Dream Come True

Nine years ago I attended the Myrtle Beach Marathon to cheer for a student who was running for me.  He ran to raise money for my cancer treatment and I was about a month out from my last chemo treatment.  I traveled with the administrative assistant of our school and her daughter.  I had no hair, no eyelashes, and no eyebrows.  I wore a special Carolina Blue cap to bed at night because that was the only way to keep my head warm.  We cheered for Stephen when he ran past our hotel.  I had a lawn chair to sit in as I waited for him to come by.  Then we drove to the finish line.  I remember being unsure that I could make it from where we had to park to the area where the runners came in.  We went slowly and when I got there I leaned hard on the barrier that formed the chute.

I was very emotional as I watched the runner finish the race.  I could only imagine all the hard work that went into an accomplishment like that and I was moved by the looks on their faces as they crossed the line.  I thought about the fact that it would be fun to do something like that and I thought that maybe someday, if I stayed cancer free, I might do a 5K.  It was so exciting to be surrounded by the running community.  Everyone was cheering for everyone else.  I loved it.

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Several times over the next few years I started to run.  I’d get a few weeks in, I’d get shin splints, and I’d give up.  Then I got a Fitbit.  The magic those little numbers worked on me cannot really be explained.  I started slowly.  I walked first and gradually, little by little, added in some running.  I signed up for a 5K and ran it with my daughter.

I promised my husband when I began running that I would never try to run a marathon.  He’s read too many stories about people dying that way.  I mean, we both teach history; we know what happened to Pheidippides.  My limit was 13.1.  When I found out that the Myrtle Beach Marathon includes a Half Marathon event, that became my goal.  I wanted to go back and run down the chute I once leaned against.

I ran a half last May in my home town, just to see if I could do it.  I was telling my son-in-law how much I wanted to run the half in Myrtle Beach and he said he’d train and run it with me.  We registered.  Once the money has been paid, I always feel more motivated.  However, I found it much harder to train for this race than the one in May.  I had three different really bad viruses between Thanksgiving and Valentine’s Day.  The cold weather made my weekend long runs hard to do sometimes, and the early sunset makes running after school difficult.  I was really afraid I was not going to be able to do as well as I did last time and my goal was 2:30.  That was almost 11 minutes less than my time in May.  I realize now, that this was a little crazy. My last few training runs were tough and I was a little discouraged.

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It was fun running away from home.  Next time I will take the day before the race off so that I can arrive much earlier.  I felt a little rushed as I laid out my clothes for the morning.  I got up at 4:00, dressed, and went to the breakfast our hotel offered for runners.  It was cold and dark as I caught the shuttle to the start line.  It was fun talking to other runners.  We huddled together for warmth and shared our stories.  The running community is full of wonderful people.  I met my son-in-law and we found our place at the start.  We were freezing, but the sun came up, the National Anthem played, and we got going.

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The first nine miles were pretty easy and lots of fun.  The last four were challenging,  but doable.  My son-in-law is a great encourager! As we approached the turn to the finish I started to tear up.  My leg muscles were tight and screaming, but all the memories flooded back and I marveled at how far God has brought me.  We ran through the chute, I cried the whole way, and that last quarter mile or so was nothing but fun.  I am so very thankful.  I’m thankful for Stephen who started my dream, I’m thankful for so many who have encouraged me along the way.  I’m thankful for health and strength, my Fitbit, and my awesome family.  Oh, and we finished in 2:32:33.  I’ve still got work to do, but I’ll take it!  Now I just need to figure out what’s next!

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Overwhelmed by Thankfulness

It’s been a difficult school year.  Being a teacher was never for the faint of heart.  Now it’s for the just plain crazy, or the definitely called.  Honestly, sometimes I’m not sure which is true of me.  In any case, I don’t want to write about school tonight.  I just want to be thankful.

Our youngest son got married in October.  HIs wedding was a bright, bright spot in my year.  The weather was gorgeous, the setting, decorations, and festivities were lovely, everyone looked beautiful and handsome. As I looked through the wedding pictures when I saw them for the first time last weekend, though, I was struck more than anything by the goodness of God.  He is faithful.  I scrolled through the pictures taken by my oldest daughter’s college bestie and let the tears flow.  God is good.

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First, I’m thankful for my new daughter-in-law.  It’s so much fun to meet the person you have been praying for since you knew your child was on the way.  She’s perfect for my baby boy.  I’m blessed.

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I’m also thankful for the way and the place where they met.  They both served as interns at a church in Greenville, S.C.  There they were surrounded by people who spoke grace and truth into their lives.  They couldn’t have gotten a better start.

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Another thing I thought about as I scrolled through the pictures was how many wonderful friends God has sent into my son’s life.  First, there’s his big brother who prayed night after night, ” Please let Mama’s baby be a boy.”  My boys are six years apart, but they are close and I am thankful.

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Then there are all of his high school friends, boys I taught and watched play basketball.  Some of them have been his buddies since third grade, others joined the group later, but they are all special to me and I am overwhelmed by God’s blessing.  He met more great guys in college, and they with one of his brothers-in-law rounded out his group of crazy groomsmen.  They’re rather handsome, too.

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One of them even walked me down the aisle and back!

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I’m so glad there’s a picture of these men praying over my son just before the wedding.  While I was up in the balcony of the church, they were praying over my boy. It doesn’t really get any better than that.

