Monday, September 19, 2016

Guard the Door

In my last entry, I described my fears about taking the next step in my teaching journey: starting to substitute teach. After sharing the whole story with you, I ended up sleeping well and feeling well prepared for my first assignment, which turned out to be sixth-grade Reading.

After misplacing the rosters and finding them in the staff bathroom just before the bell rang, I recovered my composure, and the day got off to a fairly smooth start. Thankfully, my first period had a Special Ed aide who was able to show me not only how to turn on the document viewer but also what a document viewer is. Whew!

And then the fun began. I enjoyed doing a bit of teaching as I introduced the assignment on the prefix "post." Everything came back to me, and it felt like I'd never left the field. The kids were well engaged, and I was able to manage a few minor discipline issues using proximity; when someone started to get off task, I simply stood next to him and smiled kindly.

Mr. B. and I made a great team as we circulated among the groups, gave pointers, and answered questions. At the end of the period, he asked what subject I had taught before.

"Reading," I replied.

"I can tell," he said. I beamed.

Things got a little rougher in the afternoon. For one thing, my feet were screaming. During second period, the middle toes on both of my feet had twisted into charlie horses, and I'd had no choice but to walk on them for hours. Have you ever noticed how much harder it is to be cheerful and patient when your feet are killing you?

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

I'm Leaving It By the Side of the Road

I really shouldn't be blogging tonight. I need to get in bed. But I'm just bursting, and I want to share my heart with you before I know the outcome....

Tomorrow is my very first substitute teaching assignment, with a middle school English class. (I plan to sub about once a week until I run out of vacation time.) I've been putting together a Total Participation Techniques kit with all kinds of supplies to help me create interactivity in the event that I actually get to do some teaching (as opposed to babysitting). I made little whiteboards with heavy-duty transparency sleeves and white card stock, and I picked out some fun mismatched socks to use as erasers. I bought three dozen sticky note pads for annotating in books. I'm making True/Not True hold-up cards, as well as "True with modifications" and "Unable to determine." I've been thinking about ways to incorporate motion and plenty of academic conversation. 

Just yesterday I was marveling that I felt more excited than afraid. In fact, I told myself I'd better curb the enthusiasm just a notch so that I wouldn't be crushed by a reality that doesn't live up to my idealistic notions--which always happens to me. 

I guess I took my own advice.

Last night I was listening to a recorded sermon from my new church, on giving God the first of everything. Pastor Hayes told the story of the Israelites' humiliating defeat at Ai after they had conquered Jericho so triumphantly (Joshua 7). After tearing his clothes and falling on his face before God, the Israelite leader Joshua said, "Alas, O Lord God, why have you brought this people over the Jordan at all, to give us into the hands of the Amorites, to destroy us? Would that we had been content to dwell beyond the Jordan!"

Pastor Hayes then asked if we had ever felt that way when we encountered a challenge or a disappointment. Did we ever just want to turn back from the battle and go back where we were comfortable? 

"Yes, oh yes," I thought, with a stab of fear. Right at that moment, I thought about my comfortable, predictable, safe life--my sometimes boring, always busy life. I wondered what had possessed me to think of venturing out into the unknown. Weren't there other ways I could serve God besides putting myself at the mercy of 25 adolescents? 

The moment the sermon was over, I went straight to my prayer closet and fell on my face before God, though I abstained from tearing my clothes like Joshua. I don't even remember much of what I prayed because I was so tired. I did ask God to help me put him first, and to hold nothing back from him. And then I asked him to hold me close while I fell asleep. He did. I had the most beautiful sleep!

But today fear was crouching at the door, and I let it in. All day long, my stomach churned with unease. I was starting to regret accepting seven jobs, booking myself into November. 

I kept telling myself there was no rational reason to be afraid. Yes, I could fail. I could fall flat on my face. And then I would get back up again and ask God for help. I knew all this with my mind, but my fear continued to build in my heart as the hours passed. 

