Preparing for Perhaps


I don’t really know how to begin here. I want something pithy, such as “When The Start Feels Too Much Like a Start”, but, at the same time, it feels like I would be trivializing what I want to talk about. And I’m too tired for trivial. (Case in Point: I started writing this blog post two weeks ago.)

Today marks fourteen days into the new school year, and I am utterly exhausted. It feels as though there never was a break between May and now. I just blinked, that’s all. The students are just about done honeymooning. I’m pouring out energy on top of energy as I have worked to figure out my daughter’s school arrangements, too. I’m already losing control of the cleanliness of the house (and, as I drafted this two weeks ago, I realized that I had forgotten to leave a note for my husband to turn over the laundry when he got up!). Life is busier than ever.

On the first day of students’ return, as I prayed before slipping out of bed to start the day, I found myself requesting something quite unexpected.

“Lord, if you have something else for me, please start preparing me for it.”

Now I say that this is unexpected, not because I haven’t wanted to do something other than teaching, because I have definitely thought about it, but because I honestly am unsure of just what that “something else” would be. I’ve said this since the beginning: teaching was ever the only plan. There was never a Plan B. So, if God does indeed have something else in mind for me, it begs the question of what exactly it could be.

Here are some truths:

  • I am good at teaching. I am. I am knowledgeable, and I do a good job at passing that knowledge along in an understandable way to my students.
  • I cannot remember a Sunday night when I was excited about going to work the next day and only a handful of days in the past nine years that I ever felt so about coming to school. I don’t necessarily joy in it like some teachers do. It takes a lot.
  • I do enjoy emotional education. Those are the lessons and discussions that I find my heart pouring out in: teaching students to be empathetic, show love, have courage, and be kind.

Part of me aches to do something else, something new, but, at the same time, the idea of such change and upheaval is profoundly frightening and stressful. But I will keep on praying this prayer, and I hope that I am not just being a stubborn Jonah.

 

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When you are Forced to Single Step


As I pointed out earlier this year, I am not good at taking “just the next step”. My brain is a mess and machination of often-escalating worries, what-ifs, and contingency plans. Recently, however, I was forced—yes, I do mean forced—to take a single step at a time through what was, for me, quite a crisis. Did I like it? No. Did I enjoy being reminded my dearly-beloved husband that I needed to single-step? Not really. Did I even want to take those single steps? No, not really again. I was hoping against hope that it would just resolve itself but, like a myriad of problems in life, it just doesn’t work that way. Did my brain run away with me with the withertos, whyfores, and what-ifs? Oh, my heavens, YES!

But I had no choice. I could only take the next step in the process in order to be sure of anything at that point. I had to take it step by step. Instead of me running 100 steps ahead, I was forced to only take a single step at a time. And, while nerve-wracking, everything turned out fine. In fact, something extra good that I was hoping to accomplish was able to get started out of the whole affair. In the end, I find myself somewhat thankful for it all.

As the summer begins its exit, stage right, all too quickly and I can see the school year bouncing on the balls of its feet in the wings, I am again facing a situation where I will need—probably with copious reminders—to take just the next step. There are many changes that will come with this school year. I will have my largest 8th grade class yet (between 160 and 170 students, and I teach all of them); we have a new principal of our school; and I am implementing curriculum changes that, while I think they will be good, will take some serious getting used to and will likely be far from perfect for this year. Am I nervous? Yes. Am I scared even? Yes. I am nervous and scared at the beginning of every school year. 100+ new faces, 100+ new names to place with them, curriculum to implement, adjust, and differentiate for varying skill levels.

Yes, I am always nervous before school begins. But I can’t take all the steps at once there either, can I? I am forced to take one step at a time. One day at a time. Now that my curriculum is done and approved and I have finished gathering supplies for my classroom, I can focus on my next steps: class syllabus and About Me presentation for the first day of school. One step at a time.

As you move through today, through this weekend and the coming week, don’t be afraid of just the next step. I know it’s maddening. I know it’s nerve-wracking. But it will be okay, dear one. Even when it feels like it may not, it will be. Just take one step at a time. That’s all you can take. It’s all you can do. But it is everything.

