Monday, April 19, 2010

If home is where the heart is...

"...then my home is where you are. It's getting oh so hard to spend these days without my heart."--Relient K

The lines of this song have undoubtedly been connected to lovers who are separated by miles, or they maintain the deeper meaning of the ache that we as Christians have to be with our Father. However, this past weekend, they held a different meaning for me.

Nine years ago, I made a decision that has forever shaped the course of my life. I decided to go to Anderson University. At 18, my faith was strong, legalistic, and new. Going to a Christian college seemed to be a much nobler act than partying at a state school. Additionally, I went to a high school where the senior class typically divided itself between IU and Purdue, and no part of me wanted to go to a version of Munster "South campus." I wanted to re-create myself, and it wasn't going to happen living with the people I'd grown up with. So, in August of 2001, my parents packed me up and moved me the three hour distance to Rice Hall. I mentioned that this decision shaped my life, but I know that other decisions that were out of my control also set my course. I'm not sure how the housing department at good 'ol AU decides who's going to live where, but that year, it seemed that the choices made were hand-picked by God.

When I arrived on Rice Hall 2AB, I had no way of knowing that some of these girls would become integral parts of my life and who I would become. None of us knew that we would face incredible hardships together. Whether it was the insane fear that we would lose one of our new friends to cancer (a diagnosis received just months after beginning school); the heartbreak of ending relationships, both ours and our parents; or the questioning of our faith, values, and destinies, we were there for one another that first year of college.

Sophomore year brought new challenges and times of rejoicing. Living arrangements scattered us across campus, new girls were added to the group, and our beloved friend returned to school cancer free. Junior and senior year brought new trials. Boyfriends came and went, relationships waned, and faiths hit roadblocks. I questioned where or if I belonged with these six women. I knew that I had relationships with some of them individually, but as a group, I questioned my place.

Fast forward five years. My husband and I went to the wedding of one of these amazing women this past weekend. I was so ecstatic to see these girls, my college friends, but what caught me off guard was that I was still questioning my place. Those feelings of inadequacy along with approximately 5 glasses of white zin left me a hot, crying mess in the bathroom. (After talking to my BEST friend, I realized I ended up in the bathroom because she had the forethought to remove me from the dance floor before I made a fool out of myself in front of the ENTIRE wedding.)

I came to understand several things in that bathroom. First, Page has always had a knack for pulling me out of situations when I'm getting crazy, and I'm always grateful that she does. Secondly, the fact that I didn't have the same place as the other girls in that group didn't mean I didn't have a place at all, and I AM loved by them. Next, if Leah and I hadn't been so convinced we were disliked by the other, we probably would have been close friends in college. Additionally, no matter how old you are or how high your heels are, when you're drunk in a bathroom crying, you still look like a pathetic 21 year-old bar fly without self-control. Finally, I'm blessed beyond words to have these women in my life. They still (5 years, 5 husbands, 1 baby, and countless moves later) reflect back to me the person I truly am, and they offer a glimpse of who I can be.

I told Courtney that night I don't realize how much I miss them until we're together; she agreed. For the months, sometimes years in between visits, we push down this ache that we feel because really, what else is there to do? It's not possible to go back to college and live down the street or nap together during a lazy Tuesday afternoon. And five, six, seven years ago, we didn't get it. We didn't realize that as wonderful as the lives we were dreaming about would be, that a time would come that we would long for the cramped corners of Rice Hall or the tiny rooms of a make-shift apartment.

The older I get, the more I long for those relationships. When it comes down to it, part of my heart is with those women, my sisters, and sometimes it's incredibly difficult to live without the missing pieces of my heart. That's why nights like my friends wedding are perfection. In those moments, I get to taste heaven. At a celebration of selfless love surrounded by people who know the real me, I feel the smallest bit of what I believe God has in store for His people, and I can't help but smile, laugh, and love the moment despite my heartache to go home.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

What's my story?

Since this is my second blog in a row responding to how Donald Miller's blog impacts me/causes me to think, I kind of feel like a sham. I should probably have my own ideas about what to write...I wish I had all my own ideas about what to write sometimes, but the truth is, for the time being, I'm ok with responding to the thoughts of others. It's where I'm at, and I think that it's better to be there than to NOT be thinking about life and where I'm going. Having said that...

Miller's blog today suggested that we think about our lives as narratives. Instead of merely setting goals, he offered the idea of "writing our stories." To write our story, we decide on the end result, work our way backward, and write each scene that will lead us to the end scene. This got me thinking...

Am I being intentional when I write my story? Is my story one that is worth It's an evaluation that isn't comfortable to make because honestly, I don't think it is worth telling, at least not yet. So, what do I have to change? What's the next chapter? How am I going to intentionally make my story worth reading? Worth living?

