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:


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:


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


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.


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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A Different Kind of Rest

I have a pet peeve.  Well, actually and truthfully I have many pet peeves, but I am only going to write about one of them today.  I reach a state of extreme peevishness when told (especially by a man) that I need to rest.  For some reason male administrators think that the end of the school year is a good time to sit their about-to-implode-with-stress teachers down and tell them to “make sure to set aside time this summer to rest.”  This has a strange impact upon my normally sedate and steady blood pressure.  It makes me want to scream even though I know they mean well.

First of all, by the time early June rolls around I have been hanging on to sanity and decorum by my fingernails for about six weeks.  End of the year programs, awards, graduation, traditions, exams, etc. have almost done me in emotionally and physically.  In addition, I have exams to grade and this will finish off any reserve of mental power I might have had.  My students have been lying on the beach or by the pool for several days and all I want to do is join them.  Please believe me when I say that the desire for rest is there.  I need to get stuff done more than I need to hear about resting.  It’s a little like taunting a caged dog by throwing a tennis ball and telling him to fetch.

Secondly, by the end of the school year I owe everybody.  I know people think that  we teachers are “so lucky” because we “only work nine months out of the year.” (This is another pet peeve, but I promised to only write about one, so I mention it only in passing.) The idea that teachers only work nine months out of the year reveals a tremendous misunderstanding of what teaching involves.  Teachers work enough hours during the school year to make up for the weeks we are out of school in June and July.  The problem is that these hours come out of the rest of our lives, so when summer comes we have significant deficits.  The school year keeps me so busy that I don’t have the time for my family that I would like.  I use summer to develop relationships with my grandchildren, catch up with my kids, and travel to see my parents for more than just a long weekend.  My husband teaches too, so summer time with him is double precious. My home also suffers during the school year.  Summer is my time for re-organizing and cleaning out closets and cabinets, getting the so-called “spring” cleaning done, and maybe getting to the painting, repairs and decorating I’ve been wanting to do for months.  (One of the first things I do almost every summer is to take down my Easter decorations.  True story.)  Summer is also a time to work on my health and fitness.  If I want to change my diet or take my running up a notch, summer is the only time I have to work on that.  Then there’s my professional life.  Teaching doesn’t always leave room in the schedule to work on getting better.  Reading that will help me hone a lesson or incorporate a new idea is best done during the summer.  I have to take time to think through the year that was and plan for the year that will be.  I need to think about what worked well and what did not.  I must have time to brainstorm fixes and consider new classroom procedures.  I study next year’s calendar and make up my syllabi.  If I’m teaching a new class, summer is the time to study, plan, and structure.

Thirdly, I get upset because I have unreasonable expectations for the whole idea of “rest.”  With the weight of the previous paragraph hanging over me in June, rest seems impossible.  To this point in my life, the word rest has been synonymous in my mind with being finished.  I hate having things hanging over my head.  I feel completely relaxed only when my work is done.  My idea of the perfect restful situation would be sitting by the pool with a cold iced tea while gazing at a summer to-do list that is totally and completely checked off.  I have learned this summer that this is unreasonable and that life will go on anyway.

This summer has turned out anything but as planned.  My husband spent five days in the hospital and I had to come home from China early.  Sitting on the other side of the world, not being able to get home for several days while he was very sick was good for me.  I had no control.  All I could do was rest in Jesus, do the next thing, and enjoy the time I had left with my China family.  Since I’ve been home I’ve had to tear up, cross out, and restructure  as many to-do lists and schedules as I have made.  I’m honestly not sure what I’m going to get done before I report back to work on August 15, but that’s okay.  I’ve spent time with my family–it hasn’t been ideal or without stress or just the way I pictured it, but it’s been good. I even sat by the pool while my grandson swam.  I did some re-organizing and purging of closets, etc.  The house is not as clean yet as I would like, but I’ve made some progress.  I ran on another continent, passed 600 days in my running streak, and met some endurance goals that I set for myself.  I’ve also lost three pounds.  I’ve read a bunch of books and I’m excited about some ideas I have for the new school year.  As I toured the school where my son works in China I felt real joy welling up inside.  I love education.  The joy in teaching that was squashed flat in early June was starting to reassume its shape before the end of the month.  Resting is not dependent on accomplishment.  Rest is a gift that comes through faith and trust and even obedience.  Rest is doing your best, taking a deep breath and leaving the results up to God. The news this summer has not exactly been restful.  I’ve been tempted to despair; yet, even in the middle of feeling helpless and hopeless, God has spoken peace and rest to my soul.  Rest isn’t about laying beside the pool with everything done.  Rest is about walking through each task of life with Jesus.

