A pace I can absorb

When my daughter was a precocious 4 year old, she proudly announced one night: “I know all the letters of the alphabet except the ones I don’t know yet.”  That got a whooping laugh from her brothers and parents and she was more than a little confused.  We assured her that her comment was adorable and complimented her on her quick acquisition of her letters, but that stuck with us because it’s so obvious!  And cute.

I wonder how I would say that sentence, “I know all the….” but I can’t because we don’t have to get very old to realize how very little we DO know.  I could more easily say the second half: “… except the ones” and I’d add: “God hasn’t shown me yet.”

Yet, because He’s a God of kindness and forebearance, He keeps revealing little bits of Truth about Himself, showing me that even though I don’t know  much, I sure know this: He’ll keep revealing Himself at a pace I can absorb and in a language I can understand.  Most recently I’ve been amazed at how I can track His movements Chinese checkers-style to bring me to a place of contentment not previously enjoyed.  When I look at the sum so far, I know it could have easily overwhelmed me to take those steps all at one time.  But in his grace and understanding of how his daughter operates, He allowed me enough courage to take a step, then another, then another until I look back now and say, Wow!

And I must admit, I ask the same question that everyone asks: Am I loved?  In researching something recently, I came across this as the one basic question everyone asks and needs to know.  If you’re in the classroom, you see kids silently asking it all the time;  spouses ask it; friends ask it, so do your colleagues.  He knows it’s our most basic need.  Thankfully, God answers it continuously.    And he wants us to see it, feel it, believe it.  So, He’ll tell us.  For me, it’s through words.  I absorb and connect with them.  He sends them to me and surprises me with them.  I get it.

So recently, He’s answered my most basic question over and over with words and I look back and see how He’s been doing it all the time. No matter what goes on in my life, Jesus looks at me and says, “I’m crazy about you!” He just can’t stop loving us because it’s who He is and what He does.  So if there’s something I need to have revealed in my life, I can wait patiently because I know He’ll tell me at the right time.

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Something new and fresh for the teacher

When you’ve taught school for 20 years, you hear things like, “It must be so much easier now.” or, “It must be nice to have the summers off.” I think that means that there’s an assumption that I’ve a stack of files that I go to each week, pulling out what I need, knowing that it’ll work because I’ve done it dozens of times before.  Or, that summers are devoid of anything having to do with school.

I’m here to tell you – that’s not the case – for me, anyway.  With a sheepish shrug, someone just this week admitted that the reason he got out of teaching was because he was bored!   This man is creative and energetic and apparently, always up for something new.  But it was so refreshing to me because I’ve had the boredom demon nipping at my toes, too.  Thankfully, my role with kids who are always up for something new has allowed me to blend my need to teach something new and interesting to me – in new and interesting ways.

So although it’s true that a few novels just must be taught each year, my list of 14 novels this year includes some new ones, mostly because I keep reading and discovering novels out there that hold some fresh gems to me and my kids.   Perpetually gleaning, I’m finding unique expressions of words and concepts that inspire me to teach them in a way that captures my students’ interest. This in turn turns my creativity crank, making me an enthusiastic and excited teacher.  Just last week I was reading something and my wheels started turning…’maybe this would help my kids learn characterization….”  (This is how I think.)

I used to think, ‘why am I working so hard?’  Rewriting papers, designing files, customizing work for that student who sees life just a little differently….well, it’s because I love them and I love what I do and I’m fully aware just how blessed I am to have the job.  So my summers ‘off’ will continue to be spent searching for books to grab that boy’s attention, jotting down poetry ideas and developing my own writing because with material this good surrounding me, being bored is not an option.

Word of the year: courage

I was recently asked if I had ever chosen a word for each year.  No, I haven’t…then, I thought, why haven’t I ??  I love words!!!  Well, it’s never too late to start so my word for 2013 has to be courage. That might seem an unexpected choice for someone who most people think has a lot of courage – after all, I work with teenagers.  However, this apt word fits what I need to have in more situations than I would have ever expected.  I’ve received more clarity of that as the months of 2012 clicked by so I’m more ready than ever to embrace some courage.

My first step is to be authentic, to accept my strengths and struggles as who I am.  My newest teacher is telling me that the original definition of courage was “to speak one’s mind by telling one’s heart.”  That takes guts.  That takes vulnerability.  I haven’t always done that, for a variety of reasons, because there’s risk involved in putting yourself out in the world.  But there’s more risk in hiding yourself and your gifts.  Plus, I’m quite convinced that God didn’t give me a heart for people and gifts in other areas for me to sit on them.

My second step is to keep learning about myself and accepting what I find.  Part one is the easy part; part two…not so much.  I’m finding that accepting takes courage.  To look at something that’s maybe unfavorable and saying, ‘that’s okay’.  Just because it was that way then or now, doesn’t mean it will always be that way.  I can grow and change and improve.  Being courageous means being willing to risk being vulnerable and open to a whole host of unknowns & potential disappointments but that’s okay.  I can handle it.

My third step is to encourage. (It can’t all be about me!  Yikes!)  I read a few years ago that to encourage is to fill another’s heart with courage.  Imagine their heart being empty of courage and in need of a fill.  If I have a surplus, I can pour some of mine into them.  I’m seeing that need with students and my sons who are on the verge of adulthood.  It takes courage to step into an unfamiliar world where each day holds something new and challenging.  I know they have within them all they’ll need to face it, but they don’t always know that.  Part of my job as a courage-holder is to share it.  More and more, my role is becoming just that: identifying a heart that is lacking in courage and pouring some of my confidence into them through encouraging words.  It bolsters me and makes me feel more courageous too.

So may this year be a year of filling my heart and others’ hearts with courage.  If you want to join me in this, I’d love to have you along for the ride.

The problem with patience

I’ve never been one for goal-setting and resolutions.  I think they can be fun and certainly interesting, but for staying power, I can’t say they’ve ever given me much motivation.  But I’ve learned about myself that I often need to have an experience, then work backward from there to reach understanding.  Am I alone in this?

One of the problems with patience is that virtually every reference to patience involves encouraging us to be patient with others. Makes sense –  most people can’t get through one day without needing to conjure patience for some person or situation.  Personally, some days it feels like a losing battle.  Until one day someone said something to me that just clicked.  After a heart-felt conversation, as I was walking out the door, she said so kindly, “Be gentle with yourself.”   The earth didn’t shake but something within me was unhinged a bit.  Gentle with myself?  Now there’s a new concept!  Maybe first I need to be patient with myself.  Hhhmmmm.  That has had some staying power!

St. Augustine said that patience is the companion of wisdom.  So in my search for wisdom – about myself, others, what God is teaching me about both – I need to begin with patience with myself and being gentle with myself if the pace frustrates me or if I lack progress.  I have so much to learn yet and I feel myself tugging at the leash sometimes but lately, I’ve been falling into waiting for Him to reveal things to me at His pace.  It’s kind of exciting!

So I’ll keep watching, listening and collecting these words and experiences in my mental files of growing a better me, knowing I’m on the path of a slow unfolding of understanding.  I’d rather be on a faster track, but that’s the old me.  The new one is learning to be patient with myself and while I’m at it, hopefully much more patient with others, too.