Thursday, May 31, 2012

Do the Work!

Did you notice in my last post how I casually mentioned something hugely significant? That I feel God calling me back to teaching? In case I've never told you, I taught 7th- and 8th-grade English and reading in an inner-city school back in the 90s. Truth be told, I wasn't all that good at it. I think I needed more patience and wisdom, and probably more anointing. After 3.5 years, when Ethan was an infant, I resigned. It was too hard to take care of a baby and keep up with all the lesson plans, grading papers, disciplinary phone calls, etc. I was just plain worn out.

Although I've always figured I might go back one day, probably when I retire from my "real job," I've never had any desire to go back in the near term. But for the last three weeks, a tiny seed has been growing. It started when I was driving past Ethan's high school. As I often do, I prayed for the teachers and the students, and I started to pray that God would raise up strong Christian leaders there. But before I could form the words, another thought interrupted: "You could be there."

My immediate reaction was nervous fear. I didn't even want to ask if that was God because I knew there was no WAY I was going back to teaching. I still have teaching nightmares after 15 years, for crying out loud.

Within three days, I had said, "Yes, Lord. I will do this... if you open the door and show me your plan. But if you want me to do this, I need you to change my heart."

When I have more time, I'll have to tell you all the ways God kept gently breaking up the hard ground in my heart and watering that little seed. One of them was watching Allyson's teacher embracing her students last Friday at the Kindergarten graduation.

As the idea began to take root, I found myself getting a bit impatient as I wondered what the next step should be. Do I go back to school? If so, when? How will I manage that?

Daily, I kept asking God to show me what to do. As I waited for the answer, I found myself reflecting on something our pastor says: "Stop asking God what He wants you to do next when you haven't done what He's already told you to do."

So I changed my prayer. "What have I not done? What have you already told me to do?"

Asking the right questions made all the difference. The answer came one morning when I wasn't looking for it, in I Chronicles of all places. In addition to my Bible studies over the last few months, I've been reading through the Bible as quickly as possible. I have to confess it's been slow going in books like I and II Chronicles. I wasn't looking forward to another list of soldiers or a list of furnishings for the temple that morning, but I prepared my heart as I usually do when I read the Word; I asked the Holy Spirit to help me understand what I needed to learn, and that he would reveal the truth hidden in the Scriptures.

That morning's reading was the story of King David preparing his son Solomon to take the throne and to build the temple in Jerusalem. He admonished him to acknowledge God and serve him with wholehearted devotion and with a willing mind.

The next words instantly sent chills up my spine, and I had to read the verse again, aloud, with a tremor in my voice:

Consider now, for the LORD has chosen you to build a temple as a sanctuary. Be strong and do the work. (I Chronicles 28:10, emphasis added)

An overwhelming mixture of conviction and excitement washed over me. I knew what the Holy Spirit was telling me. I thought of my book, languishing untouched on my computer. I'd long since finished typing it up, but hadn't done a single revision. "God, you chose me to write that book," I said aloud. "Please forgive me for being afraid and being too lazy to do the work. Help me be strong and do the work."

At that point I was tempted to stop reading because I knew I'd already received my message for the day, but thankfully I turned the page and read on. Verse 20 was even better:

Be strong and courageous, and do the work. Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the LORD God, my God, is with you. He will not fail your or forsake you until all the work for the service of the temple of the LORD is finished. 

"Yes, Lord," I said. "I will do the work. Thank you that I don't have to be afraid or discouraged any longer. Thank you that I can trust you to guide me and give me the support I need."

God continued to encourage me in the days that followed. First, my friend Heather emailed and reminded me that I had promised to send my full manuscript so that she and my other writing buddy could talk through what needs to be cut with me, and what needs further development.

And then my friend Anne emailed this after reading a couple of my blog entries about Laura: "The experiences you had are amazing of course because God is amazing but also... you really have a gift for writing!!  Have you thought of pursuing that further?  (Just a thought!)"

To which I replied: "Thank you! Yes, I have been halfheartedly pursuing a writing career. I’ve written the first draft of a novel but have been too afraid/lazy to do the hard work of revision. God has been convicting me about that, and your words are a confirmation that I need to DO THE WORK."