“This is what the Lord says:  Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.”


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That’s How They Do it Here


I’ve been here for a week now.  In some ways I am adjusting and in other ways I am not.  My chief non-adjustment has to do with sleep.  I woke up this morning at 1:30 and never even dozed off again.   I’m sure it has something to do with my age, but it is frustrating. I slept until 6 am yesterday and was sure I was making great progress, but it seems like it’s a one step forward/two steps back kind of thing.  By this afternoon I will be miserably groggy, but right now I am fine.  I continue to learn to live in the moment.

Speaking of lessons, I am thankful for all I have learned over the years in my travels to Italy with my students.  We humans have a tendency to confuse culture with levels of civilization, and even culture and ethics and morality. When other folks do things differently than we do, we tend to think either that their culture is inferior to ours or that their culture is just plain wrong.  We point this out to our sutdents and help them to see that charging customers to use the restroom is not an issue of morality or a sign of backward culture.  It’s just the way they do it here. It’s part of the culture. You want to pee?  You pay.  End of story.

I’ve gotten used to the differences in Italy. I know that I should order and pay for my coffee first, then take my receipt to the counter and get my amazing cappucino.  I realize that if I stand demurely in line and wait for someone to notice that I need service, I will starve.  Getting a pannini can be a little like playing rugby. I am hungry, so I join the scrum.

This lesson has helped me in my first week in China.  Things are so very different here.  It feels like Italy was my travel training wheels and now I’m trying to make it down the road on a big girl bike for the first time.  So far, most differences have to do with eating.  First, there’s the issue of utensils.  We went to a restaurant and I nearly panicked when I realized there were no forks.  Chopsticks are fun to play with at home .  You know, you get your Chinese take out and you enjoy playing briefly with the chopsticks.  Everyone laughs, drops a few kernals of rice in their lap, gets a few in their mouth, and tries various means of stabbing a shrimp or two. Eventually, play gives way to hunger and you revert to a fork, at least I always have.  This time I was not being offered the choice.  In addtion, when I picked up the water, poured  by our lovely waitress into a pretty porcelain cup, I almost droppedit.  It was HOT.  I’m not talking about a lack of ice.  I’m used to that. (See Italy above.)  We’re talking steaming hot.  I looked at my son.  He grinned.  “That’s the way they do it here.  They think it’s better for your digestion.”  Okay, so I’m eating what I can of my delicious food with the chopsticks and sipping my steaming hot water, but I’m kind of a mess.  Napkins?  Nope.  Well, you can ask for them but you get a whole box and they charge you for them.  Apparently, if you use chopsticks properly, you never need napkins.  We paid our money and got our napkins, because that’s how they do it here.

The box probably says, “Napkins for stupid foreigners who can’t use chopsticks.”  No matter, I was thankful.

More later…

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So…tomorrow bright and early I’m off to China.  My blogging has been sporadic lately because it has been a crazier than usual spring.  So many things have been going on that I just haven’t gotten around to writing about this.  Plus, it has all seemed very unreal to me.  I never in my wildest dreams imagined that I would travel to China, let alone that I would have a son who lives, works, and raises my grandchildren there!  But I do, and when that son had to come to the States for a conference and offered to take me back with him for three weeks…. Well, what else is a grandma to do?
If surviving cancer taught me anything it was to accept the gifts life offers and make the most of every opportunity. I teach medieval European history, but I’m always up for learning new things.  Marco Polo was a medieval European and where did he go? Exactly. I’m going to learn, run, and cuddle grand babies in Asia. I’ll try to report occasionally. Here we go!

