Facebook statuses I didn’t post…

facebook statuseseditedWhen I went to the refrigerator for my morning short cup of prune juice, I found none. Bummer. Significant bummer. So after work, after my yoga class, dressed in workout clothes, high-heeled sandals (because an alternate pair of shoes had been unnecessary for yoga), and my sunglasses, I entered the grocery store. Picked up two of the largest size prune juice bottles I could find and made my way to express checkout.

I found I was as embarrassed as I would have been purchasing a package of feminine products — when that was the only thing I was purchasing.

Age matters.

I still would be embarrassed to buy only a package of pads or tampons — which practically screams “I need this now!” — but at that moment I realized purchasing prune juice is equally loud. So I tried to create a story as to why I was purchasing so much. Such as:

“It’s the secret ingredient in my roasted tomato bisque. Some people use plum tomatoes; I use prune juice and tomatoes.”

As it turns out, neither the cashier nor the bagger asked the question, but a friend of my son’s, who is in management at the store, rushed over, bearing a huge grin, and, startled, eyed my purchase.

“What…” he started, but I cut him off.

“We’ve decided to drink prune juice instead of wine,” I told him spontaneously, tomato soup recipe story forgotten. “And we drink a lot.”

We laughed, I exited the store, drove home, entered my house, shot a photo of the prune juice — and then thought a photo of myself in my incongruous attire holding the two bottles would have been more effective. I thought it would make a funny status for Facebook, and then neither took the alternate photo nor posted to Facebook.

As usual.

A half hour later, when my husband returned from work, he scolded me, wanting to know why I hadn’t replied to any of his text messages. This was a repeat of the previous day, when I had not only responded in text to an original message but also phoned and left a message when he shot me an irritated text asking why I hadn’t replied to the first text.

I showed him the conversation on my phone — his texts, my texts.

He showed me his phone — his texts.

So I took his phone, accessed the menu, and saw the item “unmark this contact as spam.”

“Ha! You marked me as spam — again!” I said. (My email almost never reaches my husband’s email box because he “inadvertently” labels my mailings as spam. He also isn’t my friend on Facebook and he doesn’t follow my blog. I think this should be telling me something.)

I thought those tidbits might make a good Facebook status. But did I? No.

One (humid) morning when I finished a run with a couple of friends at the health club, I told them, “When I have to peel my socks off my feet because they’re too sweaty to remove otherwise, I know I’ve had a good workout. That’s my new standard.”

I’m glad I didn’t post that self-congratulatory comment on Facebook, because when I enlightened my husband as to my new standard, he said, “Sweat doesn’t mean anything in this humidity.”

Sigh.

I don’t think he meant to offend, really; he was just telling me the facts. This time of year I can sit outside (or inside my house, actually) and drink a cup of coffee for a good sock-peeling sweat. (But I still think my fitness attempts are hard work.)

Another day, I embarrassed myself by sending an email to an address I thought was one of my interns, but it was an attorney in another city who just happened to have the identical name — and not one that is overly common. It was embarrassing — not because it was unlikely — but because I said this:

“I don’t seem to have your certificate of completion for the Sexual Harassment training course required by the university…” and etc.

To which my non-intern replied:

“Hello Sara. Sorry but you must have the wrong xxxxxxxx. I no longer attend xxxxxxx and am an attorney in xxxxxxxx. Sorry for the mixup and let me know if you have any more questions.”

That was embarrassing enough, but then I attempted another email “Re: Sexual harassment training” to this same intern, using a different email address, and got the attorney again. Thankfully, he had a sense of humor:

Email 2

Of course, since I was now deeply involved, I responded:

Email 3

His response:

Email 3

Thankfully, that was all. I thought about offering the exchange as a Facebook status, but, again, it didn’t happen, maybe because I moved on to bigger and better things (and I was at work, of course).

My next escapade at work was equally embarrassing. I followed the Standard of Operational Procedures manual to the letter — and subsequently printed nearly 200 pages of information from my computer that I didn’t need… only to jam the copy machine… which I didn’t know until the secretary kept trying to cancel the file that persisted in printing every time she unjammed the machine and jammed it again… which I only knew because I heard her wandering the hall way asking at each office, “Did you send something to the printer?” in order to get someone to cancel the print job from the computer.

