Blessings

Blessings. noun. A bestowment of good, a prayer asking for God’s favor.

Flickr via Riccardo Cuppini

Flickr via Riccardo Cuppini

This week, may you feel God holding you fast in the midst of uncertainty.

This week holds so many unknowns. You will be surprised. You can’t avoid these surprises, even though they make you shifty. Even though you make your kiddos practice predicting what will happen next in the books you read, you can’t predict the plot of your life. You can’t guess exactly where you will feel pain or stress or joy or heartache or triumph. You don’t and can’t know what will change in the next seven days, or seven weeks, or seven months.

And guess what, babe. You don’t need to.

You only need to know that God has you in this moment. He is giving you what you need to make it through this minute and through this day. He does not promise sustenance for weeks at a time. He promises bread to satisfy your hunger for today, grace enough to fill you for today. So take what he gives you. It will be enough, if you let it.

May his sustenance surprise you. May his peace in chaos abound in you. May his reliability and trustworthiness sustain you. May you know, in your head and your heart, that you will never fall from his hand. May you feel his blessings on your week.

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Answers

Answers. plural noun. According to my desktop dictionary, “A solution to a problem or dilemma; a thing said, written, or done to deal with or as a reaction to a question, statement, or situation.” In this post, I have none.

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image via Pinterest

“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.” – Rainer Maria Rilke

I’ve been feeling unsettled this semester.

It’s made me a bit angsty. I’ve become extra-introverted. Homework has been unmotivated drudgery. Untangling my emotions enough to write is really hard work. I’ve been grasping for answers that will fix my issues.

And I’m still waiting in the middle of the mess.

Most of the time, I write about experiences from the rearview mirror, when I’ve gained perspective and have a sense of humor and can conclude with a neat little lesson. Today, I’m looking myself in the mirror. The regular one, that shows me right now, in this moment. Today, I’ve got no lessons. No neatness. No answers. And I’m sharing it, because I hope and pray that I’m not the only one who feels like this.

This is the girl I see in the mirror today.

She gets cranky with winter, so much cold and biting wind, and longs for summer and diving into warm waters and sitting in the sunshine and baking the cold feet that never seem to warm up. She wants to go outside without zipping a jacket up to her chin and see something other than eternal, blinding white.

She sits in Christian Theology, daring the abstract terms to make sense at 7:50 in the morning, drinking tea that she’s learning to like, grasping and waiting to figure out what exactly she believes, when she too will have all of the right answers like the professor lecturing from yellowed notes, drawing redemption promised and applied on the whiteboard in barely visible marker.

She tries on too many outfits in the mornings. She attempts to dress like a hip young professional three days a week and to avoid blowdrying her hair. She wonders if she’s getting too vain, if people are noticing the scabby spot on her nose from a cold and too many Kleenexes.

She wants to hug the little boy at her placement tight, the one who comes up and leans his head on her shoulder and quietly asks her to read with him, shows her when he gets a scratch, dark eyes desperately seeking hers and strong, small brown fingers finding her dry, pale ones.

She thinks about writing, wonders what shape hers will take. She tries to concoct story for a Fiction class, where her imagination is critiqued and her emotions are stamped with a grade. She tries to form words that make sense and beauty. She’s pretty sure she’s doing it all wrong. She questions her place, her audience in a world of mommy bloggers and Christians with all of the answers and people who somehow have time to write every single day when she’s just trying finish her homework and remember to make lunch. She wonders if she’ll ever make a difference, if her words will ever reach audiences of people she’s never met. She wonders what she has to do to get there. She wonders if that’s really what she wants.

She contemplates art. She thinks that right now she’s making some crappy stuff, something that not even abstract artists would approve. She doesn’t know how to fix that. She hopes that other people are wondering the same thing, that voicing the scary and unfinished is worth something.

She realizes she doesn’t have any answers. She couldn’t write a post advising singles on surviving Valentines Day because she wobbles between cracking snarky comments about couples and desperation to find a valentine in her mailbox. She couldn’t create a list of 4 ways to get more out of reading your Bible because she forgets to most days. She doesn’t quite know what it looks like to live with God, even after reading a book and leading a Bible study about it.

She’s trying to wait in the unsettled, to remember the quotes recommending patience and to let them sink into her soul. She doesn’t really like it. She hasn’t figured it out yet. So she clothespins paper hearts to yarn in the window of her dorm room. She writes grammar tests and grades homework. She skims theology books and sneaks YA lit on Saturday mornings. She eats Honey Nut Cheerios and browses blogs and stays up too late on weekends. She keeps on living. She doesn’t really know what other choice she has.