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Trust and a Lack Thereof

Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about trust.  It started a couple of weeks ago when I was introducing my ninth graders to Machiavelli.  I had an excerpt for them to read and the introduction to the piece talked about Machiavelli’s world being one in which no one trusted anyone else.  I had been pointing out to my students the parallels between the Renaissance and our own times, and that one knocked me for a bit of a loop.  Watch, oh, say thirty seconds of current political news and you will see it.  The whole Donald Trump phenomena is the result of a lack of trust.  “We don’t trust politicians, so let’s get someone who is NOT a politician.”  I guess people figure we can at least trust Trump to be Trump. The Medici were predictable,  consistent and efficient businessmen as well…but I’m moving on because this is NOT a political post.

Since the afternoon when we read that portion of The Prince, I’ve been more aware than ever of the lack of trust in our world.  Of course the world can be a scary place.  We need to be vigilant and aware as we navigate it.  The problem comes when the paranoia spreads and we begin to distrust people who are really on our side.  I feel this as an educator.  I’ve told my students that in order for real learning to take place in my classroom, they must trust me and I must be able to trust them.  It’s true.  Lack of trust disables learning.  Students must believe that when I assign a reading there is a good reason for them to read it.  They must know that being able to join in the discussion that follows the reading is going to contribute to their over-all good and understanding, that it will help them to be better people. I must trust that they have really read the material, that the thoughts they share in discussion and in writing are their own.  When that trust breaks down, we all suffer.  Real learning requires community.  Community requires trust.

We often use the “team” analogy in education.  Parents, students and teachers form a team.  Teams work best when the members trust one another.  Being able to depend on your teammates is vital to success–both on the court or field and in the classroom.  All of us are going to make mistakes at various points in the game, but we’re still teammates.  The mistakes aren’t as likely to lose the game for us if we work together to minimize the damage.

Since January I have been copying the Old Testament book of Joshua into my journal.  I’ve just finished the chapters about the division of the land amongst the Israelites.  The land is won and everyone is going off to settle in and get down to living.  Suddenly, in the middle of Chapter 22, the western tribes get the news that the eastern tribes, the ones on the other side of the Jordan River, have built a large altar, and “the whole assembly of the people of Israel gathered at Shiloh to make war against them.”  Woah!  It’s kind of shocking.  They just got settled.  Everything was peace and light and suddenly, they are preparing to war against each other–over an altar.  Why?

They are going to war because they have made an assumption.  The tribes west of Jordan automatically assume that the tribes east of Jordan are going rogue.  They see the altar and assume it means they are going to offer sacrifices on it.  Sacrifices were only supposed to be made at the Tabernacle. Offerings made elsewhere would be made in disobedience.  This, they knew would be displeasing to God and unhealthy for them. Thankfully, they sent some representatives to check out the situation before the fighting started.  As it turns out, of course, the altar was not to be used, but rather was just built as a reminder–as a witness–to show that the tribes in the east worshipped the same God as the tribes in the west.

As I began copying out this passage, I was irritated at the western tribes.  I compared them to people that I feel don’t trust me, people who make assumptions and get angry and ready for war without all the facts.  Then I noticed that the eastern tribes weren’t very trusting either.  They built the altar in the first place because the were afraid.  They said, “We did it from fear that in time to come your children might say to our children, ‘What have you to do with the Lord, the God of Israel?'”  The lack of trust worked both ways.  The eastern tribes didn’t trust the western tribes to keep including them, so they built a great big altar.  The western tribes jumped to a false conclusion about this altar because they were afraid of the consequences to themselves.  Fear and looking out for our own interests–these are things that lead to fighting among us.

John tells us that there is no fear in love.  Love is the foundation of trust.  Trust is necessary for community.  Community makes life worth living.  I want to love more, fear less, and trust instead of going to war.  Then, when we work things out in peace together, we can say as Phinehas the priest does at the end of this story, “Today we know that the Lord is in our midst…”


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They say a picture is worth a thousand words, so here you go:


The half-marathon is behind me.  It was an absolutely perfect day–cool and breezy with low humidity.  I could not have personally designed a day that was more perfect.  I felt strong and blessed throughout the run and was once again reminded that people in the running community are awesome.  My time, 2:40:59, was a happy surprise.  I originally placed myself between the 2:45 and 3:00 pacers, but went ahead at the beginning and never really fell back.  God was very, very kind to me.

I’ve only been to a long distance race like this once before in my life.  It was in Myrtle Beach when a wonderful student ran a marathon to help raise money for my cancer treatment.  I remember panting as I walked slowly from our parking place to the finish line, but standing there beside the chute was magically refreshing.   We took a picture when he crossed the finish line.