The question to which everyone else on staff answered “No,” while I grew redder and redder in the face, realizing it must be me.

I leaped out of my office, admitted my sin, and probably looked so absolutely panicked and embarrassed that I found grace in the eyes of the secretary. Thankfully, the SOP and the print dialogue on my computer were labeled at fault rather than me. Whew.

That didn’t make it to Facebook either.

I’m not quite sure why I so rarely post to my Facebook page — maybe it is the same reason I rarely shoot photos at real-life events. I am too busy living the moment to take the time to record it. Maybe I want to make my status posts “fluffy” or “pink” (i.e. give the full report vs. just the headline) — as someone once (or numerous times) said of my conversations. Or maybe it’s because I do have a sense of self-preservation and prefer to keep personal embarrassments personal.

Until now, of course, as I expose these personal life episodes in my blog post — the link to which I will post on Facebook.

By the way, this morning I sweated as I drank my coffee, as I tapped on my keyboard, and as I ran. I sweated so much I had to peel off my socks. In fact, I worked so hard that when I stopped running for a cool-down walk, I actually felt chilled and got goosebumps on my arms.

Ha! Now that’s a standard for measuring the intensity of a workout: “I sweated so much I got cold.”

Or not. It’s probably just humidity. :)

 

 

Confessions of a former school teacher…

At the traffic light, we went our separate ways...

At the traffic light, we went our separate ways…

Driving to work today — the first day of school — I saw the school maintenance man and his son, a high school senior, wheeling their way to the campus. Ken and Matthew didn’t see me, but I was acutely aware of their car, having seen it day in and day out for years, usually traveling the same roads to the same destination. At the traffic light, their little brown Honda turned left; I went straight, heading miles away from the sweet school that has played such a role in my life as a teacher.

School is starting without me. I am a teacher no more. Today’s encounter was a poignant reminder that I am not returning to the classroom,  that school is going on without me, that “my” students now belong to another teacher, that I am no longer an integral part of daily life at Cornerstone Academy. But like our cars on the road, the feeling quickly passed, noticed only by me.

Let me be honest. I am glad I am not returning to the classroom.

This summer, summer break was summer break, not an extensive planning period for the upcoming school year. When I cleaned my classroom and left it for the last time, I didn’t cart home books so I could plan afresh all summer. I didn’t go through the usual cycle of relief, regret, and resolve, the theme of previous summers. For years, my summer would begin with relief that the year was completed. I could clean house, weed, blog, regroup to my heart’s content. Then I would reflect on the school year just completed and begin the regret phase. Instead of focusing on the successes, I would peer intently at the hopes that didn’t become reality. I would experience regret that I hadn’t accomplished all I hoped — instilling in my students a love of reading and writing and seeking truth, and, more important, a passion to protect reading and writing and the pursuit of truth because of what it means in our Christian lives. And then I would resolve — to do things differently, to find that magical secret or system or sequence that would make those high hopes reality.

There is something idealistic about preparing lesson plans in the absence of students. On paper, on my computer, on my course website, I planned a great curriculum woven with creativity and skillful classroom management — the best of all possible classrooms. And then the students would arrive.  As Robert Burns said in his poem “To a Mouse,” “The best laid plans of mice and men/Often go awry.”

I could teach the exact same material to three different periods, and someone sitting in all three classes would barely notice. You know the saying, “It’s not what you say, it’s what people hear”? Teaching is very much like that, too. I could start each class the same way, but one class would take off on an intellectual rampage, most having read the assigned work, gotten excited and deeply thought about some aspect of it. Another class would apply the reading in a deeply spiritual way; fewer students read or cared about reading, but the details that emerged were enough to spark an incredible conversation. Yet another class’s discussion would focus on still different elements of the reading. Some of my best laid lesson plans went awry; some of my weakest lessons became the best days in the classroom. Teaching was less about what I taught and more about what my students took from it. That is harder to plan.

After a particularly difficult day of parent-teacher conferences early in my teaching career, one of my fellow teachers told me, “You know, this would be a great job if it weren’t for the students and their parents.”

