, everything went into high gear… graduation ceremony preparation, grade conclusions, house and food preparations for graduation guests and graduation parties. Plan, rush, work, stress, fret, perform, host. Hurry.

Because I had to remain in high gear (and didn’t want to cry while announcing student achievements as each graduated), I focused on the job at hand — putting out one fire at a time, as my dear friend Leigh always said — and tried to squelch the thoughts and the emotions that would follow.

For this wasn’t just any senior class. This was my son’s class. My youngest son’s class. For 11 years, he had attended this one school. We knew some of his friends since the moment of his birth. These were the athletes I had cheered on the playing fields and courts from second grade onward. These were the Algebra students — the worst class ever — that made me want to quit teaching before they got to my junior and senior English classroom. These were the students I stayed to teach English despite that rotten eighth grade year in math. They had matured — well, mostly — and we had managed another two years together. I had led each through his or her Capstone Project just months ago.  These were actresses and actors who had brought to life Disney’s  Beauty and the Beast  and  Fiddler on the Roof  and  Jane Eyre  and A Christmas Carol.  These were the children — my son’s friends — who had become young men and women before my very eyes. The ones who would leave the school — who would leave me — and head all over the United States in pursuit of higher education.

And these were the students whose parents had become my friends. The ones with whom I sat at sporting events and school assemblies and banquets and plays and church. The ones who loved my child as much as their own; the ones whose children I likewise loved. We had carpooled and fed and clothed and vacationed and even provided toothbrushes for each other’s children. We had traded advice and complaints and discipline techniques and recipes. We had shared in joy and pain, in laughter and tears. And we had done much of this, most of this while centered on our children’s activities.

Which were ending.

I hurried through the graduation preparations, the graduation festivities, the final cleanup of the enormous party eight of us parents had thrown in celebration of these eight boys, our sons.

Hurry up and stop.

For suddenly, I recognized that I have barreled down my son’s high school road at break-neck speed to get to the end. Only to suddenly stop. And wish I had learned the lesson my husband had tried to teach me so long ago.

Slow down.

Streamlined and frantic free…

515 am alarm clock distortedMy eyes popped open at the sound of my husband’s alarm.

5:15 a.m.

What?

Panicked, I looked at my own clock. What had happened to my 4:30 a.m. alarm?

“Not on Aqua Zumba day!” I whined. Loudly.

Had it been any other workout day, I merely would have conceded my inability to work out. But I go to bed on Aqua Zumba Eve excited for my alarm. I simply love this pre-work, water workout. I did not want to miss…

And so I streamlined my morning routine — and managed to get the essentials done in 30 minutes instead of the hour and 15 minutes the tasks usually absorb. I didn’t think it possible, but I was able to leave just a few minutes later than usual; I figured I might be just a minute late for class.

I pulled out of my driveway and saw Charlie waiting at the end of his.

Groan. But did I roll down my window and yell “Sorry, Charlie!” while barreling down the road toward the health club? Did I pretend I didn’t see him and drive past him?

No. I rolled down my window and stopped.

“You’re late!” he said, cheerfully. “I can set my watch by you — and I knew something was up when I didn’t see the lights come on at your usual time. You are running late.”

I agreed. Smiled. Chatted and laughed with him — and enjoyed the time; then I drove down the road at a conservative speed. I now was going to be an additional 30 seconds late to Aqua Zumba — but I would get there, and I was OK. I had streamlined my morning routine and found myself frantic free.

However, as I went through the day — noticing how long my tasks were taking and the load of them I still had before me — the pressure began building, and I started stressing. I ruminated on all I needed to get done by Friday’s graduation and knew I would have to work days and evenings. In addition to being on the school administration with tasks leading to the high school graduation ceremony, I had my own son’s graduation celebrations and home to prepare for our guests. How could I possibly get everything done?

By the time my husband and I went to bed, I was wound tightly.

“I’m so stressed!” I confessed.

We talked about it – my husband offering solutions like picking up dinner the nights preceding the event so I could clean rather than cook. But I still wondered how I could get it all done.

Then I reached over to set my alarm and remembered the alarm I felt when I was awakened by my husband’s clock rather than my own that morning. I then thought of my morning routine — still completed though compressed by the loss of 45 minutes. How had I done it? I had set priorities, streamlined the tasks, and felt frantic free.

And I knew that God already had answered my wondering.

The next morning in my devotions, I read some verses that confirmed it:

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).

And so it is.

 

An afghan as a symbol of regret…

My sister and I found scissors everywhere... scissors we could never find when we needed them, of course. These are a sampling, with a backdrop of the afghan I saved.