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At the reception we laughed, ate barbecue, and danced, because that’s what Southerners do at weddings, and we managed to get a picture of the whole group of Caldwell kids that were there.  I don’t want to write about teaching tonight, but I do want to remind myself, that teaching, while difficult, has some pretty awesome blessings.  These are ALL my kids.  I love every one.  Teaching gave me that.  I am thankful and blessed.

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Fool Me Twice…

I’ve heard a lot lately about Lucy and Charlie Brown and the annual football incident that we Boomers remember so well from good old Charles Schultz.  Every year Lucy would talk Charlie Brown into letting her hold the football while he kicked it, and every year, no matter how much we hoped it wouldn’t happen, she pulled it away at the last minute and Charlie ended up on his back, the wind knocked out of him, staring at the clouds and feeling stupid.  That scenario is a metaphor for so many of the things we experience in life, from politics to business to personal relationships.  It’s a broken world.  It seems like there’s always a Lucy out there trying to lure us into trust.  We are all very wary.

I’ve been beating myself up lately with the old adage, “Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.”  It comes to me in the night and beats against my soul like relentless waves on the beach.  Like the dinosaur in Toy Story, “Now I have guilt.” Or I did.  Then this morning I read the first part of the Sermon on the Mount.

Our church is doing an “89 Day Scripture Challenge” in the weeks between New Years and Easter.  We’re reading the entire New Testament together.  Today, according to the plan, I read Matthew 5.  Years ago we memorized Matthew 5-7 as a family, so the verses are familiar.  I’m reading the ESV now, though, so the subtle difference in wording made the concepts stand out and they were like salve to my aching soul.  First I read through the beatitudes.  I read slowly.  I re-read and considered.  Then I came to the famous words, “If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also….”  Sometimes words are so familiar that they move beyond meaning and become only shapes and sounds.  Today, though, these words pierced like a laser straight to my heart.  There’s no shame in being twice fooled.  I’m supposed to let you take your best shot.  I’m supposed to believe that this time you’ll do better. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t use wisdom and caution or that we should be totally naive.  It does mean that when Lucy came to Charlie Brown and asked him to kick the ball, it was an act of grace and love on his part that he believed her.  The shame was not Charlie Brown.  The shame belonged to Lucy.  Still, year after year, he forgave.  Year after year he trusted, loved, extended grace, and year after year he ended up, breathless, staring at the clouds.  But hey, he was looking up, and that’s what I’m going to do, too. Jesus can deal with the Lucy van Pelts of this world. I’d rather be a Charlie Brown.IMG_1235

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Joy of the Month Club, 2016

Here I am on New Year’s Eve baby sitting three of my grandchildren.  The kids are all in bed and we have cheese, crackers and shrimp set up on the ottoman.  The sparkling grape juice is in the fridge and I think we brought a couple of pieces of pumpkin pie.  Go big or go home.

For the last several years I have written an end-of-the-year post about the high spots, the happy, adventurous, and memorable moments of my year.  I think of them as monthly surprise gifts from the Father and I am grateful. Looking back is important.  It helps me to plan and think through what is ahead.  So, here goes.

January:  In January I went on a Saturday field trip with a colleague, a couple of parents, and a bunch of students.  We went to Staunton, Virginia to watch Shakespeare (The Tempest).  It was awesome.  Taking a Saturday to do something other than chores is very unusual for me and that whole day inspired me to add a line to my personal goals for the year.  I tried to “Do Something Different” once a month.  It didn’t turn out exactly as I envisioned, but I did say yes to more things more often.  That January Saturday was a lot of fun.  It lives in my memory as a special day of exploring and strolling, window shopping and talking.  It’s also the day I was introduced to Hamilton by a couple of seniors on the rainy ride home.  “O brave new world that has such [adventures] in it!”

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February:  The first weekend in February we took my newly acquired “Finn” for another drive north to Virginia.  This time we went to a new home a couple in our small group had recently completed at Smith Mountain Lake.  It was really meant to be a Superbowl party, but we only stayed for Saturday afternoon.  It was lovely and we were sorry that we hadn’t planned to stay.  We talked and ate and laughed and went for a lovely walk.  Virginia has-or had–I’m not sure which, very different burial rules.  There are family graveyards dotted all over the countryside.  As we walked along a country lane we came upon a family burial plot containing six or seven graves. We walked among them wondering, speculating, and imagining, making a kind of etherial contact with humans who lived and loved, struggled and persevered before any of us were born.  It was good.  It was, in a way, holy.  That day was another pearl on the necklace of my year.

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March:  March was for grandchildren.  My three oldest stayed with us for a weekend while their mother was away for a weekend with her bestie from college.  It was fun to have kids in the house again.  Not so fun, but still special, were the days in March I spent in Boone caring for my youngest daughter and her three littles because she had the flu and strep throat at the same time.  My favorite memory from those days was dancing with my three year old granddaughter to the music sung by a little stuffed pink pig she got for Valentines Day.  “To the left, to the left…”  We were silly and it was fun.  I also got to see my oldest granddaughter as a scary, scary life-size puppet in her school play and throw our annual grandchild Easter Egg hunt.  March was full of grandkids.

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April:  I don’t even want to write this one.  April was for living through and trying to move on from THE LOSS.  Yep.  That’s it.  My heart is still a little fragile.

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May:  In May I ran my first half-marathon.  It was awesome.  I beat my goal time by five minutes and sprinted the last few yards.  May was also when she said “yes” to my baby boy.  It was a pretty special month.  “He has turned for me my mourning into dancing…”  Isn’t that just like the Father?