Though his statement was sometimes true, it rather defeated the purpose…

And so I taught for 15 years. It was an all-consuming adventure, arresting my waking thoughts and pervading my dreams. Teaching wasn’t a job; it was my life (in addition to raising five children … and a husband, keeping house, and sometimes going to school myself). I didn’t think I could ever do anything more significant than teaching (except write a book that would change the world, still my goal).

Yet, when I was done this past May, I knew I was done teaching. I had no idea what I would be doing — except looking for another job — but as Sipsey said of Ruth in “Fried Green Tomatoes,” “a lady always knows when to leave.” (Thankfully, I was just leaving teaching, not life.) So I wrote my letter of resignation, helped hire and train my replacements, and gently, tearfully closed the door. It was an act of faith, for I both loved teaching and loved my colleagues, my students, and their parents. (Our school was special like that.) A few weeks into summer, I accepted a job offer and have been working, happily, ever since.

But several of my friends who are former teachers or school librarians warned me that when August rolls around, former teachers always have that sense that they are missing something.

It’s now August, and I am. I will miss teaching my homebase students their senior year; I have had them since ninth grade. I will miss seeing them rule the school as the reigning class of seniors, miss hearing of their plans for college, miss helping them reach their goals. I definitely will miss my dearly loved colleagues, among them:

  • Diana, the Ethel to my Lucy or the Lucy to my Ethel, depending on the day. A fellow administrator for the first time last year, she kept my sarcasm sharp and my heart soft — and, too often, did “share a Coke with Sara.”
  • Doug, the self-proclaimed “grandfather in chief” who not only was the tenderhearted head of school but also the master of it. Headmaster, in fact, a title well-deserved.
  • Beryl, the sunshine of our front office, always serving with a smile. A true gem.
  • Ken, of course, whose car sighting triggered this post. He is the maintenance man who approached every mess, every muddy footstep on his newly washed floor with a smile and the comment, “It’s job security” (and saw fit to buy me a sign to declare my classroom a “No Whining” zone).
  • Stephanie, the athletic director who was always “All in!” with her ever-working sidekick, Michelle.
  • Judy, who saw God’s hand in every moment and never failed to give Him glory.
  • Dana, the only one I’ve ever known who could be proud of a nickname that included her weight.
  • Erin, overflowing with song and the gift of encouragement.
  • And so many more…

Certainly, I will miss all the fodder for my blog that teaching provided. (You might have noticed the orange links throughout this post, just a sampling of writing inspired by my teaching career…)

If I weren’t in a new job position with a clear sense that God has placed me here, that poignancy I felt when I saw Ken and Matthew’s car heading to school while I headed a different way would not be a fleeting feeling. But I know that God has led me to this moment and this place, and I truly am glad.

 

 

Love makes the worship go ’round…

2 Chronicles 5Once was a time when I attended church for the singing. As I matured, I learned to love the sermons as much as the singing, but a few weeks ago, I realized that I now to go church despite the music. I had attended our church’s “Old Fogey” service (i.e. hymns and old praise music vs. the more contemporary songs) despite my young years and fell in love with the depth of the lyrics. Several months ago, the hymn service, poorly attended, was canceled. I had to attend the services with what some jokingly referred to as the 7-11 songs — 7 lines repeated 11 times.

“They simply aren’t deep,” I thought. “They don’t focus on all the attributes of God and Jesus — mostly just love with a little creation, forgiveness, and salvation thrown in.”

The music seemed to focus on different ways to express God’s love for us and seemed rather repetitive. “I Could Sing of Your Love Forever” was not just a song, it was the theme for every service… Singing of God’s love forever and ever and ever… To that apparent lack of depth I added more complaints: The lead singer sang so high I had to either sing like a nightingale or drop an octave and sing like a man; I didn’t have an ear to harmonize. So I considered solutions — such as arriving late each Sunday to purposely miss the singing. It didn’t seem to be a good choice.

In the midst of my discontent, I considered that songs aren’t the only form of worship, and as I rethought worship, I realized that my purest form of worship hadn’t necessarily ever been associated with singing at church, as much as I have often loved it. I worship God when I open my heart to Him — whether I am seeking Him in desperation, joying in an acute awareness of His presence, awing over how well He knows me, reflecting on His incredible goodness, laughing at His sense of humor, seeing Him in His amazing creation, glorifying Him intentionally or by simply attempting to do what He has called me to do and be.  It is when I give Him my all, when I acknowledge that He is my all, when I allow Him to speak through me, to use me, to guide my thoughts and my behaviors — and my writings. Often my blog posts are a product of this personal worship, evidence to me that worship is so much more than a song.

