Sometimes things change quickly, so quickly you do not have time to think; you just have to breathe and trust and act. My life since December 2013. My reality since June 2013.
I am not unique in my chronic illness. So many suffer so much more. Shall we compare our sufferings? I think not. Our suffering is our suffering and we share it with God and with family. No one else can understand it, nor do they want to.
I am not unique in my confusion or in my loss or in my indecisiveness. I left teaching this summer. My friends still live there –in the teaching world. I do not hear much from them now. My identity was: Teacher. Now it is not. Now it is part-time tutor who is waiting on possible surgery or impossible surgery. Who is contemplating Social Security Disability as a reality that belongs to me–and not someone else who is seriously disabled.
In my previous life, I taught 19th century literature and I hated/despised/ignored those female characters who were weak due to physical ailments. Fainting couches. Smelling salts. Limp, languid white hands. I could not imagine why anyone would allow themselves that luxury. Of course, i believe corsets were to blame in the 19th century, but now? Now I am prone to exhaustion and dizziness. My hands flutter in confusion. My neck bares bruises from post-operative testing. Eesh. Not my favorite year of living.
And yet there is a place where God reaches in this time of splintering and fragmenting. I learn to rely on Him. My sister and I are practicing deliberate prayer since so many times we toss the casual, “I’ll pray for you” into the heavenly atmosphere hoping God bends down and picks up these lightly thrown consults.
I have discovered the joy of spray paint and repurposing and fabric and Michael’s/Hobby Lobby. I am dangerous with spray paint. I find joy in covering boxes with quirky collages using ModgePodge (one of the best creations of the past century).
God time is easier. Longer journal writing and closer Bible reading.
Reading for enjoyment. Once again the library is my enabler. A bibliophile who can no longer afford Amazon needs to find a cheaper dealer for her drug of choice.
Writing. I have finally outlined a novel complete with maps. Tolkien would be proud.I am sticking with English though. No Elvish.
And now I have enrolled for my master’s degree. Twenty years of teaching still does not make me an expert in this label-conscious world. Yet, this is a label I have wanted for a long time. I begin October 6, 2013. It is not an MFA; it is a practical M Ed with an emphasis on curriculum and reading. An MFA would be quite presumptuous of me. Risky. I am not a risk taker. An M Ed — well, it is in my field of expertise. No specific talent required–only the desire to move forward and meet a twenty-year goal.
The unknown still looms large each week. I still face financial challenges. I still must figure out what it means to tutor for a business rather than for the sake of learning. I still must figure out how to make my body move and breathe and re-form itself into a recognizable lump of clay.
“Let love and faithfulness never leave you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart. Then you will win favor and a good name in the sight of God and man.” Proverbs 3:3-4
Some things I will do in the evenings and weekends now that grading paragraphs and essays and tweaking lesson plans belong to others younger or more able than I.
Read and study my Bible. I love to write Bible studies. I have time, as long as I stay off of social media!
Spend more time with family! Particularly my precious grandson, Sawyer Leo.
Read the classics I never taught but always wanted to read. Example: The Brothers Karamazov by Dostoevsky; everything by Henry James and Edith Wharton; Persuasion by Jane Austen; the complete poems of T.S. Eliot, Sylvia Plath, Robert Frost, Emily Dickinson and others too numerous to list; Bleak House by Charles Dickens (started and never finished due to Masterpiece Theatre’s incredible series); the stack of non-fiction and personal narratives I’ve been hoarding like Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed (perfect last name for a wanderer); re-read Winnie the Pooh and complete Alice in Wonderland;
Write. Write. Write. And drink french press coffee! Blogging forces me to stay in tune to the muses.Maybe I will become a regular at Double Shots???
Ride my bike as soon as I am able (after healing from neck surgery). Walking is fine and dandy, but biking equals freedom and soothes my wanderlust.
Learn Russian history outside of Dostoevsky and Chekhov and Pasternak. Russian Revolution for Dummies?
Cook. I used to love to bake and create new recipes. The Pioneer Woman inspired me again.
Knit. Sew. Craft. Give me a can of spray paint and watch me go. I’m dangerous.
Make time for friends outside of teaching. I’ve discovered I don’t make friends well. I don’t trust well. I’m actually very shy about assuming a relationship is there and then realizing it’s not. Plus, I’m a bit of a hermit. I have to force myself to do things most of the time.
Finally–date nights with the hubster who has been an English teacher widower for too long. Steve, thank you for your patience.
In Matthew 18, the disciples had been verbally tussling with each other over who would be the big “dawg” next to Jesus in Heaven. (I will qualify the following statements by saying not all men are egotistical. There, qualification in place.) Onward…in typical male patterns of behavior, the disciples engaged in basically a pissing contest. One up-man-ship at its finest. Jesus was not amused, so in order to teach them a lesson–and teach us all a lesson–he grabbed what was closest and wove a parable. This time, he used a child.
I like to picture the disciples for a moment. Kind of dirty and hairy. Long robes dusty and smelling a bit rank. Shoving and bragging about who Jesus liked the best and who would get to sit right smack dab next to him in heaven. To say they were being immature and childish would be correct. To say they acted like they never even knew what Jesus expected of them, would also be correct (at least in that moment) and a tad disappointing.
If you have children, you know this experience very well. You raise them with certain moral and spiritual guidelines and then, “whammy.” The “stupid” hits. You know the “stupid.” It’s when your kids reach that age where their brains seem to fluctuate from brilliance to stupidity in a matter of minutes. The “stupid.”
I saw it a lot in the classroom. One minute the teenagers were blowing my mind with their insight into Vonnegut’s “Harrison Bergeron,” and the next they were throwing paper wads across the room trying to reach the waste basket or breaking each other’s pencils for no apparent reason. The “Stupid.” And it infected 90% of the males. Sorry.
