Sunday, December 30, 2007

2007. It was a very good year.

It's late-- I drank about a gallon of green tea earlier. I suspect that I am not as immune to caffeine as I previously believed...

So my mother has always had good suggestions for insomnia (though I am so thankful that I have never really suffered from that... I have friends and students who have and I think that it would be hellish), and two of them include reading the bible and recounting your blessings. I'm picking blessings right now because I need to go to bed and Don is already asleep on our new fabulous sheets which will ensure that I will oversleep every day for the rest of my life.

Very Good Things.
* it's raining and will rain some more.
* we had thunder yesterday.
* my boy got me some fantastic chairs for Christmas. He thinks that it wasn't a romantic gift. He's wrong. He just doesn't know that line in "Steel Magnolias" where Julia Roberts' character was given furniture for her first Christmas married and everyone was very impressed. :)
* my new car
* the miracle that will be getting my new car in order (long story. i will tell it once it is resolved. but here's this: so far, there's a car finding service i am prepared to campaign against very soon)
* my job. i happen to have landed at the most amazing school with some pretty incredible co-workers. and i love my students. it's good.
* did i mention the rain?
* my sunday school class (the availables, the island of misfit toys, the 20-30 somethings/no demographic is good enough). they just get cooler and cooler all the time. i am so, so amazed at my good fortune. in my life, i have found myself in tight spaces with some of the most intelligent, most interesting people around (with some notable exceptions in Richmond, Va., and about three countries I won't recount here). i could also give thanks for the crappy people, i'm sure, but i won't. that's another late night post.
* THE CONYERS CHRISTMAS ELVES!!!! Dudes, we made the FRONT PAGE OF THE NEWSPAPER YESTERDAY!!!! Oh my gosh, that was so much fun. You guys ROCK!!!!
* my family. oh wow. lucky lucky.
* my niece(s). Chandler gets more beautiful every day, and Nathan and Lucy's little lima bean has a beautiful profile. i KNOW that she'll have red hair, but we'll report back on that in may when she arrives at last.
* don. don don don.

it's funny. so many people use blogs for different things. some for politics, some for rants on very specific topics in life, and some for personal diaries. i have a friend who wrote a fairly scathing commentary on the sense of self-importance that comes across when bloggers just sort of write long rambling posts on only personal stuff. hm. i don't guess i know why i'm writing, but certainly not for the purpose of antagonizing blog-scanners who would criticize! here's this: if you don't care to read, well... don't. no big deal.

i guess my purpose really is directly related to the fact that i need to keep writing and i keep trying to get my writing partners to blog, too-- it's a good place for accountability (did you write this week?) and commentary.

also, sometimes i feel like i have something-- a speck of a thought or feeling-- that i want to work out toward a larger teaching or essay.

and i get comments via email and other places from friends who are just sort of happy to hang out and read something. i'm curious like that, too. keeping up with friends in other countries, former YWAM-mates and Agnes Scott classmates, etc.

anyway, i'm sleepy now. being thankful is very relaxing.
:)

Sunday, December 23, 2007

To be absent from the body...

Last night, she lay down beside the man she loved more than anything. This morning, she awoke to an empty house.

My best friend's father died this morning, in his sleep.

He was only 60.

How do we go on? How does his wife go on? How do you go to sleep, wrapped in mingled warmth under stacks of blankets, exhausted and together, and wake up him-less? Him. Him. Him. How does a wife go on?

Kristen's father was a great man. She gets this amazing...magnetism... from him. He was the kind of guy who knew e v e r y o n e in his community, seemed to manage to make them all feel liked and known by him. I remember that he took us to this steak house in their town in Missouri once, about 10 years ago, and the chef came out to greet us all by name when he heard that BJ was there. He was what you think of when you hear the term "life of the party." People wanted to sit with him. Kristen is the same way. They don't even really have to try. It's just this... thing. Kristen's husband nailed it when he toasted her at their wedding reception 11 years ago: This thing about her is nameless...it's simply "Kris-ness." BJ had it first.

And people have to die. It's the way things work. The cycle of life and all that. But can you imagine? To wake up, shuffling to the kitchen on a freezing morning three days before Christmas, to make coffee for yourself and your partner. It's odd that he isn't up first-- he's typically the first one up and has done a thousand things already. You head back to your bedroom to wake him up, and he has gone. He's not there. He won't open his eyes.

Oh.

What were you doing when he was dying? Did he open his eyes one last time to gaze on your face? Did he know that he was going? Did he need your help? Was he afraid? What were you dreaming about? How could you be so close to him, in that cozy safe proximity of your bed, your home, and yet be so far-- thousands of dreamy miles-- away from him in the most important moment of his life. Touching him perhaps. Your head on his shoulder. Your hands tied up in his.

It makes me want to sit up all night, just watching. Making sure. Taking care of him. Listening to him breathe. I'm thinking that if I never slept again, I could get a lot of reading done. I could just sort of lie beside him with my hand on his tummy, feeling the rise and fall of his breathing. I could nudge him away from nightmares, make sure he's covered with enough blankets all night....

Right-- that's pushing it. Can you imagine living with someone that manic? Oh my gosh, it would drive him karayzee.

I can't imagine my life without this man of mine. The loss of Kristen's father has hit me on three levels: 1) I love her and wish that I could stop the waves of pain that she is walking into. I can't imagine how it feels to lose a parent, but I know that the loss has to be unbearable. She's fiercely independent, but today she is broken in half. I can't bring myself to even listen to the first message she left me this morning-- and I can't believe I didn't sense that I needed to call her back right away. 2) her father turned 60 on the 10th of this month. Mine turned 60 on the 19th. How could I cope with losing my dad? Or my mom? Or my brother? Or my husband? Or any friend at all? And 3) what can it be like for a woman to lose her husband?

It feels sometimes like God sews beautiful people and experiences into the fabric of our lives and they are only here for a season, but we want to command the divine quiltmaker on how to order the quilt. It is His to decide when this patch or that block should be moved or replaced or expanded.... Sometimes I feel like a little kid who is given a gift and who howls in anger and hurt and frustration when my Father wants me to let go so He can hand me something else, something in addition to, something better.

But how can there be anything better than that person He gave you? I have literally never known anyone as beautiful as my husband is, in every way. I mean, surely there are other beautiful people, but not to me. Not for me. How could I wake up to having lost him? How did Kristen's step mother do it? How can she have felt? Did she go completely numb? Did her brain scream in terror like you might if you were being murdered? Was she afraid to be in the room with a dead body?

And tonight... oh, tonight that dear woman will lie down in that bed (she won't leave the house-- neither would I) and be alone for the first time in 15 years.

To be absent from the body is to be together with Christ-- how could we live without this consolation? But only the Holy Spirit can hold the heart of a newly minted widow and make her able to keep living.

I cannot imagine. And pray God that I will not have to for many, many years.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Brrrrrr....

It's freezing outside (oh, an old YWAM friend from Brazil would say it was "frizzing") and I can't sleep. One thing keeping me awake was remembering that I needed to pay my cell phone bill, so I got up to do that-- but the operator was a total jerk and I had to interrupt his whole page and a half of his script every ten seconds just to find out that I was in the "wrong department," when the automated teller is the one who sent me there and he was treating me like I had just tracked mud into his white-carpeted living room. I wanted to cuss at him and accuse him of not even living in America, but then I caught myself. He can't be happy about working the phones at T-Mobile at one in the morning any more than I'm irritated about having to call him. It's my own fault anyway. And when I'm done, I get to go back to my warm bed and my 2 million count Egyptian cotton sheets that smell like heaven straight from the dryer and my husband who smells like campfire. T-Mobile guy just gets to hit a button and say "Welcome to T-Mobile, this is ______, ID# 6784023, how can I assist you?" until 7 a.m., I'm sure.

Maybe I should call him back. Apologize for being grumpy.

Well, no. I mean, I'm not being paid to go back to bed, am I? T-Mobile will be sleeping tomorrow when I have to bust three 14 year olds for trying to cheat on an exam and who will take it personally and be highly offended when I tell them to takeoffthathatpullyourpantsuptuckyourshirt
inputthatcellphoneawaystophittinghimgrabbinghimtalkingtohimherthem.

Yes, the Song of the Public School Teacher. Lovely, isn't it? Imagine it to something by Vivaldi.

In other news, my preacher is a goofball and I really adore him. Seriously, though-- he's a goofball. That kind of brilliant, insightful kind of goofball. Like a favorite professor with serious heart. He said today-- and I can't remember how he worked it anywhere close to the sermon-- oh yes: he was thanking God for the rain (Yay God!!!), and he said that yesterday he stepped in a puddle and was terribly frightened because he didn't know what it was!

No, seriously. Cooky goofball. Dude is my age but thinks that I am years younger than him. I have yet to correct him. I like him so much. He's single and every day I resist the urge to even imagine which of my single friends I would want to fix him up with. I respect him too much to even go there. Besides, I am famously bad at fixing people up. If you are single, do not ask me to introduce you to anyone. I will ruin your life. But I WILL pray for you :)

Another thing I'm thinking, by the way, is that I want to be like Mary: radically available to God.

A certain amount of randomness should be expected after midnight.

Back to bed.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Just Sing...

