Sunday, December 4, 2016

It's the Small Stuff That Counts

Last week was refreshing - a stop and consider type of refreshing. The kind that realigns your heart and mind, allowing your perspective to broaden. First, I realized I have only two weeks of the college semester left, that I've essentially made it to the end! All that crazy almost done. Hard to believe, but such a relief.

Then my son had a sleep over birthday party. I set a limited number of 12 year old boys who could crash at my house, but my husband said "No, invite them all." When I bulked (I don't "do" bigger groups of younger kids well) he said he'd take over the party. And that he did. I made sure the party had what it needed and hung out for happy birthday, then split. (Yes, I came back and spent the night listening to nonstop chatter except between the hours of 3am-6am, so I didn't totally abandon my husband to the mob!) But what a husband. Knowing I have limits to what I can take with a huge group of crazy younger kids, he was more than willing to take over and let me escape for the craziest part of it.

And escape I did, thanks to one of my best friends answering my picture and rhetorical question on IG about needing to escape the number of running, noisy bodies in my house. Hang out time and a movie and just a really nice night. It is rare to find people you can completely be yourself around. I have foot in mouth disease - the bad combination of a big mouth and a strong-will - so it's refreshing to find someone who knows who I am and I don't have to replay the night in worry later.

The weekend was also shared with a family friend who comes by once a week to watch movies with us. He owns over 2,000 movies and we've currently been binge watching our way through seasons of Survivor. We've been at it for 18 months now and we're on season 23...that's 11 1/2 years of Survivor! It's always a great night when he is with us - we usually eat dinner or have snacks and cheer or yell as needed at competitions that are years gone. Lol.

And the moments that started the refreshing of these past couple days were with my students. My Seniors, the majority of whom were my Juniors last year, started presenting their "Things That Happened to Me" slideshows last Thursday and finish up tomorrow. Based on Oskar Schell's photo book of the same name in Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, I asked them to choose a combination 20 pictures of their own and internet that show me who they are. I don't think I've enjoyed any other project as much.

Can't put up my students' pictures,
but this is where we meet.
My Seniors told me where they've been and where they're going; what they've failed and what they've accomplished; what makes them laugh and what makes them cry; who they love and who loves them; how the world has changed them and how they want to change the world; how they're broken and how they've healed. They've shared their families, friends, pets, jobs, favorite colors, hobbies, interests, secrets, and dozens of little things in between. I've enjoyed every word of every presentation the past two days. How could I not?

According to the state of Pennsylvania they're my job, but to me, they're simply my kids. And soon enough, after two years in my classroom, they'll be graduating. So this week, for now, I am going to enjoy my time with them and all they're willing to share.

Yes, we have work to do, friendships have tough times, my kids and their friends can be a crazy bunch, my husband and I may not always be so mindful of each other, and my current journey is CRAZY, but it's the day-to-day where life happens - memories are made, lessons are learned, and lives are fortified.

It's the small stuff that counts.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Set Apart

I know I've been MIA here on the blog, but I'm just finishing up week 12 of 15 for the semester and the weekly assignments they come with! The work load stayed consistent up to this point, but I've slowly felt less crazy about it. All I have left are two final papers and presentations for each, one per class.

What's changed? My ability to schedule in family time and bits of fun around work and school work improved, although I will not claim perfection by any means. But, overall I settled into the new schedule; however, that happened in large part due to my perspective change.

I always thought I'd get my PhD as a career step, taking me to the place I've been working towards all this time: professorship. The final means to the final end. That might be the case one day, but it's no longer a certain goal. As I've worked, cried, and dragged myself through this first semester I've realized differently.

This journey is a dream realized, but it is not the destination.

This journey is going to change me like no other journey has. It's going to force me to face my weaknesses and broken parts and learn to live in them and through them, changing what needs to change to come out a stronger and better person than when I started. Deep? It was a crazy "Whoa" moment when it came to mind, so yea, I'd say so, but also not surprising.

I should know by now that it's always about the journey. When one ends another begins and so we are always living in an opportunity of personal betterment, if we're willing to see it.

