Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Pick Up Stix

Yesterday, we had a chapel service for our students; our much-loved speaker chose the topic of "Belief in God's Love for You" is the most important thing to know in the walk of faith. I sat in the back and thought of how the message was being received by the students. I saw one student who I know struggles with acceptance of this idea; one student who could easily exchange this sentiment for what the world offers; one student who believes this with all her heart; one student who will wait for the evidence; many students who willingly accept this message because they have been lovingly taught it all their lives. Whether they will believe later is the big question.

I thought about my class a couple hours later and how we would be looking at Lord Byron's poetry. The students then are eager to talk about other ideas, how the poetry reflects their love lives (or lack thereof), and I willingly stretch their minds wide to encompass new perspectives.

I remember when I was in college at Evangel University. I was so confused and frustrated by the world in chapel and the world in the classroom. The first was typlified by devotional response, by winnowing of misbeliefs, bad values, wrong perceptions. The second, which I preferred more, was  about "All truth is God's truth no matter where it is found." They clashed terribly for me, and I had a bit of a breakdown in my second year there. One week found me crying in my room for about three days straight. I had just read Letters from the Earth by Mark Twain. I confided in no one; no counsel was given or sought. I was just simply miserable in my inability to reconcile, approach, or disavow.

The message at my high school's chapel was good, like a breath of fresh air really. But, I sat in the back and wondered about the divide, between devotional belief and cognitive acceptance. I think it's like the old game of Pick-up Stix. You try to hold onto one belief (one stick) and take care of it, without moving anything else. When you can pick up a stick successfully, you get to progress until a stick gets moved in the process and you have to sit out. I think at times, we are like that with faith; we believe we must cognitively accept at least one thing without stirring up other questions / doubts. And, yes, while we can do that for a bit,  the pile of sticks will eventually move. There is no shame in it. No reason to sit out. It's just the reality of the difficult cognitive acceptance of the devotional aspects of faith.

To that end, I simply pray that my students can 1) accept that sticks of faith do indeed move; 2) choose to know that God is love and choose to experience it.  Amen.

Monday, February 27, 2012

The Slide

The whole world slopes southwards, and as if ensledded we slide,
navigating curves, navigating blacktop tobaggans. Down
we go, and the trees perch above and then below, and the distance
turns hillsome blue. And still, we pass through, whizzing, waiting,
greeting familiar stopping places along the route: C-stores,
fast food, ice cream, french fries. Pumped full, we jump and go.

The black road turns off, over a high river creek where
we rode horses with saddlebags full of food, down
a straight stretch where we biked long and hard, in full sun
shafts, in Grandma-house pursuit. Up a big hill, we coast and slow
by an empty patch of field where once we played Bingo, by a
board-square cake walk spot, a ring toss, a duck stand, and the
stage where bluegrass music, once with my father, played.

Past, past, past, to the rock, small church called Fieldstone,
where great-grandparents, their children, dotted the pew,
down the large hill with the incredible view, down the dirt road
to the first lane on the right, through the cow, metal gate, by
the big tree, by the wet creek, by the daffodils, ancestral greet.

The ground levels, the sleigh slows, and one last incline
causes halt.

One day, this home will be a frame. One day, the light
will close. One day, they will all be gone.

Life is:
the slippery slope.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Fish Food Retract

Do you have a new name for yourself -- one that expresses who you truly are right now?

I tried to think of a new name for myself yesterday per my last poetic post. But, I flailed, and I sunk, and I gurgled, and I fed fish. I wondered if I had no sense of identity afterall, still yet in my life.

However, I went to coffee with an old friend to tell her about my conference experience and to see what could be done at our school. I'm passionate, focused, and full of conviction. She is a steady rock, a burning lamp, a respecter of torches. The exchange was comfortable and productive -- the relay baton retained but handed. Afterwards, we held hands, and she prayed for me, thanking God that I was someone who would face the ocean.

Ocean Facer.

Thanks, friend -- she who identifies what others can't see in themselves.

Phone a friend or relative. Perhaps your name will rise to the surface and make a big splash.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Real name

It was a wonderful day in the classroom again as I taught poetry in all three classes. Poetry brings about such many thoughts, so many possibilities of finally being able to express oneself. We also talked much about God and spiritual things:  the Father-construct, the all-God-presence, the old goatfooted balloonman (in Just spring), etc.

In the Writer's Cafe club meeting, I read something from the book "poemcrazy: freeing your life with words" by Susan Goldsmith Woodridge. The prompt involved this question:  What is the name that truly expresses who and where you are right now? Using these starters, one can ponder, play, and plug:

My real name is
yesterday my name was
tomorrow my name will be
in my dream my name was
my husband, mother, son, boss (etc.), thinks my name is

This is almost too daunting for me to think about. You must call forth that strength of yourself (or that weakness) and claim it as yourself. I'll try, if you try. But, I have to think much about it first . . .