My father and I have a song. You know-- an "our song." I have this vivid memory of sitting beside him in the front seat of our little white VW Beetle in 1974, when I was around 3, and "our song" came on the radio-- "Sing... Sing a song... sing out loud... sing out strong! Sing of good things, not bad/Sing of happy, not sad..." Remember that one? I remember first hearing it on Sesame Street (vintage Sesame Street-- it grew up with my generation and I firmly believe that we were better for it). Daddy and I would sing that song and laugh and laugh... just thinking of it now warms my heart. I love my dad.

Today I think of the fact that I have grown up with my earthly father telling me to sing. Once, just before I gave my life back to the Lord (just before I turned 21), he got so frustrated with me.... My dad is the gentlest person I know, but he was angry with the fact that I refused to sing. I had made tiny forays into singing while in high school, but the truth was that I had really, really gifted singing friends around me and was totally intimidated, though I would hardly admit it. Tori, Heather-- my friends could straight up sing. So could I, but I held back.

But Dad knew that I could sing and he knew that there was a reason for it. My dad wanted to hear my voice, saw me dying inside of a thousand diseases of the heart, and wanted to hear my voice.

Today I am thinking of that. Only, I'm thinking of my Father and His longing to hear our voices-- He knows our need to worship Him. My friend Bryan is hosting something he's calling a "travelling worship time" or something (see his blog-- it's on my links list) tonight (I'm home, sick)- he's home from YWAM, trying to hear God's direction for his life and pursuing every good thing he can think of in the meantime.... I think that it is so, so important and brilliant that he thought to organize a worship time... when in doubt, praise. That's one thing I'm thinking of.

The other is this: the church, as every, every, everyone is saying, is being shaken. The reality is, it's been a long time coming, too. The Paulks at the Cathedral of the Holy Spirit in DeKalb county are being shaken in a mighty way; certain big-time televangelists are being questioned about their financial integrity; and various and sundry church scandals on smaller (and some larger) scales world-wide. The shaking there is a good thing.

But then there is the inexplicable attack, this craziness, on our brothers and sisters at YWAM Denver and in the Springs. Unbelievable. I read an outlandishly stupid comment on a blog that claimed that it was pure hypocrisy on the part of these missionaries that they turned the soon-to-be shooter away-- but has that commenter ever lived on a base? Do they understand that the people who who asked that young man to leave were kids and that they did the right thing? That a YWAM base is not designed to be a homeless shelter-- it's a training facility [often] populated largely by young men and women in their early 20's, and the students there are not equipped to work with people with certain mental issues? That it would be dangerous and stupid for them to allow an aggressive individual to sleep on the premises when they do not know him, have no way of containing him, have no idea how to handle him? We had individuals like that at every YWAM base I worked with. Those bases are specifically designed to accomodate a certain ministry. To suggest that those kids did anything hypocritical or wrong is infuriating. They were probably frightened by the way he acted, but the generosity in their spirits probably wanted to help him. But the head of hospitality was this lovely, young woman cleaning up after a party. The base leader, probably one of the oldest guys there, was headed home-- what were they to do? I've been where they were, on a YWAM base with crazy, needy strangers looking for help--only our "visitors" weren't armed.

But you know what they're doing now? Oh man, they're singing. I can't imagine.

These things... remember the old cry, "Maranatha, Lord... come quickly."

There's this song that I love-- it's one of my favorite worship songs of all time-- called "Sing to the King." When I sing it, I feel like I'm going to just come right off the stage. "Sing to the King who is coming to reign/Glory to Jesus, the Lamb that was slain/ Life and salvation his empire shall bring/and joy to the nations when Jesus is King."

The last time I sang it, I could feel the presence of the Lord and the agreement of the congregation in such an intense way. It was unbelievable. And here's what I was thinking... when Jesus comes again, we won't have to worry about who is going to be president. We won't have to worry about youth pastors who sin against children. We won't have to worry about pastors who call themselves Bishops and then rape the flock. We won't have to worry about hurting, hurtful young men who shoot people who would have loved him. When the King comes...

But here's this: He comes to us every time we sing, when we lift our hearts in adoration of His loveliness. Like my dad, longing to hear my voice and loving it since I was a little girl, our Father in heaven longs to hear us sing to Him. And when we sing, He comes to us. His word says that He inhabits the praises of His people. God inhabits the praises of His people.

So sing. Sing a song. Make it simple to last your whole life long. Don't worry that it's not good enough for anyone else to hear. Just sing. Sing a song.

Come into His gates with thanksgiving.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Some cool kids I know



Apparently, people under the age of 28 don't know what Balderdash is.



And I can only say that the fault must rest on parents and older brothers and sisters everywhere. At the same time, it was lovely to be the one to introduce the game to some of the coolest, smartest and funniest people I know.


The Availables (our 20-30 something group that changes identities faster than Martin Short in his one-man-show) got together for a post-Thanksgiving shin-dig a la casa de Swaney this past week, and it was fun as always-- though we were fireless this time, much to Bryan's chagrin.



Here are only a couple of pictures from the evening-- being on dial-up cramps my picture posting style like crazy.


(<-- Grizzly Swaney) Oh, and the annual New Year's Eve Scrabble Fest is still on, as far as I can tell. Same place, same table, same night, different champion-- the guys have beaten the girls for the last 4 years now. This is serious.

Also, we found a new room to meet in today. But it's a secret. See Bryan, Kevin, Whitney or me to get directions to the super secret location and you must swear to not give it away, lest we be ousted. All are welcome (as long as you fit our strange demographic), but only a few are privvy to the map...

Meanwhile... remember that "thank you" is the password into the holy of holies.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Chandler's quilt...

Will post some images here later, but have to remark...quilt-making is not quite as easy as I had imagined. And not for the reasons I might have guessed.

The biggest problem I am running into is figuring out how to pair fabrics. Seriously, I have this stack of gorgeous fabrics that I bought from the BEST quilt fabrics and supply place in Conyers, Sweet Home Quilt Shop, owned by the mother of one of my Springs students, and I can't figure out which patterns go best next to which ones...

Anyway, I think that I have decided, and as an artist I'm fairly comfortable with the quilt being kind of quirky and funky. In fact, it's sort of what I am hoping for. But I'm dreading the moment when I bring the pieces up to Melissa's shop in order for her to help me finish it... I just know those expert quilters are going to laugh their heads off at me!!

Still, I am keeping constantly at the back of my mind those awesome quilts (Gees Mill) that were on display at the High Museum last year. They were sort of wonky and beautiful. I'll just say that that was what I was going for...


Right. In my dreams.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Themes

Was instructing my kids on "theme" in my literature classes last week and asked them to do a writing exercise that sparked my own thoughts.

Theme is a tough concept to get, really. When looking for the theme of a movie, story or song or something, you aren't really asking for a specific "subject" (depression, etc.), but for something more general and more broad. A teaching I have heard and which I use suggests that looking at the climax in the story/song/etc., is the way to find the theme: you find the theme where you find the most intense conflict.

I asked my kids to examine their short lives and see if they could detect a theme so far. Admittedly, it was a tough assignment. Their answers weren't great, and I didn't really expect them to be. But when I began to think of my own life...

We have more than one climax, right? (Oh, there are jokes there)(and don't think that I don't see the faces of my little hormonally explosive 9th and 10th graders whenever I talk about climaxes. I usually make sure to couple that word automatically with the word "story." Story climax sounds less, well... anyway)

Anyway, here's where I'm headed with that: if you had to name a theme for your life, what would it be? Could you look for the moments of greatest intensity or greatest conflict and detect a running theme? Tom & Jerry (cartoon) sport a theme that has everything to do with the fact that your size and appearance don't matter-- it's what's going on in your head that matters. Or it could relate to counting on the underdog to make it out alive every time.

But for us? How do we respond to conflict? And do we revisit the same kinds of conflicts over and over again? It seems that, if we will truly begin to examine this question, we might become convicted by the Holy Spirit about things we previously whined about ("why does____ always happen to me, Lord?"), or we might find ourselves encouraged over the way that He has worked in our hearts.

More on this later...

Friday, November 16, 2007

Cool.

Sat beside a dear old friend tonight in the fellowship hall of a dear old church tonight and worshipped in that place.

God is a God of restoration for all who choose to embrace it.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

One more thing

I have to add to my list of things I am happy about: Jonathan's blog. If you have a minute, you MUST check it out. He's hilarious (so is Chuck on Spectre Collie), and his pictures are really amazing. He's on the Grand Tour in Europe and has blogged some great notes on it.

that is all!

Overheard...

Walking through the commons area (when I was a kid, I thought that word was "Commisarea")(um, "kid" meaning 9-12th grade...) yesterday, I overheard one of the sweetest exchanges between kids that I have ever heard.

Two boys were talking-- one was a dark-headed boy with CP who is in a wheel chair, and the other was a tall, strawberry blonde football player. I've seen the boy in the wheel chair fairly often-- he's a very outgoing freshman and it seems that quite a few of the kids know him. I hadn't seen the other boy very often, but he was wearing a football jersey and I know that he's a senior.

Boy in the wheelchair looked up at the senior and asked, as I was walking by, "Is it true that football players get all the girls?"

i could have fallen down over how cute that question was!

The football player, caught a little off guard, sort of shrugged his shoulders and smiled down at the other boy and said so tenderly, "I don't know about all that, but hey, you know, you're a nice guy-- we probably have about the same chance with the girls!"

