The Work of Christmas


As Christmas Eve waited on deck this week, I found myself apologizing to my husband. Apologizing that our Christmas hadn’t been more special, more meaningful, more full of sweet, reflective moments. He just cradled my face, kissed me, reassured me that it had been just fine, and, more importantly, my pastor/husband reminded me that Christmas had not even begun yet. And you know what? He was right. Christmas hadn’t begun yet and neither had its work. The work of Christmas starts with Christmas Day. It is literally the first day of Christmas and its work continues on from there.

What does that mean, though: the work of Christmas? Jesus came to live, see the unseen, love the unloved, give His life for all, and offer a place to everyone. His work was love, and that work began with His birth. So how do we do the work of Christmas? We love. How do we love? We love by encouraging. We love by defending. We love by not giving up. We love by not giving in. We love by respecting. We love by swallowing our opinions and listening to the drop and opening of others’ hearts.

We do the work of Christmas by loving, by forgiving, by standing in the gap, by hearing, by listening, by speaking up when necessary. Christmas began yesterday, the old year is on its way towards the door, and we have an entire new one coming in which to do Christmas’s work. Will you join me in carrying Christmas throughout the whole of the year? No matter what you celebrate, what you call it, will you help me do the work of love this year? Will you help me set the world on fire with it in 2019? I could use your help, dear friend. Thank you.

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A Winter’s See You Soon


Author’s Note: Back in April, I visited Universal Studios’ The Wizarding World of Harry Potter for the first time. As my companion and I were heading down the walkway to catch the Hogwarts Express back to Diagon Alley from Hogsmeade, I had the distinct feeling and vision of two students, arm in arm, making their way from Hogwarts Castle to Hogsmeade to catch the train home for the holidays. I even wrote it up but I do not think I ever posted it. Perhaps I am wrong but, either way, this is a good thing. I had originally envisioned and written this as a summer holiday leave-taking, BUT in honor of the Christmas holidays of which we are in the midst, I changed it slightly. I hope you enjoy, dear Readers. 

Also, standard disclaimers: All things Harry Potter, Hogwarts, etc., belong to Ms. J.K. Rowling. They are her creative babies and I thank her for lending us all the use of them to enjoy. The image belongs to Pottermore.com

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Arm in arm, they walked down the path to Hogsmeade, much slower than the gaggles of fellow students streaming out of Hogwarts and into the gently-swirling snow. The Christmas excitement was palpable, but, for those two students, it was bittersweet.

“So I can still come down to London for New Year’s Eve?” she asked hopefully.

“Definitely, and don’t forget: I’m taking you to see Celestina on Twelfth Night, right before we come back,” he reminded her tenderly.

She beamed at that. “I still canna believe you wrangled tickets to it! It’ll be the best!” she gushed, at which her Slytherin companion tapped the cold-pinked tip of her nose, causing her cheeks to flush an even deeper shade of the rosy color.

The gold of her cozy scarf lent a softer glow to the emerald and silver sheen of his, and he found himself drawing her closer. She responded in kind, her grip a bit tighter on him.

“We will have the whole train ride, don’t worry,” he reassured her, to which she smiled, completely ignoring the looks some of Slytherin girls gave as they passed them.

“I hate leaving,” she then murmured softly, “Even if only for a little bit.”

“Me, too,” he agreed, gazing at her with those piercing blue eyes, once again marveling at the warmth of the Hufflepuff’s brown ones.

The peaked, snow-capped roofs of Hogsmeade appeared in the closing distance and they could see the hot steam of the Hogwarts Express frothing up in the cold December air, waiting to take the students back to Kings Cross and their families. Professor—excuse me, Headmistress—McGonagall had waved those heading home off from the gates of the castle, warmly wishing them a Happy Christmas and good winter holiday. Now these two drew closer and closer to goodbye, for now, at least.

She drew physically closer to him, her arm around his waist and his over her shoulders, a kiss dropped sweetly on her temple beneath her grey knit hat. Friends rushed by the sedately-strolling pair, calling out teasings and happy Christmases and see-you-soons, to which they replied with smiles and waves. They would be there in plenty of time, and she knew a friend would save a compartment for them; sixth years had a code, after all.

The train ride from Hogsmeade to Kings Cross felt all too short, filled with soft moments, laughter and reminisces and plans made with friends for the new year, last hours of togetherness shared. When they reached snowy Kings Cross and all were about to part ways—him staying in London and her for the platform back up north—he reached out and drew her to him before leaving their compartment. This kiss was deep but gentle, almost chaste and yet still blistering.