Peace

Peace. Noun. According to Dictionary.com, “Cessation of or freedom from any strife or dissension.” Also the lyric to many a Christmas song.

Image via Pinterest

Image via Pinterest

I heard the bells on Christmas day, their old familiar carols play, And wild and sweet, the words repeat of peace on earth, good will to men.

It’s an old story, this telling of peace and love that rests over the world at Christmas. We’ve been singing it since the shepherds and angels on the first Noel, back when no one knew the words to Silent Night, the magic of Santa, the stunning, salvation-bringing life the tiny baby would live. And it’s a mind-blowing one. The God of the universe becomes a baby squalling in the Bethlehem night because he loves us so dang much. Wild and sweet, indeed. But after countless repetitions, the story is memorized, the miracle plasticized in nativity sets and masked in sparkly marketing. It’s hard to think of the manger, where God begins to dwell with us, with reverence and awe when the story is familiar and swept over by festivities and finals.

And in despair I bowed my head.”There is no peace on earth,” I said, “for hate is strong and mocks the song of peace on earth, good will to men.”

This doubting, restless heart so easily forgets the assurance of God with us. It’s ironic that this week, the crackdown before finals, is the week of peace in the Advent calendar. This is the week that sees me frantic and worried, my brow furrowed and my mind churning over the party I have yet to plan and the paper I have yet to write. I can count on one hand the assignments I have left to turn in, but my focus is crawling, my textbooks weightier than usual. Weariness sweeps over everything. I feel alone in weakness, in worry.
Then pealed the bells more loud and deep: “God is not dead, nor doth he sleep; the wrong shall fail, the right prevail, with peace on earth, good will to men.”

But. Peace is not peppermint-spiced. It’s not found in jingle bells and twinkly lights. It’s not warm fuzzies at orchestra-swelling praise songs. It’s not even watery eyes at sweet, sentimental Christmas messages.

Peace, real peace, is knowing that the King is here, that Jesus promises to take carry my worry, that God is good even when sleep is lacking and motivation is missing. Peace is knowing that ultimately God and good win. Even in darkness more consuming than December night, God is still at work and has sent his Light to shatter the black.

Right now, I’m not feeling an abundance of peace. I am ignoring the textbooks sprawled next to me and yearning to be done. My efforts to find peace involve stress eating and Pinterest perusing. Wrong failing and right prevailing are not the first topics on my mind.

And that’s okay. God can take it. He doesn’t need my triumphant joy, my Christmas cheer, my attempts to manufacture some candlelight stillness in my soul. His peace is not dependent on my emotional stability. He has faced problems so much bigger than my end-of-semester doldrums, and his offer of peace still lingers, wrapped in grace and love.

Maybe, even right now in this season of the semester, I’ll be brave enough to believe and accept it.
Till, ringing singing, on its way, the world revolved from night to day, a voice, a chime, a chant sublime of peace on earth, good will to men!

September

September. proper noun. The ninth month of the year, though its name actually comes from the Latin word septurn, meaning seven. Like that’s not confusing.

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This is how September went. Except I didn’t look quite so chill. And it was generally dark and closer to midnight when I was doing this. Okay, so this is actually how I wish September would have went…
Image via Pinterest

What I Learned, September edition. Scribbled in the wee pockets of free time I manage to steal to keep me sane. Linked up with Emily Freeman at Chatting at the Sky. Read and be amazed at how flaky I become once school heats up.

