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Stirring Words

Something must be waking up inside of me.  I have actually felt like blogging a few times in recent weeks, after a long, long absence from this place.

Tonight I have an image of stirring in my head–of literal stirring.  Last week I made dozens and dozens of cut out cookies for Gabe and Rachel’s wedding–two connected hearts, frosted, decorated, and topped off with “G” and “R” monograms.

There was lots of stirring that went into those cookies.  First, blend the Crisco and the powdered sugar.  They come together quite easily when I use my big wooden spoon.  Then, the hard part:  stirring in the eggs and vanilla.  For awhile, it seems that I am just swishing the shortening/sugar mixture around in a sea of beaten egg.  Then, slowly, little by little, transformation comes as the eggs lose their separateness and become one with the already combined ingredients. Eventually, add some dry ingredients, and all those little bits become one good thing to share, embellished with some frosting and a few sprinkles.

The writing process is like that sometimes.  Blending words, some coming together more smoothly, more easily than others.  Finally, there is that point that the blending of the parts creates a single whole, creating one good thing to share, embellished with some frosting and a few sprinkles.

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“Who have you listened to carefully?”–another of Jon Swanson’s questions for reviewing 2010.

I try to listen carefully to the people who are closest to me, the people to/for whom I have responsibility:  my husband, my children, my grandchildren, my friends, my students.  What has that looked like in 2010?

Those of you who know me/our family know that my husband Michael lost his job when Taylor University closed its Fort Wayne campus in May 2009.  His unemployment is still a reality, despite multiple job apps and several interviews.  Listening carefully to Michael’s mind and emotions and spirit in this part of the journey is one of the hardest “listenings” I’ve been called upon to do in my life.  I have learned that there are limits to which one can get inside another’s mind and heart and that sometimes just walking alongside, listening, seems like a very unhelpful partnership indeed.  Beyond that, we have both tried to listen carefully to what God is saying about this season; there have been many, many times when that effort has seemed to yield silence.  But, as 2010 draws to a close and the calendar turns to the first days of 2011, we will continue to listen with hope and trust.  God, adjust our hearing if we are not tuned in at the right frequency.

A mother listens to her children even before they are born.  What mother of the modern age hasn’t thrilled to hear that first swish-swish-swish sounding heartbeat detected at a pre-natal visit?  When our children are with us every day, we hear a great deal, but may listen less if we let life’s stresses separate our ears from our hearts.  When our children leave our homes, we don’t hear them as often or as much; does that make listening easier?  My children are at threshold stages of life: young motherhood and grad school, about to be married, senior in high school.  It is so tempting to talk, talk, talk, but I am painfully aware that my best mothering at this stage may come in the form of being a better listener.  Part of listening is pulse taking–I’ve been trying to do better at hearing hearts when it comes to my kids.

I teach college students.  They come with stories.  Class time doesn’t give much opportunity for them to tell them.  But those stories give shape to their lives, and it is that shape that determines their successes or failures as students.  I try to hear the pieces of their stories that come through in every conversation or email or response to a question.  I’m discovering that at the point of their story bits, we connect most and best.  My philosophy of education is that teaching, if it is nothing else, is relational.  Listening well helps me be a more effective teacher.

I would like to say I have listened carefully to God in 2010.  But, if I am to be honest, I know there are far too many times that I’ve been in another room when He was speaking.  God, just as I am drawn into a room where a fire is blazing in the hearth and lights twinkle welcome, let me quickly and always draw near to the irresistible light and warmth of your voice to me in the cold and dark of my sojourn apart from your presence.

My prayer is for clean ears.

Rachel

My friend Jon’s blog, Levite Chronicles, is very inviting.  Not just in the sense of being a place one wants to be, but he literally invites thinking and reflective writing from his readers.  I have not spent much time in the blogging world since I returned to the work force in August 2009 as an instructor at Ivy Tech Community College Northeast.  However, when I do blog hop, Jon’s place is always one of my stops.

In a recent post he listed “20 Questions for Reviewing 2010”.  I find in that list enough thought provocation to keep me thinking and, if I choose to take the time, writing for a long time.