I wanted to stay to hear the rest of the conversation, but there was no way to do it without being obvious, and I didn't want to interrupt their moment.

Sometimes, I am completely undone with the kindnesses children show to one another.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Some good things :)

Well, the T-yota bit the dust. Yes, it happened. Actually, very soon after the last post in which I talked about it being a fairly crappy car...wow, I feel pretty unfaithful saying that. Anyway, next morning the tire blew out on the way to school. One of my colleagues came and got me-- it was close to school and Don's phone was on silent by then-- and that afternoon, Don changed the tire.

And it was an event.

It took 45 minutes.

Now, my husband can fix pretty much anything. And being married to me, he has fixed his share of car things and changed a couple of tires! But that afternoon, there he was, sweating and lying on the cement in his good school clothes, trying to get the tire off.... the tire had actually RUSTED TO THE WHEEL!!!!

So it was decided.

The reason I didn't post right away was because I wanted to post with it a picture of the sign I had taped into the car when I had to leave it for the day-- I had to say that "this car is not abandoned" because that's just how crappy it looked.

Things are different now. I have a car which is reliable and I have a car that I look forward to getting into at the end of a long day doing mental gymnastics and biting my sarcastic tongue (don't even get me started on the girl I busted sniffing old-school permanent markers. I almost just told her not to worry about it because, as nice as she is, I'm fairly certain she does not have any brain cells to kill, but anyway...). This is the first time in my life that I have a car that was made in the decade I am presently living in and I'm not worried about driving it to see my niece in Suwannee.

Other things I am thankful for:
*This gorgeous rain-- thank you Jesus!!!
*My 10th grade class. Wow, they are great.
*Bridge to Terebithia (the book). Tear-jerker. Read it.
*Trader Joe's $3 wine
*my classroom: The Swaney Cafe
*my colleagues
*oh, my friends
*conversations about the Lord during planning period
*getting a paycheck
*having money to tithe
*students who share their hearts after class
*students who aren't afraid to laugh with me
*the 50 foot cable thingy I installed today, thus setting up my student computer in my classroom. After 9 weeks of school. Hm. Anyway...
*my gorgeous, generous, hilariously human husband (alliteration anyone?)
*finding a radio station with fantastic teaching to listen to on the way to school in the morning- 102.7
*kristen's new job
*kristin's new name
*the moon tonight-- on the way home, it was ENORMOUS over the horizon with big poofy clouds all around it. :)
I could go on, but it's important that I go work on the torture-- I mean coursework-- for tomorrow.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Dreamy

Had the most amazing dream the other night featuring some friends who used to be quite close to me: we were at some gathering somewhere-- felt like a cave or a small bookshop or something, but it was a church or ministry hub. The couple were the special speakers that day and the husband was talking to the crowed, getting a really positive reception. The wife turned and looked at me, smiling broadly. She looked beautiful (the last vivid dream I had about this same couple, about 5 years ago, featured them both looking fairly corpse-like, speaking at a large church with storm clouds gathering behind it. Hm.). Her hair was a glossy dark brown and her coloring was so vibrant. She looked at me and mouthed the words, "I love you!" My waking thoughts were a strange medly of serenity and the creeps.

It's weird how things get fixed in our minds and hearts, isn't it?

For some reason, the relationship with this couple-- the experience of it and the demise of it-- has been a defining experience in my life. Lately, I wonder where it might be headed, this experience and all of the ideas and beliefs it has spawned. I know that it was not for nothing. I know that I am not the same, in a thousand positive ways, because of it. But it sticks in my craw like nothing I have ever experienced. And it's localized: there was at least one other person involved in the situation whose role is peripheral in my memory at best, though his/her involvement served as the primary catalyst for something I had not seen coming: a break in a friendship that needed an "event" for breaking.

At any rate, that was years ago. Today, I wonder what would have happened had the friendship not been broken, but I also wonder how far the need for separation extends ( I would have likely joined them in some sort of full-time ministry simply because I loved being around them-- it was not the path God had for me, or even close). How long are you "on restriction"? Is it necessary to have outstanding warrants in our lives? I do not long for reconciliation as much as I crave resolution, I think. Or maybe I do long for resolution but am unwilling to admit it. Maybe I long for forgiveness (hindsight reveals that I was a tremendous butthead, but I recounted that in earlier entries...) and release. Maybe I am obsessive about order in relationships and cannot handle the thought that there are at least two people out there who maintain silent treatment me-ward and are willing and capable of sustaining it for good. Yikes; I don't have that kind of self control!

But it's late at night when these thoughts crowd my mind. My life, amazingly good and full, is not so empty that I am dogged by the need for one more friend (though they are always welcome!).... No, it is the unfinished-ness and wrongness of the whole thing that I struggle to let go of.... It's at night when I wake up after a dream or am bothered by the memory of some country that I experienced with them that I seem unable to shake that sense of undone, undone, undone, and I ask my husband-- who does not know them, has never met them-- "Do you think that this will ever be resolved?" And he, the best person I know, pulls me close and reminds me that I have done all that I can.

And that is what bothers me, long after he has gone back to sleep. I did so much badly. It seems that it will always outweigh the good that I attempted at the end.

I am so grateful that the God I serve does not insist on holding my sins against me, though so often we determine to hold them against each other.

Where will this endless sentence finally pool? Why can't I shake this? I wonder why these thoughts come almost exclusively at night, and why so intensely for short seasons with long rests in between? Even the good dreams seem nightmarish, almost mocking. Not reassuring for long. When will I just forget?

It's late-- it accounts for the melancholy. But I am in earnest. What is the purpose behind this? I am convinced that there is one. The mystery remains. But here's this: I know that there is an answer. There always is.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Overheard...

"Well, maybe we should just scratch all this and just say something about him tryin' us with all this ridiculosity. Uhhh-huh."

"Yeah, girl, and you might should mention that we have had enough of his Deep South mentality--"

"Fool--"

"Yeah, write that: Deep South uneducated mentality-- that's good."

"Aaight. Now..."

"You should put something in there about trying to pacify us with--

"'Pacify'? That aint even a word."

"Yeah it is--"

"You better find out before you type that. That aint no word."


Hm.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Sometimes cleaning house isn't the smartest thing to do...

Have you ever been cleaning the house and you found something you should have found a month ago? Hm. A little while ago, I found something that needed attention like whoa (as my little college buddies would say...) about a month ago. Of course, Don is camping with the youth, so there's no talking to him about it-- my husband is the best person I know. I never had any idea how comforting it could be to have another person, the person you are tied to in this life-long three-legged-race, look at you and say, "Hey, this is no big deal. We'll take care of it." My panic level took a serious nosedive when he came into my life. I mean, don't get me wrong: I still panic. Just not as regularly as I used to. You can't exactly set your watch by it any more.

But it stinks to open an envelope with icky news when you were feeling pretty okay.

So he's not here to toss it over his shoulder and laugh (then pick it up again to make sure it doesn't get lost, mind you), so I prayed (imagine that. Sometimes I think about how my spiritual life changed when I got married. I married a man who was my peer in every way: he prays with and for me, he is on the same page as me 100%, but I find myself looking to him more than the Lord sometimes. My married friends told me about this when I was single and I sort of shrugged it off-- that was just because they weren't nearly as mature as I was, right? whatever).

And when I prayed, I honestly felt that it was going to be alright. That I shouldn't panic and worry.

Remember that old Second Chapter of Acts song? "So why should I worry, why should I fret? 'Cause I've got a mansion builder who ain't through with me yet" My old Christian hippie parents exposed me to the most amazing music, and the Lord seems to bring those songs to my mind at the most precious moments. Here are the lyrics to that song-- and if you've never heard of this group, you need to google them right now and buy a CD. Warning: they are a totally Christian 70's band and they look and sound it. I LOVED them as a kid-- they toured with Keith Green some and they always had YWAM booths next to their album and t-shirt booths at their concerts. I have always loved the focus of this song:

I've been told that there are those
Who will learn how to fly
And I've been told that there are those
Who will never die

And I've been told that there are stars
That will never lose their shine
And that there is a Morning Star
Who knows my mind

So why should I worry?
Why should I fret?
'Cause I've got a Mansion Builder
Who ain't through with me yet
(Repeat)

And I've been told that there's a
Crystal lake in the sky
And every tear from my eyes
Is saved when I cry

And I've been told there'll come a time
When the sun will cease to shine
And that there is a Morning Star
Who knows my mind

Chorus

Finally, here is something I heard this weekend. There is an older professor at Dallas Theological Seminary named Dr. Pentecost-- the interview wasn't incredibly recent, so I don't know where he is or what he is doing now, but he was being interviewed and he said that it doesn't say anywhere that Jesus is returning to take us to heaven... he paused, took a deep breath and smiled (he was blowing my Southern Baptist upbringing in seconds!). "Jesus," he said, "is returning to take us to Himself."

Suddenly, that envelope isn't so big.

Jesus is returning to take me to Himself.

Why should I worry?

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Sometimes they amaze me...