It was in the newspaper.  This is one of the very few pictures I have from that time in my life.  Six months of chemo resulted in the loss of my eye lashes and eye brows as well as my hair.  I was always cold, but that day at the beach was warm and the wind off the ocean did a lot to renew my spirit.

Today I got a bit of a pain in my side between miles eight and nine.  I was worried, but I regulated my breathing carefully, prayed, and found it gone by mile ten. I had some great advice from a friend and encourager, “When you get tired, just think of all the hard things God has brought you through and keep going.”  I kept thinking about that during the last few miles and it helped a lot.  Then, just after I passed the twelve mile marker, I saw a familiar figure standing by the road.  It was one of my students, come out on a Sunday morning to cheer her teachers on.  I got a little teary.  “I’ll see you at the finish line,”  she called, and I ran on with a little more spring in my step.  She was there as I ran up the little hill into the last few yards.  I threw her a kiss and turned toward the finish. There was a huge crowd and everyone was yelling. It was awesome. I found a little extra to power through the last little bit and then, I’d made it.  One of the other teachers who ran today was waiting, too.  My faithful hubby took some pictures.  I’m ridiculously thankful for hair, even if it’s gray!

Thanks, everyone.  From the beginning of this journey I have been surrounded by encouragers.  From the day I opened my Fitbit to the moment I crossed the finish line, I have had a community of people cheering me on.  I couldn’t have done it without you.  I’m grateful.

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500 Days of Running

Today is the 500th day of my running streak.  I celebrated by running 6.5 miles on the greenway.  Honestly, it does not seem possible.  I don’t think I’ve ever done anything besides breathe and blink and have a heart beat for 500 days in a row.  I am thankful.

The running streak has taught me how to run so that I don’t get injured.  It made my running  habitual.  It taught me to make room in my schedule for fitness no matter what.  It showed me that I’m tougher than I knew and that there is something to be said for mind over matter.  I like to be outside more than I have since childhood and stretching makes me happy.

My original fitbit is still going strong–it’s an amazing little machine.  I’ve gone through three and a half pairs of running shoes.  I’ve found all kinds of interesting places to run but I like my local four mile section the best.

So, what’s next?  I am registered for a half-marathon on May 15.  I find it hard to stop staring in wonder at that sentence.  I’m WHAT????  Last Sunday afternoon I did an eleven mile training run.  I’m still in the process of transitioning back outside for the majority of my runs.  I’ve learned to take this slowly.  I ran the eleven miles on a paved path that runs beside, over, and between a couple of lakes.  Most of it is fairly flat.  I still felt like I was going to die from about mile nine and half on and the whole thing took me two hours and fifteen minutes.  I had been hoping to finish the half-marathon in 2 and a half hours.  I have decided that I will be satisfied with finishing, but I’m going to aim for two hours and 45 minutes.  You’ve gotta start somewhere. I do think I will be able to do better early in the day.  I need to make sure I am hydrated and I need to look into what to eat on the morning of the race.  I’m allergic to bananas, so that could be a problem.  I’m hoping for a cool and maybe even slightly overcast day.  May weather is a bit unpredictable in North Carolina.

I’m nervous, but pumped and determined.  God has been with me every step of this journey and I know He will not leave me alone now.  May is the month I discovered my cancer, so running this race nine years later is pretty cool.  I never imagined I would even consider trying.  God is good!

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Thank you, Marcus Paige et. al.

It’s been almost 48 hours now.  I still haven’t had a normal night’s sleep, but last night was better than the one before and tonight will be better yet. Those awful moments of remembrance and realization are coming less often.  I have almost stopped thinking “if only….” Life moves on.  One of the lessons cancer taught me is this: the very best way to deal with depression, hurt, anger, bitterness, fear, or any other negative emotion is to count your blessings.  Gratitude changes attitude.  And in this instance it’s not hard to be grateful.

I am thankful for Marcus Paige.  First, I’m thankful as a fan of college basketball. Marcus gave us some great basketball.  He is fun to watch.  He’s smart and skilled which is a tremendous combination.  That shot to tie the  championship game is just one of many thrilling moments he gave us.  I’m grateful.