  1. This “What I Learned” business is way easier to do if you keep track of things throughout the month and write them down as they occur. Just sayin’.
  2. I actually like skinny jeans. Everyone who is fashion-forward is wondering what rock I’ve been living under for the past five years. But I haven’t lived under a rock – I had a pair in eighth grade that were cute! And I use them for boot-tucking convenience! And mostly I had self-esteem issues about my thighs and honkin’ feet, and I thought something fitted would make things worse. But I got over that. (A massive sale on extra-longs at American Eagle helped.)
  3. How to manage stress. Emphasis on the learning part – I sure haven’t mastered this one for sure. At least I’ve realized how much needless worrying I do: I freak out when I look ahead to crazy days, and I stress about getting everything completed. But so far, a jam-packed day has never killed me, and miraculously, things always get done. Now I just need to remind myself of that on Sunday nights when I look at the upcoming week in my planner and want to cry.
  4. Belle (a la Beauty and the Beast) was inspired by characters from Little Women and Katharine Hepburn. No wonder she’s my favorite Disney princess.
  5. According to my boss, I use the word super as a modifier almost excessively. (Haven’t taken advanced grammar? This just means I say things like “super stressed” or “super busy.” Apparently a lot.)
  6. Watching Les Mis the movie makes me feel better about reading Les Mis the book. Number one, I knew when to look away so I would not burst into tears. (Gavroche, my favorite little sprite, dies? No sob-filled surprise, thankfully.) But number two, I knew all kinds of backstory that everyone else missed. Like how Fantine ended up alone and with a child and why she’s singing about love never dying in “I Dreamed a Dream.” And why it’s so cool that Gavroche lives in an elephant. And why Marius has anything to do with the Thernardiers. And that Cosette and Marius actually know each other for more than one night before they’re torn apart, swearing eternal love. So now I don’t think reading the book was a total and complete waste of a month’s reading powers. And “I Dreamed a Dream” spontaneously gets stuck in my head.
  7. I am really overwhelmed by big suburban high schools. The one where I’m observing for my teaching classes right now is twice as big as my entire hometown. It’s crazy. Especially if you go in the hallways between classes.
  8. The more you do lesson plans, the faster you get at making them. Your attitude about scripting out every single thing you might say may not improve (actually, it will most likely get worse), but the overall process gets speedier and less agonizing.
  9. How to make rice on the stove. It’s not even that hard! And it’s cheap! And it tastes good! I’m getting so thrifty and domestic.
  10. It is possible to get sunburned in the tail end of September under the right conditions. These conditions include, but are not limited to: attending a Twins game around 1:00 p.m. in unseasonably warm weather, sitting directly in the (blissfully) hot sunshine, and having practically translucent Scandinavian skin like me.

And thus, autumn continues. Stay tuned for next month’s insights!

P.S. What have you learned this month?

Thanks

Thanks. noun. According to my desktop dictionary, “an expression or feeling of gratitude, another way to say ‘Thank you’.”

Today I am not feeling so thankful.

What was supposed to be my day off turned into a drive to the pool for water aerobics/drive home/drive to the pool for lessons/drive home/drive to dentist appointments in another town/drive home/drive to the pool for lessons/drive home/drive to church for Ultimate Frisbee/drive home for the last time at 9:45 p.m. day.

(Just so you know, that equals about 3 hours in the car. I live smack in the middle of all of the little towns around us so the closest one is ten minutes away. It’s highly inconvenient.)

I am an introvert who hoards her free time. A day off where I have to actually go somewhere is a personal disaster.

But I am not going to spend this post whining about my busy life, because that’s dumb and I can only vent for so long before even I get annoyed with myself. Everyone thinks their lives are busy. That’s pretty much just how we live.

I’m also not going to turn this into one of those “slow down and do less and enjoy life more” posts.  Maybe I’m too Type A, but those just don’t do it for me. All of the things that I did today had to be done. Maybe playing Ultimate Frisbee wasn’t absolutely life or death, but I do have to attempt to be a fun person sometimes. (Is it pathetic that I have to actually work at that most days?) Anyways, it’s silly for me to point my finger at you and screech “Do less! Say no to things! Don’t overcommit!” I’m certainly no expert on that, and overcommitting wasn’t even my problem today.

So what am I going to do?

Give thanks.

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image via Pinterest

A while back, I read Ann Voskamp’s book One Thousand Gifts. (If you haven’t read that yet, get on it. There’s good stuff in there.) The message of the entire book can boil down into two words: give thanks. It’s what you should do instead of worrying or holding grudges or letting life sweep past too quickly. It’s a way to bring faith into the humdrum of real, in-the-trenches life. It’s how you can find the beautiful and lovely and shining and joyful even when things seems less than rosy. Other blogs and studies and smart people claim that finding the bright things is good for our happiness, too.

So, on a day when I really don’t want to go in to work tomorrow and when Les Miserables is bringing me down with its ridiculous length and we have no apples or any other suitable fruit in the house and it’s getting really late but I want to keep maximizing the itty-bitty slice of free time I have today…

I’m going to shut up and give thanks.

Here we go.