Let’s just say, I can see these grown men acting this way quite easily. But I also imagine Jesus was really disappointed. He only had ten more chapters to teach these guys about God and how they were to live for God having served with the son of God. They needed to understand that yes, they were Jews (and a Greek), but the law of the Old Testament no longer acted as their guide to living. They had the actual Messiah in their midst and he was teaching them how to live in a New Way. The law abolished in favor of love for God and love for neighbor. And soon, the Holy Spirit indwelling as a permanent Jesus-conscience.
So a child. Jesus chose a child to confound them once again (he was really good at this). As a parent and now as a grandparent, I know I would do anything for my kids. I love them more than…well…you know. Words don’t say it well. When my kids, David, Eric and Katie Jean, were little, I was always protecting. Not hovering, but aware. David liked to control the Lego’s–dictating the desirable architecture, so I needed to step in and make sure that sharing took place. He was also extremely shy. Painfully shy. The world hurt him daily. His first words to me after I picked him up from PreK were, “It’s chaos.” Now I know he was dealing with Asberger’s, but in the early 80s, not much was known about it, so I tried to act as his world-shield.
Eric liked to wander off. In the mall, he’d disappear under the clothing racks and I’d hear his tearful voice calling for me. The worst time was when his dad and I had all three of the kids at Fiddler’s Green in Denver for a 4th of July celebration. Thousands of people. One minute my darlin’ four-year-old was holding onto Katie Jean’s stroller and then he was gone. Just like that. I have never felt so afraid and helpless in my life. Again, no words. We found him an hour later. Some sweet teenaged girls took him to a safety hut and he sat there bawling his eyes out until I reached him (via the park security). I still get a lump in the pit of my stomach when I think about it.
My baby woman, Katie Jean, liked to do whatever the guys were doing–but she wanted them to do it her way. I was always saying, “Boys, include her but don’t cave in to her!” I didn’t want a manipulative female child and I don’t have one. I have a stubborn, determined, brilliant young woman who developed Type 1 (Juvenile Diabetes) when she was four. I was in the midst of divorcing their father when this happened. Again. No words. Painful. Hard to give a shot to a little girl twice a day when she doesn’t understand what is happening to her.
I tell you these stories about my children to commiserate with each of you who are parents and who understand the need to protect and encourage and nurture these wee ones. I’ve seen the other side of this coin, to use a cliché, within the high school classroom.
Kids moved daily from one parent to another due to a wonky divorce settlement. Teenagers parenting their very young siblings while their single father or mother hits the bars for a negotiate a one-night stand or to drink or smoke some weed. Then go home–or not.
Teenagers without any consistency in their nurturing cycle. Some survive in tact. Most don’t.
Back to Jesus and the child. Unless we become like this little child, he said, we won’t see or enter or experience the kingdom of heaven. I had to ponder this and read several different translations. I even researched the roles of children during biblical times, but I always came back (as did the translations) to the fact that Jesus said to be childlike.
Vulnerable. Trusting. Needing guidance from our father. I think Jesus was telling them, stay close. Listen. Learn. Trust. Don’t go off half-cocked thinking you are this independent big dog with all the answers and ever expect to understand and see God.
Break down the walls that are keeping you from being childlike. First, break down the intellectual walls. LISTEN: that doesn’t mean be ignorant. God gave us a brain and He expects us to use it. Grow and develop intellectually. NOTE: GOD IS NOT THREATENED BY YOUR INTELLECT. YOU CAN’T OUT-KNOW HIM.
Next, ignore the Pat Robertson’s and Jim Bakker’s and Ted Haggard’s and all those folks who claim to know Jesus, yet seem arrogantly focused on themselves. Not a childlike honesty and vulnerability visible to the naked eye. BUT quit using them as an excuse to hate Jesus. Discover Jesus for yourself. Stop it with the excuses already! It’s arrogant. It’s bigotry and narrow-mindedness. It’s like seeing one gay man with a pink boa and lipstick and then thinking that every gay man is like that. Ridiculous. I teach gay young men and women and there is nary a pink boa in the bunch (although I do have a tiara and quite possibly a boa in my prop closet). The same open-mindedness you graciously give towards your gay friends, show towards Jesus. I hate it when people hate on Jesus and yet never try to know him and instead blame other people because “they’re hypocrites.” Could we please NEVER use that phrase again? All people are hypocrites. Some are bigger hypocrites then others (think politicians and all those well-meaning, outspoken environmentalist celebrities who drive big cars, or let someone else drive them in big cars that use tons of gasoline and then preach to the rest of us paeans how to live environmentally friendly lives. Chaps my tush).
It’s time for me to display vulnerability and trust. It’s time to lean on my heavenly Abba. Let him guide and nurture and love and direct.
I know this is hard. I’m struggling with it. I had to resign from teaching last week because my health is not improving and there is no way I can stay in the classroom. My heart breaks every time I breathe. I cry with disturbing regularity, and I’ve gotten quite mad and even cussed a bit which is not like me. I’ve even used the “fair” excuse (and I hate that excuse).
I have a new job, but it doesn’t have benefits. It’s hourly. It’s a significant loss of income, and my husband and I are trying to figure out how we’re going to make it. God is kind of “repurposing” my life. I hope He doesn’t use sandpaper.
So like a child, I’m staying pretty nestled up to my father (except when I’m cussing) in order to let him guide my path.
We are replaceable in our jobs–but we are irreplaceable to God.
May the grace and peace of Jesus help you to learn childlike trust and abiding faith. Amen.
Here are the links to the professional photos above:
photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/digitalgrace/35760489/”>danny.hammontree</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/”>cc</a>
photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/digitalgrace/35760534/”>danny.hammontree</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/”>cc</a>