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Sneaky Houses


On the way to my girl’s preschool, just across from the golf course, there is a row of houses. These houses are all set back from the road a bit, their driveways curving down into little valleys with the buildings nestled behind and in the deep cool green of ancient trees. My husband calls them “sneaky houses”.

I love sneaky houses. I love how they nestle there behind the treeline, screened, protected, and partially hidden. You can see them but only if you’re looking. If you’re not paying attention, you’d drive right by them. They hide there in plain sight, their beauty just barely peeking out. You have to look for them to find them. I also love that they are like people, particularly the people who have become the dearest and most special to me. Just like those sneaky houses, if we can look past what barriers people have been erected, the protections that have been hewn out, sink into the deepness of them, we may just find them even cozier and more welcoming than we originally thought.

Yes, I really do love sneaky houses.

Space to Breathe


Written Sunday, May, 20, 2018

I love Indiana mornings in the late spring and into summer. There’s a stillness to the mornings: the birds singing over their breakfasts, the leaves rustling. No cacophony  of the day yet, just the sounds of the world waking up, beginning. My soul can breathe in these moments, not pant in the rushing or gasp in the lack of space. In these mornings, I can truly “taste and see that the Lord is good”. I can drink in the quiet, breathe, and remember why I love living where I do. There are still so many lovely places left for me to discover, moments of peace I’ve yet to have, of beauty I’ve yet to witness.

Right now, immediately right now, all I want is to go for ad rive to somewhere beautiful in the countryside. It’s all I’m thinking about in this morning, honestly. I just want the sun and the breeze and away from the noise of life. I want rustling leaves, rushing and babbling water, freshness, and clean air. Maybe on Memorial Day or something, I can make this happen somehow, or at least sometime soon.

I have been lacking space to breathe lately, space for my soul to just be and feel. Even when my daughter is abed, I’m still Mommy that waiting just in case she wakes up. I’m still Wife who frets about what housework still needs to be done. I rarely have spaces where I can just be Mel, where my soul can breathe instead of pant or gasp. I want more of them, I need more of them. I want to breathe, both lungs and soul.

So that is my goal for this summer: to breathe.

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Five Minutes in the Frost


Earlier this week, in listening to her The Next Right Thing podcast, I took Emily P. Freeman’s admonition to give myself just five quiet minutes to heart. So, this morning, as I took out the trash, I gave myself five extra minutes in the frosty outside. I wandered around the front yard, looking at the flower beds that I planted back in September, with the help of my husband and father in law. I can see the shoots of my flowers–daffodils and crocuses–pushing up through the mulch in defiance of the cold, and I find myself growing more and more excited every day. I’m ready to see their colors burst out in vibrancy after a cold, bleak winter.

The sun had just come up about an hour previous, and I could see the rays and glow branching out in the sky from behind our house. The air was bright and “clear and cold and so clean it almost sparkled” (S.E. Hinton, The Outsiders), and birdsong filled the new morning. It felt as though the birds were rabid to make up for those frozen silent weeks of the winter when the icy cold stole all sound and wrapped the world in a thick quiet. Later on in the day, as I left the house for errands, I noted the same flower shoots looking even perkier in the now fully-bright and warm sunlight.

Spring is coming, I can feel my heart sing. The sun, the light, the warmth, and the color are returning, and I honestly cannot wait. After a busy, hectic, stressful week, those five minutes did me a world of good.

 

Opening the Door for the Year to Slip Out (NYE 2017)


Today is the end of 2017. As we close out this year, I know it has been a terribly hard one for many personally. Terribly, terrifically, desperately hard. We as a society have lost a goodly amount of progress and soul under a leader who is out of touch with life and decency. Many people have seen 2017 tear away their security, faith in leaders, their resources, and even their very families.  Still, they and others have risen up in the midst of it, voices raised in defiance and truth and a call for rights, help, and protections for all.

This reminds me that good is not gone from the world, and, for that, I am imminently thankful. There are good people. There are people who will live and fight for others, for their rights, for their survival. There are people who will hold up their fellow man and woman, hold them gently and close, and speak for those who have no voice. There are people who love and love fiercely, as God has called us to love, and nothing will stop them in their course of action. Good is not gone from this world and it will never go silently away.

