Archive for August, 2008

Teach your children well

Around the country, various school years are beginning. Some little ones are going to school for the first time, wide-eyed and bubbling with questions. Some are moving out of their parents’ house for the first time, their cars loaded with dorm value-packs sheets and self-assemble furniture. Some are beginning high school, awkward and unaware of who they are (or even who they want to be), but desparate to be accepted by the mass of older, more experienced students that bump into them without thought in the hallways. My thoughts are drawn to the many students I have taught, some starting college this year and some just starting second grade. I think of my mother and my mother-in-law, both teachers, both busily setting up their classrooms to be temples of knowledge, tenderness, patience, and triumph.

I think of my own experience. Today I begin my french class (one of the two required modern languages for my eventual PhD experience), and in about a month I begin my M.Div. classes. A world of knowledge and new experiences await me, just as they do for my former high school students who are beginning their very first college classes as I write this, and just as they do for my soon-to-be second graders, who will receive their first communion this year and take their first standardized tests.

Something about the new school year always makes me feel joyful. There’s just something about the clean, smooth bulletin board paper awaiting to be filled like a blank canvas, or the feel of a brand new notebook that has yet to be scrawled upon. There’s something about the potential of it all. There’s so many possibilities, so much that begs to be joyfully accomplished. The challenges, frustrations, and bleary-eyed mornings seem impossible to grasp during this time…during the momentary pause before the conductor lifts his hands before the orchestra.

That joy, that feeling of hope, never fails to greet me in August, whether I be a teacher or student. Of course, it is inevitably followed by a feeling of being overwhelmed and unprepared for it to actually begin (again, whether teacher or student). But the excitement about what is to come is a testament to all of the possibility, of the potential, that each new beginning brings. It’s the romance that temporarily blinds us to reality, so we can have the chance to fall in love before we realize how much work it will actually take. Otherwise, we’d never take the risk.

Protective Procrastination…

I think that, subconsciously, one of the reasons I have been avoiding writing is because of my last entry. When I last wrote, I wrote of the woman who is a friend of my family’s–you’ll remember she was dying of cancer.

Within days of my writing that entry, our friend died. Her death hit me hard. Each time I thought of writing a new entry, I thought of my most recent one–one that had been written at a time when she was still alive, when I still held out hope for some sort of miracle. And, in leaving that blog up, anyone out there reading may still believe she was alive. Somewhere, somehow, her death hadn’t been written into history.

Silly, I know. But also human, I suppose.

Here I am, now writing about her death. Perhaps this will help my self-imposed writer’s block, but it doesn’t matter. I’m still going to do my best to increase my volume of writing and opportunities for inspiration; but even greater, I going to do my best to restore my faith in miracles. And the best way to do both is to be as aware as possible of the magnificence of each day — even if it is, at times, begrudgingly.

Another path to immortality

In the movie Troy, Brad Pitt’s character Achilles has a scene where he describes why he desires to partake in so ruthlessly defeating countless numbers of men. I don’t remember the exact quote, but the gist of it is that he desires what he claims all men want–to claim immortality through always having their names known, feared, and revered for their accomplishments.

But I think there is another more noble path to immortality. I don’t mean eternal life; rather, I mean the exact same kind of immortality that Brad Pitt’s character referred to: of making an impact so strong that one is never forgotten. Yet there’s a catch; this kind of immortality means that one’s name is never actually remembered, and there is no glory saved for the self. This kind of immortality is all about the ripples–the aftereffects–of one’s life.

There is a woman I know who is dying. She is a sweet, beautiful mother of three young children. She is a wife, a sister, and a daughter. Her life is being claimed by aggressive cancer.

I taught her son and daughter about 5 and 4 years ago, respectively, through my mom’s school. The children were students of my mother’s and I met this woman originally as one of many smiling, happy parents at the children’s performances.

I learned quickly that this woman was no ordinary woman. She showed such gratitude to my mother and myself for being a part of her children’s life. When I ended up having knee surgery and being unable to drive, she would give me rides back and forth to my mom’s school on days when I was going to visit or teach music. On one particular day, I came out to the car to meet her. She was beaming. “I have something to give to you,” she said. I was surprised; I hadn’t done anything to deserve a gift of any kind. “Oh, no,” I remember protesting, “You shouldn’t give me anything! You’re already so gracious to drive me home.” “Don’t be silly,” she said, handing me a small box. “Open it.” I opened the box to find beautiful pearl earrings, in the shape of daisies (my favorite flower). “Every woman should be given pearls at some point in her life,” she said, still smiling. It was just the kind of woman she was; she thought of others constantly, she grounded herself through her family and faith, and she was always looking for some way to give back.