As we packed my mother’s belongings, my sister and I found scissors everywhere… scissors we could never find when we needed them, of course. These are a sampling with which we awkwardly spelled out “MOM,” with a backdrop of the afghan I saved.

My husband noticed something was wrong.

At first I hesitated. Then I told him, “No, it’s stupid.”

“I can tell something is wrong, what is it?”

“You’re going to think this is stupid. Actually, it is  stupid. Ridiculous… [long pause]

“… Last night, I dreamed of an afghan.”

Lest he think I meant an Afghan rather than the knitted blanket I envisioned, I hurriedly clarified:

“I have been thinking of the afghan I didn’t take from my mother’s house — and wishing I had. Last night, I dreamed that I got the afghan back; this morning, I awoke and found I hadn’t… It’s stupid. It’s just a thing. “

At that, I promptly burst into tears.

Back in November, when we’d cleaned out my mother’s house to prepare it for rental (to produce income for her stay at a memory care facility), I’d taken very little. Some photos and other memorabilia, some articles my mom had written, a few practical items — dishes and the like — and one of the two wool afghans my grandmother had knitted but were unraveling.

Not really wanting two unraveling, useless afghans merely for memory’s sake, I took my favorite — and left the other.

Days after my visit, spent boxing up my mom’s memorabilia and other possessions to distribute among my siblings, a housekeeper came in and sent the rest of my mother’s belongings — including the second wool afghan — to a charity to be sold. She cleaned the house and prepared it for rental; in January, a family moved in. My mother — memory impaired and unaware despite being told of the house being rented multiple times — still invites me to stay every time I visit her. She lives in a single room in a beautiful memory care facility — her home away from home, she believes, as she ministers to others while her own mental health improves.

It isn’t and won’t. For the past two months, every time I call my mother, she tells me about the “conspiracy” taking place in her facility. The first time she discussed this with me, she sounded so serious and distressed that I called the facility and contacted my siblings to make sure everything was OK. (I am her only child not living in her immediate vicinity.) The facility attributed Mom’s fallacy to the full moon present at the time; she was sitting in her walker near the main door of the facility trying to make her escape. My siblings said that all was normal and well.

The other times my mother has mentioned the “conspiracy,” she has discussed it jovially, with delight. I have ceased to be concerned, though it is disconcerting, and attribute this current perseveration to her illness.

My mother has Alzheimer’s disease. While she has lived a full and productive life, at 82 she suffers from a hip that causes such pain it should be replaced. My siblings and I have decided, after learning that 90 percent of Alzheimer’s patients who undergo surgery never recover completely from the anesthesia, that my mom will have to live with the pain.  Recently, the facility requested Depends, wipes, and gloves for Mom’s care. She has become incontinent and has thrown away most of her underwear.

Certainly, she is on my mind — along with the now-gone afghan.

It wasn’t until I had my favorite afghan in my possession that I learned my gym friend Connie would be able to repair it; she took it home on a Thursday and returned it on a Monday — perfect. I haven’t washed it; it still smells as it did when I was a child and my mother would bundle me beneath it when I was sick. It was a household item, not my personal belonging, but it provided the perfect weight and warmth needed when I had a fever to break. The two afghans together almost insured good health was just a few hours away; they certainly indicated my mother’s love for me — and her mother’s love for her, as my nana was the one who knitted them.

Before my mother’s mental condition deteriorated to the point that she needed 24-hour care, she remained in her home. I cannot count the number of times she asked me and my siblings to come to the house and “claim” what we wanted of her belongings. We came and put Post-It notes on a few items — the grandfather clock, the rocking chair, the ugly frog doorstop, the Santa Claus who resided on the toilet tank at Christmas, the spice cabinet — but most of the items remained unclaimed.

Maybe we undervalued her belongings. Maybe we thought it disrespectful to flock over “things.” Maybe we didn’t want to admit the severity of her illness. Maybe we didn’t recognize how important it was to her that we did this. The last “maybe” is what I regret most. I didn’t take Mom’s requests seriously — for whatever reason. I didn’t do the simple thing she asked; I didn’t recognize the importance for her  in sharing her beloved possessions, in having closure before she left her home for the last time. I certainly hadn’t foreseen the value I’d find in some old afghans.

I have been regretting the loss of the second afghan since Connie repaired the first and returned it to me. It is spread over my bed and seems so beautiful to me; I breathe in its unique scent and remember my mom as she was in her prime… which lasted until just a few years ago, actually. Mom as my nurse, my hero, my spiritual leader, my best friend, my confidante, my adviser, my cheerleader.