In this year, there have been wonderful moments, beautiful moments, silent and glorious moments. There have been moments of incredulity, of misunderstanding and pain, of facing a hard truth and then walking in the light of it, however it may blister. There have been moments that felt so terrible that all I wanted to do was hide away from the world forever. But I didn’t.

I couldn’t. I wouldn’t. I didn’t then, and I won’t now.

As 2017 makes its way out, I won’t wish it farewell with great fanfare or warm its way with a Molotov cocktail (though it feels like it’s surely earned something of the like in more than a few places). Instead, I’ll simply open the door and let it slip out into the dark night of midnight, consigned to oblivion. Similar to Shakespeare’s own words: “Then, window, let day in and let life out (Romeo and Juliet, Act 3, Scene 5).” We will never see this year again, never see its moments again. All that lies ahead is new. The moments ahead that await us are precious and painful in their own right; they can stand on their own two feet and need no help from the past.

But, as I open the door for this year to leave, I let the new one in. Shiny and blue and looking around bewildered by the expectations that already settle on its shoulders, the things that are enacted and put into place upon its birth. I will do my best to brush those expectations off 2018’s shoulders like so much snow off a coat and just…let it be for a bit. For a few hours. For a moment. I will kiss my husband and child. I will pray peace and good and restoration over this year. I will call my still-awake dear ones and text my slumbering ones and wish them a Happy New Year. I will sip from my glass and blow out the candles.

I will welcome 2018. I will straighten my shoulders, look it in the eye, and meet it with all the love, courage, fierce gentleness, and soul I can muster. And I pray that for you, too. I pray for courage, grace, peace, restoration, and hope for you.

Happy New Year, dear one. May it be blessed.

School Year’s End: Being Gentle with Goodbyes


The school year is almost over. There are three full days of school left after this one, our finals end tomorrow, and grades are due before I leave the building. I am ready for this school year to be done. I am ready to walk out those doors and not have to come back for at least a few weeks (I do have curriculum to write this summer, after all). I am ready to have my time be mostly my own again for a little while (I say mostly because my pre-K girl will be in daycare three days a week during the summer).

I am ready.

But, in the midst of all this readiness, I found a soft thought nudging my mind:

Say goodbye gently.

These junior high students have comprised the majority of my life, concern, and time for the past nine months, and now it is time to say goodbye. Next year, they will be freshmen. I will not see them every day, will not hear their laughs ripple through the halls, hear their franticly-rapid conversations in between periods, call at them to get to class, instruct them on the finer points of grammar, writing, or literary interpretation, or remind them of what it means to “have courage and be kind”.

Underpinning these thoughts, all that’s going through my head is Lin-Manuel Miranda’s “One Last Time” from Hamilton: An American Musical, where George Washington admonishes Alexander Hamilton, despite protest, to help him say goodbye properly to the fledgling American people and to teach the latter how to move on to new leadership. I am feeling the urge and leading to say goodbye to my students gently, to teach them how to say goodbye. 

To this end, I have had them writing letters to their favorite elementary and middle school teachers, to give commendation, encouragement, and thanks to those who have worked so hard to prepare them for the world that they will enter in the fall. My pile has been rather small this year compared to years passed but, honestly, though my pride might twinge a little, I’m mostly okay with it. Other teachers need to know how much they are appreciated by their students; it’s vital for a teacher’s soul, I feel.

To this end, I will do my utmost not to shoo them out of my room when all is said and done but to take my time and say goodbye to as many of them personally as I can, shake hands and even give hugs if they like. I will endeavor to say goodbye gently as my students move from one world to another, from the familiar to the different and, probably, somewhat scary. I want to send them off with as much courage and kindness as I can.

HAMILTON:
Mr. President, they will say you’re weak

WASHINGTON:
No, they will see we’re strong

HAMILTON:
Your position is so unique

WASHINGTON:
So I’ll use it to move them along

HAMILTON:
Why do you have to say goodbye?

WASHINGTON:
If I say goodbye, the nation learns to move on.
It outlives me when I’m gone.

Don’t forget, my dear scholars:

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Art and lettering by @joshuaphillips_ (Instagram)

Featured image by: @katchulaa (Instagram)