I am also thankful as a high school teacher.  Marcus is an exemplary student athlete.  His excellence extends off the court and into the classroom.  These days it’s not easy to find examples like Marcus Paige.  Too often academics gets pushed to the side for those with athletic skill.  Teachers at some schools I’ve heard about are asked to lower standards for athletes or even to change grades.  Marcus showed us that it is possible to be a great athlete and a great student. This gives me hope.  I appreciate that.

I teach teenagers because I love teenagers, and as a lover of young people, I am thankful for Marcus Paige as a leader.  He came into a very difficult situation, one he was not expecting, when Kendall left early for the NBA.  I loved Kendall Marshall.  He was a great leader too.  Marcus had some big shoes to fill and he did so with amazing class.  Marcus never gave up.  Whether it was getting the ball to someone who could make a difference or making the clutch shot himself, he was always going to do it.  Even when he was struggling with his own shooting, he always made things happen.  He never complained. He was such a leader that he would turn the tide and change a game’s momentum time after time.  This is why, during the Indiana game, my son sent me this text:  “I want Marcus Paige to play for us forever,”  and I texted back, “Me too.” His consistency is why, at the half in the Syracuse game I could send, “Marcus will come alive in the second half.”  I knew it would be so, and it was. He is unselfish and he doesn’t quit.  He leads by example.  He showed  Carolina fans that you can have these qualities even when you’re young.  Kids need to know that. Our world needs them to know that.

Most of all, though, I am thankful for Marcus Paige because I am a grandmother.  On Wednesdays several of my grandchildren come home with me.  I usually fix breakfast for supper and then my husband takes them to youth activities at our church.  I hadn’t seen my eighth grade grandson since the game.  He walked slowly into my room after school and gave me a big long hug.  Eighth grade boys do not commonly hug grandmothers, especially grandmothers who teach at their school, especially AT school. We both knew what this hug was about.  It’s a Carolina thing.  On the way to the car he talked about his frustration with the officiating of the game.  I listened, but then as gently as possible I said, “You know, I’ve heard people talk about that, but I haven’t heard ONE word about it from any of the players.  No one made any excuses.”  In the midst of a culture that thrives on the shifting blame, I am very thankful that Marcus and the boys did not.  I was able to tell my grandson that Marcus will always be remembered for the way he played, but that I think he and our entire team made more of an impression on the national media in the way they lost.  They lost with dignity.  No pouting, hiding under towels, stomping out of press conferences or refusals to speak with media.  They cried honest tears, they congratulated the other team, and they took the loss like men.  I have never been so proud.  My grandmother heart is overwhelmed with gratitude.

On the way home my granddaughter told me that she was worried because her mother had packed her a Carolina t-shirt to wear to youth group.  She said she was afraid of what other people might say.  We had dinner and then  while they were changing, I checked social media.  One of my friends had posted a video of Roy and the boys talking to the crowd of fans who showed up to welcome them home to Chapel Hill.  I clicked on it because I am at the stage in my grief where I would rather face it together than alone. There was Roy, talking about how much fun the last five weeks have been.  That was a good reminder. Marcus, of course, said all the perfect things and he thanked the fans for their support and said he hoped they’d made us proud. We couldn’t be prouder.

Sometime while Marcus was speaking,  my grandchildren returned to the living room and started watching over my shoulder.  Brice Johnson spoke too.  He talked about how they really wanted it all to end differently, but that winning the game was just not in God’s plan for us.  He also hoped that we were proud.  The video ended and my granddaughter, who is not quite the fan my grandson is, asked me who it was that said winning wasn’t in God’s plan.  I told her and she smiled, straightened her Carolina shirt and said, “WE ARE PROUD!”  “That’s right,” I respond.  “Go–and hold your head up.”

Thanks, guys.  A grandmother can’t ask for a better lesson than that.



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It’s a Carolina Thing

This is not going to be the post I meant to write today.  I’ve been planning that one for a while.  It fit perfectly with the storybook ending that I envisioned for my beloved 2016 Tar Heels–the ending that crashed, burned and dissolved into vapor last night in 4.7 seconds. However, even though I’m sad, even though I just finished the really long and ugly cry I’ve been wanting and needing to have all day, this is still a post that I feel proud and  privileged to write. After all, the sky is still Carolina blue and being a Tar Heel fan is about more than winning.