The first question on the list is “Who do you know better than you did at the beginning of the year?”  The first person who comes to mind in answer to that question is Rachel.  She is the young woman who will become my daughter-in-law in just 10 days. She has already established her special place in my heart.

When I think of what I love best about Rachel, four things pop out immediately.  The first is one of the first reasons I heard from Gabe about why she is so  special.  “She really cares about people,” Gabe replied in answer to my early queries about this young woman who had caught his eye and was capturing his heart.  He obviously judged her aright.  Always ready with an offer to help after a family dinner, giving up her time and her possessions to help a co-worker who comes up a little short on both from time to time, not wanting to put anyone out during the process of wedding planning–those are just some of the evidences I’ve seen so far.  When we opened gifts at our family Christmas celebration this past weekend, I could see the “I have paid attention to who you are” stamp all over the gifts that were given by Rachel and Gabe.

The next two things I love about Rachel have to do with laughter.  I love her laugh.  If it was translated into words, one of the adjectives one would have to use would be “delight”.  When Rachel laughs, it’s as if she is just so tickled about something she can’t keep it in.  It always makes me smile.  And, when Rachel laughs, very much of the time these days, I hear my son’s laughter too.  This special girl has the ability to make my son smile and laugh in a way that I’ve never seen in all of his fun-loving twenty-six years of life.  That is something a mother has to love.  May the two of them always together find something in life to make them smile and, even if they have to deal with dark days along the way, always be able to return to the laughter of their early love.

Finally, I love to watch Rachel the mom.  With this marriage, I am gaining not only a lovely daughter-in-law, but an all-boy, cute-as-a-button, smart-as-a-whip, four-year-old grandson.  I love to see Rachel interact with Ethan.  She does not let him get away with murder, which would be very tempting when he looks up at you with those big hazel eyes in his little elf-like face.  She is tough and tender, and it is clear that they have a very special relationship.  She is very nurturing and in her quiet way she teaches and trains him as they interact.  And, best of all, it is clear that she truly enjoys her son.  I am happy to see Gabe and Rachel in their parenting roles for this little guy, and I hope that he will someday realize how blessed he is to have two people who love him so deeply.

I will always remember the first time Rachel stopped by the house on her way to work and Gabe simply introduced her with, “This is Rachel.”  Indeed.

This joyful journey of knowing has just begun.  The beginning has been one of the riches of 2010.

Mercies, Graces

In the summer of 1980 (I think), I took a couple of graduate courses at Bob Jones University in Greenville, SC.  In one of the Bible courses I took, the professor made a distinction that I have not since forgotten.

He said that mercy consists of that which we deserve that God spares us from.  Grace is that which we do not deserve that God bestows on us.

I’ve experienced a great deal of both in my life.  I was thinking tonight of  some recent occurrences.

In the department of mercy–mercies, if you will–I’m not sure that the things from which I’ve been spared recently were things I necessarily deserved.  But I definitely felt I was being shown the mercies of God when neither of our boys was injured in car crashes in recent weeks (Zach was in a collision which totaled our Buick Le Sabre; Gabe’s KIA Optima met up with a deer one dark October Saturday night.)  When I fell as a result of a stumble from stepping on a sweet gum fruit in Foster Park a couple of weeks ago, I came away with nothing more than a severely sprained ankle and a little damaged pride.  The mercies of not grieving over lost sons or broken bones are fresh in my heart and mind.

When I got home from work today, I checked the mail.  One envelope that came today contained a card with a large-denomination bill taped inside.  That gesture brought tears to my eyes and humble joy to my heart.  Someone listened to God, obeyed, and, in that, we were blessed and provided for…..a grace indeed.

These are the front-burner mercies and graces in my life.  I am quite certain that if I attend to the back burner, I will be amazed at the others I discover.

How about you?

A-h-h-h-h

There’s this really nice feeling right at my center.

Oh, life is very busy these days.  With the new semester only two weeks young, everything in my life related to Ivy Tech still has that fresh feeling…and the scurry that goes with it.  The “boys” are busy.  Between school and work for all, I hardly see my sons these days.  Weekends have been filled with friends and activities of late.  The job hunt continues for Michael.  The continuous stream of life flows on with a strong, swift current, touching the shore at various connecting places where the people I love are standing.