There are these moments... certain moments during teaching when it's like the air is packed with thousands of little gold freckles. It's this moment that happens during worship leading sometimes, too, and it's what I am always looking for when leading a group of people in anything: this moment of total connection. Some call it synergy. When suddenly we are all in one place, on the same page, discovering or uncovering something.... It's powerful when it happens while teaching the bible or leading worship, but when I discovered that something like that could also happen while teaching literature.... WOW. They paid me today to do something I would gladly do for free...


I was leading a class discussion on Decision making, which is one of the themes in a book we are studying. We hit "survival" a couple of days ago, but today we melded the themes at some point at the end of class, which is hard enough sometimes with a group of people who are good at discussions, but these 9th graders are only just now falling into the groove of whole-class discussion-having (it's a brand new discipline for most of them) so it has been rough with them many days.


But I plug on, because I am determined to train my students to be able to do full-class discussions. Because they are fun, it's a valuable skill to develop, and it's a great way to learn material. It's also a good way to keep the kids engaged for an extended period of time. There are weaknesses, including the fact that it's easier for some kids to hide in a full-class discussion, but that can be mended with some techniques I am going to experiment with in a couple of weeks.

Anyway, I don't teach in order to get the goose-bumpily feeling and for fun conversation any more than I lead worship in order to get that feeling and positive "strokes," but I'll tell you what: it's a bonus like crazy in professions that demand much of you physically and spiritually, but whose pay is often minimal.

I'm tired now, and this post is a patchwork from something I was writing last week and had to abandon when the computer went down (next thing on the list to buy-a-new-one of), but wanted to get it off my list of things unfinished.

Now, that's down and fourteen million more things to go...
:)

Monday, September 17, 2007

Some Random Thoughts While Waiting for a Mud Mask To Dry

We've been trying to go to bed earlier this school year-- it suddenly occurred to both of us that we'd probably feel better if we went to work with a full night of sleep behind us.

We're geniuses.

Tonight, though, I couldn't stay asleep. We went to sleep early-- like, around 8:30-- and now my prince is still back there sleeping, while I am awake wondering if I told 1st period that they would have a quiz tomorrow or on Tuesday.

I'm also thinking about my car. My beloved piece-of-poo 1989 classic Toyota. The thing just keeps ticking, but I'm nearly done with it. I honestly adhere to the belief that one should drive one's car until the wheels fall off, and it should be noted that this former Hudgens is completely capable of figuring out how to make at least one of the wheels fall off (we're incredibly creative with breaking automobiles. One night, years before cell phones were common, my friend Kristen and I were summoned by my little brother to meet him at a gas station somewhere in North Georgia. Seems that he had gotten a wild hair to drive home from Toccoa Falls in the middle of the night. He got bored because his radio was broken-- see?-- so he pulled out his guitar. My little brother was driving down 85, I'm pretty sure, in the middle of the night, in a stick shift little Nissan truck with one foot propped up on the window, the neck of the guitar out the window, cruising and singing Grateful Dead, when all of a sudden something went "snap" and he was quickly headed off the next exit without breaking anything on his body. Don't ask me how he did it, but he did, and when we drove up a couple of hours later, he was happy as a clam, sitting in the bed of the truck, playing his guitar and drinking gas station coffee. Turns out it was the timing belt. Kristen rigged something up-- I swear to you, I am not lying-- with a cord from some of Nathan's camping gear (I think it was a sleeping bag drawstring) and he followed us home. He drove that truck til it was patched together with so much duct tape and running with ropes and strings that he couldn't give the thing away. I don't know where he left it, but that's what Hudgenses do with cars. Don't even get me started on Enoch, the Caravan that would not die).

At any rate, it's time to abandon this vehicle somewhere. She's been the Nameless Faithful Car (I just never got around to naming her) for about 8 or 9 years now, and it's just time. And for the first time in my entire life, I am considering buying a car worth more than $1500.

Yikes and pass the checkbook.

But we'll see. There is always the Rabbit (1979), which I adore. It's straight-up ugly, but you can't beat it for character and it runs like a champ. Well, it will once a few things are tweaked. Question is, how long to continue with cars you must "tweak" all the time? I can't imagine what I'd do with a car that I could lock, that doesn't make inexplicable noises, even when it's off, and that had air conditioning. I might have to move into it.

In other thoughts, I've been thinking about a topic that seems to come up for me about three times a year. It's weird how it happens-- I think that working with youth and young adults has everything to do with the recurring nature of the thing. I keep thinking about how good it is that the Lord does not continue to hold our sins against us. When I think of the things I did and said to people-- and not just a select group of people whom I am convinced had issues that stretched waaaay beyond my influence, but pretty much everyone I knew-- when I was in my early 20's, I am eternally grateful for the [for the most part] incredible generosity of the adults the Lord put into my life.

I remember a conversation I had with my friend Leonie, during my DTS in Cimarron (YWAM). I was a brand new believer, and she was a full time missionary who had given her life to serving the Lord and investing in buttheads like me. I was 20 years old and an idiot (not to say that all 20 year olds are idiots, but I was: combine ignorance and pigheadedness and you get an idiot-- me) and I was arguing with her over a verse in 2 Peter or something. I remember my argument to this day, and without going into it, I was obviously incorrect. She sat and said, in her gentle Aussie way, "Sam, just look here ("HEEyah")-- this is what it says." I promise you that I looked at the verse, saw exactly what she said, and was convinced that she was wrong.

Oh my gosh, how infuriating for her, I'm sure.

But how loving she was toward me. Oh my gosh, she was amazing.

During those formative years, God was so good and faithful to send people who seemed to have hearts of pressed gold into my life. It was like the Lord brought people who were gentle and wise and so humble that they didn't have to win fights with me, and made them my leaders. And the patience went beyond intellectual and theological things-- people in their 20's are going through so much hormonally, emotionally...it seems that they are sometimes so overwhelmed with the right now, and their intensity can be driven in so many directions, to be friends or leaders or mentors to them can be exhausting. I'm fortunate that the 20 somethings in my life are some of the most exciting, mature, hilariously funny individuals I have ever known, but me? I'm lucky that I didn't get shot by any of my leaders.

But some of my leaders failed me, and I mourned that for the longest time. Does it matter, as a leader, if you are right when it comes to the life of one you are mentoring? My understanding, watching my mentors in Oregon and experiencing their patience with me, was that the mentor is somehow out of the picture-- removed, almost clinical, when it comes to the life and issues of the person they are investing in. What I mean is, like parents who do not decide to just not be friends with their children any more when they make them angry, mentors do not take the mistakes of their "pupils" personally. Maybe. I don't know. It's just that, when I think of the kids I have invested in over the last 10 years, it occurs to me that some of them have done some pretty slimy stuff, but I still love them.

But I think I got too close to some of my leaders. Or did I? Should there be a strict line which leaders put into place and determine not to cross? When I think of the friendships that Don and I have with kids who are 10 years younger than us, or more, our hearts are completely open to them, but we do not lean on or depend upon them in the way that we might our peers or each other. Is it because they can't "handle" it? Because we are so much above them? No, not at all. Instead, in my mind, it has everything to do with us remaining a source of help for them. We remain someone that they can come to. Someone whose house is open to them at 1 in the morning, someone they can confess sin to and receive counsel. As soon as I unburden myself on them in return, the sense that I am there to serve them vanishes and the pressure to make sure that we have "equal time" in the relationship shows up. In the lives of my precious younger friends, I want to give them room to be dorks and make stupid decisions and know that they can come to me for love and acceptance any day of the week, and that I do not expect a thing from them in return. Mine is to serve them. Theirs is to let me if they want.

Anyway, it happened in at least one relationship that the signals were mixed. I think that if I were the peer of these leaders and they were seeking me out for advise (which is honestly hysterical, if you knew the details), I would have advised them to hold me at arms-length for a season, but never to abandon me. I mean, why take a mentee's stupidity so personally? Do we only lead when it is easy? Do we only invest in the lives of youth when it feels good?

The question it left me with, and one I still struggle with to this day, is this: is it possible for people in their 30's and 40's to have equal, positive friendships with people in their teens and 20's? You have to know: it's a question only. Don and I are in our 30's and 40's now and we have friends we dearly love who are in their 20's...but there is a separation between us, and I think that it's a good one. I believe that it's one which our younger friends appreciate, and it's one that makes me keenly aware of what I do and say around them, and aware of how I respond to them when they do things I do not agree with. I treat my peers in a way that I do not treat my students and younger friends.

And you know what? It's a respect thing. It just now occurs to me that my behavior towards those friends who are in their 20's is my way of showing them respect. What Don and I know is this: we had to make a thousand mistakes in our 20's. If there were a song called "I'm so stupid you can't believe it and don't get too close to me because I'm a smart-ass and a know-it-all," it would be the theme song to my 20's. And it was my right and responsibility to fully experience all of that. When I recognize similar paths to humiliation and pain in the lives of my younger friends, something in me wants not to point a finger or nail them on it, but rather, be the older sister whose affection for them runs so deep...I'll meet you for coffee to talk about that stupid thing you just walked through. I'm not your peer-- I won't judge you that way. I'm your older sister who knows that you just need to talk it out without being graded or compared. I respect the rights of my younger friends to make mistakes and I want to honor them by not judging them in it, but remembering how hard it was to be their age, listen without determining punishment or withdrawing my friendship.

