Chasing rabbits

I must be brief this morning.

maggie napping while sick 9 11 13My toddler is still quietly sleeping in her crib, curled up in a little pink ball. Last night, she resisted her normal 7:30 p.m. bedtime and wanted to watch an extra episode of Curious George, her current favorite cartoon. After that, she pitter-pattered around the house, dragging her “Good Dad” by the hand, insisting that he follow her and accompany her the entire time. An hour later, after exhausting both of us, we coaxed her back into her crib (not without shedding of tears), sang a song, and reassured her that we’d see her again in the morning.

5:15 a.m. felt early today. It took me a few minutes to adjust to the notion that getting out of bed was a good idea and that spending time reading, praying, and meditating would benefit me. However, having benefited from reading, praying, and meditating and spending chunks of time alone with God each morning for several years in a row now, I knew that getting my tail out of bed was the best decision.

decaf._Cat._prod._pg.So I did. My sister recently gave me a one-cup instant coffee maker, and today was its christening. The chance to use my new gift was almost exciting enough to motivate me to get out of bed without a grumpy attitude. One minute later, presto! I got back into my warm bed with my hot cup of coffee, my Bible and other reading material, and my glasses. I was ready to go.

My normal RPM time–reading, prayer, and meditation time–takes about 30 minutes. I normally read a short passage.  If I read the Bible, I read about one chapter or less. I don’t try to digest too much information because I want to retain something and carry it with me throughout the day. If I read other devotional material, I read a one-page devotional entry, and I read it three times: once quietly, once aloud, and once again, looking for one piece of good orderly direction to jot down to carry with me on a slip of paper. I learned to do this from a woman who is my mentor. This method really works for me, so I continue doing this daily.

This morning, and other mornings when I happen to have lots of extra time to devote to my RPMs, I allowed myself the luxury of chasing spiritual rabbit trails. I did my normal RPMs, and then I just started reading whatever I found interesting. I opened the Bible randomly, and the pages fell to Psalm 84. The entire chapter is beautiful and contains some of my favorite verses, but this morning verse 5 stood out to me. Last night at a meeting of friends, we talked about the fact that one of the definitions for salvation in the Hebrew language is to come home. Verse 5 and the reference to going on a pilgrimage seemed to relate to this in my mind, and I was intrigued. I decided to look at the footnotes; they referred me to Jeremiah 31:6.

It would be silly to read just one verse, right? So I read the entire chapter. And man, what a tearjerker. Jeremiah 31 was chock full of language that spoke to my heart. It must have spoken to my heart many times before, too, because there were several verses underlined, marked, and highlighted. Some of the same passages that brought tears to my eyes this morning were marked, but many of the passages that were significant today were not underlined or marked, which let me know that God is continually showing me new things and deepening my relationship with Him (if I let Him).

At 6:50 a.m., I finally finished my time of reading, prayer, and meditation and had nothing but a few sips of cold coffee left in the bottom of my mug.

At 7:08 a.m., I’m thankful that I decided to get up regardless of my grumpy attitude this morning. I’m thankful for the coffee maker my sister gave me that helped me overcome my grumpy attitude. I’m thankful that I learned how to benefit from doing RPMs from my mentor, and I’m thankful that I developed the habit of spending time with God every morning since starting out my day with God not only benefits me but also benefits everyone who comes in contact with me, too. I’m thankful for the insights God gave me this morning. And I’m thankful that my toddler slept all this time.

I might still have time to brush my teeth.

Day 20: Dear Grandma

*Today, we have the pleasure of reading a post from fellow blogger Mark Luker. Be sure to check out Mark’s blog!*

Grandma,

Mark Luker grandmaThis is a letter I should have sent you a long, long, time ago, and even though you can no longer remember your life, or who I am, and you can’t even read anymore, I still feel a need to write it because I want to thank you. But in saying thanks to you, I will also be thanking God for your presence in our lives. I want to say thank you for being in my life, for taking care of us kids when our mother couldn’t. I thank you for being willing to be my father and mother – it must have been so hard to do, and I know I didn’t make it easy for you either.

