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.


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 ( 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! :)


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.