Father’s Day, a thank you, and TFIOS

To be completely honest, I could not tell you what day in June Father’s Day is this year. Outside of knowing that it falls on the second Sunday in June, I could not tell you anything more than that, as that thought requires actually thinking about the holiday.

There are two holidays in particular that I do not care for and considering my profession of being an elementary school teacher, I’m kinda doomed: Halloween and Valentine’s Day. I’ve never cared for either one for the majority of my 23+ years. But Father’s Day…that’s a different thing in itself.

It’s not that I don’t like Father’s Day because that’s not the issue here. It’s that it’s fallen “out of use” in my life. And that’s probably the most politically correct way to say that. It seems to me that I no longer care for the holiday because, to me, it feels strange. Strange like having a 3rd arm that I don’t know how to use. I once knew when it was, where I would be, and who I would be spending it with, but that is no longer the case. Because in my mind, my biological reason to acknowledge this holiday ended 11 years ago. (Don’t get me wrong here-I have spent every year since 2003 celebrating and thanking the men who are still present in my life in the fatherly sense, from grandfathers to uncles. Even sometimes thanking a special teacher. But it just isn’t the same as celebrating the person who is half of who you are.)

The only reason why I said any of the above is because it is Father’s Day tomorrow. And because I have a special message for my dad’s freshman english professor, whom I will likely never meet or have read this post of mine, but it needs to be stated anyways:

“Thank you.

Thank you for making your freshman english class keep a journal of their thoughts each week. It’s because of you that I’m able to get a rather unique glimpse into the mind of the father that I didn’t get to know for very long. Being as I was only 11 when he went to be with Jesus, I never got to hear stories of his college experiences. I even think that I know more now, having only been able to get about halfway through that notebook in small chunks because I keep breaking down into tears each time I pick it up, than I would have known about how he felt about my mom and having to leave her “at home” when he had to go away to VT. I doubt I would have known how much he hated standing in line at the bookstore just to buy a single folder for a class, or how he didn’t think he was very good at writing in the way his professor (you) wanted him to write.

The very first time I picked up my copy of this notebook, I couldn’t get past the first two pages before I broke down into tears. Even as a teacher and a person who has continually written since age 9, I had forgotten how much our voice comes through what we write. How if you listen hard enough, you can hear that person’s voice reading to you. That’s exactly what happened to me. It’s only natural to feel like you can’t remember how someone you love sounds after they have passed away, but it hurts just the same to truly realize that’s happened. I’ve already spent more of my short time here on Earth without him than with him, so I will forever treasure that one notebook for the rest of my life. I know I have home movies to always look back at and watch but as a person who expresses themselves through writing, I will never forget the assignment you gave in the Fall of 1983.”

A book that I recently read, and was subsequently turned into a movie, reminded me of the raw emotion that comes with human loss: The Fault in our Stars by John Green. If you haven’t read it or seen the movie, I highly suggest them both. (But please read the book first-while the movie is an excellent interpretation of the novel, it still doesn’t do the characters justice.) The way I’ve described the book is as this: It’s a really easy read about a teenager with terminal cancer. About halfway into reading it, you reach a point where you realize you can start crying at any point in time. Then you reach a point where you can’t stop crying. Despite the tears, it’s a fantastic book (and movie). And I stand by that. It will change your life if you let it.

Anyways, after seeing the film twice now, there’s one particular phrase that I realized will always get to me each time I read the book or see the film: “I am not a mathematician, but I know this: There are infinite numbers between 0 and 1. There’s .1 and .12 and .112 and an infinite collection of others. Of course, there is a bigger infinite set of numbers between 0 and 2, or between 0 and a million. Some infinities are bigger than other infinities.”

I will always be sad that my infinity with my dad was not as long as it should have been. That fact is never going to change. What I have to keep reminding myself is that I got more time than others did, than even my own siblings did. And one day, my small infinity with him won’t matter at all.

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“Evil does not win.”

One year ago today, I was sitting at my computer filling out job applications and attempting to focus on taking my one final when I started to get bombarded with news coverage of what happened at Sandy Hook Elementary. It’s hard for me to believe that I’ve done so much in the past 365 days, but I can’t imagine what the families of those 26 individuals whose lives were tragically taken are feeling on this day. Following that event, the conversation about school safety and gun safety rose again. In the eyes of a young soon-to-be elementary teacher, the understanding that an aspect of the profession I was entering was drastically changing was starting to take effect on my inner monologue. No longer would it be required of me to teach a group of students everything that they need to know in that given year, but now I have to understand, and start to become a little more comfortable with, the idea that I am now promising the parents that I meet on Meet the Teacher night that I will protect their students when they are with me, regardless of the situation. Just thinking about the amount of trust that parents have to now have to send their kids to school amazes me.