I thank you for always managing to provide wonderful food on the table and for patching up my jeans and making those hand me down clothes somehow fit and look nice. I was too young to notice that you really didn’t have the means to feed us – and I was really too young to see how you trusted God to provide! But I guess I learned how to trust God from your example even though I didn’t know it.

I want to thank you for sacrificing your life, your wants and needs, at a time when you should have been retired and enjoying us like “normal” grandmothers would – from a distance. I am so thankful you never let there be a distance between you and us kids. I need to thank you for each instance when you gave away your own life so that you could care for ours. I need to thank you for not only caring for our physical needs, but also for keeping us focused on God.

You tried so hard to protect us from this world and I was so selfish; I thought you were just being mean. I’m sorry that when it came time for going to church, I was more like Tom Sawyer and gave you so much grief. I am so sorry I forced you to use that willow switch on me, because I know now that it really did hurt you more than it hurt me. But I am so thankful you never gave up on me! I apologize for not taking church seriously at a time when you were trying to keep me before God. I wish you could know how important God is to me now and how he has redeemed me.

I thank you for literally saving my life when I was so close to death- oh I know that you have always said it was God who saved me – and I agree – except now I know that God chose you as an instrument to keep me in this world, and I am so thankful that you answered his call. I remember all those times when I tried to sneak out the front door with nothing but my t-shirt on, with sleeves rolled up like the “cool” kids. I could never quite get past your door, could I?

Looking back, I remember how you would say that you wanted me to remember that God saw me before anyone in the world did, and that was all that mattered. I want to thank you for teaching me things that I ended up using in raising my own daughter – except I haven’t been as good at it as you were. I wish you could see her today, Grandma – using the very same things you taught me as she serves God herself. I see a lot of you and hear you speaking to me at church when I see her.

I thank you, Grandma, for showing us what serving God really means. I want you to know that all those times of struggling were not in vain. I need you to know that you can rest now from all the time you’ve spent in this world. Please know that you have served us well; now it’s time for you to have peace and look forward to going home. I know God is going to reward you in heaven for all the great work you have done on earth!

I love you.

Never say never

At the homestead, 2011

At the homestead, 2011

I’ve said NEVER about plenty of things.
And eaten my words plenty of times, too.

“I will NEVER get divorced.”

Done. Twice.

“I am NEVER going to be one of those people who moves back to the middle of nowhere as an adult!”

Done. Here.

“I’m never going to date another alcoholic or addict, EVER!”

Done. Remarried one. Subsequently divorced him.

“I am NEVER going to wear leggings. Gross.”

At my friend's infamous Festivus party, 2011

At my friend’s infamous Festivus party, 2011

All right, maybe I came close to holding true to this one, but I did don a sweet pair of leggings with the ugliest Christmas sweater EVER a few years ago.

When it comes to saying “never” these days, I try to catch myself and rephrase things.

“I can’t say I will NEVER have another baby, but I’m leaning that direction.”

Our daughter's christening, 2013

Our daughter’s christening, 2013

 

“I won’t say I will NEVER join another Baptist church, but I’m pretty happy attending our Methodist church right now.”

“I won’t say I will NEVER teach again. But I’d rather work as a waitress than teach again.”

Well. This has proven false.

I am beyond grateful for the opportunity to put my recently earned Master’s degree to work and to teach one course this fall at our local community college. Not only am I glad to be able to use my degree, but I’m excited about TEACHING. I can’t wait to wade through the text and create my syllabus, incorporating things I’ve learned and ideas I’ve mulled over the past few weeks. I look forward to being on campus, even for a few hours a week, and helping students in some small way to better themselves and prepare themselves for the world of work that lies ahead.

My first experience as a teacher left a bad taste in my mouth. I taught, as my second job out of college, as a high school teacher (teaching English and Religion/Philosophy) at a private high school in an affluent area of the city. I was the third teacher that year–and I started in the middle of September. That probably should have raised a red flag, but it didn’t. I was naïve and assumed that teaching there would be easier because the students would certainly be better behaved due to their upbringing. And the Christian environment would be really supportive, encouraging, and positive.

I do keep in touch with many of my students. And I built some great relationships with many of them. If I could have stayed inside the four walls of my classroom without any interruptions from the outside world–namely parents and administration–I think I might have stuck with it. But that didn’t happen.