 

 

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June:  School was out, our oldest son came home for two weeks and then took me back to China with him.  It was quite the adventure.  I ate lychees for the first time,

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stared shrimp in the eye before eating them,

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experienced REALLY SERIOUS kabobs,

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and enjoyed Chinese Tex-Mex.

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I went for a walk in the pouring rain, saw some beautiful sights and met some really great people.

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I made some wonderful memories with my family and got to know my newest grandson.  I got to see where they live and work and experience the way they live.   I even ran on my own around their apartment complex.  This was definitely my adventure of the year!

July:  Our youngest daughter and her husband came to town and we spent a good bit of time painting before they moved into their new home.  We also enjoyed cooking together spending quality time.

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August:  School begins in August and I am blessed to have six of our eleven grandchildren at school with me this year.  Seeing these guys together in their uniforms was a highlight of the year for me.

We also had an afternoon with the bride and groom to be and so we practiced doing a low-country boil in order to be ready for the rehearsal dinner.

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September:  Italia!  Pictures are better than words in this case.

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October:  The Wedding!  Sweetest overall memory of the year goes to the wedding weekend.  I got to go down early and spend time with both of my boys.  We ran errands, baked cookies, shopped, chopped, boiled and decorated.  We also spent a lot of time laughing and dancing and praising God for all He has done.  It was awesome.

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I wish I had a picture of Blythe dancing.  It was absolutely adorable.  When we get more pictures, I’ll write another post.  Thanks to all of the many of our family and friends who traveled to be a part of this special day.  God is so incredibly good!

November:  November was for family.  When I started to think about doing this post I found the last two months of the year slightly daunting.  They haven’t been easy.  In the end, though, I decided that they have been a tremendous blessing because through all the tough times, through the struggles and the pain and the hurt and the fear, we’ve got each other, and that’s the very best gift of all.

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December:  This month has been a month for thinking, praying, planning, imagining, evaluating and preparing.  I have absolutely NO IDEA where 2017 will take us.  we might move and we might not.  Many things are currently “up in the air,” but my feet are rooted firmly on the Rock, so I’m good.  One thing I do know that’s coming up is my half-marathon in Myrtle Beach in March.  I’ve begun training for it, putting in the miles and doing the tempo workouts.  Running gives me time for thinking, praying, and planning.  I’ve come to love those quiet hours on the road.  The old year is running out.  The fireworks have started in the neighborhood (If they wake up the kids I am going to be furious.), I’ve had my glass of sparkling grape juice and I’m sure somewhere the ball is descending.  I may have no idea where this year is going to take me, but I know where I want to be looking.  “…let us lay aside every weight and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race that is marked out for us, looking unto Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him, endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down on the right hand of the throne of God.”  Bring in on, 2017, BRING IT ON!

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Top Ten Discoveries of 2016

It’s that time of year again!  Here are my top ten discoveries of the year, things I was introduced to this year that made life easier, tastier, more efficient, and/or just plain better. Here we go:

Number 10)  Oreo Thins.  I know…for many Oreo purists the very existence of these things is sacrilege.  I tended to feel that way until I tried them.  I am a long-time Oreo lover of the “dip-em-til-the-bubbles-stop” variety.  However, my new healthy life style has not allowed me to indulge.  Where Oreo cookies are concerned I have no self-control, so I just couldn’t buy them.  One day in January, however, I decided to try the thin variety. I was hooked.  They are dippable, which is NOT true of the low fat variety.  Dipped until the bubbles stop, they sit on the tongue in a familiar manner.  There’s just less of them.  Now, truth be told, I am more a fan of the cookie than the filling.  I do not like double-stuff.  Because of this, the Thins, with their tiny layer of filling, work for me.  AND…they come in mint!

Number 9)  My new favorite author for 2016 is Erik Larson.   I bought Dead Wake for my father because of a recommendation my husband saw in a magazine.  A lovely benefit of buying books for my dad is that he always lets me read them when he is finished.  Dead Wake is about the sinking of the Lusitania and it reads more like a novel that a history book. I love this about Larson.  I have now read three of his books and they are all very well researched and excellent from a historical view point, but they are also written in such a way that they are hard to put down.  I highly recommend his work!

Number 8)  Honey Maid Dippers.  Last year I discovered s’mores dip.  This year I learned to make a personal size serving in an oversized coffee cup.  This is a treat I often enjoy on Sunday evening after a long run. (I require myself to run at least seven miles to earn this treat.)  I put a teaspoon of butter in the bottom of my cup, melt it, and swish it around.  Then I put in a handful of chocolate chips and cover them with a handful of small marshmallows.  I put the whole thing in the toaster oven on broil for about six minutes or until the marshmallows brown slightly.  It’s lovely, but I found it very difficult to keep regular graham crackers from breaking as I dipped.  Then I found them!  Honey Maid makes these things called “Dippers.”  They come in several flavors, but for this purpose I like the regular ones.  They dip beautifully and do not break.  Yay!

Number 7)  Polar Fleece Sheets.  This fall my youngest son got married.  In September he came home to get a bunch of his things before moving into his apartment on the first of October.  He took an inflatable mattress which they replaced with a real one after the wedding, but it gets cold in Michigan in October and I was concerned about my baby getting cold, so I gave him my good fuzzy blanket.  I figured I would just buy a new one after the wedding when it starts getting cold in North Carolina.  However, when we came down for the wedding my mother gave me several pairs of flannel sheets.  These, in combination with my summer blanket worked just fine.  Ah, but then my parents got some polar fleece sheets from QVC, and sent me a pair as well.  They are a little bit of sleeping heaven.  It’s like sleeping inside a fuzzy sock.  AND they come with four pillow cases.  Perfect.

