Monday, January 31, 2011
Annemarie and I are reading Linda Dillow's Calm My Anxious Heart together over the next twelve weeks. I read it for the first time with my women's Bible study group a few years ago and enjoyed it then, so I'm looking forward to my "second draft" reading!
Much has changed in and around me since then, and I know many "new" ideas will be meaningful to me now that I probably missed then.
My initial reaction to the first chapter title – "My Journey to Contentment" – was annoyance. "What's up with 'contentment'? I'm not looking for contentment...I just want to feel less stressed and uptight, that's all!"
Oh, the irony!
On the second page, Linda shares her missionary friend Ella's "prescription for contentment":
* Never allow yourself to complain about anything – not even the weather
Four other concepts round out the list, but they're irrelevant right now...at least to me.
Never complain? As in n-e-v-e-r?
But that's not fair! My emotional health will be destroyed! Is she trying to take away my rights as an American citizen?
(Oh, the irony!)
What we continually think about eventually shows in our words, actions, and even on our countenances, Linda points out. I know this is true, and I know that what I think about is the major source of my anxiety – my discontent.Complaint-Free thing...again. (I'd whine about not being able to find my bracelet and spending money on a new one, but I've had enough irony for one day!)
Sunday, January 23, 2011
I stumbled upon the Facebook page for my school's Class of 2010 last night. Very little activity there...maybe 10 comments from the anonymous founder.
But one caught my eye and headed straight for my heart: "No more ENGLISH (being the experiments.)"
Following the wisdom of one of Jim's Burke's recent blog posts ("It's Not Bad, It's Just Information") I'm trying to step back and see this as data rather than a personal attack. If I knew exactly which student posted it, I'd have some relational context for better interpreting it. I might even be able to completely blow it off.
But I can't, because I know it is -- at least in part -- the truth.
They were only my second class of seniors...ever. My first ten years of teaching were with junior high. Then eight years with sophomores. I'd taught this class when they were sophomores, so I was actually eager to have them back as seniors. I anticipated a great year of English II reunion: They'd all just be a bit bigger and more interesting, and I could take them to the next level as readers, writers, speakers, and generally literate human beings.
Actually, they were a bit bigger and a lot less interesting. These same kids who couldn't shut up two years prior either sat in stoney silence when I tried to get a good discussion going or plunged into caustic "debate". Many read little, if at all. Many wrote nothingness. I spent the year beating myself up because I was clearly failing them during this vital final year of their high school education.
So, yes, I experimented. I tried Socratic Circles. I tried "This I Believe" essays. I tried multi-genre responses to literature. Pretty much everything I tried was something I'd never done before...at least in that particular way with these particular students.
Frankly, it's my favorite part about teaching: every year is totally new. Even though I've been through Fahrenheit 451 20+ times, I've never experienced it with these students. This year is the one and only time I'll learn Hamlet with these students.
Does this mean I'm treating my students as experiments?
And why am I so irked by that word?
Is it the connotation that after two decades in the classroom, I still don't know what I'm doing...I'm an amateur, a hack, a wannabe?
Or is it the implication that after pouring my life into teaching, I still don't connect with my students...I'm detached, aloof, inhuman?
If this Facebook post is a piece of data, how do I analyze it? And to what conclusion do I come?
Tuesday, January 11, 2011
I'm doing it again.
2011 is barely 11 days old, and I'm up to my old tricks.
My only trick, really: (deep circus announcer's voice) "How Much Can Cheri Do?" To prevent monotony, it comes in two variations: the Every-Square-Filled Calendar-of-the-Year and the Never-Ending To-Do List.
Right now, I'm wrestling to make a double-booked February weekend work. The Learning and the Brain Conference (which make me a better teacher) overlaps a Christian Writers' Seminar (which will make me a better writer.) In fact--woah, this just occurred to me!--the brain seminar will make me a better writer, and the writing seminar will make me a better teacher. Exponential benefits! Now I really have to do both!
My current To Do list puts all prior ones to shame. Two decades ago, as a brand new teacher, I was lamenting to my principal about all the things I had to do. I had so many projects going, each one with a myriad of details only I could do. Donna Brantley, in her wisdom (and without tact) said these immortal words: "Yes, Cheri, you sure did do this to yourself!"
I was hurt. Then humored. Then humbled. And then right back at my old trick.
Why do I keep doing this to myself?
"I had let my 'good work' become an idol that defined me. Rather than finding my identity in my relationship with God, I was finding it in my drive to do 'good work.'
The more I dove into Scripture, the more I realized I had been deluded. I had grown up drinking a dangerous cocktail–a mix of the gospel, the Protestant work ethic, and the American dream. My eternal worth was rooted in what I could accomplish.
The most important thing...was to be busy. Industrious. Hardworking. A self-made man–er, Christian. The Savior I was following seemed, in hindsight, equal parts Jesus, Ben Franklin, and Henry Ford." (Phil Vischer Me Myself, & Bob, pg. 236-237)
Oh, I "believe" in -- give intellectual assent to -- salvation by grace. But take one look at my To-Do List or my Calendar, and you'll see that I believe in -- put my active daily faith in -- doing, doing, and more doing.
My eternal worth isn't a "trick of fate." My eternal worth doesn't depend on anything this one trick pony tries to do.
After all, at the cross, didn't Jesus say, "It is finished"?
It's a done deal.
There's nothing I can do.
Nothing but pray: Lord, help my unbelief!
Monday, January 10, 2011
After bedtime, in the dark
gripping the edge of my crib
calling, calling, calling out
as I so often did:
I want you!
I need you!”
Silence, looming silence,
mocks me in reply.
I raise my voice, bravely
mustering yet another try:
I want you!
I need you!”
Hours later (so it feels)
exhausted by my fears
I let go, sit down,
find my blankie,
dissolving into tears.
* * * * *
Her frail unsteady body
barracades the door.
Voice breaking, eyes glistening
she pleads with me once more:
“I don’t want to let you go!”
I clench my jaw, soothe my voice
promise to come again.
Praying that when I return
she’ll remember who I am.
* * * * *
I’m driving into darkness
helpless, lost, and small
that cried-out voice still echoing
her sad, scared, lonely call:
I want you!
I need you!”
I don’t want to let you go.
Silence, brooding silence
echoes in reply.
I’ve lived so long without you
but still can’t say good bye.