"A man with leprosy came to him and begged him, on is knees, 'If you are willing, you can make me clean.' Filled with compassion, Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. 'I am willing,' he said. 'Be clean!'" Mark 1:40-41

The word willing is repeated twice in this short passage. The three words "I am willing" beautifully demonstrates the surge of hope in the stricken man and the desirous hand and heart of Jesus to approach a problem and solve it.

This morning, I read another chapter of A Work of His Grace by Grace Mutzabaugh, the missionary to Christian educators to reach out to learning disabled students. It seems as if I can't read lines like "Several parents wept with me over the struggles of their children" (146) without weeping myself. I have mightily been there with them.

For the life of me, though, I still cannot understand why it is such a struggle for Christian schools to be willing. Why do we need a missionary within our midst to make us do what the secular schools are already doing -- forced by necessity? I know about the concerns; however, concerns can be addressed. Yes, the man healed from leprosy immediately went out and did what Jesus told him not to do; there was some disobedience, some messiness. When he told others about Christ's healing, Jesus had to move to stay outside the town in "lonely places." But, the story spread; the light was not hid. Couldn't this type of educational concern spread a light rather than make Christ's goodness seem exclusive and owned? What is truly holding us back?

However, challenges exist. What seems clear to me will be an uphill walk in convincing others. Being cast out and diverted are real concerns.

But, each field has its soil with weeds and fruit -- tilling can only happen with the willing. One pathway can lead to different places of work and blossom.

I am seeking His guiding footsteps for the proper way to willingly go.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

True Intimacy

True Intimacy

"Human relationships easily become possessive. Our hearts so much desire to be loved that we are inclined to cling to the person who offers us love, affection, friendship, care, or support. Once we have seen or felt a hint of love, we want more of it. That explains why lovers so often bicker with each other. Lovers' quarrels are quarrels between people who want more of each other than they are able or willing to give.

It is very hard for love not to become possessive because our hearts look for perfect love and no human being is capable of that. Only God can offer perfect love. Therefore, the art of loving includes the art of giving one another space. When we invade one another's space and do not allow the other to be his or her own free person, we cause great suffering in our relationships. But when we give another space to move and share our gifts, true intimacy becomes possible."

- Henri J. M. Nouwen

Henri Nouwen is quite smart; I know in prior neediness, of loneliness, I have broken the good advice above. The codependency quotient kicks in, and, suddenly, a person (me) feels rejected and unfulfilled. Thankfully, God realizes our longings can be misplaced, misappropriated; our love can be misguided. I believe that He is exceptional at addressing this in us, if we listen. I have been tangled before in the above; I've been the child minus necessary affection which caused seeking. However, God is patient and helps and grows us. For myself, I am so very grateful. I have definitely needed His gentle arms teaching me about real love.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Barbed wire and safe pasture

I remember the problem of barbed wire when I was young. To get to the other side, you could crawl under, but your shirt might be snagged and you would be caught face down in the dirt. Or, you could find a post and climb ladder-like on the wire; however, at times, your inner thigh or the shorts could be punctured. Ouch. Or, you could separate two strands of wire by holding the top wire up, while you found room to swing your legs over and through. In such a precarious position, you could get the barbs either on the top or the bottom. Double ouch. Such a pain, the barbed wire fence.

My siblings and I usually used a different method of crossing; while they were long and lean, they tended to use the ladder pole method. Since I was short and small, I would typically crawl under. However, every so often we would try the different methods, sometimes surving and sometimes not. 

At the NILD conference, I had to cross a barbed wire fence. Small groups of people from the same school, or those who had gone through a training level together, clustered together. A common understanding permeated the ranks that all children deserve a Christian education and that Christian education was the one that needed to adjust to accomodate all types of learners. I was an outsider from a foreign land.  I had to shake off old shyness and join their ranks in order to learn.

At times, it worked. Two Pennsylvania ladies sat in the same spot, and one was pleasant enough to answer my basic questions. Other times, the ladies I sat by were turned toward one another, and I would smile as they glanced my way and away. Sometimes, just walking through the hallway where the break was happening, made me feel like I wanted to hurdle the fence and run, back to the solitude in a proverbial covered woods.

During one lunch, I asked God to direct my table selection in order to provide someone to help give me more guidance. I sat down, and the woman next to me happened to work for a college; she didn't have training either; we really couldn't provide much to one another except social support.  However, the woman on the other side started talking to me, and I slid under unscathed to the other side. She was trained, older, went later to become a School Psychologist (one of the options I'm thinking about), and has a son with Asperger's. As she talked, I smiled. God is good.

God allowed us some more time throughout the conference; she was even on my very early shuttle van to the airport. We were able to eat breakfast together and chat more. I have her e-mail and contact information; she acted as a willing mentor to me and is willing to do so in the future.