Number 6)  Madeleine L’Engle’s adult fiction and non-fiction.  I loved A Wrinkle in Time when I was ten.  A few years ago I picked up L’Engle’s Walking on Water, a book about Christianity and the arts.  I loved it.  I’ve read it twice and copied almost half of it into my commonplace book.  Sometime in February I found copies of Two Part Invention and The Summer of the Great Grandmother in the memoir section of our local used book store and I fell in love with L’Engle all over again.  I mentioned what I was reading on Facebook and a friend lent me A Severed Wasp, a novel for adults set by L’Engle in New York City.  I LOVED IT.  Her work is like a mini-vacation for me.  I makes me happy all the way down to my toes.  Just gorgeous!

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Number 5)  Chick-fil-a Frosted Coffee.  Oh my!  This summer while we were painting my youngest daughter’s new house, my middle daughter showed up with a treat for us.  She brought Chick-fil-a’s new Frosted Coffee.  I drank it and my eyes were lightened.  I returned to my painting with renewed vigor and have been obsessed with the stuff ever since.  It is surprisingly low in calories for such a yummy treat.  I feel sorry for those of you who do not have Chick-fil-a.

Number 4)  Pink Lady Apples.  When Matt was home in September, he introduced me to a new variety of apples.  I have been a huge Gala fan for a good number of years now.  I cannot imagine that I ever enjoyed eating a boring old Red Delicious.  I like Jazz, too, but nothing holds a candle to Pink Lady. They are not super easy to find, but are well worth the effort.  Sweet and tart and crisp, they are perfect.  They are also quite delicious with carmel dip.  Need I say more?

Number 3)  Aldi.  I have been to Aldi before this year, but I was never converted to shopping there on a regular basis until recently.  Having to save for a wedding can lead to trying all kinds of money-saving methods.  This one stuck.  Let’s get the bad out of the way first:  I DETEST THE ENTRY AND FIRST AISLE.  I always feel rushed as I enter the store.  The entry opens into a rather narrow aisle full of snacks and breakfast items.  Because everyone is entering at this point, taking the time to peruse the items in the aisle feels rude.  As a result, I almost always end up having to go back to this aisle which is even worse because it has me fighting traffic.  However, I have decided that the savings outweighs the inconvenience of the entry and the need to remember my bags and my quarter for the cart.  Baking items, especially pecans, make it worth a trip, but the produce is also excellent, especially if you take the time to look it over carefully and choose wisely.  All of the canned goods I have ever bought have been excellent, and they even occasionally have canned plums which I love but can rarely find.  String cheese, milk, eggs, K-cups, and the Cranberry-Cherry Juice are also very good values and most things are organic.  Really.  You can’t go wrong.

Number 2)  Yoga.  I know.  First I said “organic” and now I’m doing yoga.  What can I say?  I’m adjustable.  I love and teach history but I live in the twenty-first century.   A group of senior girls invited me to do yoga with them early one morning when we were in Rome.  We met on the roof while the sun was coming up.  It was lovely and afterward I felt relaxed and invigorated.  The next day, however, I could not raise my arms.  This got me to thinking….  There must be more to this yoga thing than just stretching and peacefulness.  I had surgery on my neck for a blown disk when I was forty.  This makes it very difficult for me to lift weights.  Even the typical body weight exercises recommended for runners tend to make my back hurt.  I knew I needed to something for my core and I wondered if yoga might be the answer.  I’ve been doing it for three months now on an almost daily basis.  I discovered an instructor named Adrienne on You Tube and I shift back and forth between two beginner routines that she has on her channel.  I think I will start her “Thirty Days of Yoga” series in the new year.  I am so much stronger than I was when I began.  My nagging back pain is almost completely a thing of the past.  I am running better and longer because yoga has taught me to breathe.  My flexibility and balance have both improved and I find that yoga at the end of the day helps me to rid myself of negativity and focus on the good.  I pray when I do yoga just like I do when I run.  I own a mat and a yoga block.  I am legit!

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Number 1)  Finn!  One afternoon in early January my parents called to tell me that they had gotten me a car.  It’s a white Kia Soul and I wrote about it back in January.  He looks just like a Storm Trooper and so I named him Finn.  Finn and I have had many great adventures this year.  He has taken me to new places to run and proudly sports my 13.1 magnet on his back hatch.  Having a car of my own has made my life much easier and Finn is very kind to us at the gas pump.  My husband loves him.  Finn actually has a surprising amount of cargo space.  He carried lots of stuff to the wedding and back.  I wash and vacuum him every other Saturday and that keeps him clean and shiny.  People say Souls are for hipsters, but I think they’re great for grandmas, too.  I can’t wait to see where we’ll go in 2017.

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God Will Provide

One of the components of the Worldview course I teach is a study of comparative religions.  It’s important to know what other people believe, especially in this shrinking world of ours.  Growing up I often heard people quote I Peter 3:15 “But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have…” Rarely did anyone complete the verse.  Here’s how it ends: “But do this with gentleness and respect.”  Gentleness and respect is important.  It should never, ever, be left out.  Learning what other people believe is essential to gentleness and respect.

Usually, teaching this part of the course seems more like teaching  social studies than a Bible class.   We talk about culture and history and sometimes even geography as we examine other faiths.  This year, though, God has been teaching me very definite and important spiritual lessons as we move through this part of the class.  This week we looked at Judaism.

