The Onset of Overwhelm


With a statewide Stay Home order having gone into effect last night and the extension of school closings until May 1 here in Indiana, we teachers have had to pivot once again. My school board has requested that teachers set up lessons, projects, practices, etc., for students to engage in, though they are all to be optional. I had been preparing for something like this, dear ones, so I was at least partially ready. As such, around lunchtime on Saturday, up the lesson folders posted and out went the emails to students and parents, letting them know that these lessons were now up on our digital learning platform. I spent the rest of the afternoon fielding questions from students and parents and even reading a few assignments that were posted before the end of the day.

And, just like that, I felt the overwhelm starting to hover right over my shoulders like an owl, ready to settle its weight on me, talons digging into my skin. This is uncharted territory for me—teaching remotely—and I am nervous about it, to tell the truth. I am nervous about all it will involve, about how effective I will be able to be, or if I am even doing it “correctly”. I am also nervous about how much I will need to be doing, as, despite the fact that the lessons are optional, I know many parents have been dying for their students to have something to do and so will insist upon it being done. I am already working what feels like full-time between my daughter and her lessons, grading the assignments I have already brought home with me, reworking curriculum, taking care of our home and family, and my personal projects I have lined up for this season of life. I am anxious about being able to handle everything and possibly (hateably) dropping the ball. Right now, the overwhelm threatens to overtake me.

Over the past week or so, I have been reminding pretty much everyone, especially my own husband, that it is okay for things not to be perfect. It is okay, in this season, for things to be good enough. If you need to call in to the meeting in Zoom on your phone instead of video-conferencing on your laptop, that’s okay. It still works. If you AND your child have frustrations over the week’s elearning, it is okay to let what has been done be done and set the rest aside for tonight. It will still be there tomorrow, and we teachers will not judge you (I am officially speaking for my people, I have decided.).

This is indelibly difficult advice to take myself, though, as usual. However, the truth that is the same for others is also the same for me: it is okay for “good enough” to be good enough.

If I can only manage to be available to student contact for 2-3 hours in a day, that is good enough; they can wait until tomorrow.

If I can only mentally manage to get through half a class of grading today instead of the whole set, that is okay; the papers aren’t going anywhere.

If I need to slough off schoolwork entirely for a day and huddle with a book to recharge, that is acceptable; I am tending to my mental and emotional health, which is good and necessary.

If all I can manage during my prayer time is an exhausted “Ugh!” or no words at all, that is good enough. Jesus still knows my heart without me trying to stumble my way through words.

Let me say it again. It is acceptable and even healthy to let “good enough” be good enough right now (though not with your hand-washing and social distancing, please.). We are all finding a new way, a new normal, and nothing new is ever perfect right off the bat. Neither do we need to be perfect. Neither do I need to be perfect. In this season of life, dear ones, if any, we absolutely have permission to be imperfect. Give yourselves some much-needed grace and allow “good enough” to be good enough.

All in This Boat Together


For the first time in perhaps two centuries, almost the entire world is in the same boat. Every major country in the world is dealing with the outbreak of COVID-19. All over the planet, life is being disrupted, change sweeping over everyday life like a tsunami. People are startled and scared. For the first time in my lifetime, despite our location, we are all in the same boat.

Despite growing up in the Caribbean, I am not a huge fan of boats. The way they pitch and roll, the way that water can gather on the deck when the waves are choppy. I don’t like the smell of fish or the sensation of damp against my skin. I love the wind as the boat moves through the water but not the way it can leap and rear on the waves when it isn’t. I would be doubly squigged out if I were in that boat alone. And I have been before.

As a child, on a field trip, I elected to stay in the boat while my classmates tumbled into the water at Stingray City. I had no interest in swimming with creatures longer and larger than my entire body combined. Creatures that, if I stepped on one by accident, could deal me a painful blow with their stinger-tail. So I stayed in the boat by myself. That wasn’t fun either. I can remember holding onto the bars on the boat tightly as it bobbed and weaved on the water, an unsettled and unsettling feeling tingling at my temples. It was the same feeling that I still get when I am nauseated or when I hear Velcro being pulled apart. I still might not have liked being on the boat but perhaps I would not have been quite so unsettled if someone else had been there with me.

Simon Peter and the other disciples were in their own little boat when a storm came up and pitched and rolled them on the lake’s surface. I am sure they would agree with me: not fun, do not recommend. Even though they were not alone in the boat, it almost feels as though they forgot that Jesus was there. And maybe they did. But, yes, that was Him, napping in the prow there, rubbing bleary eyes when they shook Him awake in their fear. Apparently, this storm was enough to make even seasoned fishermen. as several of them were, cling white-knuckled to ropes and the sides of the boat. But they were not alone. They were together and they were with Him. And they got through it.

