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.

Magi

Today’s post is by my friend Amber Hood, who is one of the most generous and compassionate people I know. I’m not sure if her students know how blessed they are to know her!

Most of us know “The Gift of the Magi” by O Henry.  It’s about a young couple that doesn’t have very much money at Christmas. The wife sells her hair to buy her husband a chain for his watch, but the husband sells his watch to buy hair combs for his wife. This week, my 7th grade creative writing students and I read this story. One of my sweet kiddos sitting next to me provided a running commentary as I read aloud.

Della’s beautiful hair fell about her rippling and shining.”

“Mmm, girl. You get that hair, girl. Work it.” He pretended to play with invisible long wavy hair.

“’I buy hair,’ said Madame Sofronie.”

“What is happening? No! Don’t do it, Della! Don’t do it!”

I read to the end, and he flipped his papers over in disgust. “What do you think?” I said.

“That was a terrible story! Those people are poor! Why would you read that to us?”

I figured he’d appreciate the lesson once he started on the assignment. I wrote on the board, “Are Della and Jim wise gift givers or unwise? Give three reasons. Support your answers with evidence from the text.”

Without exception, all of my students agreed that Della and Jim were wise. The students articulated thoughtful responses about generosity, sacrifice, the true spirit of Christmas, and love. These have always been the themes I think of too when reading the story, and I’ve always felt it was a powerful message.

But the sad story of Della and Jim seemed to really stick with that one little boy, and I found it once again sticking to me too. My kiddo had a point. As much as I love that story, it isn’t very happy, is it? Christmas stories should be happy like getting the bad guys in Home Alone or eating syrup on spaghetti like in Elf.  The original Christmas story is the happiest of all with kings bringing gifts and the skies filling up with angels singing and a shining star and a newborn baby who doesn’t even cry. When it comes down to it, Della and Jim don’t actually have a very merry Christmas, do they? I thought that maybe I shouldn’t have read the story. Many of my students are impoverished themselves. They understand Della’s and Jim’s sacrifice. They know what it is to be generous having been on both sides of it. And they are children, so they understand what it means to love sometimes even more than their teacher does.

In looking at the story again, I started to think more about Della’s hair and Jim’s watch, which before had always seemed like arbitrary props to help O. Henry make his way to the plot twist and life lesson combo at the end. Now, though, I realize Della’s hair is synonymous with her feminine charms that at the turn of the century would have been one of the most important things about her, and Jim’s watch is the only wealth he has. Without her hair, O. Henry calls Della “truant;” she’s in “ravages.”  She’s damaged. Without his watch, Jim has no status symbols. Where does our pair now belong? On the outset, they seem to have lost their worth according to society. But, my 7th graders insist Jim and Della did the right thing. What could this mean? That it’s okay to not fit into a societal standard? That it’s okay if you don’t seem to have much significance to what society deems significant? In fact, not only is it okay to be lost or losing, it might even be wise. This damage isn’t something that makes us merely tolerable– it’s how God intended. It’s our pain and our imperfections and our lack of gold pocket watches and even our baldness that make us precisely who we are supposed to be.

 

 

Day 26: Dear writers

*Day 26 in the Dear Gratitude project is by yours truly again–only four more days of this project left!*

Dear writers,

You have shaped who I am, and you’ve shaped what I do.

When I began to read

When I began to read

Thank you, Beverly Cleary, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Ann M. Martin, E.B. White, Francine Pascal, and the rest of you who wrote the children’s literature I still love. I carried your creations with me everywhere. I crawled under my bed, books in hand, with a flashlight night after night. I fell asleep there, midway through a fascinating story that transported me to Wilbur’s pen or to Sweet Valley High or to the woods of Minnesota.

Because of you, I started writing my own stories, complete with intricate concrete descriptions of characters and settings. I stole phrases from you and learned to incorporate figures of speech and theme and symbols into my stories. My mom thought I was a genius; I’m sure my stories weren’t much better than any other fifth grader’s. But her encouragement led me to write more, and as my former creative writing professor, Andrea Hollander, wrote on my poems countless times: “Keep writing!”

So I did.

I kept reading, too, because I discovered more of you as I grew older, and reading your words helped me write my own. I developed my own taste for literature, and I pooh-poohed the notion that I ought to read classics for the sake of reading classics. I probably annoyed my college professors at the small, private, liberal arts school I attended, who touted the likes of Faulkner and Shakespeare incessantly. I had no real use for those guys. I knew what I liked, and I did my best to avoid wasting time reading things I didn’t like. I tried reading awful books like Wuthering Heights on multiple occasions–my mom always taught me to try something more than once before deciding to cross it off my list. Those same professors introduced me to some of you who are now my favorites–Cormac McCarthy, Sherwood Anderson, Chaucer, Nye, Kinnell, Wordsworth, and Steinbeck.