Thankfully, tonight was Celebrate Recovery. The whole meeting was such an encouragement. The last worship song had me in tears: Hillsong's All I Need is You. Listen to the first line:
Left my fear by the side of the road...
"Why can't I do that?" I thought.

And then we came to:
You hold the universe
You hold everyone on earth
You hold the universe
You hold
You hold
I swayed to the music, feeling that gentle power wrapping around me. How could I fear, knowing God is in control? If he can hold this universe that He made together, of course He can hold me.

Still, I could feel the fear in my upset stomach. Now I was only 12 hours away from stepping off the ledge. I confessed to my CR family that I very much want to leave my fear by the side of the road, but the truth is, I'm still afraid. "But I'm going to do it anyway," I said firmly, despite my trembling lips. "I know that God will be with me, and I trust that next week I will share a testimony of God's goodness with you."

With my small group afterward, I poured out my heart. "I don't know why I'm so inordinately afraid," I said. "But I believe I am going to leave my fear by the side of the road. I'm tired of letting my fear hold me back. I'm tired of dragging these chains around. I'm afraid of failing, but I'd rather chance falling flat on my face than to stay where it's comfortable and miss what God is calling me to do."

Tears streamed down my face as I realized that it was true. I am more afraid of missing my calling than I am of failing.

After everyone had shared, my dear sisters held hands with me as we prayed for all of our needs, and then we enjoyed a group hug. They assured me that they know I will be a blessing to my students, including the ones God has picked out for me tomorrow. They said they are excited to hear what God will do.

On the drive home, I whispered to God that I am ready to go with Him. I trust Him, and I want to see what He has planned for me. I know I have to leave my comfortable place to get there.

One of these days, I really am going to leave my fear by the side of the road. In the meantime, I'm going to trust Jesus to help me face it every time it rears up. As I read in a novel just the other day, I know that being brave doesn't mean you don't have any fear. It means you feel afraid about something, but you do it anyway. Tonight, I'm feeling brave.
This is me being brave, poised on the edge.
I'm going to jump!

Sunday, July 31, 2016

I Press On

At 10:40 AM this past Sunday, just one hour and 40 minutes behind schedule, Allyson and I took off on a short vacation to the Texas Hill Country, bound for what we call The Donkey Cabin. We'd stayed in that charming 1840s log cabin exactly two years before on a trip with Ethan and my niece Savannah, and we couldn't get wait to get back there.

Around 2:00, we met up with Allyson's friend Kambry, who'd been on a vacation with her aunt and uncle just 48 minutes from our destination. I took those giddy girls straight to Longhorn Caverns State Park.

When we turned onto the six-mile park road, I was shocked to see a sign for Inks Lake. "Hey, Allyson!" I said. "Remember that lake where we jumped off the cliff into the water that time?"


"This is the same road that leads there. What was that? Three years ago? Yes, it was the same trip when we found out we'd gotten the contract on our dream house, right before we watched the fireworks. Wasn't that the best day ever?"

"Yes, it was! Can we go back to Inks Lake?"

"We'll see," I said. "I thought you wanted to go to McKinney Falls this time."

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Two Heroes and a Flash Flood

Tonight I have two stories to share. I can't decide which, so why not tell both? 

Would-Be Heroes
A week ago today, I went walking in the park with Lizzette, my most frequent walking companion aside from Jesus.

We didn't look this good on that evening. 

We got off to a very late start, so it was quite dark on our way back. Thus my usual wonder at the fireflies' magical pinpricks of golden light was tempered by fear of catching the Zika virus from the mosquitoes who also inhabit the thickly wooded creek bank.

Deep in conversation, we'd nearly made it back to the main road when we both stopped short, arrested by a plaintive cry.

"What was..." Lizzette began.

"Is it a..." I started to say "baby," but then we heard it again.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Just Part of the Family

Allyson's family birthday party was delayed a bit this year because she wanted Aunt Amy to be there, and the logistics were a bit difficult to arrange. Mom, Dad, and Rick recently passed the wheelchair transfer training at Amy's rehab center, and that meant Amy could now go on family outings. So when I found out that Amy was coming to our Father's Day celebration at Rick's house last night, I asked if we could celebrate Allyson's birthday at the same time.

