Many of my students are facing challenges beyond their years.
Some are raising younger siblings. Some are caregivers for parents with disabilities. Some have aged out of the foster care system, and are on their own in the world, without family support. Some are homeless. Some are dealing with chronic and debilitating illnesses.
Will you join me in praying for the young people in our lives who are facing difficult challenges such as these? And, as you are able, will you join me in directing them toward available forms of help?
During this month of Thanksgiving, I’ll be taking a moment each day to identify something I’m grateful for. I hope you’ll join me.
Today I am thankful for being in a position where I interact with young people. I influence them, they influence me, and I’ll tell you a secret: Our future is in good hands. Our students are phenomenal. They care deeply about important things, and are determined to make the world better.
What are you thankful for?
Walking to my afternoon classroom involves a trek to the opposite end of a very long corridor. Because the next class time begins in about 15 minutes, this hallway is usually filled with students waiting outside of classrooms, sitting on the floor and reading their books, texting on their phones, or talking with each other. As I walk past these dozens of young people, I am always struck by the beauty of diversity.
Our students truly come in all shapes, sizes, and colors. I think about the different paths that brought them here, and the paths they’ll take when they leave. I think about the families that love them, think of them, pray for them. I think about the thousands of stories they could tell, and the thousands of lives they will touch in the future.
In the movie Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (yes, a golden oldie), Morgan Freeman plays Robin’s friend, Azeem. In one scene, a little girl approaches Azeem and asks him a question:
Azeem: Salaam, little one.
Girl: Did God paint you?
Azeem: Did God paint me? (chuckles). For certain.
Azeem: Because Allah loves wondrous variety.
Look at a forest of trees, a drift of snowflakes, a crowd of people. Each is made different, in a burst of divine creativity in which we share. Isn’t that amazing?
It’s a pretty metaphor, isn’t it? Life is a tapestry, woven of various colorful threads to make a full picture.
^ Mine doesn’t look like that!
If you’re anything like me, your tapestry is a work in progress, and looks ugly at times. It’s full of rips, burns, faded sections, missing chunks. The colors bleed. It smells. Just when you get one section mended, another goes bad. There aren’t enough hours in the day to make it what it should be.
So I pray. And you know what always happens? God changes the picture – and sometimes I hate it at first.
He brings red threads into an area I wanted to be green. Instead of magically removing a burn hole, He embroiders a flower over it. He cuts a piece out, and uses it to patch another place, and I cry out, “Why? I asked you for help, and this is not at all what I meant! This isn’t my vision!”
And He replies: You asked for help, remember? I use what you give me, and bring other materials to the project as well. I work with what we have, and what we make together. I’m not going to throw you out and start over. I can use anything you give me.
The picture is dynamic, and we can’t yet see the end result. Let’s trust the great weaver today.
When I think of all the duties I have to complete today, I start to get anxious. Sometimes my work can seem like an endless list of chores, too long and numerous to complete in a day: Lessons to plan, papers to grade, classes to teach, meetings to attend. At the end of the day, I’ll often be exhausted, and feel even further behind. For every item I cross off my list, it seems like I add two or three more.
If I start to feel like I’m coming unspooled, I know that my head is in the wrong place. I love my work, my vocation, and I wouldn’t want to be doing anything else. I don’t want to lose sight of that, to lose focus on all the good things I do, and the platform I’m lucky enough to have. It really is a great job, a great career, a great life for me.
This morning, I tackled a small project that had been on my list for quite a while. It was nothing difficult or time-consuming; it just hadn’t risen to the top of the to-do list, and I was tired of carrying it forward. But I was thinking of it as a bothersome little chore to be done, so I asked myself to take a moment to reconsider my attitude. To reframe my thinking. And I realized this:
This small task, which won’t require much effort, is going to benefit my coworkers, my students, and me. I’m compiling information that will be useful to all of us. It’s not a burden, it’s an opportunity to be of service.
I took a moment to get my head into the right space, then slowly, deliberately, worked on this task, reminding myself that it was valuable and important. That its completion would be a gift to myself and people I care about. That I’m fortunate to have the opportunity to affect others in a positive way.