I was not willing to see it for the first half of this semester. The work was immediately challenging and forced me to set boundaries on my time and energy. To do well, I had to change the routines I'd been living in (basically doing whatever I wanted to) for years. I felt left out and lonely on a journey that no one around me had taken before - so that even in the good moments I didn't feel anyone could share my joy. Because of that I tried to keep my schooling separate from the rest of my life and often found myself silent among people or avoiding the topic because my schooling is my life right now. I avoided the FB newsfeed to avoid the empty hole ache of what felt like friends enjoying life without me and spending time with their families while I had to limit my own. I felt guilty over the choices I made to balance my schooling with work and family. Feeling completely dumb, I kept wondering why something I wanted so much was so difficult?

I felt God had given me the desire of my heart and then left me there to struggle through it. Dramatic? May seem so, but anything life changing has the ability to turn you upside down and inside out, while appearing completely normal to everyone else.

Fortunately, I do have family and a couple friends who allow me to vent and babble my way through the emotion and revelations until it's all sorted in my head. Also, I read a few books over the summer whose lessons kicked in for me on a level I hadn't foreseen. One of my beloved authors, Lysa TerKeurst, states best what I've learned about this journey so far in her book Uninvited:

"There is something wonderfully sacred that happens when a girl chooses to realize that being 'set aside' is actually God's call for her to be 'set apart.' This is true.

To be set aside is to be rejected. To be set apart is to be given an assignment that requires preparation.

Embrace the preparation today. And remember you are 'set apart' beautiful one. Chosen. Adored. And reserved for a high and holy calling." the preparation for something else. God has not left me high and dry, He has set me apart. This is time to wait but also time to grow. If I put in the time now, seeking all God has for me on the other side, all the hardship and change will be put to good use - the best use as only God can manage. I don't know exactly what awaits on the other side of my next four and a half years of schooling. I am content to know I am right where God wants me and that He will guide my steps. I need only keep my focus ahead and remember He has me set apart for a higher purpose.

Wherever you are today, I encourage you to stop and ask God "Why am I here and what would you have for me?" He may encourage you in the direction you're already headed; He may surprise you with a turnabout; He may ask you to keep waiting on Him. Whatever the answer trust in it and keep at it!

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Without Rival

Without Rival: Embrace Your Identity and Purpose in an Age of Confusion and Comparison, by Lisa Bevere

Publisher: Revell
Publication date: August 16, 2016
Category: Christian motivational, nonfiction
Source: I received this galley from NetGalley for consideration of a review.

Wow, October just blew past me. I didn't even realize it until I came to the blog and saw I only had two posts for the month, but have the start of half a dozen waiting with the intention to finish and post. And two of them book reviews! One from the summer, but, I somehow managed to squeeze another read in September. Assuming you read the intro info, it was Without Rival, by Lisa Bevere. I had the pleasure of hearing Lisa speak in September while reading her book too!

Lisa and her well known author husband, John Bevere, have a number of motivational Christian books to their names. Although I've read John's books previously, this is the first of Lisa's I've read. The title and idea equally captured my attention. What would it feel like to live without rival? To not see others as competition or not feel limited in life? It's almost unimaginable. Except Lisa lays out the very real possibility of living without rival.

Throughout her book she discusses how to (list from Amazon):
· Flip rivalry so it brings out the best in you
· Stop hiding from conversations you need to be a part of
· Answer the argument that says women are unfit, easily deceived, and gullible
· Dismantle gender rivalry and work with the men in your life

And of course, she does all of his through a Biblical lens, fighting through the comparisons, lies, etc., to become who you were made to be. I love the way Lisa cut to the truth with simple statements. Among my most favorite are two quotes that work together to form a wall of comfort around me for the hard stuff of life.

"The attacks on your life have more to do with who you might be in the future than who you have been in the past" and "Destiny is revealed in seasons of confrontation rather than seasons of comfort." Together these statements tell me I matter, I have purpose. The hard times will not go to waste, what I learn will move me further, and there is hope because I just have to keep alongside God, fighting through.

So powerful! To know we have purpose - a calling - and we need to keep reaching. I am absolutely encouraged by Lisa Bevere's Without Rival.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

New Levels of Excitement: the Library

This post's original title ideas were "I Hate the Library" and "My Frenemy the Library," but then I thought I'd stick with a familiar title I'd already started this month - "New Levels of Excitement" - and it would apply just as well. These titles aren't meshing are they? Let me explain.