In the middle of it all there is a still place.

For a long time I have been very restless in the inner places.  That stir still comes and goes, but it is not the constant state of things these days.  There is a quiet place that feels right, that feels good.  It is like one big, long, drawn-out “A-h-h-h-h-h-h-h-hhhhhhhh.”  It’s like the feeling you get after a long day on your feet when you can finally release your toes from the confinement of shoes.  It’s like those nights when you crawl between the cool sheets and stretch every muscle, then relax and you just have to give a few happy groans because all the tension of the day melts down into the mattress and disappears, leaving the dead weight of your now-not-tense body to rejuvenating slumber.

Only–it’s way better than that.

I label it “peace”.  And because there are so many reasons for me not to have a place for peace, I know it can only come from one Source.

And, I say, “Thank you.”

The answer is simple:  I am using them elsewhere.

Over an impromptu supper with friends last Sunday night, the infrequency of blog posts came up.  I bemoaned the fact that I had not posted on either of my blogs since January.

“You’re using up your words with your students.”

That insightful statement was very freeing.  I have loved being part of the blogging world ever since I began out of a desire to stay connected with my daughter Ellen during her semester abroad in Spain in 2005.  I have loved the regular exercise of writing for someone else to read.  I have loved the process of taking advantage of midnight quiet or early morning musings to turn thoughts into words.  I have cherished the interaction between fellow bloggers and myself, and have met new friends along the way.  I have felt sad about not blogging…and sometimes a little guilty, although, really, that was not at all necessary.

But last fall I returned to teaching.  I had not been in a formal school classroom as the instructor for 25 years.  My lifestyle changed almost totally from being a stay-at-home mom and wife to being a working woman.  During the time I was not teaching, I was preparing to teach.  And all of that activity used up my words.

I still have ideas.  These days they are flowing out through words to students.

They also flow out in tinier chunks to friends on Facebook.  I am not a Facebook voyeur like some people I know.  There are those who say, “I read my friends’ posts, but never comment.”  I cannot listen to the conversation without being part of it.  So, there go some more words, everyday.  And it is okay.

Then, there are the people I love, the nears and dears.  There are words for them too. Lots of words these days, as life hustles by almost faster than we can turn our heads to catch a glimpse of where it’s going.  Children’s lives changing, our lives changing as a couple, questions being asked that we’ve never asked before.  And all of these circumstances take words.

So, tonight, it seems I have a few words for here, in the wee hours of the morning while I wait for the dryer buzzer to signal the last load of dry clothes before bedtime.  But, now the buzzer just buzzed…and, it is a good thing.

No    more    words   today…

I’m teaching four classes (two courses–actually, in my head I count it as five classes, since one of them is a combo class, which definitely FEELS like two classes when it comes time to prep and to teach!) at the local community college this semester.  I began teaching there last semester, and I love it!

At this semester’s adjunct faculty orientation, one of my colleagues (a friend whom I first knew when we were both homeschool moms) asked me what I like about teaching at the college.  Part of what I told her–and have since formulated further as an answer–is:

1.  I don’t have to deal with all the non-academics that go with teaching children.  Even though I’ve had to ask for quiet from particular individuals a time or two, and have asked a student to unplug after he came to class with an iPod, I still haven’t had to play policeman in the halls or bathrooms, I haven’t had to clean up vomit from the floor, and I haven’t had to call anyone’s parents about their naughty behavior.

2.  I am always amazed by hope.  There are men and women in my classes who are, for the first time, trying to get somewhere in life–and are finding success in the journey.  Some have lost jobs, but instead of sitting around collecting unemployment and feeling sorry for themselves, they are taking their unemployment period as an opportunity to imagine they might do something different–be something different–than they’ve been up till now.

3.  Finally, the thing I like most, is that the more I get to know my students, the more I find them to be an endlessly fascinating group of people.  There is a never-ending pageant of colorful life parading before my eyes every day.  In the laughter, in the pain, in the frustrations, in the accomplishments–my place in front of the classroom is like sitting in the viewing stand, and, maybe, just maybe, I can throw in a tootle or a toot or a bang on someone’s big bass drum as their parade moves on, adding to the joyful rhythm of the march.