At times, when you cross under a fence, you are escaping either a mad bull, or a frightening neighbor owner, or a sense of being lost after having wandered too far. By going through the barbed wire during these meetings, I felt God reiterating this message to me again:  Trust in the Lord and do good; dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture. Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart. Psalms 37:3-4. I pray that we can all dwell in His safe pasture and cross over, through, or under the barbed wire which wishes to keep us confined. Amen.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Loving how we all learn

About six months ago, I became angry and grieved. Full of sorrow and spit. Some fist shakes. Some trail stomps. And, then God posted on my FB page, "Be the change you want to see." Or, was that Ghandi or Einstein? Hmmmm . . . No, it was God because He was the one I was interrogating: "Why? Why do your people act like this? Why can't my son take a single test home to help him stay at this Christian school? Why is the administrator's hand moving determinedly against accommodations of any kind? Why does she state so emphatically? Why are some children who need much turned away in favor of those who have much? Why isn't Jesus's style of ministry copied? And, how can You let all this happen to hurt children who need help so desperately? You. You. You." Immature stomp and spit and maybe a doorslam.

God sighed and said, "Do you really think this reflects my heart? Have you read the Bible lately?'

And, everywhere I turned I saw verses where He admonishes us to help those in need. I still couldn't reconcile the discrepancy, though, at the school where I taught. They said that resources couldn't be afforded. They said that the emphasis is on college prep. They said that everyone should be taught to the same standard like in this cartoon below:

Sucks to be the goldfish.

And, God delighting in my churning, challenged me to be the change I wish to see. Rather, He kind of demanded it, and "obedience" to what He wanted to work through me became my word. I researched. I threw out some notes to people. I caught others in the hallway. I promoted my fuzzy idea of my half-baked understanding of His steelcut vision. I met with some silence but with lots of encouragment. However, none of that people approval stuff mattered because God asked me to do something about it.

Okay, I got distracted by Facebook, blogging, mandolin playing, coffee with friends, the state of my hair, Words with Friends, career tracking, etc., but I knew that within me, I had to obey even though I dallied fearfully and carelessly at times.

During a part of my research, I came across an organization called the National Institute of Learning Development which trains educational therapists to help kids with learning disabilities in Christian schools. There were plenty of Christian schools who saw Jesus' heart as a model. I cried and rejoiced for their existence. And, I kept revisiting the NILD website because, because, because . . .  I was intrigued. As I contemplated what career tracks I wanted to lay down for the future, I kept thinking of God's heart and desire for me. Could it include what this organization had to offer? Something that was also close to my heart?

In the meantime, I applied for a counseling graduate program. However, I kept visiting the NILD site and finally decided, with the blessings of husband, to attend their conference in Orlando just to check them out. An expensive venture. We usually don't do things which are expensive without solid reason, but he agreed, and I didn't balk at the money requested.

I went. I was the lone Missourian. I found nice women from Pennsylvania, Arkansas, and Oregon, in particular. A woman from Boston gave me a compassionate, side bear hug which almost started my rotator cuff injury up again.

And, I found my tribe (as son calls it). When I heard presenters quoting Bible verses which talked about supporting the weak, helping the needy, unfolding the gifts of each child, requiring Christ's true heart in all that we do, I teared up. The conference was about so much more than learned principles applied to educational therapy. I had carried weight for so long about educational options, opportunities, misfires, deadends, for my son. I had the same steelcut conviction that these people had about making Christian education available to all types of learners. Ah and oh.

All through the week and after the sessions, I would go back to my hotel room and cry  to release all that had built up in me from hearing such good news, concern, love, and action. It's a good thing I didn't have a roommate.

The week was incredible, and I will blog more about it later. But, God was there in particular people I met as well as in his heavy Spirit, prompting me to enter into His waters of loving mission.

Jump, splash, coral reef.

Amen. Selah for all.

Monday, February 13, 2012


It's morning
The sound of the space heater reduces rough edges.
The light of the monitor brazenly boasts.
My dream of a swamp, a porcupine, and a foot cramp
fades. Our cat rolls upon her broad back.

The pressures
of timewithGod beckon; the urgency of
allteacherwork knocks.

Yet here is space; a blank slate for letters
an acknowledgement of will, life,
and a brief path which winds.

I loiter in the morning to stare sleepily
at the birds flying across the lake, of
which I just did mentally create,
to stretch and to stumble back
to being. I accept the cold air
hitting my face and the coffee
mug granted. God will wait.

Life must slowly accept the actuality
of the wake.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Ink wound irritants

Well, the happy people are going to church, and I'm Left Behind.

Caught in one of those moods

Which I hope Jesus doesn't catch me in on the Last Day.