We are not alone in this boat right now. Many others, millions of them in fact, are startled, scared, and suffering, just as we are. I know that thinking about the misery of others may not be especially helpful but that is not what I mean. What I mean is that we all—for one of the first times—can empathize with each other. We know what those other folks are feeling, and they know what we are feeling because it is the same thing. We are all startled and scared and suffering. We are all in this boat together. That empathy can lead us to patience, that patience to compassion, and that compassion to mercy. May we look up from our own white-knuckling long enough to recognize the fear in the face of the person across the boat, the worry for their family, friends, and themselves. May we see ourselves in them, recognize ourselves, and offer the comfort that we so desperately crave, too. We are all in this boat together.

Ya basta, Dear Ones! Yibambe! Hold fast! To hope and to each other. We are all in this boat together; let’s let it make us softer, kinder, stronger, more loving, more merciful. Let’s let it make us better.

Interrupting the New Routine Energy


Have you ever noticed that when you start something new, you have all this energy for it? In dating, for example, they call that “new relationship energy”, where everything is sharp and vital and you can’t get enough of each other. Well, I totally had “new routine energy” on the first day. Over the weekend, after school closure was announced, I had sketched out a rough idea of the routine I wanted to get myself and my daughter into over this long duration at home. I talked it over with her and did my best to give myself grace for that first day–that it didn’t have to be perfect and, if it didn’t come together at all, that was okay, too. You know what? The first Monday home went beautifully! We accomplished every part of my proposed routine, with minimal snags or objections. It was an absolute dream!

Then came Tuesday. The only difference in Tuesday was a moved-up dentist appointment, but everything still went relatively well. Even now, I can still feel the novelty, the newness of the routine, of this situation, buzzing along my skin, and I think it is what is keeping my daughter relatively docile. New things, new chances, new interactions with these people with whom I spend my life. Despite this being our house, our town, our stuff, this is now our daily routine(s) writ small and contained in this space. It’s still there, that “new routine energy”, but I cannot help but think on down the road, down the days and weeks, to where the routine will become…well…routine. When it gets old and the everyday sets in. That’s when things get hard, tempers get short, the space seems too small, and the days seem oh, so long.

That is when we really need each other. When we start to follow blindly because “it’s what we do”, that’s when it is so very helpful to have that surprise phone call from a friend, your favorite song playing as their ringtone. That is when the chirp of the video-chat call on your computer or a letter in the mail is so very welcome. That is when a break in the energy is needed.

Jesus interrupted that “routine energy” on a not-so-routine basis. He ate at the homes of tax collectors and social pariahs. He held conversations with women often called harlots. He touched the untouchable. For Jesus, “this is how we have always done it” wasn’t good enough. If it didn’t center around people and love and mercy, it was not good enough. Life as it had always been done was not “routine” for Him.

May we be willing to break our routines for people, for love, for mercy. May we take that extra time at the table or on the couch to listen to the story our child made up. May we make just a little more coffee than normal so that our partner can have an extra cup as they try to figure out how Microsoft Teams works. May we be willing to do what Jesus did: break the routine energy in those moments when it is (or even just could be) so very vital.

Sinking In


This feels odd, doesn’t it? Being told to stay away from other people, to isolate ourselves? Being told to stay home? Many of us often wish we could but being told to do so is rather a different story, isn’t it? And yet it is for our own good. It is to protect us and others. It is meant for our good. And honestly? If we were not forced to—by need or dear-one mandate—some of us would never do ourselves that good and rest, including Yours Truly.

Jesus got it, though. Jesus got this separate but together thing. He got rest, in both senses of the phrase. He understood it and He made sure He got it. More than once in the New Testament, we are treated to watching Jesus step back and self-isolate, to “retreat from the crowds”, once for 40 whole days! (And here I am just on Day 3.) It was also for His good, the separation from everyone else for a little bit, the rest from the hustle. It was for His good, just as this is for our good. Jesus did it to restore His strength and to sink into His connection with God. So we, too, can use this time to restore our strength and health and to sink back into our connections—to faith, to family, to self. We can rest, just as Jesus did. Remember, He did it for 40 days once. Let’s be honest: in this particular case, He may be the only one who can speak to our condition.

When I am Forced to Rest


At the end of the day yesterday, an email came through my inbox, informing me and the rest of the staff in our school building that, after the coming week, the local Health Department was taking the precaution of closing all the schools in the county until Easter Monday, April 13. Today, right before lunch, my 3rd-period students came barreling into my classroom, demanding to know if I had read my email. 