One of the questions my students answered from our text concerned the history of Judaism.  They were supposed to pick an ancient Jewish leader and explain why that person stood out to them, what they admired about their life and story.  Listening to my students’ answers was a tremendous blessing.  I have found these last few years that young people know less and less about literature in general.  Unless the book has been made into a recent movie, students rarely get literary analogies and, even in a Christian school, I often find my students ignorant of the details of basic Bible stories.  Sunday School curriculum and attendance are not what they used to be.  However, this time I was very pleasantly surprised.  My students had lots to say and they had great reasons for their answers.

Students talked about King David, the man after God’s own heart, and what a great example he is of faithfulness and repentance.  Moses was another favorite–the way that God used a man who really would have preferred to hang out in the desert with his father-in-law’s sheep.  I chose Joseph, as did several of my students.  The story of Joseph has so many fascinating twists and turns as God changes him from a proud, self-righteous goody-goody into a faithful and forgiving leader used by God to save a nation and his own family from starvation.  But the overwhelming favorite of the day was Abraham.  Listening to my students talk about Abraham was exactly what I needed this week.

I’m in a tough place right now.  On Friday I was smiling and taking attendance and moving through my day as usual, but inside my heart was breaking.  This world is a hard place.  People are cruel and truth is often purposely distorted. I think God might be asking me to face some big changes in my life.  I am not a fan of change. Looming change makes me insecure and anxious. There are dreams lying, shattered, at my feet.  It’s hard to let go of dreams, but sometimes God asks us to do it. He certainly required that of Abraham. One of my students spoke about the faith of Abraham and how, as he walked up that mountain to sacrifice Isaac in obedience to God, he had confidence that God would provide.  As she said it, I knew in my heart that God was speaking directly to me.  God will provide. I needed to hear that.  Another student spoke of how Isaac was the result of years and years of patient waiting and belief in God’s promise, so it must have been so hard to think about offering him up, of starting all over again, with nothing.  I needed that, too.  Abraham believed that God would provide somehow, that He would raise Isaac up from the dead if necessary, but most of all that God, being a GOOD and LOVING God, would do what was best.  Abraham believed that God could be trusted. I needed the reminder that he still can.   It was difficult to control my emotions as student after student, class after class, was used by the Lord to remind me of the truth.  God knows.  He always knows. And underneath are the everlasting arms.

There’s an old Rich Mullins song that often comes on my playlist as I run.  It’s about the boyhood years of Jesus and it poses some interesting questions.  My favorite lines ask, “Did they tell you stories about the saints of old, stories about their faith?  They say stories like that make a boy grow bold, stories like that make a man walk straight.”  It works for women, too.  Thank you, Jesus!

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DO Unto Others…

It’s been a rough couple of weeks.  People are unhappy, and other people are unhappy that so many people are unhappy.  Most of this unhappiness plays itself out on social media which is why a lot of folks I know are avoiding the internet until things calm down a little.  If you watch the news, however, you know that the internet is not the only battleground.  Unhappiness, fear, anger, name calling, violence, and hatred have spilled out into the streets and onto the sidewalks of America.  We are a nation divided, hurting, and demanding to be heard.  We scream and rant a lot.  We listen  little.

In the midst of the whirlwind that has been the fall of 2016, I’ve been reading and studying with my students.  My Worldview class is in the midst of a comparative religion study.  This week the topic of discussion was Confucianism.  This is especially interesting because we recently finished reading The Abolition of Man by C.S. Lewis and are currently working through Brave New World by Aldous Huxley.  “What do Lewis, Huxley and Confucianism have in common?” you ask.  Just this:  The Tao, The Way.  All three consider the idea of a code of ethics, a morality that binds us together, that defines us as human beings, and makes our world work.

“Do not do to others what you would not wish others to do to you.”  This is probably the most famous saying of Confucius, at least in the West.  I remember the first time I read it.  The author was trying to prove that the teachings of Jesus are nothing very special, that Jesus was, in fact, plagiarizing Confucius when he said in Matthew 7:12, “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.”  At the time my reaction was defensive.  I had lots of arguments against this accusation: historical, geographic,  cultural, and religious.  Until this week, though, I’d never taken the time to lay the two statements out next to each other and really compare them. It was in doing this that I became convicted about my own practice of Christianity–just one of the unexpected benefits of comparative religion studies.

Look at the saying of Confucius.  At first glance it seems to be saying the same thing as the words of Jesus that we call “The Golden Rule.”   The closer I looked, though, the more I realized that this is not true at all.  The saying of Confucius is in the negative.  It is passive.  It is full of law and very little grace.  Let me explain.  Because I am a rule follower by nature, the saying of Confucius is pretty easy for me to keep.  I don’t want people to steal from me, so I don’t steal from them.  I wasn’t going to do that anyway.  It’s against the rules.  It is possible to follow this axiom by inaction, by a legalistic following of the rules.  Of course I do not do this perfectly.  I do plenty of things I do not want others to do to me, but on the whole I’m pretty careful about keeping the rules, and most of the ones I break don’t show that much.  I can follow this rule and look pretty good to the outside world.