Thing is, I write all of this and then I begin to think of the fact that, as we get older, some of those relationships seem to naturally become more equal, and that makes good sense. My mentors in Oregon--Kristen, Lynelle, Pam and others-- have become close friends whom I consider to be peers now, though when I was younger they were definitely trying to help me to grow up (Pam, my fearless roommate...pity her for those months with me!!). The change in the relationships has been gradual and not at all awkward, and I give them all the credit for gracefully leading me into the new way of relating we have found. You seem to notice the growing when suddenly, the whole conversation isn't about you any more. You ask and honestly want to know how they are, what their days were like, what's hurting them. It's not just about me getting advise from them-- though I know that that element will always be there. I have had some amazing mentors, let me tell you.

Okay, I think that this mud mask is going to be peeling away enamel from my teeth if I don't go wash it away soon. It's good to be able to "talk" these thoughts out. I'm always interested in the mail people send me after reading something I have written down here, and my hope is that this theme I keep revisiting (as a result of a particularly heartbreaking and embarressing scene when I was about 27 or 28) speaks to something in you, too. I haven't figured it out and am open to other's insights, but I think that I might be on the right track.

The last thing is this: my little brother's wife (um, they are in their 30's) is pregnant!!! Yahoo!!!

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Hm...

So, last week I wrote, "things happen every day that are not [God's] will."

Is that true?

Two things: Jesus prayed that God's will would be "done on earth, even as it is in heaven." Okay, so He instructs us to pray for it. Does that mean that it doesn't happen all the time?

But doesn't the word also assert that there is nothing that exists under heaven which isn't allowed and even planned by God? It's this whole question of sovereignty and omniscience/-potence.... Does God limit Himself? Is it necessary, for the sake of free will, for God to limit Himself?

Hm.

Bottom line, He is perfect and whatever comes into question is strictly limited to our incredible ignorance in the face of His brilliance: this I know. So there are no worries, regardless of what the above answers are. But it does lead one to think....

Okay, I'm going back to cleaning (how cool am I? We are cleaning the house on a Saturday night? Married life is so glamorous... :) But we're together, and that's pretty fantastic), and I recognize that it's incredibly irresponsible to leave the above thoughts without biblical references (because I SERIOUSLY paraphrased, to the point of possibly misquoting an enormous theological idea), but I'm going to have to come back to it in a little while. I was just thinking of it while I was cleaning the toilet and wanting to jot it down for later pondering...

Friday, August 24, 2007

New Zoo Review

Do you remember that show? I remember lying on the floor at my grandparents' house in Estill Springs, Tennessee, my chin in my hands, watching the giant, trippy pink (or was it blue?) hippo dancing around with other strangely pastel dancing animals in this sort of plastic cul-de-sac, dancing off of strange front porches and hanging out in weird, backless studio kitchens. They sang irritating songs, wore funky/Cottonpatch Gospel sorts of costumes, and it seems like they all sported Barbra Streisand Afros. It was weird. And I loved it.

I miss those mornings in my grandparents' house. My PapaJim would be making breakfast, whistling or humming something with his tenor vibrato, and my grandmother would be elegantly...doing something. What did she do? I don't know. She was just sort of always there, always with this beautiful accent and funny laugh and this oddly gorgeous fragrance of Oil of Olay and cigarette smoke-- don't get me wrong: she was straight-up classy. She smoked that cigarette that comes (or came-- haven't seen them in a while) in Menthol green packaging... it was the cigarette that Jackie O. and John F. Kennedy smoked. Her fragrance, his humming, their yard, the roses, her to-die-for tuna fish sandwiches....

I had an amazing childhood. Parents who were (and are) fun and adventurous, a brother who was funny and worshipped me (what more could you want in a companion, I ask you), and I slept safe in my bed every night. No one hurt me. My innocence was complete. I was naive in all the ways a child should be naive.

And sometimes, I look at the children who are in my life now and I wonder what bliss they would be in to experience even an hour of my childhood. To be disciplined by my father, to be loved by my mother, to be pestered by my little brother. It causes me to check my expectations-- some of them; not all-- when I assume that things or people should be one way or another.

It's not the first time I have thought about these things, of course-- I've been in youth ministry in one form or another for years now-- but I looked out of my classroom door a few minutes ago and saw the children of two of my co-workers running wildly out in the hallway (they come here after school while their folks work). These little tow-headed angels were screaming their heads off, playing tag or trying to talk people out of spare change for a coke or something, and I was reminded again of the strangeness of lots in life. When one of the kids told a co-worker that a piece of technology breaking down was God's way of saying that He was on their side (so they shouldn't have to do any more word problems or something), I told her [joking] that her comeback could be that, no, the malfunction of that technology was a result of the fall. We live in a fallen world. Things that are not His will happen every day.

Fathers abandoning babies, mothers abusing their children, poverty so extreme we cannot wrap our minds around it, follow these children through our hallowed doors every day. How can I expect a mind to grasp "foreshadowing" when that mind hasn't been nourished in days? And I wonder at the apparent...dare I say it... capriciousness of "bad luck." Who gets the idyllic childhood and who gets Freddy Krueger for a cousin?

It's not capricious. It's the nature of the sovereignty of God. But it's too big for me-- it's overwhelming. And here is where my brain must go:

We cannot know who will get what lot, and why. Good, beautiful children are robbed of their innocence in a thousand ways, every day-- by hurtful adults or television shows, but robbed all the same. But the same God loves each one desperately. How could we ever chart on graphs the ways pain affects each of us? We can never know if it all somehow evens out in the end, but it doesn't matter-- because the same amount of love required to mend and heal is available to each individual. The God who can heal molestation can heal a broken heart. The God who can tend to the wounds of the verbally abused is just as moved to heal the ones disappointed, the ones whose hopes have been deferred for one reason or another. He is close to the brokenhearted, and He does not seem to categorize or prioritize: everyone is RIGHT NOW on His list.

Hm. So I'll be heading out to think about that.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Week Two: Alive and Kickin'

I had so many things I wanted to say, but they all seem to have flown right out of my ears. I think it's the heat. All day long, I exist in a sort of winter wonderland, cocooned in my little 53 degree world-- until the late afternoon, when I drag myself through those metal doors into the parking lot from hell: it's so hot. Stepping outside is like stepping into an oven set on broil. The Dead Sea was not this hot. It is unreasonably, astoundingly, almost-global-warming-convincingly hot. Hot, I tell you.

But school is cool. My friends, this is where it's at. If you have been wondering where "it" is at, I have found it: it is here. Yes, dear ones, in the land of the Lost Children-- in the community which played host to gonasyphaherpales (hm. wonder how you spell out those diseases.... I'd look it up, but this computer is TOAST and keeps kicking me off), we find some of the best kids I've ever met, and some of the most inspired teachers and administrators. I am beyond lucky to have landed here just out of grad school. I'm lucky like crazy (the pictures you are seeing here were taken the weekend before school began-- it's slightly different now-- slightly more blue-- but this is the idea...)

That's not to say that I haven't had my moments over the last couple of weeks. Yesterday, I starred in the "Oh my gosh, this is what happens when you don't look carefully at the handbook before giving an assignment" Show. The whole class hinged on this one little thing for a variety of reasons. It threw me off for the whole 90 minutes, but fortunately we seem to like each other pretty well and I promised the kids that I would go back to being a real teacher on Monday if they swore not to tell their parents about the tragedy which was 7th period. We all agreed. And it was good.

There's more, of course. I think I've completely jacked up my attendance records for the last two days, have completely neglected to turn in to the office some important forms the kids had to turn in to me, and may have royally hacked a kid off with me this afternoon because I contacted his mom (but I'm okay with that one-- he'll get over it when he makes it to 10th grade because I wouldn't let him fail, right?), but other than that... it's been pretty great. I think I love it like crazy.

So that's that for now. Somebody told me at school today, "Mrs. Swaney, you are one of the happiest people I have ever seen." Well, I have Jesus in my heart, the love of a good man, and a paycheck coming at the end o' the month. What's not to be happy about??
:)

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Laundry, dishes, first period...

School is pretty much the only thing I've thought about for three weeks. Don't feel sorry for me-- feel sorry for Don. The house is a wreck. He's in grad school and was teaching summer school all summer, trying his hand at gardening (pictures coming soon-- my camera went to a gathering of other digital camerae and it lost its USB thingy... it's on restriction, and its designated driver-- Don-- is going to try to track it down) and keeping the freshly-growing-from-all-the-rain-drenching-draught-days from taking over the house. The inside is really my responsibility. It's shared, of course, but there comes this time when it's ridiculous and everyone forgets who's job is what...

Anyway, tomorrow is the first day of school and suddenly I am longing for a clean house. I'm fortunate-- our house is tiny--- so there isn't much to clean, and cleaning while working out my final seating charts (temporary monster) is keeping my mind off the fact that I am completely nauseated. The laundry is going, the dishes are going: the house is fairly vibrating. I am working out which of my lists is first, third or fifth period and reminding myself to drink water. Water is very important when you are freaked out.

So it begins tomorrow, and I think all is ready. Or as ready as I can be. I know I'm good on the fly, but I do actually feel prepared-- for this week. I think that my classes will be fun and challenging, and the fact that this is my opportunity to put what I've learned to the test is both inspiring and daunting. Either way, tomorrow I step into the world of grown-ups, surrounded by good friends and children who need to be reminded that they are wonderfully and fearfully made. It's a very profound, very serious season.