“They are closing school starting MONDAY!” they shrieked at me.

I shooed them and their cacophony off to lunch and sat down to read the email, which I hadn’t read because I had been busy doing other things (go figure), for myself. Indeed that is what it said. So, instead of being out of school for three weeks, including Spring Break, we would now be out of school for a month! I panicked for a moment because my eLearning lessons weren’t done. I was only 3 days into the unit I was building. 

Then I read on.

Because our state government has offered schools a waiver of up to 20 out of the required 180 instructional days during the school year, and we would be using 15 days for this closure, that was what we were going with. So there would be NO ELEARNING during this closure. No assignments or lessons would be given to students while they are out for these four weeks.

I couldn’t wrap my mind around it (still cannot, honestly), so all afternoon, I would catch myself saying, “Oh, I need to work on/copy/prepare this for class next week,” and then realize that…I didn’t.

WHAT?!

It threw me time after time, as did the realization that, unless the schedule changed drastically for the end of the year, I wouldn’t have time to teach the unit I was working on before we launched into standardized testing anyway.

I can’t just stop…can I?

I can’t just sit back and set it all aside. I have assignments that need to be graded and entered, a unit that needs to be built, no matter whether I actually get to teach it this year or not, curriculum that needs revamping, AND a 1st-grader who needs a routine and cannot afford to fall behind on her academic skills, in case they do not change the testing schedule.

I can’t just stop…can I?

And yet, in the midst of all of this chaos, a thought floated through my mind. “If you do not rest when your body says it needs, you will be forced to rest when it no longer can.”  Now, I am under zero illusions that all of this has come about because I was not taking the best care of myself. However, the truth indeed is that I have not been resting lately, dear ones. With all the grading for the end of the 3rd nine weeks, I have been working pretty much constantly and only averaging between four and five hours of a sleep a night. Not good at all. 

But I can’t just stop. Can I?

Perhaps now, in more ways than one, yes, I can stop. Perhaps I am being forced to rest. To take in the small moments. Take life day by day and create a new routine. Take the opportunity to slow down.

So, as we enter this time of admitted uncertainty, I want to see the lessons of rest that might be hiding in the corners, waiting for me to calm down enough to see and embrace them. Lessons in how to be good to myself, good to my dear ones, and what lessons and moments of quiet, rest, and hygge await me as spring peeks around the doorjamb.

Pausing to Rest


As I tipped the trash bag into the hopper and let the lid fall, I paused on my shuffle back to the house over the icy drive and just stood still. I let the silence of the winter night, the temperature rapidly dropping, settle over me and just…rested in it for a long moment.

Have you ever listened to the world freeze over? I did. I could hear the creak of branches under the weight of the freezing snow and the muted boom of expanding ice birthing cracks and potential potholes in the streets. My eyelashes sparkled with shimmering snowflakes that fluttered to spangle the black of my sweater as they swirled and winked in the arc of light cast by the fixture beside the backdoor.

I remembered a night similar to this, almost twenty years ago, when I tripped merrily home from a campus formal. I recalled the dusting of snow on the sidewalk glinting like fairy dust under my feet and the hem of my gown in the blue moonlight and how beautiful I felt in that moment. Smiling at the memory, I just stood there, drinking the peace of a winter night, its stillness, its deep, slow breathing, and its call to rest.

Then the single-digit-chill wind decided I needed a nudge back to reality and gusted up to cajole me on into the house. “Before the cold catches up to you…” it seemed to whisper, dusting one last sparkle of snowflakes over me before I turned to go inside.

A moment’s rest can be just what you need, especially when it leaves you with a pleasant little shiver.

The Rest After the Step


It has been a long few weeks that have left me far more tired than I had anticipated. The biggest factor in this is something that I have told very few people about. Two weeks ago, I applied for a position outside of teaching. My husband heard about the posting from some of the ladies who work for the nonprofit that posted it (benefit of your office building sharing space with other groups). He then immediately passed it on to me, with the insistent assurance that I would be perfect for the position with my abilities and skill sets. At first, I was dubious, as I have been in the past, but I have deeply prayed over the past few years for God to show me the next chapter He has for me, to help me find my next right thing (thank you, Emily P. Freeman and Queen Anna!). So I decided that I would update my CV and send it in with a letter of interest. You guys, I cannot count how many revisions those two documents went through over those few days! I have always been a perfectionist when it comes to documentation like that; and it had been several years since I had even contemplated a position outside of teaching, so updates were definitely needed. When all was said and done, I said a prayer, clicked “Send” on the email, and that was it. Then I had to wait. So I waited. And waited. Then, all in a rush, I received an email last weekend saying that they would like to interview me over Zoom! We managed to wrangle a day and time that would work for everyone, mindful of time differences for those traveling, and so it went.