Four Generations of Dads:
Rick, Dick (Dad), Miles, Mitchell

For this third birthday celebration, Allyson requested Aunt Melody's strawberry Oreo Cool Whip pudding dessert. I told her we might have to find another recipe since Aunt Melody was traveling in Japan, but imagine my delight when I found the recipe in my email inbox a few hours later. Turns out, text messages work in Japan, too. Some days I just love technology.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time

Tonight I only have time for one story, so I'm going to tell you about Allyson's birthday. 

Her first little celebration was on Monday the 6th, the night before her birthday. She shocked me this year by deviating from the dinner request that both she and Ethan have made every year for as long as I can remember: yellow rice and chicken. This time, she wanted pierogies, those little Polish dumplings filled with mashed potatoes. Instead of cake, she wanted homemade apple pie.

Now, I've only ever made pierogies once in my life, and the memory of that day carries a complicated mix of emotions. It was several years back, on one of our semi-annual trips to visit Bill's family in Canada. While the rest of the family went on a fun outing, Bill's mom and I spent nearly the entire day making pierogies. We mixed and kneaded the dough by hand and then rolled it out thin. We cut little circles, stuffed them with seasoned potatoes, folded them, and crimped them. Sandi folded hers neatly by hand, and I used a little pierogi-making gadget which someone had given her but which she did not trust. The truth was, nothing could make that task easy for my fumbling fingers.

But what I remember most about that day was chatting and laughing with Sandi for hours, and then savoring the sweet success when we tasted those first dumplings. In-credible! Sharing in the lavish praise that evening when the entire family devoured hours' worth of labor in minutes was also pretty gratifying.

Looking back, I'm torn between nostalgia, loneliness for my other "Mom,"and a little dread at the idea of ever doing all that work again.

So when Allyson asked for pierogies, my first question was, "From scratch?"


Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Blessed Among Women

I'm sorry I've been such a stranger during perhaps the busiest season of my life (so far, anyway). I've missed you guys very much. This is going to be pretty random. I guess I'm out of practice.

Here's a bit of what I've been up to:

  • Visiting my sister Amy, who had a massive stroke about two months ago. She is still half paralyzed, but she's working very hard at her recovery and is slowly making progress. She inspires me every time we're together because she has a child-like joy, and she positively overflows with laughter. Also, she's always so proud to introduce me as her sister, and her friends and therapists always say they've heard so much about me. She brags on her other siblings too. "My brother is coming tomorrow!" she says, with a radiant smile. Or, "I can't wait to see Emily and Paul."
  • Minor renovations to my house that turned out to be much more time consuming and stressful (and costly) than I ever anticipated. I had three rooms and the ceilings painted in lovely shades of blue-gray, pale lavender, and some other delightful purple I don't know the word for. Lilac? Also I had my bathroom textured. And my bathroom cabinets painted. And I replaced the ugly laminate and all the carpet with gorgeous distressed honey bamboo. My dad, nephew Jacob, and dear brother-in-law Paul pulled off all the baseboards so I could get new ones installed. 
  • Filling out application after application, tweaking my resume and cover letter, and monitoring the websites for all the surrounding districts for the teaching positions that are posted each day. I haven't had any interviews yet, but I made a couple of great contacts at a job fair last week. More on that later.
  • Keeping up with my LEAP diet, which means carrying my own food everywhere any time I leave the house. That has gotten easier as I've been able to add more and more foods to my list, and also since I stopped recording all my food. I did that when Amy was really critical and I was at the hospital nearly every day.Thanks to God and my dietitian, I'm in much better health than I was this time last year.
  • Running Allyson to soccer practice, soccer games, and soccer activities. She was supposed to be switching teams, but she doesn't want to decide between the new team and the old team. So right now she's doing both. At least she's getting her exercise. And I'm getting out in the sun and having an excuse to do nothing for an hour while she practices. 