So why can't I get the Looney Tunes theme song out of my head? On with the show, this is it...

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Here's something I've learned so far...

Teachers don't sleep.

I mean, they must sleep sometime, but apparently I have found myself soundly among the norm during this season of sleeplessness. Don't get me wrong-- I'm exhausted, and school hasn't even BEGUN-- but my mind doesn't quit after my body has. It seems that I have to sneak up on it-- go to sleep at the red light, during Dateline, while my husband is telling me something important. I have to catch my body off guard and attack it with ten seconds of this sort of twilight sleep, then I'm back and raring to go.

Raring to go. Where did that phrase come from? Racing horses? Or some little known Olde English reference? Should I know that? What if some kid asks me that? I should google it or refer to my whatchamacallit class in grad school...linguistics or something about the history of English.

Meanwhile, I really wish I could find this awesome book of quotes I lifted from someone else years ago. It's around here somewhere. I used it for some posters we made for Honor Court a couple of years ago, about abolishing plagiarism (great posters, if I do say so myself). Now I'd like some really encouraging quotes to put on my wall and I can't find the book. That's what I get for using it to strike fear in the hearts of potential cheaters at ASC, I suppose.

Anyway, back to the search for quotes. Will post pics of the room shortly-- it's looking pretty good. I keep thinking, though, that I cannot remember any decoration of any kind in my high school classrooms. I remember middle school and elementary school, but nothing for high school. Weird.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

You got to pray.

If you teach half as well as you pray, you'll be just fine-- Glenda Doster

I was sitting on the porch at Salem Campground the other night, talking with one of those teachers considered to be "epic" here in our community. Mrs. Doster's son has been known to get out of tickets because a police officer realized that he was talking to his life-long favorite teacher's son. She is a beautiful woman, inside and out, with that long, slow Southern accent that seems to be fading away among Southerners. It's the accent of Steel Magnolias and Driving Miss Daisy, William Faulkner and my grandmothers. When a person with that accent (Shelby Foote, for example) tells you something, the accent alone seems to make it profound.

But this went beyond Mrs. Doster's accent.That old girl is smart as a whip and one of the most successful teachers I've ever met. I need to strongly regard what worked for her. It took a second for it to sink in, and then I realized it was one of the single best pieces of advise I have ever gotten (besides "never lean into your car with your back to the parking lot in downtown Atlanta near the Greyhound bus station." That's life-saving advise). And you can insert anything into that sentence: If you ______________ half as well as you pray, you'll be just fine. If you parent half as well as you pray, study half as well, lead half as well....

Because the one who fires our abilities is God. I keep coming back to that over the years. As a natural skeptic, I have always struggled with the incredible amount of responsibility people put on God to do their jobs for them-- know what I mean? Hear me when I say this: I don't mean that we are called to work outside of His anointing and His power. Indeed, we are called to lean not on our own understanding...and in all our ways acknowledge Him and He will make our way straight. Yes, we are desperate for the anointing of the Lord. The thing I struggled with was hearing people just sort of sit back and blame God if things failed.

A few posts back, I mentioned my friend Billy. Billy and I went to high school together-- he was brilliant, valedictorian of his class, went on to medical school at Tulane and Emory, and was one of the kindest, most generous men I have ever known (he passed away about 9 years ago now). We didn't know each other while at Rockdale-- he was older than me, and I was friends with his little brother, but several years later, once I had given my life to the Lord and was in full-time missions, we found each other through a mutual friend and would spend hours talking about God at the Waffle House. Very important conversations happened at that Waffle House.

Billy was a genius and struggled with his mind. He vascillated between believing in God and being incredibly pissed off with Him-- much of it related, I suspect, to his homosexuality and related experiences with the church and other Christians-- but much of it had to do with the flaky Christians he had known who said one thing and lived quite another. Church on Sunday morning, high as a kite on Friday night. I was one of those for a long time-- I always held a sort of soft spot in my heart for the flakes. I knew they weren't at incredible peace with the way they were living their lives-- they weren't any happier than I had been-- and the last thing they needed was one more person looking down their noses at them, the way we believers so often do toward people we disapprove of. We're not the nicest lot of folks sometimes. We forget that we've been there-- we forget that we are still made of the same clay. That some of us have managed to bury our ugly parts under good works or Biblical knowledge. Meanwhile, we reject hurting and needy people with our attitudes.

Where was I? Oh, so Billy. One day, we were talking on the phone and he asked me, "So Sam-- here's a for instance: If you make an A on a test, do you thank Jesus?" Of course, I replied. I'd absolutely breathe a prayer of thanks. "And if you make an F? What then? Was it His fault? Do you blame Him?" I told him that no, that F meant that I didn't study like I should have. Billy liked that answer. Maybe because it was earthbound in so many ways. Maybe because Billy was already considering those weighty things doctors have to think about: the power of a person's life or death in their hands and decisions. Who do you depend on? Who do you blame?

For me, I've spent the last few years training for the upcoming season and I feel like a bride with cold feet. At orientation today, we discussed breech of contract in our ethics session and I had to laugh. I'm imagining how many friends I would keep if I just up and tried to get out of my contract today... But I'm only kidding-- of course I'd never do it-- I know that this season is going to be fantastic and I'm so fortunate that I get to spend my days with teenagers. I've worked for a long time to get to do it. Who would do anything else?

But I've got to pray. I have to depend upon Him in this, more than I have in a long time. He has walked with me all of these years-- I would spend entire commutes praying on my way up to Agnes Scott over the last years, and I know that my success as a student has everything to do with my dependence upon the Lord. For Samantha, there was never an option. If I can teach half as well as I pray-- if I spend as much time investing in my relationship with the Lord, praying for my students, over my choice of teaching methods and literature and discipline, as I do preparing to teach, it's going to be alright.

Selah.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Yay for Conyers!

Just a little local update-- I have discovered (okay, well, me and a bunch of other people...) a great little coffeehouse in Conyers. For those of you (us) who are still grieving the loss of Shelly and the Java House, there is now something to ease your sadness: Kaiteur Coffeehouse near the hospital. They have a blog (http://kaiteurcoffeehouse.com/) and I have to say, some of the nicest folks ever working there. But here is the kicker: free wireless. Oh yes. Starbucks is great and all-- love Russell and his baby cousin, but free wireless makes my day.

Tonight they are hosting a taping of a podcast for That Catholic Show and there are loads of cool old Catholics walking through the door. This place feels more like Salem, Oregon, than any coffeehouse I've been to in a long, long time. Gotta love it.

So go visit and tell Moose (the owner) that I sent you! :)

Sam

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Heeeere we go...

I'm fixing up my classroom. It's been a really, really interesting process. I've felt overwhelmed, underqualified, scared spitless, more comfortable in incredibly tiny increments, slowly growing into it, then overwhelmed again. I know what I want to see happen in that room, but I am hitting that problem that I heard teachers talk about last year: your first year in the classroom, you can't even afford to buy new shoes for the first day of school because you aren't paid until the end of your second month (well, I'm officially employed July 23, so it's not exactly the second month...). There are all kinds of things I would buy, but I just can't.

My heart is to create an interesting, lively space that my children would enjoy walking into. First on the agenda today, however, is to make it clean. Not that it wasn't clean before-- my school is fantastic and the floors shine and there isn't a speck of dust around. The custodians are some of the friendliest, hardest working people I've met in any school. What I mean is that I want it to look clean. And to smell like my favorite cleaning things-- Murphy's oil on the wooden cabinet and shelves, Fantastic across surfaces of desks and things. Not hospital smells but home smells... I'm weird, I know.

So I'm scattering here the "before" pictures of the room. It's huge, isn't it? I had no idea how tough this part would be, honestly. In fact, this is the part I have secretly relished the most. I remember that when I was in high school, the decorations were fairly sparse in most rooms-- someone asked me the other day if there was a classroom I remembered in a strong way because of what it looked like. I had to say that no, there wasn't one really. My favorite teachers? I remember them easily. But what they had on their walls? Not so much. I'm waiting for someone to write a book about classroom decoration. And not a cheesy one, but one which includes psychological study and theory and all that. Sounds like a good idea for a dissertation, doesn't it?

I remember that Mrs. Marshall's room was in the "theater"(as it were)-- we had sets and props everywhere, and it sometimes felt like the English class part of the room was pure "Oh! We almost forgot!" Which I loved. That classroom felt like a special workshop to me. Mrs. Krueck's room was, I recall, completely bare. What I remember is that I loved the class, loved how smart and funny she was, loved being in Latin I, II and III with her. I remember that the room was just whites and creams with desks (the same ones which are there today) with red tops. Ms. Ellington's room seemed dark and crowded, but she responded to every single one of my journal entries. Her room came to mind often when I encountered professor's offices years later. I remember being able to concentrate in her room. I remember who sat next to me. I remember that I felt that she cared about me-- and not just me.