In no place on this earth are we able to be completely safe. We’ve seen it an unfortunate amount of times where parents send their children to school and some never come home. We could argue all day about why these things happen and who (and what) is truly to blame, but that’s not why I’m writing this today. It’s always been difficult to watch coverage of any school shooting, considering the amount of love and time I’ve invested at the school that now ranks as having the deadliest school shooting in history. It absolutely kills me to now see any coverage of what happened a year ago today and see the label of “the second most deadliest school shooting in history.” Because that’s the label that’s forever tied to “Sandy Hook,” or “Virginia Tech.” Any search engine sadly proves that.

One year ago, I had just finished working with 17 first graders. Not only did it hurt to just know that this horrible thing had happened again, but I then started to think that it could have been my kids. It hurts now to recall how I felt that day because the job field I was entering was forever changed.

At the end of the semester a professor, and educator, of mine sent an email to my cohort and it was exactly what a new teacher needed to hear. As she does follow my blog, I hope she is okay with me sharing her thoughts from this event last year:

 Please know this.  This isn’t how it is supposed to be.  You shouldn’t have to think about your safety or the safety of your students when entering into a career as an educator.  You just shouldn’t. The reality of Friday’s events changed that forever and first I want to tell you how sorry I am.  I saw that reflected in my own mirror this morning as I prepared to send my 7-year-old out to catch the bus; I saw it in the eyes of my teacher and counselor colleagues in elementary hallways and classrooms today; and certainly in the eyes of other parents.
  But you also need to know this and I want you to really know it–you bring an amazing amount of love and compassion for the students you haven’t even met yet.  You bring a love of learning and expertise on how to engage students in their own pursuits of knowledge. You bring creativity and excitement and energy and enthusiasm.  You will be the ones that make everything ok.  You will be the ones who develop communities in classrooms and teach others how to actively care for each other.  You will be the ones that change all of this for students and young people for many years to come.  This I know for sure. 
  You are and will be a hero to many students because you will love them first, then teach them what they need to thrive and succeed.
After the state-wide moment of silence yesterday in remembrance of those lives lost, I looked up from saying a silent prayer to see the eyes of 18 third graders looking at me. They had heard the announcement about why we were going to have a moment of silence, and I don’t know if any of them really knew why we did that. None of them asked me why or anything about it, but I was reminded of how precious and important my job really is. I don’t know if I would be able to make the same sacrifices that six teachers did that day. I’m sure I would if it would seem necessary but that’s not something any teacher would want to think about having to do. So for now, I’m going to continue to try to teach them how to respect themselves and others, how to solve problems in a healthy manner, and how to care for one another. All the while reminding myself that as long as I continue to teach those things, evil does not win.

Why ask Why

In the midst of tradegy, we commonly find ourselves asking God, “Why? How is this the work of your hands? Why me; why my life?”

Those were the questions I asked when I was 11 and my dad passed away, when a friend in college was so brutally murdered (four years ago today), and when a friend lost his life in a car accident just 2 weeks after getting married. In none of these circumstances is it easy or simple for our human hearts and brains to comprehend why these terrible things happen. It’s not easy to look to God and know that His plan is at work and that those we love were ready to begin their time as angels. It’s been almost 11 years now since my dad’s time on earth was finished, while he still had 3 young children. How is that God’s plan?

The one thing I have learned in the past 11 years is that you can’t doubt Him or ask why, because then we are only showing God that we don’t fully trust him. It does us no good to dwell on the pain in our lives only to know deep in our hearts that God’s plan is at work. Nothing else can explain why a 37 year old man would be taken away from his family, why a college sophomore and her boyfriend were murdered while camping, or the deadly car accident that claimed the life of a newlywed.

This weekend, I attended the funeral of that young newlywed, whose life was cut tragically short. I didn’t know him that well or for very long, but it hit me like a ton of bricks when I heard the news. I wouldn’t see his smiling face when I go to church at home anymore. I wouldn’t be able to see his bride for the first time after their wedding to ask how married life is. I would no longer be a pawn in a continual blatant set-up with a mutual best friend. It’s those thoughts that have been running through my mind, though it does me no good. But those are the memories we will remember and it does us no good to hold them back when your heart is hurting.