As I considered the words of Jesus, however, I began to feel extremely uncomfortable.  Jesus said, “DO unto others as you would have others do unto you.”  Obeying this directive is going to require ACTION.  I must DO.  What do I wish others would do for me today?  Do I need a word of encouragement, a pat on the back, a smile?  Do I really need a cup of coffee?  Do my floors need to be vacuumed or do I wish I had dinner all ready in a crockpot?  Do I need a quiet evening by the fire or time to really dig into my Bible?  What if I began everyday by asking myself what I really wish someone would do for me today, then thought and prayed through all of my friends and family and did my best to do that thing for someone else?  This is love.  This is hard.  This is losing my life.  I think this is what Jesus meant, and it is NOT the way I live.  I’d really like to change that.

Think about what the world would be like if we all followed the saying of Confucius.  It would be pretty great.  Facebook would be a whole lot more pleasant, that’s for sure!  We would not do things to others that we don’t want done to us.  If we stopped and asked ourselves before every action or word whether this was something we would want another to do or say to us, we would be a better people and the world would be a better place–no more road rage escalating into accidents, no more riots, no more racism or sexism. It would be a peaceful, orderly, law-abiding world.

But what if we all did what Jesus told us?  What if we were constantly mindful about acting toward others in the way we wanted them to act toward us?  What if we lived, not hoping that others would be kind to us, but in such a way that our main concern was to do kind things for others?  What if we were constantly aware of what was going on in the lives of the folks around us and made it our joy and purpose to meet those needs as led by the Holy Spirit?  The focus would be off of ourselves.  We wouldn’t find ourselves so often frustrated and angry. We would be filled with joy, love, and gratitude. We would be living out real, true, godly love–and that, my friends, would be heaven.

I realize that this isn’t possible on earth, but that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t try.  As C.S. Lewis points out in Mere Christianity, “When He said, ‘Be perfect,’ he meant it.  He meant we must go in for the full treatment. It is hard; but the sort of compromise we are all hankering after is harder–in fact impossible.” I don’t want to compromise any more.  I don’t want to be part of the problem.  I’d love to be used by God as a part of the solution.  Who’s with me? Help us, Lord Jesus!

 

 

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C.S. Lewis Showed Me How to Vote

No one is surprised by that title.  Quite a lot of people are surprised that I would even consider venturing into politics.  Last summer I had coffee with a former student who worked up the courage near the end of the conversation to ask me what I thought about the coming election.  “You never post anything political,” she said, and she was right. I tend to have my head stuck in the Middle Ages.  I am an ostrich and the Middle Ages is my sand pile.  I’m not proud of that, but it’s true.  It’s easier; life is hard, and politics is anything but encouraging. So I wander through the Gothic cathedrals of my mind and let the sun filter through the stained glass windows. Heaven is coming.  That’s all I really need to know.

However, I do need to vote.  A lot of people sacrificed and a good many died so that I could exercise the sovereign franchise.  Not voting would be ungrateful  and what’s worse, unjust.  A decision had to be made.  The problem, for me, was not making a choice between the two main candidates.  I would never, ever, consider voting for one of them.  Not ever.  DNA is a powerful thing, and besides, I’m pro-life. Throughout the primary process I considered the field.  There were a couple I felt I could get somewhat excited about, but one just seemed like he had to be a joke, a caricature, a stereotypical plant by the other party.  I couldn’t wrap my mind around the fact that people were seriously behind his canidacy.  The joke, it turns out, was on me.

So…what to do?  That’s been the question in my mind throughout the late summer and fall.  I’ve prayed a lot.  I’ve talked to people I trust and respect.  I’ve gotten through the few articles that I felt were written with the head and the spirit engaged instead of just emotionally spewing fear and anger.  I believe with all of my heart that God’s got this.  He is in control.  His will WILL be done.  Still, I wondered very much what God wanted me to do.  Peace about that was slow in coming, but it started to come as I read this passage from Mere Christianity with my freshmen:

“Finally, though I have had to speak at some length about sex, I want to make it as clear as I  possibly can that the centre of Christian morality is not here.  If anyone thinks that the Christians regard unchastity as the supreme vice, he is quite wrong.  The sins of the flesh are bad, but they are the least bad of all sins.  All the worst pleasures are purely spiritual: the pleasure of putting other people in the wrong, of bossing and patronising and spoiling sport, and back-biting, the pleasures of power, of hatred.  For there are two things inside me, competing with the human self which I must try to become.  They are the Animal self, and the Diabolical self.  The Diabolical self is the worse of the two.  That is why a cold, self-righteous prig who goes regularly to church may be far nearer to hell than a prostitute.  But, of course it is better to be neither.”

Of course the problem is that both candidates display, as do we all, problems with both the Animal and Diabolical selves.  A little later in the book Lewis writes an entire chapter on what he calls the “Great Sin,” pride.  Pride has to be a major struggle for all politicians, but these two…Woah!   Finally, it came down to the issues of which each of the canidates is accused, the “October Surprises” that, let’s face it, were not really surprises to anyone.  In the end I came to the conclusion that I’d rather have someone in the White House that struggles with sins of the Animal self.  Lewis says these sins are more easily curable, because they are more obvious.

No matter who wins on Tuesday, I will pray for the cure that can only come through Jesus.  I will go to the polls as an almost sixty year old and I will miss the excitement and enthusiasm I had in 1980 as a twenty-something. I will go and I will vote in peace thanks to Mr. Lewis, the one who first showed me Jesus by introducing me to a Lion.