I've always loved libraries. When I was two my grandmother told my mom she didn't know what to do with me, I just wanted to sit and "read" my little books. My high school librarian told me once she loved that I took books out - not just books, but classics. I paid for lifetime alumni status at my undergrad university so I would have access to their library forever. I helped fundraise to establish the newer library in my community after spending a childhood walking to and perusing the smaller, out-of-date one. My longest standing car window sticker reads "I ❤️ my library."

Given my history of love affairs with libraries, where can the words hate and frenemy possibly fit? On a Saturday night, 9:30pm, the cold seventh floor of Kent State's library. On hour 12 of work, with only a 45-ish minute interruption around dinnertime to drive from Youngstown State's closing library to Kent's open late library. Nose running from the cold and the one thing my backpack the size and weight of a small child doesn't have is tissues. McDonald's for dinner, again, and feeling like it's been one McDonald's meal too many. Confusing books scattered around while I alternate between my document and another confusing reference guide online. My right hand is freezing from using the mouse; hours plugging away at my laptop.

In that moment the words came unbidden to my mind: I hate the library.

I think I physically flinched from the blow to my mind. What a grievous sin for a lover of everything a library represents. Surely I could let the concussion subside and no one would ever be privy to the thought? And yet, the feeling lingered, demanding to be felt. So, I'm breaking the first rule of this fight club; I'm talking about it.

Life, and everything in it, is multifaceted. Think of the people and passions you live for. I love my husband and kids dearly, but they can also drive me crazy (and I them). I have some of the best people on earth for friends, but they can disappoint (as I disappoint them). I live my passion teaching high school English, luckier than most people get in a career, but it's hard to roll out of that warm bed every morning. I love books, learning, education, searching and finding, but I loathe heading to the library as of late.

Do I deny the crazy of my people, the difficulties of my job, the challenge of my current dream just because I love them? No. I can't. Everyone and everything has multiple sides, the good and the bad. How can we truly claim love when we only want to accept half of the person or the easy side of the situation? This life and world are not perfect and we set ourselves up for disappointment and despair when we sweep hard feelings under the rug in the name of a pretentious peace and contentment. The hard feelings demand to be felt and allowing the feeling to come and go is the only way they will resolve. Once resolved, what's left? Love. Real love, as it should be, for everything a person, passion, or dream really is, not just what we want it to be.

I left soon after my hard thoughts in the library that night, unable to understand why I felt so wronged by something I'd faithfully devoted myself to for so long. It wasn't half an hour later that I took the nighttime photo of the library posted here, texting it to a friend in my sudden awe. Twelve stories of wondrous humanity, with the school's beautiful blue colors streaking up the front, lighting the darkness. And just like that, I'm in love again, for better or worse.

Monday, October 3, 2016

New Levels of Excitement

New things bring new and different excitement...marriage, babies, cars, jobs, houses. Up til now my new excitements were identifiable by most people because most people have shared similar experiences in their lives. And if they haven't, the experiences are understood by people in general. My PhD adventure has turned that on its head. The things I get excited about now, well, I'm not sure what to say about it. Imagining the conversations makes me want to laugh.

Friend 1: My daughter lost her first tooth and my son made the travel soccer team!

Me: Oh wow, that's awesome!

Friend 2: Nice. Hey, that new restaurant opened, we should try it out.

Me: Good idea. Oh, guess what?!

Friends: What?!

Me: I found a copy of the Cambridge edition of The Great Gatsby online for $11!


Hyperbole, yes. My friends would likely smile and nod at least. Haha, but that's my life right now, full of weirdly exciting moments here and there, but with whom to share them? You think I'm kidding? Here is my list of personal excitement for the past week or so:

*One professor told me I read very well (it was poetry, Wordsworth, and chock full of crazy punctuation...I impressed myself)!

*I had a less than ten minute conversation with a professor whose focus is in the same time period as my studies, discussing American canon and F. Scott Fitzgerald, and it was among the best minutes of my week.

*I didn't cry once on the way home from my Thursday class last week (this could change; I have nine weeks to go).

*I found and bought the Cambridge edition of The Great Gatsby online for $11 (yes, that was true. Yes, it's a very good thing. No, I didn't try to put it into conversation with my friends).

*Purdue Owl's site has literary theory definitions AND help to form your thesis!