One of the very first blog posts I ever wrote explained how I became a Tar Heel fan.  In spite of the fact that I regularly sing the fight song, I was not born and bred in North Carolina, but I have lived here longer than I have lived anywhere and I feel qualified to sing  the song because I have bred and borne a couple of  Tar Heels of my own along the way.  Being a Carolina fan, for me, is intertwined with motherhood and that’s one of the reasons that this season has been so hard.  My baby boy, my over-the-top fanatic Carolina fan graduated from college last May.  Now he has a big-boy job and all the responsibilities that go along with it down in that other state that REFERS to itself as “Carolina” but is not. He’s only been home once since Christmas and we didn’t get to watch a single game together all season.

Just before the ACC tournament I had to go up in the attic to find some clothes for my grandson.  While I was up there, I noticed two of Matt’s Carolina shirts.  When we were packing his stuff last fall he set aside his championship shirts from 2005 and 2009.  “I should probably stop wearing these,” he said.  “I don’t want to wear them out.” So up to the attic they went.  I don’t know what came over me that night, but I think it was a complicated mix of  missing him and worrying about the tournament and being a Carolina fan.  I grabbed both shirts and brought them down to my room.  I put them on my dressing table where I could see and touch and smell them.  Then came the Notre Dame game.  I went upstairs at half time and saw the shirts.  I was missing Matt to whom I was texting game updates.  I put the 2005 shirt on and went back downstairs.  We won.  Uh-oh.  As any Carolina fan knows, I was now obligated to wear this shirt for every game as long as we were winning.  And I did.  Tomorrow I will wash it and put it back up in the attic.  We had a good run; we really did.

There were times, and one was last night, when I asked myself why I was still putting myself through this.  I have plenty of stress in my teacher-life.  Why allow myself to get all bent out of shape over basketball?  The answer is that I cannot help myself.  I joined the Carolina way.  I drank the kool-ade.  The tar’s not comin’ off these heels.

I told myself last night when that shot went through at the buzzer that I would not look at any social media for days.  I was in shock.  I didn’t think I could bear it.  I didn’t sleep well. I kept waking up and wanting to cry, but the tears wouldn’t come.  I crawled out of bed when my alarm went off at 5 am and went for a run.  It was 50 degrees but really breezy and I welcomed the chill.  I was numb and the cold helped me to feel again.  When I got back into the house just before six, I realized I would have to go to Twitter in order to tweet my run.  I held a hand over the screen but I still saw the post containing the morning’s article by Adam Lucas through my fingers.  I love Adam Lucas.  I don’t know how he knows what all of us are thinking, feeling and doing, but he does.  He manages to put into perfect words the way that Carolina basketball makes me feel, so after I tweeted my run I swallowed hard and clicked on the link for comfort.  It was beautiful and it made me feel like maybe I’m not crazy for being so very upset over a basketball game, or at least if I am I’m not alone.  I think I was still in shock, though, because I still couldn’t cry.  There was just this terrible dull ache that felt as if it was going to suffocate me.

I managed to get my shower, dress, and choke down some cereal.  I drove to school thinking about how yesterday I hummed the fight song all the way and wondering how it could be so beautiful outside and how the trees could still be blooming.  I went up to my classroom and put my stuff down.  I was early and one of my former students slipped in my door while my back was turned.  She said good morning and then told me how last week during spring break she found something that reminded her of me.  She held it out hesitantly.  “I had hoped to give it to you under happier circumstances,” she said.  It was a Carolina notepad–and the dam broke and the tears welled.  “I haven’t cried yet, ” I replied. “But I think I might now.”  So sweet!

I didn’t really want to completely let go at school, so I managed to get things under control and get my day started.  By afternoon, though, I was dragging and the tears were ever closer to the surface.  One of my senior guys asked me, “Mrs. L., did you cry last night after the game?”

I shook my head.  “No,” I said. “I’m planning to do that when I get home this afternoon.”

“I did,” he admitted.  “I curled up in a fetal position and cried like a little baby.”

“I spent almost the entire game in a fetal position.” I replied.