And lucky for me (and us all, really), God never stops speaking to us, if only we are willing to listen. Knowing I wanted to journal last night but didn’t have the time before bed (I’m a teacher: early bedtime, early riser), I decided to open up my bible instead. At random, I decided to see where my ribbon bookmark was at and read from that book, knowing I’d find something relevant in either Psalms or Proverbs.

And when God speaks, boy is it loud and pointed straight at me.

My eyes settled on Psalm 28 and I started reading. “To you I call, O Lord my Rock; do not turn a deaf ear to me. For if you remain silent, I will be like those who have gone down to the pit. Hear my cry for mercy as I call to you for help, as I lift my hands toward your Most Holy Place…Praise be to the Lord, for he has heard my cry for mercy. The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him, and I am helped. My heart leaps for joy and I will give thanks to him in song.” (NIV vs. 1-2, 6-7)

He knows the questions I’ve been asking repeatedly and He has heard my voice. Knowing that comforts my soul, and I hope that those around me hurting and asking similar questions just remember that He is listening. We serve an Almighty God who is larger than anything we can wrap our minds around. It might feel like it’s killing me to give up the notion that I’m in control of my life, but I need to release that fear. It is then that I won’t need to be so drastically reminded (maybe? hopefully? I am only human) that my heart and my future (and all of my questions) are in the best set of hands that they could ever be in.

Slow to Change

You could ask my mom or any one of my grade school teachers. I am a perfectionist. Especially in school. I could never leave a problem alone until I had worked it to death to completely understand it and do it perfectly. Some might say that’s just being a good student. But when you look a little deeper, you could always see the tiny fear in my eyes that something I turned in wasn’t correct.

As an adult, my problem with perfection changed into an organization obsession. Any one of my roommates could tell you that it is out of character for my room to be disorganized. I just like having everything in its place because then I always know where things are at all times. Not a bad thing necessarily, but when it bothers you when the dishwasher isn’t organized properly, you have a problem.

I’ve always been aware of it. And I’ve never denied it either. Well maybe I did growing up, but there comes a point in high school that you start to accept parts of who you are. At least that’s how it was for me.

It’s been really interesting for me to see how this “issue” of mine has changed as I’ve matured and grown in my college years. I’ve discovered through being in the classroom every day that I’ve also become more laid back. It looks strange on paper (computer screen? This isn’t paper…oh well. Food for thought) just writing that because I know how Type A I am. It is typical of my age group to discover new things about ourselves and today I discovered a new thing that blew my mind.

The nail polish that I put on last night already has a chip in it and I don’t have a strong desire to fix it.

*gasp*

WOAH. Talk about something that’s the complete opposite of my unnecessary need for perfection. I have no idea why I am okay with this either. I rarely wear polish on my fingernails for this very reason and when it chips I always feel the need to make it look perfect again. That’s when I realized no one and no thing is perfect. Crazy thought, right? Yet it’s completely true. I’m nowhere near perfect and I was created that way. I’m still loved by my Creator for being imperfect and some days, that just blows my mind. If I have trouble loving the imperfections I claim to have and see in myself, how could someone else see them and never once doubt loving me?!

It’s amazing for me, in this moment in life when my skills are being heavily critiqued and watched in hopes of gaining a full-time teaching position, to be able to see that chip in my less-than-24-hours-old polish and love it. It’s just like that chip represents the flaws I have and why they don’t matter in the end. Everyone has their flaws and you can either accept them, learn from them, or try to change them. I find a healthy combination of the three to be the smartest line of thought, but that’s just me. So when I look down at that chip in the polish, I refuse to obsess about the imperfection of it. Instead, I will accept and embrace the fact that the chip in the polish doesn’t define me; I define it.

Respecting Your Husband

As I was reading during my quiet time today, I came across this passage in a section about respecting your husband. I am far from being a married woman, but something about these paragraphs struck a chord in me. I can only hope that I remember these words down the road when my time comes, and that these words may be a source of guidance and encouragement for the engaged and married women in my life.

Encourage your man when he makes decisions. Let go of unrealistic standards of perfection and love him for who he is, an infallible human being. Let your home be a place where he isn’t constantly evaluated and where he doesn’t have to perform in order to be accepted. Focus on his skills and abilities, and let him lead from his strengths. Finally, don’t keep track of the poor decisions he makes. Your husband will become a more confident decision maker and a better leader when he knows that you are in his corner no matter what the outcome.