So I did the work, or at least took a baby step. I finished a bit of research I'd been putting off and filled in some blanks in my manuscript, and then I formatted it for printing. Last night I sent it off to Office Depot, and this evening I gave copies to Heather and Jacque.

I kept a third copy for myself. It will be the first time I've read it through, and I'm excited about that. Having taken to heart Anne Lamott's advice about giving myself permission to write a really crappy first draft, I know there's lots of work to be done. But with God's help, I'm up for the task!

Here's my copy, hot off the press.

I'm so thankful that God speaks to me, that he enables me to hear and understand and that he provides confirmations to build my confidence--even when I don't ask for them. I love it that when I'm not expecting something "good" out of an Old Testament book, he proves me wrong. And I love it that he never gives up on me, that he doesn't get disgusted with all of my waffling.

As the priests and the Levites sang, "He is good; his love endures forever." (II Chronicles 5:13)

Monday, May 28, 2012

#1 Graduate

Allyson's Kindergarten year passed by in a flash.
First Field Day - Friday 5/18/12 

On Friday Bill and I attended her graduation, though she technically has three days left. In the program, her class sang, "If all the raindrops were lemon drops and gumdrops, oh what a rain that would be." The girls carried umbrellas and the boys wore top hats.
Allyson's in Front, Wearing Purple (Please excuse our horrible camera.)

They all had such personality. Allyson's grin never faltered, and her exaggerated expressions made me chuckle. Thankfully, no one got poked in the eye with an umbrella.

After all the Kindergarten classes had sung songs about rain and rainbows and sunshine, everyone trooped to the classrooms for the awards ceremonies. With all the parents, grandparents, and younger siblings, we were packed in like sardines.

I was in awe of Mrs. C, who expertly settled 24 little graduates with a simple chant. "Hands on head," she sang. "Hands on knees." After just three chants with accompanying motions, all the excited laughter faded to silent anticipation as Mrs. C explained that she wanted to take a moment to honor each child's accomplishments.

And all of the children sat patiently while she did just that. Each student received a Kindergarten diploma, at least one academic award, and a special "candy" award. There was the Almond Joy award for a little girl who is a joy to everyone, and the Laffy Taffy award for a girl who laughs while she learns (and sometimes does more laughing than learning.) After Mrs. C read each student's awards aloud, she held him or her close and whispered some sort of advice or encouragement.

As I watched Mrs. C embrace every child and whisper her love--even the kids I knew had caused her some grief--tears of thankfulness clouded my vision. Thank God there are teachers willing to pour their energy, creativity, and love into someone else's children. For the third time in a couple of weeks, I felt a strong tug to go back to teaching. If God wills it, may he prepare me to love like Mrs. C.

Allyson was one of two students to receive perfect attendance--woo hoo!--and also received a reading achievement award and a Nerds award for intelligence and hard work in all areas. She didn't get the joke, but most of the adults laughed, albeit nervously. No offense meant, and none taken. (Since then Allyson has told quite a few people about her Nerds award.)

As Allyson recalls, Mrs C told her, "Remember to always challenge your teachers to help you keep learning and growing."

After handing us her awards, Allyson received a handful of Gummi Bears and a little stuffed animal commemorating her graduation.
Allyson Holding Her Stuffed Animal
On the way home, she proudly showed us her tiny lion, whose shirt says #1 Graduate. "Should I name him One?" she asked, "or Graj-oo-ayt?"

"It's graj-oo-it," Bill corrected.

"Okay, I'll call him Graj-oo-ayt," Allyson said.

My Drummer Boy
It's hard to believe Ethan has completed his first year of high school. He's changed so much in the course of that year. He's now taller than both me and Bill, and he's getting more mature by the day. I'm really proud of the way he has managed the demands of band practices and events and still kept up with his course load. It was a rough transition, but he figured it out.