So why am I so hung up on what the room looks like? Maybe the bottom line is actually the fact that I am going to have to live in that room, too (I am deciding today to give myself a break, though). My 4th grade teacher, Mrs. Redding (she was fantastic), changed her room all the time-- in fact, she let ME change her room sometimes. She saw my little artist's heart, my need to be alone sometimes even though I was powerfully extroverted, nurturing my desire to help be in charge (this freedom helped to feed a sense of security with people in authority which would follow me into adulthood) by giving me free reign after I had proven a fairly reliable sense of order. I feel sad about how different things are today for elementary students. In 1979, it was no big deal to leave a 4th grader alone in the classroom during recess. In 2007, it would never happen.

So now I'm the grown-up. One of the first things I did in that classroom the first time I was alone in it, a couple of weeks ago, was sit down and a) pray and b) journal. I knew that I wanted to record exactly how I felt at that moment. It all feels very significant, and instead of giving in to that modest embarrassment (so similar to the way I felt referring to Don as "my husband" in the days after we married... such a hard feeling to describe, trying that new name on for size), I'm going to be plainly excited about all this. I'm not a kid, but I have never felt more like a 19 year old than I have this week. And it's really kind of fun.

:)

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Roses Among Thorns

When I was younger, in my early early twenties, I lived on a missionary base, surrounded by friends. Among those friends were several women who were like big sisters to me-- and a few have remained incredibly close friends, though we rarely see each other. Friends like that... time and distance do nothing to dilute the intensity of friendships formed at such critical times. For me, a brand new believer, I needed those mentors-- they taught me about character, about what it meant to be a good roommate/housemate, about Jesus, about friendship, and about myself.

You know how people ask you, usually at the beginning of a retreat or a class in school or when applying for a grant or scholarship, to recall some life changing event or defining moment? That's such an impossible task. I mean, who remembers those things really? Well, I guess a death in the family or hideous car crash or a bad breakup might make the list... Anyway, for me, I was reminded the other day of twin moments that were especially poignant to me, though I rarely remember them.

I was hanging out with two of my older friends-- I was 23 while they were probably ancient; 32 or something. I don't remember anything about the conversation except that both of them were leaning toward me, across Jill's twin bed, telling me that I was a "prize" (one of them was English-- no one says sweet things like an English girl, I'm convinced). That I was a fragrant flower. That it was impossible for me to see myself-- to really see what they saw, but that I should take their words for it.

The other moment was similar and around the same time-- my friend Kelly Delridge looked at me with that intense face of hers and said, "Sam. You are a rose among thorns."

Do I write this as a commentary on my exceptional coolness and, um, flowery-ness? Am I referring to the fact that I was a thing of rare and exceptional beauty among the thorns who were my peers? No. I write from the vantage point of a 36 (ow, she said it) year old woman who spends lots and lots of time with women who were my age at this critical time and I see what Jackie, Jill and Kelly saw: a girl who just doesn't know.

Several weeks ago, I had a similar moment with two recent high school graduates. Unlike the me I was at their age, they are showstopping, drop-dead gorgeous and not a bit odd looking. They are smart, funny, loaded with common sense and creativity, and they love God with everything within them.

And neither of them has ever had a date.

And they want to know why. They want to know what's wrong with them, for goodness sake. What signals are they inadvertantly throwing off? What anti-guy forcefield surrounds them like crop circles in a field? Are they ugly? Do they smell? (Duckie: "Do I offend?")

There are so many reasons you and I might offer to them as possibilities: Boys are stupid. Boys are blind. Boys are afraid of beautiful (did I mention that they are drop dead gorgeous? The both of them) girls. Boys are afraid that these girls will say uh, no way if they attempt to ask them out. Whatever. It's a mystery.

The girls have done what so many of us who were completely petrified of dating did: make friends with the enemy. Be friends with loads of guys-- this way, if there was actually anyone who might want to attempt to storm the castle, he wouldn't be able to actually get through the screen of clueless guys at your table. These girls know how to be friends with guys. They know how to seem incredibly interested without being remotely romantic (no matter what battle is going on in their hearts), morphing into the most beautiful sounding boards these boys could ever find. Why don't they get asked out? I don't know.

But what I do know is this: I don't want them to change, ever. I don't want them to listen to advise that tells them that they haven't put themselves out there enough, that they have created the appearance of not being interested (oh, I could go places with this line), that they should consider pursuing.... That they should...change.

Change happens soon enough. We'll all change. But wait...for now, just wait...

I told them, at this reception a couple of weeks ago, what I had been told lo, all those years ago: "You guys are roses. Beautiful roses among thorns." Do I think that their friends are thorns? Of course not-- their friends are lovely. But these beautiful girls (did I mention that they were beautiful? Really, I am not exaggerating) are roses. Caught in a place where there is this voice telling them that the fact that they are 17 or 18 and have never been kissed means that they are doomed to lives of the quiet anguish of the unkissed, undated.

But what makes up our worth? What makes up our sense of beauty? I suppose it is often inevitably the response we get from the opposite sex, but what if there were a source of meaning much deeper? What if there were a Person whose love and affection for us so exceeded the boundaries of what an awkward 17 year old boy could express, if we would only lean close? What are we allowing our beautiful girls to believe about themselves if we encourage them to change themselves just to score a date to the prom?

I mean, unless they are verbally abusing and physically harrassing the boys. They should definitely put a stop to that.

That day down at Meadow House in Salem, Kelly looked at me and said, "Sam, you are a rose among thorns," my life and the way I saw myself changed as drastically as if a tectonic plate had moved. I was way down the street from myself suddenly. But the move was deep-- didn't show up for years. I must have been in love with someone...that must be why Kelly said that. Jackie and Jill, too.

The friendships that girls who do not date tend to develop with boys in high school are some of the most profoundly important and educational friendships ever. The things I learned from the boys I cocooned my life with taught me things that have positively affected the way I relate to my husband and to the many amazing boys I have come to know as a youth leader and teacher. I think that my personality was also very much influenced by the pragmatic, literal, free-thinking and visionary personalities of my guy friends: I could be me with them and none of them were thinking that I was a snob because of the purse I carried or criticized my less-than-name-brand shoes. We weren't in competition. Girls who are strictly friends with boys tend to serve as their cheerleaders, often, and they receive a certain type of adoration from the boys they cheer on. It's [often] not sexual and there is [little] no pressure and girls learn something about relating to men in a world where there are few complications or consequences in that regard (well, unless the inevitable crush develops-- but this just proves that we're human, right? and these crushes ALWAYS develop-- watch any John Hughes film. Except that in his films, those gorgeous tales of 80's youth, it always works out for Molly and Mary. Not so in real life). While it's also incredibly important to collect fabulous girlfriends, those girls who can manage friendships with boys are in a great position.

My girls are going to be great girlfriends. That's the other thing girls who are friends with guys learn: we hear all about the girlfriends. We study how things work.

And these two-- they are blissfully free of some of the burdens that other girls have to carry. And it's hard to point that out when so many young girls are learning their lessons the harder way: through experience. The price is often a sense of security-- at least those girls who have dated KNOW that they are "date-able" :). What the girls don't know is that, most likely, there are some boys wasting away with love for them and they missed them at every party, every walk to the cafeteria, every day in English class...

Anyway, I have a thousand thoughts on this. All coming back to a sense of self-worth, self-knowledge, being true to oneself. Understanding that who you date (or don't date) does not define your worth. And that just because you didn't have one date in high school does not meant that you are destined to die without ever having one. Not at all.

But that's not the short answer that my two young friends were looking for when they approached me with their complaint. Their beautiful, fresh, unbroken faces were laughing as they demanded, "What's WRONG with us??" and then they had to rush off to do something with a big group of friends...

They don't know that they will be just fine. But we do, right?

Monday, July 2, 2007

Rain again--

You know, it's raining again. I can't believe how significant this event has become-- to see the wind whipping the trees around, to walk outside and feel the coolish air on my arms and the warm, wet concrete under my feet...somehow, these things just sort of set my spirit free for a moment.



dry, hot summers in the south are heavy, dreamy things-- but beautiful, no matter what. still, it makes me sad to see our trees, drooping, exhausted, dying to take a dip in a lake. more rain, more rain-- thank you Jesus, but more rain...





But I wanted to share something else here-- a dear friend of mine got some good news about a patch of skin cancer on the bridge of her nose. My hypochondria is receding in the light of such serious reality.

Saturday, June 30, 2007

Updating blog

Just a short note-- I'm in the process of bringing my myspace posts over to this blog. You'll note that there are about 10 new blogs reaching back to April 2006.



Oh, and we also had rain. Second day in a row! Happy ferns are living on my porch!!

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Fruit

Here's something the Word says: Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God (Phil 4:5,6)

This passage is so rich. But I am struck by the first part of the verse: Let your gentleness be evident to all. The word gentleness... The Amplified expands the word to its closest Greek meaning, listing unselfishness (your considerateness, your forbearing spirit) as a fuller definition. The Greek is, phonetically, "epieikea" (minus macrons, etc.) which means moderation, patient and gentle.

They sound so much like personality traits-- and traits which do not necessarily fit my hyper personality. When I look at these words simply as definitions, I think of a sweet, mild, quiet type of person-- the girl who shows up as the future-makeover in a made for TV movie: she's quiet and unassuming and none of the boys see her true beauty. She is pale and not scary.

But I don't believe the writer was talking about a personality type. How much trouble would every one of us be in if we were judged by God on our personality type? Instead, I've been thinking about the spiritual manifestation of His gentleness in us....