“To tide us over,” he murmured, squeezing his lovely Hufflegirl close.

“Just a week,” she agreed, sniffling back tears and clinging to the back of the hoodie he’d changed into.

Donning their coats, they left the train hand in hand. Their families waited in opposite directions and so fingertips lingered and parted, and he watched the lovely coral of her flutter beneath the warm, plummy coat as she moved to greet her parents, a look over her shoulder given just for him.

All around were shouts and greetings and well-mets and holiday greetings; one couldn’t help but smile, for whatever reason. Christmas was here.

Pottermore-poa8

On the Last Day of November


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On this last day of November, I am thankful for so much and so many. I know that I will never name everything. But I will say this in particular, dear Reader:

Thank you for your love for my work.
Thank you for your patience with my silence.
Thank you for your generosity in your encouragement.
Thank you for your care.
Thank you for your trust in me when you give me parts of your heart to help hold, even if just for a moment.
Thank you for warm blankets and pillow forts for my soul.
Thank you for sharing my burdens, my joys, my laughs, and my tears.
Thank you for teaching me to hold space for others.
Thank you for reminding me to hold more space center stage for myself.
Thank you for your likes, your comments, and your shares. My words are not big but you make my heart feels so
Thank you for all you have done and all you will do, for who you are and who you will be in days to come.
I thank you, and I love you.

Sitting the Darkness with Her


Author’s Note: This has been written as a model essay for my students and the personal narrative essay they will be writing this week.

The Prompt: Describe a time when you have helped someone else or a time when someone else has helped you, how you feel about it, and how that situation has affected/impacted you and your life.

*Names have been changed to protect privacy

I never thought the moment would come when I could possibly hold someone’s life in my hands. However, one autumn night in Brown County, Indiana, it did. One hardly thinks that the phone is going to ring in the middle of the night and one of your best friends will be on the other end of the line, her phone in one hand, and purportedly, a razor in the other. It only takes a moment for you to realize just how hard you will fight to help someone stay.

Several years ago, I was down in Brown County attending a Smekens (Reading and Literacy) retreat with two or three other teachers from Yorktown Middle School. The day’s workshops were over, and the 8th grade Social Studies teacher and I were relaxing in our hotel room, winding down and readying ourselves for sleep. It was late, past nine o’clock, when my cell phone rang. Picking it up, I saw my friend *Katherine’s name on the caller ID. I answered immediately, asking her what was up. It was unusual for her to call me on the phone; we usually spoke via Facebook messenger or Skype ever since she had finished college at Ball State University and moved back home to Ohio. I am not a phone-talker, not usually. I tend to prefer either text or face-to-face conversations. My friends know this so when one of them chooses to call me, I have no doubt that it’s likely important. This was.

When Katherine spoke, her voice was shaky, and I could tell she was crying. Through her muddled and muddied words, I was able to figure out that she was sitting alone in her bedroom, contemplating ending her life. Immediately, I jumped to my feet and walked out of my hotel room, searching for somewhere to have this private—and increasingly, critically important–conversation. Finally, I settled on a bench on the porch in front of the hotel complex, as it was deserted this late. Sitting there on that bench in the evening cool, I listened to my friend pour out her aching heart and soul and in return offered her my own, breaking itself at the thought of losing her. She had been through quite a great deal in the past few years. Her childhood had been tumultuous, with lots of ups and downs, biological and foster families involved. After that Katherine had gone through several difficult relationships, a hard breakup before she’d finished college, and then had moved back home to find setting up life as an adult to be far more challenging than she had anticipated. It was all extremely heavy and weighing on her. I had walked alongside her through the college breakup and her fear that, afterward, our circle of friends would discard her because “we had been friends with him first”. That time, too, I had sat outside on the phone with her and reassured her that I understood her fears. I was the “outsider” in the friend circle, too, and I had worried about just the same things if my relationship with my then-boyfriend-now-husband had ever gone sideways. Would I be ostracized? Would I lose the only close friends I had in this part of Indiana? And, unfortunately, she did lose some of those friends, as did we. They chose to “side” with him and, in his mind, if we weren’t with him, we were against him. It was sad and hard, losing friends always is. Now I listened to her pour out a new set of burdens that had been placed on her already loaded-down and bowed back.