I'm most proud of how he has excelled in band. As a lowly freshman, he spent most of his time playing cymbals, gongs, and wind chimes when he would rather have been playing the snare drum. But instead of complaining, he spent every spare moment up at the band hall, practicing before and after school. And all that dedication paid off. He's earned a slot on the drum line for next marching season, snare #3. He originally qualified for snare #5, but he's already worked his way up two slots. That's my boy!
Ethan and Grandma at the Last Band Concert

I have to tell you a little band story. On Friday the 18th, we attended the last band concert of the year. About halfway through, a man a few rows up turned and scowled at the two teenage couples in the row ahead of us. He pointed at them and shook his head menacingly.

I couldn't tell what they were doing, but their heads were bent together. They seemed to be either necking or looking at their cell phones.

At the end the song, the angry man stood up and hollered, "If you want to talk you can just leave! I've got a senior up on that stage, and this is her last performance."

There was a moment of shocked silence, and then a smattering of applause. I clapped a bit myself, but I could only imagine how mortified that man's daughter must have been. The young couples seemed totally unfazed.

And in Tortilla News...
I mentioned in a previous post that I had bought a used tortilla press on eBay. It's a Vitantonio Tortilla Chef, circa 1997. I paid $40 with shipping, somewhat of a gamble I guess.

It makes lovely round tortillas, but so far they don't seem quite as soft and fluffy as the ones I rolled by hand.

The trouble is that there is no instruction manual, nor can I find one online. I don't know if you are supposed to actually cook the tortillas on the press, or just flatten them and cook them in a skillet. It does cook them, but they don't puff up as much. Maybe it's not hot enough. In any case, they are still wonderfully delicious. I'll keep trying.

If anyone has tips (or an owner's manual), I'd love to hear from you.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Sometimes She's a Mommy's Girl

In a previous entry, I shared that Allyson is such a daddy's girl that I sometimes feel hurt and left out. But now and then, Allyson lets me know how I rate. An example was on Mother's Day. 

In the weeks leading up to the big day, Allyson alternated between being very secretive over the crafts she was making for me and begging me to take a peek. "No, save your card for Mother's Day," I kept repeating. 

On Sunday morning, she and Bill made me a big breakfast of Bill's famous French toast (made from thick slices of French bread dipped in a ridiculous amount of egg and fried in a ridiculous amount of butter), yummy bacon, cantaloupe, mango, and pears. 

Just as I speared my first bite of French toast and swirled it in pure maple syrup, Allyson asked, "Are you ready for your presents now?"

"Let Mama eat first," Bill said. 

Allyson was dancing with excitement by the time I'd polished off a slice and a half of toast and four pieces of bacon. (They were little pieces.) She presented me with a large decorated folder she'd made at school out of manila paper. It was overflowing with cards, stories, and crafts.

At school she had made a decorated oven mitt and a framed picture of herself. "Oh, I really needed an oven mitt!" I said--which was the truth. The ones we got as wedding gifts nine years ago are so threadbare that I sometimes burn myself. Also they are VERY stained and ugly. 

Bill had also gotten me an oven mitt as well as a cool silicone-coated glove that I can use to hold hot meat while I slice it. As a young woman I never dreamed I would get so excited over oven mitts, but I'm wise enough now to recognize these practical gifts as a sign of Bill's love. "It's perfect!" I said of the glove. "I never even knew they made such a thing."

"Well, you'd been complaining about burning your fingertips when you cut chicken," Bill said. "I searched everywhere for it."

My heart pitter-patted.

Here's my favorite card that Allyson made:
My love for you gros and gros... Happy Movr's Day

And look at this bouquet she made in art class:

As soon as I find a shadow box in the right size, that one's going up on the wall, right next to these masterpieces by Ethan and Allyson: 

Bill created that display in our entryway recently to showcase the kids' art projects, which we'd been collecting in a box for years. He just spray painted some clipboards black and used them to hang the pictures. 

Looking at these pictures gives me such a lift. As I told Gentle the other day, the rainbow picture on the bottom makes me think of the "bluebird of happiness." 