God has been so good to me through all of this. Ever since Amy's stroke, my priorities have shifted. I realize that people are so much more important than things, and I keep my eyes open every day for the blessings all around me. Let me share just a few of those blessings.

A Walk in the Park
The other morning I went home through the park after I'd walked Allyson to school. It was my first walk of the season, and I'd forgotten the sheer joy of those paths. As I inhaled the scent of damp moss and honeysuckle, I felt all my earthly concerns drifting away. Next, I rounded a corner to find two birds circling each other against the backdrop of a brilliant blue sky, alternately swooping low and soaring high. In that moment, I felt incredibly... alive. I felt like a tiny piece of God's majestic creation, so insignificant and yet an essential part of the big picture. In that moment I could feel my connection to everything else in this universe that sings His praises. My heart sang along. 

The Best Birthday Yet
This year we celebrated my birthday at the rehab hospital where Amy was staying. Mom brought homemade ice cream, which was the first ice cream of any sort that I'd had since last summer. I wish I had words to describe how it felt and tasted on my tongue. But the joy of having all my family around me was sweeter still. We'd come so close to losing Amy just a month before. I'm sure I wasn't the only one with tears in my eyes while everyone sang Happy Birthday. 

Me, Emily, Amy, Melody, Rick

After the party, Allyson and I went to Mom's house. Melody's son Greg and his wife Jessica made dinner for the family. I thought I'd have to eat scrambled eggs since I'd forgotten to bring food and their meal had garlic, but Greg improvised a separate but equal meal for me. I was so touched by his kindness!

The next day, my actual birthday, Allyson and I made a strawberry cake from freshly ground sprouted wheat and iced it with cottage cheese maple frosting. My friend Kim and her family came from down the street to sing me Happy Birthday, and they brought me a beautiful bouquet which has made me feel so loved for two weeks now. 

Kitchen after making cake... Allyson wouldn't let me clean it on my birthday.
But neither did she!

We packed up the rest of the cake and headed to Rick's house, where the rest of the family had gathered to spend a bit more family time. While they had pizza, I ate the rest of my delicious chicken and pasta from Greg. And then we all had some cake. The cake carrier had slid off Allyson's seat just as we pulled up to Rick's house, so the cake didn't look so pretty, but it tasted pretty wonderful! Cake is a big treat for me these days.

One more thing happened on my birthday that felt like a bizarre little gift from God. My very cheap painter, Rico, hadn't had time to paint the bathroom cabinets two weeks before, and I'd been trying to reach him ever since to arrange it. He's so cheap and so good that he is booked at least a month out, and he rarely returns calls. I would've just given up on the idea because my old cabinets looked fine with the new color, but I had put several paint samples on the cabinets and they looked awful. On my birthday morning, I prayed about it. "Could you please help me reach Rico? Please, God."

About two minutes later, as I set my breakfast dishes in the sink, I saw a white van across the street. A ladder hung across the side closest to me. Hey, wasn't that... Yes, there was Rico's young assistant in my friend Ana's yard.

I tucked my nightgown into my sweat pants, zipped up my windbreaker, and slipped into some shower thongs, then rushed across the street to corner Rico in the yard just before he reached Ana's front door.

I was fairly sure he'd been avoiding me, maybe because my project turned out to be so much bigger than initially planned. But I grinned widely. "Hi!" I said. "Remember my bathroom cabinets? Do you think you could-"

"I paint them today?" he asked.

"Absolutely. Yes, whenever you're ready," I said.

I ran back across the street and washed and dried those cabinets, just in time for Rico to prime them in between coats on Ana's kitchen.

By early afternoon, I had lovely new cabinets. Happy birthday to me!

Wisdom From the Mouths of Babes
Last Monday, Allyson and I went shopping for my job fair outfit. We spent an entire evening and didn't find anything we really liked. Even though we were both horribly frustrated, we still had some great conversation. I confessed that the impending job fair had brought on a few momentary bouts of panic as I once again wondered whether I'd really heard God correctly about leaving my great job to go back to the classroom.