My husband is crazy supportive with all of this. I've told him all of these excitements and more and he is excited with me. He sees behind the scenes and understands a little better how these things could be exciting. I have a couple of extra supportive friends I tell some things to, but these kinds of things don't always communicate well via text message. And I do have the blog. So, here they are, my new excitements for the week! You have been great cheerleaders from the time I thought about doing this til now. Thank you for your nerdy willingness to read and comment and cheer me on! Maybe we'll make a meme of it:

"New Levels of Excitement - Things Only a Nerd Could Love"

Friday, September 30, 2016

So Much for the Afterglow

The shiny newness is fading. Gritted teeth and long hours will do that. So will challenges to my time, family, friends, house, church, and work management. Challenges to my skills and whatever natural talent is hiding out in my brain. Challenges to my hobbies, eating, and sleeping habits. Challenges to my joy, peace, patience, and self control. Challenges to my eucharisteo. Everclear stated it best, as 90's music does: "I guess the honeymoon is over. So much for the afterglow." Is a dream still a dream even as it turns into something you didn't expect; something you can envision quitting now that it's here?

Of course. Not the direction you thought I was headed, huh? Blame the click bait title (red herring, as the English teacher in me prefers to call it) or just typical human assumption. We humans have dreams and set goals and strive to reach them, only to find out when we get there that it's going to take hard work and determination to carry the dream out. And we have the audacity to be surprised! Why do we think after the hard work it took to get to the dream, that the dream itself would be easy peasy?

Think of people who have done big things: famous, semi-famous, or not at all. People you know personally and those you don't. My parents had a dream to put three kids through college working jobs that didn't necessarily pay that kind of money, but they sacrificed every place possible financially and did it. Martin Luther King, Jr clearly had a dream. He died for it. If God's ultimate goal in sending his son Jesus to earth was for him to die innocently on a cross, why we do we think our dreams and goals shouldn't cost us?

Your dream is your dream for reasons unique to you. Your dream will take you places you may not have thought possible and will change you in ways you could never foresee. Your dream will do this because dreams have a tendency to seem or become bigger than life, and when you face Goliath and triumph, you can't help but be a different person because of it. It's always about more than the dream itself.

So what dreams are on your horizon? What dream are you living out right now? Is it crazy hard and making you desperate to quit? Then it's doing its job. Keep on swimming. You are right where you need to be.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Truth in the Text: Beginnings

Or what you're made of!
Am I the only one this scares to death?
Hoping to start a new meme here on My Life in Books, related to my PhD experience and called Truth in the Text. I've noticed in my assigned college readings that a few lines here and there will stand out as true to life in ways other than to what the text is referring. I was inspired again by a piece in an assigned reading for this week and thought, hey maybe more will show up along the way. It may or may not replace Begin the Week with Words, or they may both come and go as I find good stuff and the time to post. Time will tell.

This piece comes from Edward Said's Beginnings: Intention and Method, of which I read chapter 2 "A Meditation on Beginnings." The chapter discusses how something can be considered "the beginning." Look at the two points below, the topic of literary criticism, and how true to life they are way outside the realm of literature:

"First of all, there must be the desire, the will, and the true freedom to reverse oneself, to accept thereby the risks of rupture and discontinuity; for whether one looks to see where and when he began, or whether he looks in order to begin now, he cannot continue as he is" (34).

"Finally, and almost inevitably...the beginning will emerge reflectively and, perhaps, unhappily, already engaging him in an awareness of its difficulty" (35).

Things in daily and weekly life have
changed/ended that I can only hope and
assume are part of the process.
Whoa, blew me away. Two sentences that could not describe my life more right now. I feel as if my life has been ruptured and discontinuity has ensued...and the problem is my mind is trying to continue on as I was, which the quote quite correctly states is not possible. I am having a hard time giving over to the rupture needed to allow my new beginning to gain momentum. Starting this degree means giving up other hobbies and missing out on events and time spent with people. It's hard to do that just because, but also because those things go on without you.

This making the second quote true too. Although I am where I've aimed to be for twenty years now (getting my PhD) and am glad to be there, it is only upon entering into and looking back on the short few weeks that I really see this is truly a new beginning, more than the "change of pace" I thought it would be. And difficult it is, mixing unhappy and hard moments in with the happy and good, and altering other parts of life in the process, the new beginning transforming everything around it simply because I had a dream. It's strange to think something you wanted so bad, for so long, could be so hard and bring such physical, mental, and emotional conflict. Do I overplay it? I don't think so. Anyone who's ever dreamed desperately only to find themselves in over their heads upon arrival would understand.

Just keeping it real people. Beginnings are hard.