As I write this, she lays in a bed in her home, surrounded by her family. She is going Home to God in a few days, and her name will quickly fall out of the ever moving, ever shifting daily happenings of the world. She will have a funeral, her family will mourn, and her children will tell stories about her to their children one day. That will probably be the greatest extent that her name will continue to be known on this earth. But her ripples will continue on, the legacy of her love adding to the legacy of love that is passed on through each of us throughout the ages.

Each bit of love we share affects someone (hopefully many) in some way. That adds to the other person’s experience of how they share love in the world. And thus, through the way we live our lives, we touch others, who will go on to do the same in their own lives. We become immortal, because our love–and the legacy of that love–does not die when our bodies die.

Early Christians knew this, even though they were in the midst of persecution. Even their executors would marvel at the love they would show. Some would even convert on the spot. We are still carrying on the legacy of this 2,000 year old love. And it is up to us to ensure that it continues on.

I know my name will never be known by the world. But I hope that I can touch someone’s life in such a way that will inspire them to carry that love and expand it; I hope I can pass on my love and gratitude, just as it was passed on to me in the form of little pearl earrings that looked like daisies.

We are stronger than we believe

My husband and I had dinner with an old friend of mine last night. This beautiful woman, who I have known since college, recently completed an international distance triathlon. As we talked about the journey of her training and eventual completion of the triathlon, I began thinking of the strength that we all possess but don’t necessarily recognize within ourselves. So often, we are victims of our own underestimation (making us not only victims, but also perpetrators).

A month ago, I started swimming to help strengthen my knee and prepare me for my own first triathlon (we’re still going to see if that actually happens, but I’m signed up for it!). I’m embarassed to say that I could barely make it across the pool without feeling like I was going to wheeze my lungs out–and I had been walking and biking for quite a while, assuming I was in great cardiovascular shape. My self-perceived failure in the pool discouraged and frustrated me. It touched a nerve within me; not only do I really dislike doing poorly at things, but I also have little patience for the journey that takes me from performing poorly to being strong and capable. I want it to happen immediately; I want the “I’m-going-to-die” feeling to disappear and be replaced with that elusive athletic high that only comes with plenty of sweat and dedication.

I had two choices: decide that this just wasn’t for me and give up, or stick it out and go through the workouts patiently, improving incrementally and slowly becoming more comfortable in the sport. I’ll be honest in saying that at the beginning, it could have easily gone either way. Thank goodness for the support of my awesome and former-swim-team-member husband, who endured my cranky frustration and guided me through the necessary workouts. I devoted myself to swimming at least 3 times a week, usually 4. A month went by.

I began to adopt a mantra in the pool as I did my dreaded 100 meter drills. As I would near the end of the pool and prepare to turn around for the next lap, I almost always was terribly tempted to stop and catch my breath. My mind would scream: “Just rest! You can’t do it!” This is where my mantra would come in: “Do it anyway.” And I would. I would be convinced that I couldn’t do it, that there was no way I could do it, that even if hell froze over I wouldn’t be able to do it…and then I would do it anyway.

Yesterday I swam 2100 meters without stopping, and I didn’t even have to use my mantra; I actually wanted to do it. But it took a lot to get there.

How often other aspects of our lives parallel this experience. We fear so much in this life because we don’t trust our own ability to endure and adapt. Of course, endurance and adaptation is not insurance against pain and discomfort, but I believe that we are so much stronger than we give ourselves credit for.

Sometimes spiritual life is very much like working out. We go through dark nights of the soul. We go through dry periods–desert experiences. We go through times when we can’t seem to access that spiritual comfort zone, where God seems near and prayer seems easy. It is during these times that the temptation is to just not pray, to stay away from church, to avoid those that would hold us most accountable to our faith covenant. Our very core seems to scream, No! I can’t do it!

There are the times when our hearts are mourning from disappointment or loss. We can’t imagine how we could even consider loving again, or risking ourselves again, or becoming vulnerable again. Our hearts cry out, There is no way! I cannot!

There are even the daily challenges of eating healthily or doing daily chores or making a doctor’s appointment. In the moment, our fears or fatigue or simple dislike of the task coerces us into thinking, It’s just too hard, it’s not worth it. I can’t.

Remember Jesus’ words: “I am with you always, even until the end of the age.” You will endure, because God endures, and we are promised to be held closely to Godself for all time.

So do it anyway.