I stopped spending time with  all of you after graduation. I was sick of you, honestly. I needed a break.

I took one for several years. Then you, Tolkien, reminded me how wonderful it felt to curl up in a warm blanket on a cold night, mug of steaming cocoa in hand, and turn the musty pages of an old book to the tune of my cat’s contented purr. I was hooked again. I started reading all the books I’d bought in college but had only half-read due to time constraints. To my surprise, I liked some of them. I formed relationships with more of you–Welty and Joyce, to name a few. I dug into non-fiction, too, and my perceptions of the world were altered by you: John Eldredge, Wendell Berry, and Dan Allender.

Thanks to all of you–writers who moved me–I decided to go back to school to pursue my Master’s in English Language and Literature. And now I’m teaching students how to write, how to use words as tools, how to shape the world with language.

Thank you, writers. Thank you for teaching me, inspiring me, transporting me, entertaining me, and changing me.

I hope my words do the same for someone else someday.

Day 22: Dear Mrs. McGrath

*It’s hard to believe Day 22 of the Dear Gratitude project has arrived! Only eight more days of letters from eight more wonderful guest writers. Today’s post is by LaDonna Busby, a friend and fellow church member.*

This thank you is long overdue, and it is going to someone long dead.  Why do we wait to express our gratitude to those who cross our paths in this life?  We need to remember to say thank you, even if we have to send letters read by someone other than the intended person.  So here goes:

Dear Mrs. McGrath,

1ST GRADEI wonder if you ever knew what a wonderful gift you gave me – something that I have cherished my whole life long.  You introduced me to READING!  For that great gift, I want to say thank you, and I am sorry it has taken me over 50 years to express this gratitude.

Oh, the people and places you enabled me to meet and visit.  I still remember you patiently helping us to learn “Look Jane, look.  See Spot run.  Oh, look Jane, see Spot.”

Thus began my adventures with some sweet characters, some not so sweet.  Many are like dear friends when I think of them.  Amy, Beth, Meg and Jo from Little Women – each one a different personality woven into a story that young girls can enjoy even today.  I still have a treasured copy of that book.  There were so many others – The Bobbsey Twins (Bert and Nan, Flossie and Freddie); Laura Ingalls;  Hester Prynne from “The Scarlet Letter”, Jane Eyre; David Copperfield; Romeo and Juliet; Tom Sawyer, and the list could go on and on.

Not only did I get to know some wonderful characters, but I also got to travel without even leaving my cozy chair. Through reading I have traveled the world over, learning many interesting things, seeing so many beautiful places – even if only in my mind and imagination.  Of course not all places are wonderful, but I traveled where the books took me.  Nowadays, a lot of my reading is about places of trouble and sadness.  Places of war, poverty and cruelty – but I read on filled with hope that some time I will read that things have improved for some country or its people.

Your gift has blessed my life in so many ways.  Reading is so important to me.  I have been able to read the letters sent by my brother when he was in Vietnam.  There have been cards – birthday, anniversary, get well, thank yous, invitations, and notes of sympathy.  Just think what I would have missed if I had not been able to read.

I am able to read the Bible.  Through my reading of scripture, I have become stronger in my faith.  My faith is so important to me, and I cannot imagine being unable to read the Word of God.  The Bible is filled with stories, characters and places.  You can read it over and over, each time getting something new and powerful from the reading.

I passed on this gift to my daughter, Susan, who loves to read.  I don’t quite like her choice of books – she loves the author Stephen King – but I am happy to see her read.  Now we are passing this love along to her sons.  The oldest had quite a struggle learning to read – but thanks to a compassionate and caring teacher, like you, he conquered that mountain and now loves to read.  So, you see your gift to me just keeps going and going.

I wish I had gone back to Mitchell Elementary and thanked you.  When we are young, we don’t think to do things like that; it is only as we begin to mature that we realize what has been given to us.  Thank you, Mrs. McGrath, for being my 1st Grade teacher.  You were a kind and gentle woman who helped many children to begin a journey that will last their whole lives.  Please know, there is at least this one student who will forever be grateful.

Fondly,

LaDonna Wittke Busby

Day 2: Dear darling boys

*Thanks to my generous and zany friend Amber Hood for serving as today’s contributor to my November “Dear Gratitude” letter writing project. Each day in November, a different writer will share a letter to someone or something she is thankful for.*

Darling boys in my class—

teenage boy for amber blogI have first hand knowledge of what it’s like to be a 7th grade girl. It isn’t easy, and now I know you all, and I love you all, and when I am not crazy mad at you for nearly poking someone’s eye out with a pencil (yes, I know he needed to borrow it, but that doesn’t mean throw it; that means pass it or hand it), then far too often my heart is breaking for you as I see you face your struggles.