So with this conviction, I entertained being content with my discontent. I felt my worship was rich, after all, even when not set to music.

I have been reading through the One Year Bible, which allots specific chapters and verses from the Old and New Testaments and Psalms and Proverbs for each day of the year. So far, the bulk of my Old Testament reading these summer months has covered the good king/bad king stories in 1 and 2 Kings and, seemingly repeated, in 1 and 2 Chronicles. Like my feelings about the singing at church, I was somewhat discontent with the assigned readings — the kings’ names were (somewhat) changed but the stories were the same. Good kings = blessings. Bad kings = curses. I felt tormented by having to read about the same good kings/bad kings as I disciplined my way through Chronicles.

But as I made my way through — on occasion — I ran into passages like this one from 2 Chronicles 5:13-14:

13 The trumpeters and musicians joined in unison to give praise and thanks to the Lord. Accompanied by trumpets, cymbals and other instruments, the singers raised their voices in praise to the Lord and sang:

“He is good;
    his love endures forever.”

Then the temple of the Lord was filled with the cloud, 14 and the priests could not perform their service because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord filled the temple of God.

And the lyrics to their song, “He is good; his love endures forever,” which so filled the temple with God’s presence that no one could do anything but worship, made me laugh at my summer’s discontent over the “7-11″ songs I had mocked as lacking depth. These seven words — I see no record of any other worship songs at this particular service — filled the temple with the glory of God, a cloud.

This week, when I finally emerged from Chronicles and began reading Ezra, I discovered another such incident of praise and worship:

11 With praise and thanksgiving they sang to the Lord:

“He is good;
    his love toward Israel endures forever.”

And all the people gave a great shout of praise to the Lord, because the foundation of the house of the Lord was laid (Ezra 3:11).

Ezra led the people in rebuilding the temple of God that had been destroyed in earlier years after the sequence of good kings/bad kings and the consequences that followed. Just laying the foundation of the temple brought them great joy, and they remembered to give thanks to God because His love toward them endures forever.

Singing about God’s love is not shallow. The word love itself leads to great thought about the attributes of God and the purpose of our own existence. Love is what the Gospel story is all about — God loving the world enough to send His Son to save all those who believe in Him (John 3:16). Love is supposed to define us as Christians — because if we know God we must love, for God Himself is love (1 John 4:7-8). Love summarizes the Ten Commandments:

36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’ (Matthew 22:36-37).

The funny thing? When I went to church last week and we sang about love, it brought me to true worship. I shed some tears but mostly bore a smile as I tried to sing because I knew I’d been gently schooled by God — not just to participate in the singing at church, not just that worship is so much more than a song, but that worship is just loving God and acknowledging His love for me. And that thought alone — His love — whether summarized in seven words or seven lines or even no words at all is enough to bow my haughty heart in worship.

My hate-love relationship…

running shoes and watchI hate running — but I love it after I’ve completed the workout for the day. Unfortunately, that hate-love relationship can also describe my relationship with my husband.

This past week — on my vacation, mind you — I enjoyed running on the beach. In a hate-love sort of way. I may have mentioned I hate running? But I do love it after I’m done — and that loving feeling seems to last long enough for me to start a run again the next day. And then the hate begins anew. But it was vacation, and my other fitness options (i.e. my health club group exercise classes) weren’t available. However, my personal trainer (i.e. my husband) was. Running with him appeared a viable option.

I would describe my relationship with my husband as more of a loved-love-love-hate-love relationship. I loved him enough to marry him. I love him enough to stay married to him. I love the idea of having a physical therapist/personal trainer for my husband. I just hate having to do what he says (i.e. run, Sara, run). I love him again after the exercise is a thing of the past.

(Did I mention I actually lost weight over this vacation?)

But let me focus on the hate-love relationship with running/ my husband. It is hard to separate the two.

Do you know how parents will urge a child just learning to swim to “swim to me,” as they designate a minuscule distance in the pool? And then when the child commits to that distance, the parent keeps backing farther and farther away?