Joshua ended up in the middle of PRIDE festivities (Gay, lesbian, bisexual, trans and queer) downtown this weekend. He plays ultimate frisbee and they had a game scheduled at Piedmont Park. I love my stepson-- he's always in the middle of something. Anyway, he was telling me that one of the things that most struck him was the presence of street preachers hollering "God hates fags" and "He made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve" and "Turn or burn".

When has that ever been an effective way to let people know that they are deeply loved by God?

And how is that gentle?

And really, practically speaking, how do they even imagine that their actions are even remotely effecting the change they desire?

And where in the Bible does it say that God hates "fags"?

Anyway.

Gentleness. When I think of that word, and the writer's exhortation to us to let it be evident to all, I wonder how often we keep our gentleness hidden. Like our light. Under a bushel. What does it mean to be gentle? The word says in 2 Timothy 1:7 that God has not given us a spirit of fear but of power and love and a sound mind-- I wonder if, perhaps, He is the author of that gentleness as well. Perhaps, when we are walking in His spirit, He manifests Himself through us in gentleness.

Have you ever felt broken, like you have fallen on a rock and been smashed to pieces? Did you long for judging faces? Criticism? Gentleness touches without pushing. Gentleness does not hold a grudge. Gentleness is supernatural patience. It is not a personality type-- when we allow our "gentleness to be evident to all," we are allowing His gentleness to speak of His beauty and salvation. If we would let our gentleness-- that gentleness which took up residence in us when we said yes to Him-- be evident to all, would we beat each other up with our words? Would we pummel unbelievers with our theories? Would we make assumptions about people who live their lives differently?

This is not a permissive gentleness. Rather, it is humble. I have seen men standing on street corners, screaming at me to give my life to the Lord. Glaring down at me with glowering eyes, with hatred, telling me that the end is near and that I am a lost piece of scum. Where is their discernment?

Granted, the men screaming in Piedmont Park this weekend and on street corners everywhere are not even slightly good representations of the church-- and my friends who are gay and lesbian know that and are used to those guys. But those men, totally devoid of gentleness, completely dedicated to showing the world a side of Jesus which I never have yet uncovered in His word, are what so many lonely, hurting people see or think of first. The voices of the street preachers are louder than ours in the midst of people He would love. Why?

Gentleness. The writer exhorts us to let the lovingkindness of Jesus be evident to all. To let the mildness of the Lord be evident to all-- His utter lack of meanness and criticism. To let the patience of the Lord be manifest in us, evident to all-- even those who exhaust us, who will not listen, who make the same mistakes again and again... people exactly like ourselves. And if it is a question of salvation, I wonder how many hurting people feel drawn to a source of anger that they perceive in the church? I have sat with so many friends who recount horror stories from the church. And it occurs to me that, when we walk in criticism and meanness, we are actually maligning the name of the God we claim to love. And as far as that goes, have you ever been misrepresented by a friend? How did you feel about it? How might we assume our God feels about it?

At this point, there are multiple other verses which must be brought in, so I'm off to my journal. But here is what I am sitting with today: I want the gentleness of Jesus Christ to be evident to all in me. I want His goodness and kindness to be obvious. I want to smell like Him (2 Corinth 2) and bother people with His stubborn mercy.

And at the same time, I want to find those street preachers who hurt countless people this weekend and stumbled my stepson, and I want to forget about gentleness for about 30 minutes.

But I digress.

***Please see the comment section for Sarah's response***

Monday, June 18, 2007

Money doesn't grow on trees...

This summer has felt like one big reminder course in What I Believe. I never imagined that the transition between college and “real life” would be even a blip on my screen—I’m an adult, I’ve been independent for years, I “found” myself years ago. But here I am, a 36 year old woman, nervous about starting a new job, nervous about changing campuses, wondering if I have what it takes, and wishing money grew on trees and that I had an orchard of those trees. My mother-in-law reminds us often that our Father owns the cattle on a thousand hills, but I would really like the money tree right this second.

The Lord is stretching us like crazy. And I have had to relearn some lessons. One, don’t discuss finances with people unless you are interested in their well-meaning but not-always great advice (thing I’ve been reminded in this: I love friends who just listen, or who ask more questions, helping you to figure out what’s bothering you. Generally speaking, unless an individual specifically asks for advice, confidences which are accompanied by tears are not generally requests for directions). Two, even if it seems like it’s the end of the world, it’s probably not. The Lord always provides (eventually) for our needs. People fail us, don’t follow through or forget (as I know I’ve done to others as well), but He has never failed us. I cannot name an instance when He did not take care of us in an extraordinary way. When Don broke his neck, the miracles were never-ending—my late friend Billy would ask me “If God were watching out for you, wouldn’t He have prevented Don from falling off the scaffold?” To which I would reply, if that was what He was going for. But God was redirecting the entire course of both our lives and it took an event of that magnitude to get our attention. Don’s whole career changed as a result of that fall. And He showed us what the Church can really be. And He saved him miraculously from dying. That season was stretching, too, and He came through with all of the grace/elasticity that we needed.

My Dad asked this question yesterday: “How do we grow in trust in any relationship?” I believe that relationships have to be tested. I believe that the Lord allows circumstances in our lives which might inspire us to question His goodness (asking questions like, God, where are You?), and we find Him stepping right in with beauty and grace. Over and over, as an adult believer, I have found myself in the Psalms saying, “ohhhh” in a way I never did as a child in Him.

Lord, all my desire is before You; and my sighing is not hidden from You” Psalm 38:9. I am always amazed at His tenderness. All my desire is before Him…He hears my sighing… Have you ever just sighed deeply, alone, with no words to put to the heaviness in your heart? He hears it—believer and nonbeliever, He hears it all. He hears the deepest hopes, fondest wishes, most intimate longings.

But I get so angry with Him lately. And He never deserves it. I wonder what it is that is happening in my heart that He is the first person I get angry with, the first person I blame. And I grieve deeply over it and repent and recognize that His love for me remains constant. And it’s just this season--but there’s this passage in Hosea…

Come let us return to the Lord. For He has torn us, but He will heal us; He has wounded us, but He will bandage us…” (6:1)

He was talking prophetically about Jesus, but there is something there… I feel torn and wounded, but I sense Him bandaging me, too. I look around at my close friends and I see similar seasons in their lives: divorces, jobs lost and found, indictments, cancers and bills and lost babies…. Life happens to us, then the Lover of our souls draws us close and kisses our wounds.

And His provisions… the more tight finances become, the more miraculous small things seem (one of my leaders in YWAM used to say that we were not broke, but rather in an opportunity for financial blessing). The other night, I walked in from a meeting and noticed a dollar bill lying on the counter—this is how broke we’ve been, that I notice a dollar bill and ask him, “Hey, where’d you get that?” He smiled at me and pointed to the front yard. He’d found it. It was just lying there in the middle of the yard. It’s true that money doesn’t grow on trees, but I have a God who is a Poet and the King of all things subtle and who is able to make it fall from the sky…

Monday, June 11, 2007

the whole house to clean and not one paper due...

I've been off my game, blog-wise. For the last year or so, I've waxed poetic in my myspace blog at a pace of about twice a week. Several of those blogs were great pieces of writing, but almost all of them (good or bad) shared one thing in common: I was avoiding a paper when I wrote them.

Oh yes, my master plan for procrastination almost always involves doing something just as significant (however I define "significant" that day) instead of the thing which is due. My house? Never cleaner than when an especially big paper or project is due. Dinner? You guessed it-- 'pert near gourmet when I should be preparing a powerpoint. And of course, when I'm at the computer anyway, and it's late at night because I've cleaned house, painted or called long-lost friends just in from (insert country here), blogging happened.

I wonder if I will ever be able to write again. The last paper I wrote-- a study of Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises from a queer theorist perspective (fascinating, I have to say)-- was particularly...anticlimactic. One of my favorite papers, I think, but as I was drawing to a close, writing for one of my favorite professors, I realized that, unless I return one day for a PhD, it's my last paper to be submitted in this way. And I was a little sad. I was frenzied, harried, freaked out and nervous about a million other little things (it was days before graduation, in the same slot as my oral defense of my portfolio and it was late) and I got a little melancholy for paper writing...

I miss school. Already. There. I've admitted it. So many friends have called and wished me congrats on finishing my master's and have, almost to the one, asked "Are you relieved?" Of course I laugh and say YES, but in a way... I know that I sound 16, but I miss my friends. I miss my cohort-- we were a tight group of people, in each other's lives daily for one year, walking through so much stress and so much good conversation and learning. I'm happy to have a job, and my school is fantastic and crammed with really wonderful people-- including a couple of very, very good friends AND a great friend from my program, too--but it's not Agnes. And I already miss all of those women (and our token guy, and our profs, et al).

I guess I'll start procrastinating when it comes time to grade things in the fall. Except that I'm back to another freshman year, when I don't procrastinate because I'm too scared. I'll be totally on top of my game out of sheer fear of failing for at least one year-- and possibly two. Maybe even three, but we'll see. When will I blog again?

Today, I guess. I'm avoiding cleaning the office. It's still a mess from just before graduation. But avoiding papers is what fires the angst of good writing, so I'm wondering where that's going to come from. Hm. I might have to start trolling for assignments.


In other news, it's raining. God is good and my ferns (still living) are happy--