Accept your husband unconditionally (unless he is doing something in violation of God’s commands). Encourage your husband to be the unique person God created him to be. Be a source of serenity in his life and grant him the solitude he needs to dream, to recover, and to be with The Lord. Encourage him to develop new friendships with other men and welcome the new perspectives, interests, and passions these friends may introduce into your husband’s life.

“15 Minutes Alone with God” by Emilie Barnes, Harvest House Publishers

The wrong outlook

I’ve been feeling lonely for some time now. I guess I’m lucky to be able to know when I have gotten all that I can out of a certain place, or certain people in life and that’s how I feel right about now. Some people really are only going to be around you for a season, and that is something that has been very apparent to me in the past four years of college.

I decided to stick it out for another year here in Blacksburg for graduate school and at first it was completely fine with me. I had adjusted to knowing that I would be spending a summer way from the people in my life who know me the best; the people who keep me grounded and love me regardless because I do the same things for them. I had to get used to the idea that my summer would be completely different for the first time in 21 years. But that was okay–it was just going to be one summer. I made it through it with lots of trips to visit friends and by delving myself into my schoolwork, but it wasn’t the same.

Fall started and I felt like a small part of me was back. I had a very small summer break and was able to recharge before heading back for more classes. More people would be back in the same town as I was so it wouldn’t be the “same old, same old.” Yet I still felt that void. That a part of me was missing that I wasn’t going to get back anytime soon. Sure, I have plenty of friends, but I’ve always viewed myself as having a small amount of best friends and a lot of decent friends outside of that. Unfortunately, those close people don’t live in the same town. Different comforts accompany different friendships and I have felt out of sorts for missing certain relationships. I have felt lonely.

That’s the only real way to say it. I feel alone. I can be in a classroom or apartment full of people and still feel alone. Like no one can really see who I am or that no one cares to see me. And that is terrifying. I’ve been holding this feeling in for months now and it wasn’t until I broke down last week on the phone with my mom did I start to feel a little bit better. It’s not fun to admit that you feel all by yourself in a town that you have happily called home for almost 5 years. It’s scary to admit that you don’t feel like you’ve changed but yet you have never felt more different and alone in your short time as an adult. But I just typed it out again and it isn’t any easier to admit. I stll look at these words and feel like I could break down, that no one understands me, that I somehow don’t understand myself.

I don’t know how this always happens to me, but it is in times like this that I can open up a journal that I keep passages from books I’ve read and find something that applies to my life. And what do you know, that’s what happened tonight, causing something inside of me to feel the need to write it down and blog about it (blogging for the first time in over a year, mind you). And this is what I found:

“Most people never realize that loneliness is a gift from God. Not only can it draw us closer to Jesus, it can teach us to cherish a long-awaited marriage relationship all the more. And in that loneliness, we can weave something of our own to honor the person who will make all our faithful waiting worthwhile someday.”

That excerpt from When God Writes Your Love Story by Eric and Leslie Ludy just met me at the perfect place on a night where I don’t feel alone. But talking to someone from your past out of the blue can also do that to you. Realizing that someone who still understands the core of who you are now from what they knew four years ago is comforting. That I’m not alone. And for the record, my mom said the same exact things to me but without the perspective of marriage. Moms know the right thing to say, even when life isn’t fair or easy on their end. Like she keeps reminding me, I don’t have much longer here. I think I can make it through, just as long as I keep working hard to get to where I want to be in six months: moving, growing, and changing in a place that will be just right for me.

Prospective…and “A Second Chance”

“Georgia Tech played the University of California in the 1929 Rose Bowl. In the game a player recovered a fumble, but became confused and ran the wrong way. A teammate tackled him just before he would have scored a touchdown against his own team. At halftime all of the players went into the dressing room and sat down, wondering what the coach would say. This young man sat my himself; put a towel over his head, and cried.

When the team was ready to go back onto the field for the second half, the coach stunned the team when he announced that the same players who had started the first half would start the second. All of the players left the dressing room except this young man. He would not budge. The coach looked back as he called him again, and saw that his cheeks were wet with tears. The player said, “Coach, I can’t do it. I’ve ruined you. I’ve disgraced the University of California. I can’t face that crowd in the stadium again.”

Then the coach put his hand on the player’s shoulder and said, “Get up and go back in. The game is only half over.”

When I think of that story, deep inside I say, “What a coach!” When I read the story of Jonah [in the Bible], and the stories of thousands like him, I say, “To think that God would give me another chance!””

-Billy Graham