What About Ethan?
Allyson wasn't the only one who made me feel special. Ethan gave me a card that was funny AND sweet, and very apropos. He didn't get to share our Mother's Day breakfast, but he did come to our family celebration at my brother Rick's that afternoon. We enjoyed Rick's famous smoked brisket, Aunt Judy's rhubarb pie, plus way too many other things. The best part was visiting with Aunt Judy, Aunt Mary, and Uncle Dave, who were visiting from Indiana. And the second best was Emily's cake balls

I'm blessed among women. 

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Losing My Marbles

Ever feel like you're just losing it? That's how I feel most days. I just can't remember things. 

Tonight I swung by the high school at 6:12 to pick up Ethan and hurried on to drop Allyson at the church for choir practice. There was just enough time, I thought, congratulating myself on getting the cabbage rolls in the oven, feeding Allyson her own dinner (leftover pink pancakes and an egg and an avocado, her choice), and even getting the kitchen clean--all in under two hours.

By the time I'd checked her in and hastily helped her into her uniform T-shirt, it was 6:30 straight up. Whew!

Eph 6:11 - Put on the full armor of God...

"The kids are already lined up on stage," the lady at check-in informed us. "She's just in time."

But she wasn't just in time; the music was already starting, and she had to find an adult volunteer to help her find her place on the stage.

I frowned in annoyance on my way back to the car. If we were supposed to be here earlier than 6:30, why hadn't they told us?

When I told Bill the whole story over dinner, he said they usually want the kids checked in a few minutes before the rehearsal start time. "Maybe you'd better set the microwave timer to remind you when it's time to pick her up," he suggested.

I set the timer for 45 minutes. When it went off, Bill surprised me by going after Allyson himself. To celebrate, I decided to whip up some blueberry mini-donuts. They would be hot off the donut maker when Allyson got back.
My Latest Toy, Not Counting the Tortilla Press I Just Bought Off e-Bay

I'd scarcely ground the pastry flour when the phone rang. I wedged the phone against my shoulder as I chopped each little blueberry in half.

"Are you coming for Allyson soon?" a woman asked. "She's okay, but she's starting to get anxious."

I glanced at the clock: 8:24. "Wh- Doesn't the practice end at eight-thirty?"

"No, eight."

"Oh noo," I groaned. It was all coming together now. "So did the practice start at six?"

"Yes, it was from six to eight."

"I thought it was six-thirty to eight-thirty. I'm so sorry!"

She assured me it was okay, and I assured her Bill would be there any moment. Poor little girl! She hates to be late, and she hates to be the last one picked up. I cringed at the knowledge that Bill would have to deal with my mistake. How embarrassing!

"Well, that was embarrassing," Bill said 15 minutes later.

"Mmm! Blueberry donuts?" Allyson said, snatching one off the cooling rack. She didn't look too traumatized, I noted.
Aren't They Cute?

"Well, last rehearsal we got there 30 minutes early," I said. "If you average the two, we're doing fine." (For the record, the mixup on the prior week wasn't my fault. Allyson had misunderstood an announcement about the older kids getting there a half hour early.)

"I don't know why I can't seem to get it right," I said. "I looked at the sheet just yesterday, and I could have sworn it said six-thirty."

Bill dug it out of the pile on the counter top. "Nope, six to eight."

It's not like this is a rare occurrence. For example, I'm constantly leaving things out of recipes; I've ruined numerous batches of bread by leaving out the salt or even the yeast. And then there was the cheese grater incident just last night. I was frantically searching the kitchen, accusing Bill of moving it.

"Check the dishwasher," he said.

"We were out of cheese for days. There's no reason for it to be in the dishwasher," I said. But I checked anyway. No sign of it.

"I really, really need the cheese grater," I said, hoping Bill would peel himself off the couch and help me find it.

Allyson came instead. "What are you looking for?" she asked. "Something for the cheese?"

"The cheese grater," I said, dodging around her to check the cabinets over the stove.

"Isn't that the grater in your hand?" she asked.

Sure enough, there was the grater, in the same hand with the block of cheese, the handle looped around my pinkie.

"Oh my gosh, you're right! How could I have missed that?"

I waited for the ribbing, but all was silent on the couch. Bill was out. I blushed anyway.

Does this happen to anyone else? Am I normal?


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