My first end scene? Co-own a successful graphic design business. Follow this new passion I've found. I have friends who LOVE their jobs. One of my best friends is an RN and runs an orthopedic pediatrician's practice; she loves her job. Yes, she gets stressed, and yes, she has rough, frustrating moments, but at the end of the day, she gets lost in her work and loves it. I want that, and I find it when I'm designing invitations, logos, and accessories. My creative juices get flowing, and I feel like I can breathe again. So that's my first end scene. I'm still working out the initial scenes to get there, but I know they're there. I just have to write those scenes, and I will. They will be written.

My next end scene? Lose this "last" 20 lbs. (I use quotes because truly, I could decide that I need to lose more, but I'll reassess after this next 20.) From the ages of 8-20 I was the fat kid/girl. It's easier to admit now that many of my peers packed on the pounds I always seemed to have, and I'm now referred to as "average," but the truth is, there's a fat little girl inside me who would like to be thin. I'll even settle for thin-ish at this point, but it's got to happen. I'm working on writing those scenes right now. 3 weeks ago the number was 28 lbs. We'll see where the next scene takes me, but at the end of this chapter, I'll be there minus 20 lbs.

The last scene that I plan on writing in the near future is the motherhood one. The paradox is that I know this is the easiest one to accomplish (let's be honest, how many pregnant students have I had in my classes?) (FYI: That last side note caused me to knock on wood because there's a part of me that's terrified that it won't be easy, and that scares me. To. Death.) The paradox is that while this may be the easiest end to get to, I know that motherhood is not going to be easy. I'm ridiculously terrified that I'll suck at it, mess our children up, and have them grow up to hate/resent me. I know that this is the story I have the least control over, but it kind of makes it the most exciting.

The reader in me knows that three chapters isn't all that much, but the writer in me is often lost at where to begin. I guess it's time to start asking, "What if?" I think it's the only way to avoid writer's block.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

What if...?

One of my favorite authors, Donald Miller, had a blog post about asking the question, what if? His consideration of this question explained how authors use this question when they're trying to advance a plot. Answering the question "what if?" for their protagonist leads to huge changes. Relationships start or end. Careers are begun or abandoned. Families are healed or broken. After this posting, Miller's readers began offering their own "What if's." All this discussion about what may have been, led me to think about my own what if's. Obviously there are what if's that I had/have no control over. Some of the more upsetting ones (because of their possibly positive or negative impact) include:

What if I had actually known my Papa Jack and Grandma Betty?
What if my mom hadn't lost her third baby?
What if we had lived near my mom's family instead of my dad's?
What if my Aunt Mary Kay were still alive?
What if Grandma Phyllis and Grandpa Dick were never a part of my life?
What if my dad hadn't found the postcard that led him to meet my Aunt Lillian?
What if I hadn't been a fat kid?

Other what if's, however, I did have control over, and they have steered the course of my life as I know it.

What if I hadn't accepted Christ as a child?
What if I decided not to go to youth group at our new church, SunCrest?
What if I had called Hillsdale home instead of Anderson?
What if I chose not to be an RA for two years?
What if I turned my back on my God?
What if I hadn't realized I deserved better than the three year relationship I'd been in?
What if I had called and cancelled dinner on September 1, 2007?
What if I waited too long to accept my job at LC?

The last set of what if's are yet to set the course of my life.

What if I don't teach forever?
What if I design despite the fact that I don't have a degree?
What if Sarah and I really do grow a fantastic business?
What if I finally lose that last twenty pounds?
What if I forgive the people who abandoned me?
What if I really love my neighbor as myself?
What if I truly follow Christ like I say I want to?
What if I write that book?
What if my husband and I allow our love of children as opposed to our finances dictate the size of our family?

These are the what if's in life that I still have to answer. I know it won't be easy, but more importantly, I know that leaving these questions unanswered will leave me with a whole other set in years to come. Here's to what if's and possibilities.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Teaching Now and...Forever?

At age five I knew I wanted to be a teacher. I was the cliche kid who would line up her dolls and teach them, grade papers for non-existent students, and instruct a my teddy bears on the finer points of spelling (ironic given that as an English teacher I rely heavily on spell check and am constantly grateful that Google Chrome points out spelling errors for me as I blog). My childhood practice coupled with the fact that my mother was a teacher made teaching the obvious profession for me. Five years into it. I can honestly say I'm good at what I do. My cooperating teacher during my student teacher told me that I had the "teacher gene." While I will agree that many aspects have come naturally for me, and I do often enjoy it, I can't believe that I'll do this forever.

Don't get me wrong, I know that I've impacted lives. I know because I have a box of letters telling me so. This box is where I turn when I'm at my wits end with my students, profession, and colleagues. This the box I turn to when I want to quit my job and search for a nice 9-5 where I can not be invested in others. (Paper pushing has an allure when you've explained for the umteenth time to yet another parent that the best way for her child to succeed in English is to "come to class, do his homework, and ask me if he has any questions.") This box houses the letter of a student who wrote to me about finding out that she was pregnant and that more than being concerned about what her parents would say, she was worried about what I would think. Just under that letter is one from another student who writes about how important it is that I was the only teacher who gave him a chance. There are a dozen or so of these letters, yet on days when I'm most frustrated, I forget about this box. Complaints about homework overshadow thank you's for being understanding. It's hard to remember that I make a difference, but crucial that I do. These letters keep me going.