Allyson replied, "Mommy, you know that whatever happens, even if you are making a mistake, God will use it for your good. Because He always works for good for those who love Him."

"Yes, you're right, baby."

"Also, you've been praying for God's will, so I'm sure He will tell you somehow if it is not His will. Or He will block you from getting a job."

"Yes, that's true," I said, grinning ear to ear.

"God will always be with you wherever you go, and I know you will make a big impact on some children," she concluded.

That evening, I left a sink full of dishes to spend some much needed time in my prayer closet. "Oh, Father," I breathed. "I know you won't leave me wandering around in the dark. You're not that kind of a father. You always lead me, and you never forsake me."

For ten sweet minutes, I praised God for the wonderful plans I know He has for me. I told Him I only want what He wants for me, and I don't have to know what's coming because I know His plans for me are always better than what I could think up for myself. I look forward to telling you the story as it unfolds.

Torture at the Job Fair
The job fair was a very positive experience, and I learned a lot from talking with several principals. One even told me how to rearrange my resume and make it more concise so that principals may actually read it. I followed her advice promptly, and if I end up getting a job, I believe it will be due to that divine appointment.

That morning got off to a rather rough start, though. I'd bought a pair of dress pants that were really long, so I had to wear heels even though I knew I'd be on my feet for hours. Well, I didn't even make it out of the parking lot before I had charlie horses in my toes. There were thousands of applicants, and I had to park about a third of a mile out, up a big hill. All my weight bore down on my poor toes as I hobbled down that hill, being passed by absolutely everybody. I felt so ridiculous, but so fashionable!
Night Before the Big Day-See Pretty Boots

I stopped in a crowded bathroom, sank onto a toilet, and removed my left shoe. What a horrible idea! Two of my toes immediately contorted into a violent spasm, and I had to stifle my shriek of pain lest someone think I was having severe digestive issues. At first I feared I'd never get those misshapen toes back into my shoe. I rubbed and rubbed the sole of my foot, and finally I was able to cram my foot back into its prison, like one of Cinderella's ugly stepsisters forcing on a dainty glass slipper.

So the whole time I was talking to principals and HR representatives about my many qualifications, I had to tune out the indignant howls of my tortured feet. I plastered a smile on my face and tried to walk with some semblance of grace. After three hours, I managed to totter back up the hill to my car, where I promptly took off my shoes and socks and promised my feet I'd never wear heels again.

One More Walk in the Park
Tonight I had a free evening, and I'd planned to try the mid-week service at a new church I love, but I really felt too exhausted to go out, and there was no time to figure out what to make for dinner. I'd planned to have garbanzo beans, but when I put them out to soak last night, I accidentally turned on the Crock-Pot, so this morning I found them burned to a crisp.

"What should I do tonight, God?" I asked.

"Go for a walk," He said.

I put on my Five-Finger shoes, grabbed a zucchini muffin, and headed out. It was every bit as lovely as the walk I described earlier, and I had a wonderful chat with God. It had been a somewhat disheartening day at work, but my troubles floated away on the gentle breeze.

On my way back, I ran into my good friend Nosheen and her three small children. I turned around and walked the same path I'd just traversed, talking with her all the while. She was looking pretty frazzled because her husband was out of town, and her toddler had woken her at 2 a.m. At intervals, the toddler and the two-month-old screamed out the frustration that Nosheen surely felt. But she just smiled grimly and kissed their sweaty cheeks. "Ush-ush," she murmured.

I gave her a hug when we arrived at her house. "I asked God what to do tonight, and He told me to go for a walk. I think He wanted me to spend time with you," I said.

She grinned. "Yes, I am glad we got to talk," she said.

Just as I was thanking God for such a lovely surprise, I spotted sweet Kim, who'd given me the birthday flowers. Her daughter Claire shouted, "It's Sa-rah!" as she ran down the sidewalk toward me. Kim opened a double camp chair in her driveway, and we sat and talked into the twilight.

Back at home, I had a meal fit for a princess: two eggs fried in avocado oil and toaster-oven-roasted bell peppers. Surely I am blessed among women!

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