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Loving What I Ought to Love

Every year the scheduled reading for my classes works out a little differently.  My ninth grade reads through Mere Christianity fairly slowly stretching the book out almost to Thanksgiving.  Meanwhile, my 12th graders are blazing through The Screwtape Letters,  The Great Divorce, and The Abolition of Man.  That’s a lot of C.S. Lewis and I read every word right along with them.  Because I sometimes play with the order of the books for the seniors and because field trips, holidays, and things like Grandparents Day mix into the schedule, each year ends up being slightly different for me.  I find myself reading different parts of Mere Christianity parallel to the other books at different points.  This ends up teaching me something new each year.  Teaching is a great way to learn.

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The ninth graders just finished going through Book Three of Mere.  We read and talked about morality and examined the seven virtues.   Lewis takes great pains to emphasize the fact that real love is not a feeling but an act of the will.  He goes so far as to say that if we are worried about not loving another person, or even if we have doubts about loving God, the answer is NOT found in trying to stir up feelings of love– whatever those may be–but rather in action.  “Do not waste time bothering whether you ‘love’ your neighbor; act as if you did.” And then he makes a promise which I have found to be true. “As soon as we do this we find one of the great secrets. When you are behaving as if you loved someone, you will presently come to love him.”  If you think about it, this is really the application of a simple biblical principle, “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”(Matthew 6:21)  But Lewis has a way of taking those principles and making them accessible–sometimes to the point of making us uncomfortable.

This week the seniors are reading the first chapter of The Abolition of Man, “Men Without Chests.”  It’s hard, real hard; but it’s good, so good!  His basic premise is that the will, the seat of conscience, is being removed from man.  He talks a great deal about education and he points out that, in Aristotle’s view, “the aim of education is to make the pupil like and dislike what he ought.”  Woah!  That’s a thought that gets our postmodern juices flowing.  To us, that smacks of brainwashing and the removal of individualism.  Certainly among all of our many human rights, the right to like and dislike what we naturally like and dislike is sacred.  It’s part of what makes us who we are! We need to take a deep breath, though, and consider.  Is it natural for us to like all of the things that are good for us?  No.  It’s also not natural to dislike the things that are bad for us.  There are obvious examples like broccoli and Twinkies, but also more subtle/controversial ones like reading and binging on Netflix.

What happens to us if we don’t learn to like and dislike what we ought? Well, Lewis says that losing this ability to train our wills may eventually lead to the end of man as we know him.  Seems like going a bit far?  Lewis says that man is a three-part creature:Head (Mind), Chest(Will), and Belly(Emotion).  He posits that man functions best when his mind rules his emotions through the will.  I’ve been thinking about this and it makes the most sense to me when I think about running.

People who haven’t seen me in a while often ask me what happened.  How did you lose all that weight?  When I tell them that I started running, they often reply, “I wish I liked to run.”  I usually just smile and choose not to reveal the truth: I don’t really like to run.  In fact, most mornings when I wake up at 4:45, the last thing I want to do is leave the warmth of my bed and go out and run five miles.  There are occasional exceptions to this rule.  Once in a great while I will have a day when everything clicks perfectly-the sound track is stimulating, the air is cool and bracing, the stars are brilliant and I feel like I am flying. The morning after these unusual runs I pop out of bed eager to repeat the experience.  Since that never happens, however, I return to dragging myself into my running clothes on the morrow. That’s real life.  So, why will you find me out running at 5:00 am most mornings?  I run because I like the results of running.  I feel SO MUCH BETTER!  I have energy.  I don’t get sick as often.  My appetite is regulated. My emotions are more stable.  It is very much easier to find clothes that fit.  Pretty much everything about life is better if I run.  I have learned to like running for its benefits and sometimes I actually like it for itself–mostly in the last half mile of the day.

This week as I was working through the first chapter of Abolition and thinking about going through it with my students next week, I realized once again how prophetic Lewis was.  We live in a society ruled by the belly.  Look at Facebook, or don’t if it’s too painful right now.  Emotion, emotion, emotion–mostly fear and anger–is what you will see.  Or just go out in the world.  This year as we were traveling to Italy I was struck by just how angry everyone seemed to be.  From our fellow travelers to the flight attendants, there were almost no happy campers.  We are losing the ability to rule our emotions through our will.  We get cut off in traffic–our rights have been violated!  The wrath we feel is perfectly justified.  However, if we lose the ability to control that anger, the roads will be anything but safe.

Most people who currently have a driver’s license understand this principle, but how long is it going to last?  Many children are not being trained to control their emotions. Let’s be honest.  Teaching kids to like and dislike what they ought is very difficult.  Parenting requires tons of grace.  The last thing I want to do is heap more guilt on the heads of parents.  Parenting in 2016 is so much harder than it was in 1988.  Social media alone puts pressure on moms today that would have crushed me flat.  But guys, kids do not naturally like what is best for them.  You’ve got to teach them how to control the will.  Controlling the will is not the same as crushing it.  A child’s will should never be broken, but rather gently molded, guided, and trained.  This is hard work.  Like I said before it needs lots of grace, requires tons of prayer and I’m afraid it means that sometimes your kids are going to be angry with you, but it’s essential.  Children cannot be allowed to decide everything for themselves.  Sure, let them choose which outfit to wear sometimes.  Let them make choices between various vegetables and give them the freedom to choose activities occasionally, but kids won’t necessarily make the best choice if you let them pick where to go to school or church or whether they are going to do their summer reading or not.