  1. Little hands clinging tight when doing scary stuff
  2. Successful deep-water adventures
  3. Actually using up all of the time in a Level 1 lesson
  4. Written releases of pent-up feeling
  5. Embarrassing, humbling, excessive sweat, the kind that soaks your shirt and drips down your face and reminds you that you really don’t look cute when you work out. (Is this getting too personal?)
  6. Gulping icy cold water
  7. Prayers spoken out loud
  8. Melty cheese
  9. Love and grace in spite of my numerous, prominent, crippling imperfections
  10. Anticipation of the arrival of online shopping orders
  11. Blogs that make me giggle (out loud, because I don’t censor my laughter when I find something funny. Ask my roommates who had to listen to me laugh uncontrollably while watching Friends for the first time or my family who asks what’s so funny every time I snicker.)
  12. Continuing to giggle until I start to cry (though that really doesn’t take too much)
  13. Midnight blueberry-lemon muffins and the sister who feeds us her baking experiments for the county fair. Although there might have been more unthankfulness if she hadn’t shared.
  14. Upcoming birthdays. I turn twenty in five days. And I even get a legit day off. This is big.

Seriously, people. The whole thankfulness thing actually works. I’m not glaring daggers at my family anymore. (Though that might be from the reading of funny blogs. Or the muffin. Okay, so this is not scientifically proven by me.) But it can’t hurt. And I think I need to do it more often.

So if you ever hear me griping about my pitiful life, please tell me to shut up and go write down good things. And I might get snappy with you. But then I’ll do it and feel better. And I’ll be even more thankful if you take me home and give me a blueberry-lemon muffin while you’re at it.

Frazzled

Frazzled. adjective. According to the little dictionary on my Word toolbar, “Exhausted and confused or irritable; frayed.”

Even though it’s far less accurate, I am going to roll with the second half of that definition. Right now, I prefer to think of my brain as a worn-out electrical wire, outer rubber casing peeling away at the seams, staticky wires poking out at odd angles, rather than a sloppy mess of exhaustion. It seems a bit more endearing, like Albert Einstein’s nutty hair or one of those fuzzballs of a dog that permanently looks like it just stuck its nose in an electrical outlet.

Right now, I am not that endearing.

For the past few days, I have had 8,472 thoughts bouncing around in my head. Word counts and Chinese vocabulary and the grammar of Philippians 3: 7-11 and cleaning standards and Casablanca and Edgar Allan Poe and problem-based learning and running and media literacy and bilingualism are jostling each other for room. These ideas are all expected to come pouring from my brain to my fingers within the next few days, fully formed in lesson plans and essays and circled multiple choice answers. In other words, it’s finals week.

Finals week brings out the best and the worst in me. It showcases my organizational abilities and list-making skills, how I can strategize and plan so that second is squeezed of its potential. It shows me just how much I’ve learned over the semester. It brings out my competitive side, prompting smack talk like “You are goin’ down” to particularly frustrating assignments. It stretches my discipline and intellect to see what they can actually accomplish.

But finals week also brings out the not-so-hot side of strategic, competitive, achieving me. It makes me zoom in on the grades, the lists, the completion. Anything that stands in the way (like people or breathing) might get shoved aside. It makes me a big ol’ ball of stress who stares at her computer screen and sighs a lot, who speedwalks around campus hoping to waste as little time as possible, who gets a little snippety with anyone who asks for too much of her. In the words of Pinterest, “You know you’re stressed when you start getting on your own nerves.” And I am driving myself nuts.

Now, awareness of my own condition is great. It’s good to know that I’m beginning to fall apart at the seams and that the wires of my brain need a little patch job if I don’t want anything to start on fire. But there’s one little issue: I am no electrician, and I have no idea how to fix my fraying self.

I could quote research articles about beating stress. I could remind myself that I am loved and whole and intelligent regardless of whether I flunk a final. I could eat pounds of chocolate (for it’s stress-relieving antioxidants, of course). I could pray for a miracle that will sweep all of the things off my to-do list. All of these are good things, but if I’m really honest, none of this changes the fact that I would prefer not to fail my classes.

So what do I do? It sounds incredibly unglamorous, but I think the only thing left to do is keep on keeping on. I can accept that stress is a part of this week. I can say a little prayer for determination and energy, disconnect the Internet and its tempting distractions, and do what has to get done. I can take breaks for fun and friends, no matter how antsy I get when I’m not checking things off my to-do list. I can eat (a little) stress-relieving chocolate. I can breathe every once in a while. And best of all, I can remember that this stress-inducing season will soon be over, and my little frazzled brain will finally have a chance to recharge.

Until then, I would appreciate if someone stood by with a fire extinguisher. You know, just in case.