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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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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BTDubs…

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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13.1

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

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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.

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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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