When I call her, she no longer asks about my life. If I mention any of my children, she passes over the comments without interest — not because she is rude but because she no longer remembers. She still remembers me and seems delighted with my calls, but it is getting harder to make them. She fumbles about, trying to find the right words. She rambles on, thinking she is making sense when she isn’t. She thanks me for updating her on my family’s life when all I’ve done is listen. She doesn’t remember that I’ve called, and so every call is a huge delight that I am finally calling. In fact, I’m not sure calling benefits her at all. It doesn’t seem to benefit me; in fact, it hurts, as much as I try not to make a simple phone call about me.

I don’t know how much time my mother has left here. When I consider her pain — and her mental state now coupled with the indignity of incontinence — I hope it isn’t long for her sake. For my own, I wish she could live forever — healthy and whole.

The latest news — of Mom’s incontinence — makes me think I won’t be able to take her away from the facility for lunches or shopping or any other delights. (I am probably overreacting.) It seems my mom’s world gets smaller and smaller — and my world seems bleaker for her losses. For my loss of her.

I find myself clinging to my memories and those few cherished belongings, including the afghans — both the one I have and the one I don’t. They both tell a story; one reminds me of my mother in better times; the other reminds me of my regret — which challenges me to live better.

Both are a blessing.

 

Now I lay me down to sleep…

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My feet, beautifully ensconced in socks and Crocs after a day of dressy sandals at work, happy despite the mysterious heat sensation.

Fear is a terrible thing.

Last night, as we laid down to sleep, I told my husband that the top of my toes were burning.

“Really?” asked the physical therapist and the knower of all things health-related. “That is a classic sign of neuropathy. Most typically something diabetics suffer.”

“I usually joke with my patients,” he continued, almost joyfully. “‘So your piggies went to market,’ I say to them when I’m evaluating them and notice some toes have been amputated. They usually laugh and think it’s funny.”

I didn’t. It was late, for me, 10 p.m. And now, instead of getting to think I had a little athlete’s foot fungus causing a bit of anguish, I had visions of my toes being amputated due to… I wasn’t sure, although I didn’t think it was diabetes.

“Thanks,” I said. “Now I won’t be able to sleep.”

“You should go online and do a search for ‘feet burning’ + ‘night’,” he suggested amiably.

Of course, this is the man who gleefully preempts BBC’s Doc Martin’s diagnoses and has counted how many “Call the Midwife” dilemmas he has pre-diagnosed as we watch.

Yea, me.

Especially since I awakened this morning with my feet still burning and find the sensation traveling to my lower legs and arms as I type this after work.

I’m thinking this could be a figment of my imagination. A psychosomatic disorder driven by fear. Or stress. I thought this has only gone on since an actual bout of athlete’s foot (attributed to the health club showers or my failure to towel dry between my toes) several weeks ago, but then I began to think of my sensitivity to cold and my preference to wear long sleeves — even in spring — and then thought maybe, oh, maybe, this has been going on much longer, and it has been an ongoing illness that I have simply not observed.

My late-night online searches — because, of course, I didn’t sleep last night — indicated the possibility that I could be Vitamin B-12 deficient, which could be a result of a digestive disorder, which claimed my father’s life early at 76, which could mean that I have some issues and should perhaps stop eating sugar and wheat and all things unhealthy…

And my student brought me a decadent piece of chocolate cake large enough to feed my entire family this morning. Sugar and wheat.

But God saved me from a certain car crash just Monday morning, when that early-morning driver totally ran a red light and pulled directly into my path, which should have meant certain death or at least tragic impairment, but I am alive and well and, well, now suffering from some bizarre illness.

So surely God has a good plan for my life? I mean, one that I also think will be good?

Whew.

I worry. I fret. I feel growing areas of numbness and burning sensations. And I worry. I fret.

And then I think of my sister’s philosophy for health, “It will either get better or it will get worse.”

Meaning, I either have nothing to worry about or I will have something to worry about — and I might as well wait until later.

Comforting, but logic is not enough. What I need is God’s diagnosis or His advice. Which means I better get into the Word. Meaning, God’s Word, not my husband’s diagnosis or my sister’s advice. And what I find is this:

You will keep him in perfect peace,
Whose mind is stayed on You,
Because he trusts in You (Isaiah 26:3).

Ah. So my husband may be right. So might my sister.  Regardless, I need to focus on God, who loves me more than I love myself. Who I can trust more than my husband, my sister, or my fears. Or, for that matter, a doctor and his diagnosis.

Which doesn’t mean I shouldn’t avoid sugar or wheat — or the luscious chocolate cake my student happened to bring me today — but I should do so without fear. Because whether this life is temporary in my eyes — or temporary in God’s eyes — there is more.

So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal (2 Corinthians 4:18).

Amen and amen.