When the girl you like laughs at you or when you say, “My uncle died last year, and sometimes I still get really sad about it,” I don’t know how to make it better. And it’s these times when I feel so unsure of my ability to teach you or to help you grow, but just when it gets really dark, I see you reach out to the new kid who is not very cool, and I see you boys take responsibility for your actions with more dignity than most grown men, and I know it isn’t my job to make you into the person you should be but to be your number one fan as you realize it on your own.

I am so grateful for you sweet boys for teaching me so much more than I could teach you.  Some days I think my life is pretty tough trying to help you fellows read better when you’d all rather bounce around my room, but I have these little moments, like when you make an A on your geography project, and I’m so proud of you not just because I know that class is hard but mostly because I know you probably walked to the dollar store and used your own money to get the poster board you needed.  I’m in awe of the way you treat the lady at the store on the corner with respect when you buy a coke and chips from her even though she scowls at you and watches you closely assuming you will steal from her because your skin is dark, and you look like a man even though you are only 13.

Thank you, my brave and clever and kind and funny and scrappy young men. You give purpose to my days and so much hope that we’re all going to be okay.

Want to support hard-working 7th grade readers? Please visit my classroom wish list. http://www.walmart.com/giftregistry/gr_detail.do?registryId=80522943011It’s no secret that teachers often spend their own money on what their children need. This is especially true in schools with a high poverty rate. Please consider spending a few dollars so that these young men (and my sweet girls, too) can have more books to read, more pencils to chew on, more after school snacks for those who need them, and more paper to create some of their first works of story and poetry. You’ll serve as an excellent reason for me to get them to learn how to write thank you notes.

 

 

Getting the morning back

Yesterday I had a relentless migraine that materialized before I ever got out of bed. My goal was to complete my last research paper for graduate school by bedtime yesterday; I finished six of eight pages, but I decided I’d be better off finishing it minus the nausea, pain, and throbbing which overwhelmed me. I went to bed last night after taking what little medication I’m allowed to take while pregnant and hoped–rather, prayed–for the best. Okay, let’s be honest–I BEGGED for relief!

I woke up at 4:30 a.m. (one of my many nightly breaks from sleeping) and ate a small snack, thinking a full belly would be more conducive to completing the six hours of sleep I had hoped for.

Fortunately, God had other plans. As I lay there attempting to get cozy enough to lull my exhausted self back to sleep, I found myself humming hymns to our baby, praying for people I hadn’t even thought of in months, and contemplating a potential plan to earn extra income after the birth of our baby. After making coffee and reheating my corn pillow heating pad, and realizing that attempting to fall back asleep for a mere 30 minutes was futile, I succumbed to my apparent refusal to sleep and got up out of bed.

Me in all my morning glory while camping with my family, 2010

As I poured my one tiny cup of coffee for the day, I found myself whispering, “Thank You!”

In that moment, I recognized that God did for me what I could not do for myself. He woke me up, without any nausea (which is no minor miracle for me these days), and gave me a reprieve from the unbearable pain I’d been feeling for over 36 hours. He wouldn’t let me go back to sleep, but in exchange for another hour of sleep, I gained valuable solace with Him and the opportunity to get my mornings back–even if only for today.

I wasn’t always a morning person, but the past two years, I’ve slowly evolved into one. Prior to pregnancy, I woke up every day, regardless of my plans or schedule, at least an hour prior to beginning my daily duties and routine. I spent this hour reading the Bible, meditating on Scripture, and blogging about the blessings in my life.

Since becoming pregnant, I’ve been plagued almost non-stop with a multitude of unpleasant symptoms. These symptoms forced me to adapt my schedule and sacrifice my precious morning time with God. I still found ways to sneak in time with Him, but for me, it hasn’t felt the same.

As I took my first sip of the one tiny cup of coffee I’ll have today, I literally almost cried. It actually tasted heavenly. Coffee, as many of you know, is one of the great loves of my life. Since becoming pregnant, I’ve often become nauseated at the smell of it brewing. The fact that I actually savored a sip of coffee this morning struck me as a gift from God.

Time to sing to my baby and pray for my friends. New ideas. A sense of physical well-being. Nuggets of wisdom from digging through God’s word. Enjoyment from a sip of coffee.

These are all gifts God has already given me today, and I haven’t even technically begun my day.

That’s what I’m talking about.

Thank You, God, for giving me the morning back.