The interview went well, but, in the end, it turned out that the timing of the position just was not going to work out. They needed someone to be able to train and slide into the full-time position by the end of February, and I did not have peace about up and leaving my teaching position so suddenly and abruptly. I did not feel released to do that to my principal and students. So…needless to say, when they answered my question about the timing, I felt a sinking in my soul.

“Well, that means this interview is over,” I thought. But I still asked some questions about their nonprofit, in an effort to not have things end on an *extremely* awkward note. Just a moderately awkward one.

After the interview, I finished out my day, but, once the kiddo was in bed and Ben and I were alone, I flopped onto the floor with an “UGH!” that would have made Charlie Brown proud. When I was finally able to verbalize what I felt, I realized that I had become far more hopeful of that new position, that change, that new chapter, than I had realized. And I was disappointed. Disappointed that it wouldn’t work. Disappointed that I wouldn’t get to try something new. Disappointed that my stepping out in faith seemingly wouldn’t be rewarded.

As this week has gone on, however, I find a thought has been whispered to my mind and soul and repeated when I haven’t been looking.

“You have stepped. Now rest.”

Rest. It’s my word, my intention for the year. Rest. I stepped out in faith, praying for God to lead me aright. And He did. I stepped out in courage. Now I need to rest. 

Rest in gratitude that God kept His word to be with me and guide me. 

Rest in faith that He knows best. 

Rest in peace that where I am is my next right thing for now.

Rest in hope that, when another opportunity comes along, I will heed the call to step out again.

I have stepped; it was a lot of work–mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. Now it is time for me to rest my feet, recover, and allow Him to refill those stores. There is another big week ahead, but, for now, this is my immediate next right thing. I even have a scratchy, tired voice to enforce it.

Rest.

My Storied January, Part 2


A bee. A key. A sword. Several months ago, those images began filling my Twitter and Instagram feeds. I knew what they heralded and was practically beside myself with each new post and peek. I had been waiting for eight years for a new world from Erin Morgenstern to step sideways into, ever since I was so exquisitely enthralled, ensorcelled, and enraptured by The Night Circus. I have never recommended or passed on a book as often as I have that one. And The Starless Sea was no disappointment. A story molded and folded, fitted and tide-locked with other the stories within it. Stories that mix and mingle and connect and rend. When I first received this beautiful book, it took me several weeks to read even 70 pages. That was agony for me. When all I wanted to do was to dive in and devour it, I was being forced to savor it. I found it creeping into my days, my dreams, my daily drive (thank you, monthly Audible credit!), and even my work. I used it as an example entry for my 8th-grade students’ silent reading journals. 

Photo by The Ridgefield Press

Needless to say, I tumbled into a world of keys and swords and books, of Doors and bees and stories. I will not claim to understand everything…yet. It will no doubt take several readings and listenings to unravel all the paths and side-quests and cues within the gorgeous labyrinth held between these gold-embossed black covers. There are lines that still linger in my mind, lines that I have quoted and enigmatically posted. Lines that wrap themselves around my wrists and elbows like golden ribbons, words dangling from my fingertips like keys and glowing in my chest like embers. Morgenstern has not disappointed in any sense; once again her world-weaving has carried me off over golden waves.

My fictional world is, as it seems, full of books and Doors and stories right now. I am chasing after books come alive in A.J. Hackwith’s The Library of the Unwritten and running headlong through ten-thousand Doors in the most gorgeous epic by Alix E. Harrow (The Ten Thousand Doors of January). To my delight, I am led and shepherded everywhere I look in these tales by characters of color. I am also seeing bits and pieces of myself spread out among them. A hero with eyesight as bad as my own. A Librarian with locs and a fierceness to match the angelic host themselves. A girl with mocha skin and a bronze-furred dog. Her friend with a body the color of coffee who would be perfect standing side by side with the Librarian in battle. Zachariah, Claire, January, Bad, Jane. I marvel at finding myself surrounded by these characters, taken by the hands and led–sometimes thrown–through their adventures, failures, discoveries, and downfalls. It is intense. It is emotional. It is fascinating. It is painful. And every second is worth it.

This is my storied January indeed, and I am loving it!

My Storied January, Part 1


This has been, thus far, a storied January. In the space of the past two weeks, I have been filled to the proverbial brim by two of the most glorious tales, thus my “storied” January. I will begin here with tale the first.