That is my husband’s method for personal training.

The first day of running wasn’t so bad. Since both my husband and I were beginning a running routine, we determined we would do a run-walk, running for two minutes, walking for one. Not just once, mind you. Not just three times, Sara.   (I may have whined after three.) Eight times. We started off with clouds and lightning in the distance, and we weren’t fast enough to keep them in the distance. (But the storm definitely gave me a reason to run back, and it made the run much cooler.)

The next day, we started our run-walk shortly after 9 a.m., and the sun was already too high and hot for my pale self. I applied sunscreen — which then dripped into my eyes, forcing me to run with my eyes closed. It was misery. We had extended our distance, and my husband extended the final run-walk rotation to a three-minute run. I hated him. I hated the run. I hated how far away from the condo we were. I bent my shoulders to let my sweat splash the sand rather than my eyes — to help myself endure the run — and then got scolded for poor posture. Sigh.

The following morning, that hated man decided to ride his bike instead of run, and so I set off shortly after 7 a.m. solo, enjoying the shadows of the buildings and the relative cool of the morning. I had no watch and, thus, ran on my feelings. I set distance goals for running and walking and hated no one but myself for my misery. It was a good day.

But my husband, the P.T. (physical therapist? personal trainer? personal terrorist?) ran the rest of the vacation days with me. (Yea, me.) He wore the watch and held me captive.

“Should we shorten our walks to 45 seconds instead of one minute?” he asked.

“O… K…,” I panted.

We had started early and were running on the flat part of the beach, nearer the buildings and their shadows than the waves and their treacherous, obstacle-course-like runnels.

After we’d managed a couple run-walk rotations with the abbreviated walk cycles, my husband suggested we lengthen the runs to 2 minutes and 15 seconds.

“What… e… ver…,” I breathed.

By this time, I spent my running time getting farther and farther behind his footsteps, looking ahead to see him glance at his watch, anticipating the upcoming more restful walk, to stop as soon as I saw him stop. He spent half of his walks walking back to me and then walking with me for a few feet before saying, “Five, four, three, two, one” and leaping back into the running mode.

I remained speechless (gulping air) during our walks, but I, too, jumped into running mode at his signal, ever obedient.

After nine runs, I figured I’d already accomplished more than I had the other days and felt it. I was spent. Done. Sore. Tired. But during our “last” walk, my husband said to me, “That last run was 3 minutes.”

I suspected as much. He was the proverbial parent in the pool, extending the running time beyond what I had expected. But did he stop? No. He began another run and then ran on and on and on; I ran only until I reached our cooler of water and revolted. Enough. More than enough. I grabbed an ice water and walked. Who knew how many minutes this crazy man was tacking on to this run?

“That was good,” my dear husband said, when he joined me after grabbing a bottle of water from the cooler. “Four minutes. You know, you don’t have to do everything I do. You’ve got to listen to your body.”

Fine time to tell me that.

The last day at the beach, as we started off, my husband suggested we cut our walks down to 30 seconds and boost our runs to 3 minutes. I suspected from the onset that the walking rests were getting shorter and the runs longer. His walks were turned back to me, as I trailed further and further behind, but he rarely made it all the way back before the next run began. He walked and talked, offering advice or commenting on the run before announcing the dreaded “Five, four, three, two, one…” and resuming the run; I just tried to catch my breath during those short walking breaks. We ran, again and again.I suspected the runs were getting longer, but I focused on my breathing pattern and putting one foot in front of the other and finishing, eventually. I hated running. And my personal trainer. But still I kept running.

And then we were done, cooling off with ice and water and a slow walk, and, finally, a swim in the Gulf of Mexico. I could see rain in the far distance, not threatening us, gray on one side and misty white on the other. I rejoiced as a large rainbow appeared, cutting the gray rain from the white mist. A second rainbow arced over the first. I wished I had my camera with me but could only capture the image in my mind as I lay in the water, feeling the refreshment from the water and the personal pride from what I’d just accomplished flood over me, allowing the heat and the hate to escape from my body.

Ahh, running with my husband.

What’s not to love?

 

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.

------------------------

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

John 15:13

------------------------

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.