These are the kinds of things Carolina fans share without shame.  It’s who we are.  It’s what we do–because we love our boys. I came home and watched the film of the boys returning to campus.  They looked so very sad, and that was it.  The tears came–the great big ugly, messy cry.  Love is dangerous, but it’s worth the risk.   I wouldn’t have it any other way.




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Spring Break Thinking

I love spring break.  I need spring break.  I’m not sure I would survive without spring break.  All of these are true statements.  Spring break is an oasis in the desert of second semester.  I always come into this week dry and shriveled. The memories feature on Facebook proves this; as I’ve read my posts from previous years over the last few weeks, exhaustion and being at the end-of-my-rope  are common themes.  Third quarter is usually the quarter in which a teacher can get the most accomplished.  This is great, but it comes at a cost.  Teaching lessons, grading papers, and working with students takes a lot of energy, thought, creativity, and passion.  It’s hard to find a way to replace these important soul nutrients in February and early March.  Add to that the fact that we had our re-accreditation visit this year.  I was finished.

It’s been a week now and I’m beginning to re-hydrate.  The weather has been mostly spectacular.  I’ve spent some awesome time with family, taken a few naps and gone for some lovely  runs in new places.  Easter worship was blessed; my hope was renewed. The laundry is caught up and there are fresh brownies cooling in the kitchen. I’ve also had time to read, think, and reflect.  This is essential for my teaching.  I can’t be creative and passionate without time to think.  I just can’t.

A few weeks ago I went to our local used book store with a gift certificate I received from a student at Christmas. (Brilliant gift, by the way!)  I was browsing the autobiography/memoir section when I found two books by Madeleine L’Engle.  I love her. These books are really journals, a recording of her thoughts and feelings during the illnesses and deaths of her mother and her husband.  I get that.  Writing helped her cope.  Her coping, her reflections, her managing to survive helps me.  We’re connected, we humans, whether we like it or not.

This afternoon I was reading a professional development book for work.  I thought I’d better get going on that since it’s Thursday already…sigh….  Anyway, it’s not so bad.  The author was talking about worldview–what it is and how it is formed in us and in our students and I was reminded of a passage I marked and copied out from one of the L’Engle books I’ve been reading.  Her words hit me hard because they helped me to recognize a major flaw in my own worldview, or I suppose I should say my former worldview because, thankfully, though I might occasionally still fall into this trap, I think I’ve mostly learned my lesson.  She was talking about false guilt–a major struggle during most of my life.  She writes, “…the one reason I don’t feel guilty is that I no longer feel I have to be perfect.  I am not in charge of the universe, whereas a humanist has to be….  It is a trap we fall into on occasion, but it is particularly  open to the intelligent atheist.  There is no God, and if there is he’s not arranging things very well; therefore, I must be in charge.  If I don’t succeed, if I’m not perfect, I carry the weight of the whole universe on my shoulders.” (The Summer of the Great-Grandmother, pg. 51)

I am a Christian, but I have often lived like a humanist atheist.  I have lived as though the universe depended on me, as if God wasn’t doing a good enough job.  It’s terrible.  It’s a life of self-imposed slavery instead of a life of God-provided freedom.  How does a believer get so confused?  I think it has to do with worldview, with culture, with being an American.  Americans are supposed to be independent, to be self-made instead of made-by-birth, and that’s the opposite of Christianity.  Christians are dependent, God-made by new birth. I can do nothing, but I can do all things through Christ.

Even as I contemplated all of this, considered how freeing it is to know that I am not perfect and that God does not expect me to be so, my mind created a mental image. I pictured myself falling physically and felt relieved at the knowledge that there is no guilt in that.  I am forgiven, made perfect, all I have to do is pick myself up, brush myself off, and begin again…. But then my lovely little image exploded like a cartoon bubble because  I realized that the error was still there.  The truth is that I can’t even pick myself up.  Even that is God’s job.  He picks me up,  he brushes me off,  he dries my tears, and then he patiently holds my hand while I toddle on.  The more accustomed I become to letting God have control, the better we walk together.  Someday, I hope, we will run.  What freedom that will be!

Maybe my need of this break, my exhaustion, my utter dehydration is another  indication that I haven’t learned this lesson as well as I supposed.  He is the living water.  Waiting on the Lord promises to renew my strength and help me run without growing weary.  The best is yet to come.


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