With new opportunities on the horizon and parenthood presenting itself in the next three to five years, I wonder if these letters will keep me going, or if I'll hand in my chalk for other adventures. When I started teaching five years ago, I said to my mother (the most dedicated and phenomenal teacher I've had the privilege of knowing) that as long as I impacted one life in my entire teaching career it would all be worth it. I was young(er) and (more) naive then, but I think I was right. After all, good teachers should want to change the world one kid at a time, thus if we only change one kid, the world can be better. If there does come a time that I leave the classroom, at least I know that I will leave having achieved the dream of that five year-old little girl who was intent on Paddington Bear knowing how to spell.

Friday, April 9, 2010

God didn't give me patience...

By age 27 you'd think that I would have come to grips with this fact. Any patience I do have has been painstakingly cultivated throughout much of my adult life. Much like my struggle to lose weight, the pursuit of patience has been arduous. I'm excellent at testing other's patience, however. My mother has often told the story of my first night at home as an infant. I screamed. The. Whole. Night. (Now that I am getting to a mothering age, I pray fervently that there won't be a repeat performance by my future child.)I also mastered testing my little brother's patience, so much so that he resorted to violence. Looking back, I can't blame him. When colleagues, or students for that matter, push me to my limit, I would be lying if I said I hadn't considered a good right hook. I've left a trail of friends and boyfriends who I'm sure could attest to my ability to drive them insane. But this post isn't about them. Let's focus on MY inability to have patience.

Because I've already been reprimanded (however rightly so), about a passive aggressive status update, I thought a blog (that certain people don't even know exists) would be a better venue to vent. So, here are the top 10 things that tested my patience this week. (In my defense--I kept my mouth SHUT. I'm learning to suck it up and be patient. I'm trying to give people the benefit of the doubt, but it doesn't mean I can't be irked, miffed, frustrated, or just plain D-O-N-E.)

10. People who have taught a class already and still don't know the curriculum.

9. Teachers of lower classmen who try to make MLA citation easy. MLA will NEVER be easy for sophomores. Make them work. It won't kill them. I promise. Also, by making MLA "easy" (read: letting them do whatever they want), you make my job that much harder when I get your little geniuses in two years.

8. Offering advice when asked, only to have said advice not followed. If you're not going to do what I say, then don't ask. I have a certain numbers of breath in this life, and I rather NOT waste them on you if you are going to disregard what I've said. After all, I have plenty of students who do that everyday.

7. Individuals who do not know the names of people in their department after nearly a year.

6. Answering questions when the answers to said questions are WRITTEN ON THE FRIGGIN' handout.

5. Answering questions when the answers to said questions are WRITTEN ON THE FRIGGIN' handout AND I just answered the same FRIGGIN' question for the fool before you!

4. Persons who use my classroom before me leaving their stuff ALL. OVER. MY DESK!

3. Individuals following suit when others are proceeding incorrectly DESPITE being informed of how to do it the RIGHT WAY.

2. Asking me a question in front of a student, me answering said question correctly (after all, I teach research and MLA citation/format ALL YEAR LONG), and the inquirer informing the student to do it a different way. (Please see #8 & increase frustration by 100%)

1.Now this is a tie--I'm not sure if I was more irritated that my class was interrupted SIX TIMES during the first 15 minutes of class due to a lack of planning and organization OR that I was locked out of my computer, delaying my instruction time by ten minutes.

The above list is evidence that God wants me to be patient and love people that I don't like. I'm trying. I'm REALLY trying, but some days (weeks, months, years) it's not easy. God give me the strength. I really WANT to be Your light, but please remember, You didn't give me patience. I have to work on it.

Samples of a Life?

Let it be said that coming up with a name for my blog created pressure that I can't even express to you. (The reason for the change is completely because when I first signed up for a blog over a year ago (because Sarah MADE me), I wasn't really sure that I would follow want to deal with it. Thinking about my future inbox crammed full with e-mails about a blog I never update, I craftily used my "junk" e-mail address (the one I give to stores for discounts, bars for free booze, and whichever website is about to tell me how to have a flat stomach in 2 days AFTER I handover my prized e-mail address). In the past year, a lot has changed. The blogging concept is more attractive. Maybe it's because I'm more mature--ok, we know that's NOT it. Anyway, blogger is stupid and wouldn't let me change my e-mail address, so I changed my blog.) Samples of a Life came to me at some point. Having this new name Samples, I decided it would be best if it were used for good instead of evil. (For those of you who don't know, my middle name initial is J and the combination of BJ and get the picture.) The more I thought about it, a blog really is a sample of a life. People who are close to me know that I sample an infinite number of emotions and feelings a day as well. Thus, Samples of a Life seemed fitting. So that's what this blog will hopefully be, a sample of where I am in my life. Thanks for following. :)