I sat there in the deepening darkness of that porch and the darkness that she undoubtedly faced in her bedroom, and I listened and cried. I reassured her that she was indeed loved, that, no, she was not a burden on anyone, and that I would miss her terribly if she left. Never once did I tell her that she was being selfish or cowardly. Those were not words that she needed to hear, nor were they in any way true. No, what my friend needed then was reasons to stay. Reasons to put that razor down, reasons to let her heart keep beating and her lungs keep breathing. She needed reasons to stay alive, so I did my best to give her reason after reason that I could think of. I don’t remember how long we sat there on the phone together or what all I actually said, but, eventually, the tears slowed, the words cleared, and she let out a huge breath. It was the kind of breath you exhale when you’ve just put down something very heavy. She was going to stay. I exhaled, too, and told her how much I loved her again and again. She was going to stay.

Today, I am absolutely elated to report that Katherine is doing well. She sought out and received the help that she needed, she found and built a new, healthy relationship, has found stability, and is now healthy, happy, hearty, and whole. I am unbelievably proud of her and so very happy for the beautiful thing her life has become. Until that night, suicide was just something I had heard of. It was just another statistic, something far removed, second-hand stories that I knew to be true because friends had had friends who had attempted or succeeded. This moment brought it home to me, made it absolutely, extremely, frighteningly real, and I think it changed something in my heart and soul. Ever since then, I have worked very hard to make myself and the spaces I inhabit (my home, my Facebook page, my classroom, etc.) a place where people can feel safe. Safe enough to share their feelings, their joys, and their struggles. I want to be a person and a place where people know they aren’t going to be judged because they are having a difficult time; they aren’t going to be called lazy or cowardly or selfish or weak. I read, donate, and participate in groups and projects such as To Write Love on Her Arms and The World Needs More Love Letters. I want to hold space for others to be able to be themselves, whatever that means for them in that moment, and, with any luck, give them some encouragement, a prayer, a bit of love, and some hope. Hope that they can take the next breath. Hope that they can take the next step. Hope that they can face another day. I want to do my best to be a place where people can come and, hopefully, find that they want to stay.

The Adjustment Paradox


Author’s Note: It took me a bit to pull my thoughts together on this, and I thank you for your patience, dear ones, and appreciate your continued prayers.

This summer has been all about adjustment. Adjusting plans, procedures, routines, responsibilities, and timing. My motto as a teacher has always been “Adaptation & Improvisation”. But you know what? Adjustment is exhausting, utterly so. Making plans and then have to adapt them or scrap them entirely and start over, that constant re-doing in order to make things turn out the way they should can completely drain you or drive you mad (whichever comes first). At the very least, it’s frustrating “making it all fit”. But how often might all that adjustment be obscuring something important?

I am the queen of making it all fit. I am the one who Tetrises the schedule, the budget, the house, the fridge. I am the one who figures how to make everything balance and work, how to make our world fit together to the best of my ability. But, at times, I catch myself wondering: just how much of that does God have to do for me? Does He end up having to arrange/re-arrange things in my world to help guide me through certain situations or toward a best outcome? While I know that it is perfectly within God’s scope and sphere to do so (and that I am positive He has done so in the past), it is still quite a surreal thought to consider that the Creator of the Universe might tut and sigh when He sees me turning the wrong way down the path of life and then start re-arranging His plans for me, much as I might re-arrange my driving routine to get around construction and to home. And yet, I could probably point out several poignant places in my life where I am fairly certain some adjustments had to be made by God because this stubborn child of His decided to skew off into left field.

How often do I let myself become so riddled with anxiety and stress due to an adjustment that I miss what’s right in front of me? An answer or a pathway so lovingly-provided? Or I get so anxious about an adjustment that I actively shy away from or unwittingly sabotage a chance, change, or opportunity because of the adjustment that would come along with it? I am so thankful that God is not exhausted by adjustments, by adaptations, by me, because let’s be honest: I am exhausted by me most days. I am in a season of adjustment right now but also a season of waiting, which is a very strange place to be as I am having to adapt and adjust life and yet not seeing what I would probably call any kind of change on the horizon. Then again that’s why we call it faith: the hope of things not yet seen.

I have things that God has put on my heart, prayers and hopes that I am not even close to understanding yet, that I am holding loosely in my hands and holding out before Him every day. I do not know what God has planned for me in the days, weeks, and months to come, but I do know that He has not failed me yet. That promise I will not hold loosely; that promise I am going to cling to. How could I do anything less?

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.

 

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.

one step at a time