My oldest son called me into the bathroom one day when he was five.  He was sitting on the toilet and he had something he wanted to discuss.  “Sit on the tub, Mama.”, he directed.  I did so.  “I have been thinking a lot about something,” he said.  “I have decided that I am not going to learn to read.  It’s too just too hard and it makes too much time.”  I proceeded to explain all of the reasons he needed to be able to read in order to function in society.  He had answers for all my objections.  He was going to live in the wilderness.  He would grow his own food or live off the land.  He was going to find a live dinosaur. I would see.  He would be famous and successful without reading. I tried pulling the God card.  “You have to be able to read the Bible.”  He’d thought about that, too.  He would listen to tapes and memorize scripture.  You can’t  be against hiding God’s Word in the heart!  It was a well-considered argument, but when the interview was over I said, “Sorry Bud, you’ve got to learn to read like the rest of us.”  And he did, and he liked it. Now he runs a school where they coerce other little children into reading.  Go figure.

As all of this has been swirling around in my head, it occurred to me that the principle about love that Lewis teaches in Mere Christianity actually applies to the problem he outlines in The Abolition of Man.  The way to learn to like and dislike what we ought is through action–an act of the will.  When I act as if I like running, I find that I come to like the results so much that I am able to will myself out of bed each morning.  When I act as if I don’t like soda, by not drinking it, I soon lose my taste for it and if I do drink it occasionally I find it way too sweet. This makes it easier to say no the next time.

There will always be things and people that we like more than others.  We’re individuals after all, but we CAN learn to like and dislike those things that we ought.  In fact, we must do so if we are to survive as a race.

 

 

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My China Summer

Summer Reading.  In my humble opinion those two words go together like peanut butter and jelly.  What else is summer FOR?  I am aware of the fact that not everyone feels this way.  The faculty summer reading assignment at our school this year was a simple one:  read a work of classic literature.  This assignment was made during the last few days of post-planning and it led to much discussion.  Sometimes people get MORE stressed out when they have choices than when they don’t.

At first I thought I’d read something from the Middle Ages or Renaissance since that is the time period I teach.  I did find and read an excellent book about Dante, but since I was going to China I decided on this:

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It turned out to be an excellent choice.

If I am to be honest, I must admit to being nervous about going to China.  I am  western through and through–three quarters German with some Anglo-Saxon and a tiny bit of Native American mixed in.  I have studied very little Chinese history.  I need to correct that.

Pearl S. Buck was a missionary kid.  She lived not far (by China standards) from the city where my son and his family live and work.  Reading this book changed my outlook.  Even after going to China I did not love it.  I did not love it because I did not really enter into it.  I ate the food, rode in the taxies and on the trains, shopped in the grocery stores and malls, even ran on the streets, but I did so as a foreigner.  At one point when we were out shopping my son turned to me and said, “Do you hear that child yelling over there?  She is pointing at us and yelling ‘foreigners.'”  He grinned.  It was weird, but it was also good.  It’s good to have the experience of being in the minority.  Just because it’s good doesn’t mean I grew to like it.  When I landed in Chicago it seemed strange and yet lovely to look around and realize I was surrounded once again by people who look just like me.  Part of me was ashamed.  Through The Good Earth, I entered into China in a way I never could have done otherwise.  I read the story of a man, a human, just like me.  I read about his family, his desires, his successes and his failures, his strengths, his weaknesses, and his faults.  For 300 pages I shared his life.  I loved his wife.  I got exceedingly annoyed with him, but I forgave him and cheered him on.  I shook my head over his children and worried about the harvest.

Going to China helped me to picture the things I was reading about.  One day I went on a cultural field trip with the faculty and staff from the school where my son works.  We had to walk from the school to a bus stop in the pouring rain.  It rained most of the time I was in Wuxi, so when Wang Lung’s fields spent a year under water, I could completely understand why.  I also had an idea what it would look like.  This is a garden in my son’s apartment complex after several days of rain:

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That day we visited an ancient town within Wuxi, Dangkou.  There I walked through houses with courts just like the ones described in The Good Earth.  And I walked across bridges over  canals

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and peered into houses that were not more than huts with three rooms, just like the original home of Wang Lung.

When I read about the starving time in the book and the way Wang Lung and his family survived by traveling to another town and living in a make-shift dwelling outside the walls, I had a point of reference for that as well.  The guest room in the apartment looked out over an unused area of the apartment complex.  When these vast complexes are being built, migrant workers come in and live in temporary housing on the grounds.  After construction is over, the buildings are moved, but the foundations and there and a few areas still have a roof.  There were people living in what appeared to me at first to be a landfill.  The longer I was there and the more I looked and watch, the more I actually SAW.

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If you look closely, you will see, especially in the bottom right corner, the neat rows of a garden.  Gardens were all over this piece of land.  The good earth is still feeding needy people even right in the middle of the city.

 

When Wang Lung went to the temple, I could picture that as well.  This is one we visited in downtown Wuxi.IMG_0548

One of the most heart wrenching events in the book happens when Wang Lung’s family is surviving the famine by living in the southern city.  He manages to make a little money by pulling a ricksha and one day a foreigner gives him a gospel tract.  No one in the family at this point can read.  There is a picture of Jesus on the cross, but they do not know what it means.  They ponder it for a while, but don’t know what to make of it.  “…Wang Lung was fearful of the picture and pondered as to why a foreigner had given it to him, whether or not some brother of this foreigner’s had been so treated and the other brethren seeking revenge.  He avoided, therefore, the street on which he had met the man…”  My heart cried, “NO!” as I read these words and I wanted to cry because by this time I loved Wang Lung and I wanted him to know.

Literature has a way of breaking down barriers that even travel cannot, for travel takes us to another’s home, but literature takes us to another’s heart.

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