Instead of fighting against the work, I decided to stop resisting, and to step toward it with a willing heart. In the end, it took about ten minutes to gather the information, compose an email, and send it to those who might find it useful. I crossed it off my list (and was happy to do so), and felt a real sense of accomplishment. I hadn’t just “gotten rid of” an item on the list; I had completed it. I had done good work.
The to-do list is still incredibly long. I want to give each task the attention, and especially the positive attitude, that it deserves.
Today, let’s step toward our work with a willing heart.
I get such pleasure from reading that it baffles me to think that most people don’t pick up a book after they finish school. Reading will touch your heart and open your mind.
Here are 5 of the most recent books I’ve finished. You can click on the cover picture to be taken to the Amazon page.
The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George
Every once in a while, you finish a book and know that you will never be the same. I’m not a huge lover of fiction, but this novel really touched my heart. Jean Perdu is a Frenchman who owns a bookstore, and who still carries a torch for a long-lost love. He goes on a quest to find her, and in the process, finds himself. A beautiful story of loss and discovery. A must read. The author has a second book out now that’s still in hardcover. I want to read it when it comes out in paperback.
You are a Badass by Jen Sincero
Honestly, I didn’t love this one. If you’re looking for a book that says “rah, rah, yay you!” then it’s for you. But if you have deeper issues of anxiety and depression, you may not find it helpful. To me, much of her advice has the flavor of “If you’re lonely, get out and meet people!” or “If you’re sad, look at how happy people act, and act like them!” There *were* some useful ideas about where our attitudes and mindsets come from, such as growing up in an environment where relationships are difficult, or money is scarce. But overall, I found that the advice did not account for the complexities of human emotions.
Year of Yes by Shonda Rhimes
I really enjoyed this memoir by the creator of such TV shows as Scandal and Grey’s Anatomy. Shonda Rhimes is a busy woman with an overbooked schedule, so she got into the habit of saying “no” to a lot of opportunities and engagements. One Thanksgiving, as she was preparing dinner with her sister, her sister said “You never say yes to anything.” This prompted Shonda to engage in deep self-reflection. She committed to finding ways to say “yes” more in the coming year. As she came to learn, saying “yes” sometimes means saying “yes” to your own well-being, instead of other people’s requests. A great book for introverts and those who love them.
Of Mess and Moxie by Jen Hatmaker
It was ok. Kind of a memoir, advice, slice-of-life book about women coping with all of the busy-ness of life. I had a hard time relating to a lot of it, because it was told from a point of view I don’t share: a lot of the anecdotes were about raising kids, co-parenting with husbands, etc. It seemed to be addressed to young moms living in residential neighborhoods, the “soccer mom” crowd, of which I am not a member. Now, the book is funny and the author seems very down-to-earth and loving, so I liked it on that level. I might recommend it if you are part of her demographic. I just didn’t groove with it.
Lady Fortescue Steps Out by M.C. Beaton
This is light and fun – a bit of page-turning fluff for those who like historical romances. It is the first book in the “Poor Relation” series, in which there are six books total. The premise of the story is that Lady Fortescue, being a “poor relation,” has a pedigree but no money. One day in the park, she meets a Colonel Sandhurst, who is in similar circumstances. They befriend four others, one by one, and the six of them decide to pool their resources and live together. They turn Lady Fortescue’s large home into a hotel they call “The Poor Relation,” and rebuild their lives as entrepreneurs who live on the edges of London high society. Each of the subsequent books centers around a different member of the group. It’s a quick read, and amusing – if you like such things, you’ll find it lots of fun.
That’s it for now … until I finish some more books! I’m short on time for pleasure reading these days, but I try to steal a moment when I can.
Today is a work day for me and several of my colleagues. We meet in the media center in our building, which is closed to students during this time, and we work together … individually. Each of us brings a project we’d like to make progress on, and we sit together in this quiet place to concentrate on our own work.
For many of us (for me!), this format enhances productivity. If we remain alone in our “caves,” we may give in to distractions, or we may not spend our time in fruitful ways. Sitting together like this is inspiring, whether we’re trying to outline a new research project, or just catch up on some grading.
There’s a feeling of silent support all around us.
Let’s support each other with our presence today.