A mood where the work piles,

The pressures of doing cancel being,

The people waiting matter more than the person plodding.

I have papers surrounding me

to grade with marks which I don't feel like marking.

I have books opened as if they're laying topless on a  Mexican beach

demanding stare, sunscreen, self-reflection (and incrimination).

I have cats meowing or pawing the door when they want service,

Needing me, needling me, with inscrutable eyes, claws, incisors:

Yesterday's adorable companions, today's taxi drivers.

Today, I think of all the cost of no pay back,

The long hours; the unfair advantage math instructors have

when I cut famous poetry lines to tape onto cards for four hours.

Gloomy words even  like "I heard a fly buzz when I died" or

"About suffering they were never wrong." Stab, slice,

and I'm responsible for being the guide into a field of flowers?

I think I should give.

Crawl back into bed.

Go eat a pile of chocolate cake.

I hope those church folk are singing pretty while I am

burning at the stake for poetry and felinity and

sacrificial lambnity.

As Mark Strand wrote, "Ink runs from the corners

of my mouth" and I agree.

Death such, for an English teacher,  would indeed be

an expected kind of bleed.

[I feel better now. Thank you for hearing violins and cats screeching when kicked.]

Friday, February 10, 2012

Slope lessons

And, what a gift is granted when you can laugh with your students even when you teach them that life isn't fair; nature doesn't care; God only intervenes at will (and their opposites).

But, there is a joy when we hit the slopes. When we release and fly toward God, when we navigate over or through the moguls, when we know life is coming. When in the classroom, we consider the hard with the solution --  the difficult with the sublime; the speed with the arrival.

However, let's be honest. My students are worried about life ahead. They don't necessarily fly with joy and skim happily away. It's serious business. Worry is real. Life and family strains are happening. Others are pulling them away from perceived truth. Other things are beckoning them to bound gratefully away from God and his pressures in cahorts with parents.  Life is happening to them. They need to find their own identities; their own faith; their own path wrought by problems, pleas, responses.

But, for the minute, today, they were my slope companions. And, seriousness and silliness knew no distinction. I felt like a conductor during a mountain festival; a gate releaser; a clown in the trees; a warm cup of cocoa at the end of a bitter wind.

Teaching can be invigorating. Smiles, laughs, and deep ponderings from my students can be the powder which softens any falls and makes a blissful spray along the way.

Selah. Amen. Merci. Word. Life. Graciousness divine.

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Dave Ramsey, one

My husband and I went to Dave Ramsey's Financial Peace University at our church last night. We couldn't find a heckling place in the rear so we sat on the front row. I watched my husband as he doubted some of the financial information given. I wanted to be an admirable, knowledgeable rebel like him; however, my ignorance kept me silent. We weren't sure why we were there since my husband is trained in sound financial principles and practices them. He said that the information would be so basic for him that it would be like teaching me, an English teacher, how to spell cat. During Ramsey's videotaped presentation, though, we caught each other laughing at his jokes and agreeing to his general principles. When Ramsey said that most families don't talk about money, we looked at each other and snickered -- my husband's family would tell you how much their spit cost if they could put a price tag on it. Then, they would only spit half as much to save a dime or two. Money is a focus and a fixation. It's a hobby. All chat and all deep conversations trickle back to the comforting sounds of cha-ching.

We split up into small groups, and like an addiction meeting, we said our names and why we were there. I said I was an ignorant English major. My husband said he was there to support me and to represent the Evil Industry (banking). That latter admittance commanded respect and people began asking questions of him. Our group leader, a longtime friend, asked him questions too. He even got to use his cute little sense of humor on the group.

Next week, I can't attend since I will be at a conference. But, my husband said that he thinks he will attend without me afterall despite an earlier declaration to stay home.


Tuesday, February 07, 2012

20 Year Marriage

I know the above photos aren't the typical anniversary shots. But, they are often the typical marriage photos. We are separated looking off into the distance here, wondering how to relate to one another, wondering if we've met each other's expectations, wondering how we're going to spend the next 20 years together. And, these thoughts occurred even in a tropical paradise where we intentionally went for love.

And, we did love, even during the times of the above questions. When a couple drops all their daily duties with kids, work, routine, and they begin to spend down time together; they eat meals together which they don't in the day to day; they listen and attempt to talk to one another; they try to "be" with one another, confusion and despair happens alongside the celebratory, romantic, and friendship moments.

We had both. We had to talk to clear away the confusion and despair. We had to reaffirm our love and commitment to one another. We had to believe individually that we are capable of such love (with God's help). We had to re-establish and laugh. We had to toast each other in complete gratitude for accepting warts and all. We had to walk away hand in hand again ready for the years ahead.

I'm extremely grateful for such a man and friend in my life. And, here, after 20 years together, is the typical anniversary photo -- a couple connected by grace, choice, fight, and commitment.