On a recent, rare, free Sunday, I took myself on a date to the movies, alone, to finally dive deep into a childhood love. I settled myself into my seat and nervously waited through the previews (which I usually enjoy but that day they only tortured me by prolonging the excitement) for the beginning of Greta Gerwig’s long-anticipated adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women

Finally, with a flash of a red leather cover (reminiscent of Dickens’ first edition of A Christmas Carol), the title and author embossed in gold, I was dropped in behind Saoirse Ronan’s Jo March as she paused before the door to the Daily Volcano Press and the imposing Mr. Dashwood. And so it began.

For the next two hours and fifteen minutes, I cried, chided, laughed, fumed, and rejoiced, enthralled to be once again in the world of March Sisters and their beloved friends and family. I was alternately charmed by and incensed at Theodore Laurence, my darling Laurie, played so beautifully by the compelling Timothee Chalamet. And, in my aged prime of almost thirty-seven years, I am more certain than ever of Jo’s wisdom in turning him down. (The fact that I married my own teacher of German, as Jo married her sweet German professor, has absolutely nothing to do with this, by the way.) Jo’s lioness-fierce, protective love for her darling Beth was every bit as moving as it has always been, as was Beth’s own deep, unabashed love for her family and her abiding shyness, which made one want to fight off anyone who would dare to distress her dear, sweet self.

Emma Watson’s Meg was so honest that I adored her to new depths, a great surprise as Meg has never been a favorite character of mine. The struggles she faced between her desire for delicate, pretty things, the oft-harsh reality of her circumstances, and a bone-deep yearning to be content and good were so poignant and real and quintessentially Alcott that I was thrilled to my core. I could practically see Polly from An Old-Fashioned Girl detaching herself from Meg’s inspired skirts to embark on her own stories and struggles along that similar path. I love Watson’s emotional range and the genuineness of feeling that she brought to Meg’s internal struggle. 

I left the movie theater glowing, though a pinprick of disappointment was there. Disappointment that I hadn’t carved out the time to take my own Marmee with me to see this film when she visited for Christmas. 

(Never fear, Marmee! I shall buy it and we shall cuddle up with kettle corn and blankets and tissues together when you visit later this year.) 

This is the first story in which I have gloried this January. It made my heart so very, very full, that time alone with this beloved tale. Not two days later, I found myself hovering over the end of another beautiful story, excited yet chagrined to turn the last few pages.  But that is a story for another day and another post. (Don’t worry, you won’t have to wait long.)

Nestling into the New Year


Two more days left in 2019. In these days of limbo between the 26th and the 1st, I am trying to embrace the quiet, take in the silence before the new year. I am trying to rest intentionally before the madness starts all over again.

I have also been trying to think of my word for 2020, a word to guide my thoughts, work, and growth, as well as my writing, for the year. So I have been considering what it is I want to accomplish in 2020. I know that I want to recreate my relationship with Winter, with its silence, bleakness, and dormancy. I want to find the ways to benefit from this season, which is necessary to the process of growth: a restful time. I want to re-learn how to rest.

Is that my word then? Rest? Rest for my body. Rest and peace for my soul. Resting in faith, contentment, and gratitude. Taking moments to step back, to embrace quiet and rest in the midst of all that is going on and all I am striving for.

Rest.

I will admit that, when this word first came to mind a few days ago, I resisted it. “Rest isn’t a goal. Isn’t an intention!” I told myself. But what else could it be when even the plants and animals bear witness to its necessity? We human begins are the ones who have bought into the idea of hustle, of constant going and work and striving. Of shoving quiet and stillness to the side, cursing them as unproductive or lazy. But how can we do our best without a chance to rest? How can I?

I need rest. And I have already begun! In the past few days, I have risen in the quiet of my still-sleeping household. I have embraced early-morning, snow-deep silence. Even today, I have sat here in my hushed living room, the only soundtrack the crackling fireplace flames, for the past two hours. It hails windily outside our little cottage, but, within, my tree twinkles sweetly and an amber candle fills the air with its warm scent, drawing my senses and spirit down into relaxation. I have been nestled on the couch with blanket, books, pen, and coffee–reading, praying, writing–while my beloved daughter takes her fun upstairs and has been miraculously quiet herself. Our house has been full of rest this morning. And, as I look back over my writings for the past weeks, I see it. Subtly hidden or staring boldly out at me. I see my desire for it, my need for it, writ plain on my soul.

Rest.

Yes. In 2020, I will re-learn what it means to rest. To seek and find it, to gift it, and to create an atmosphere of it in my small spaces of the world.

That is my intention. That is my goal.

I will rest.