I received a handwritten letter from a student threatening to bring a gun to campus after my first month teaching because said student was failing my course and wasn’t thrilled about it. The principal blew it off and suggested I change her grade so she would have fewer worries about graduating. I was not wise enough at that point in my life to simply report the incident to the police, so I just moved on. Countless parents scheduled conferences with me to voice their concerns about my zero-tolerance policy regarding cheating and plagiarism. Couldn’t I be a little more forgiving and overlook those things? When I sent students to the office or reprimanded them, they were often sent immediately back to my classroom, receiving no consequences for their actions.

I wasn’t a perfect teacher, but I tried my best to stick it out (and I did, for a year) for the sake of the students, who were a year away from heading to college, to improve their writing and reading and critical thinking skills. I knew that what I was doing would prepare them for what they would encounter in college. But dealing with the lack of support from parents and administration proved too stressful for me. I opted out of contract renewal in May and went back to working with emotionally disturbed teenagers. Believe it or not, the environment at that facility was much more supportive, encouraging, and positive. And I felt the students truly appreciated my efforts to help them.

After that negative experience with teaching, I vowed to avoid teaching at all costs. And yet I continued to find myself in work environments and volunteer situations that demanded that I lead or teach. I led support groups for sexual assault victims. I taught summer courses for high school students as part of a grant-funded program. I led workshops for college students when I worked in career services. I created curriculum for training employees at multiple job sites. I led Bible studies for students.

And now I find myself preparing to teach college students.

One of the wisest women I know repeatedly tells me that “always and never are God’s words.”

She is right. I NEVER know what my future holds because I do not hold it.

God does.

And He ALWAYS knows what’s best. And I won’t say NEVER, but it’s rarely what I had planned :).

Mama DID

My mom had a rough go of it growing up. I won’t share details, because they are my mom’s to share, but trust me.

The four of us the year my parents divorced

The four of us the year my parents divorced

Despite the circumstances of her childhood, my mom chose to have four daughters, all of us about two years apart. When she found herself a single mom with four children under the age of 7, she didn’t give up or go nuts or give us away. She just kept going.

And she didn’t sit on her laurels, remaining content with never achieving any of her goals or not being able to provide for her family. She went back to college, earned her degree, and relocated our family to Arkansas after marrying my stepdad.

I’ve been writing a series of blog posts about my mom whenever the mood strikes me for a few years now. You can find them on my personal blog. The title of the series is “Mama Said.” Anyone who knows my mom knows that she has a number of infamous sayings and phrases she repeats–life slogans, if you will–regarding how to clean, how to talk, how to relate to others. How to live.

But it’s not what “Mama says” that causes me to admire her.

It’s what she does.

She perseveres through hardship. She continually grows as a child of God. She worships freely. She takes good care of her body, mind, and spirit. She forgives those who certainly do not deserve forgiveness. She goes out of her way to give to those in need. She excels in her career. She communes with nature and finds beauty in the small things.

My mom with my baby shower gift, October 2012

My mom with my baby shower gift, October 2012

I’ve noticed that in the past few years, childhood friends of mine have made comments about my mom that have surprised me.

“I still make the bunny prints out of construction paper because of your mom.”

“I started a chore chart because of your mom.”

“Your mom remembered that I would not have my own mom to tell me ‘happy Mother’s Day’ and sent a card this year.”

The young mothers who have made these comments remind me of my mom. They didn’t all have the greatest maternal role models in their homes, but they found inspiration in the way my mom cared for our family. And now, as a result, their children are receiving love, constant care, and creative discipline :).

And so is mine.

With my mom and Maggie, February 2013

With my mom and Margaret Jacqueline, February 2013

Not because of what she said to me growing up, but because of what she did, I have a huge repertoire of tricks, tools, and tips to fall back on as a mom. I don’t have doubts about how to assure my daughter that she’s beautiful, special, divinely created, and infinitely blessed. I don’t worry about my ability to make choices that will benefit her, put her well-being first, and help her grow. I have less anxiety about how to handle the ups and downs and growing pains of parenting.

I may have to Google images of rashes. I might read books on how to be a great parent and glean insights. I often talk to other young mothers facing similar issues when I need a second opinion.

But I know one thing for sure.

I know how to love.

Thank you, Mom.