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40 kids who got ridiculous detentions and don’t regret it. (This pretty much sums up my year teaching mostly freshmen…)

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Girl wears wrong shoes to graduation, falls hard. (This struck me as particularly funny since I just sat through a looong graduation with lots of crazy high heels.)

Wonder Woman to Justice League: “If I don’t get pants, nobody gets pants.” by Cynthia Sousa.

by Cynthia Sousa
by Cynthia Sousa

An American girl’s guide to kissing by Sarah Quezada.

Kissing. It’s a relatively simple aspect of Latino cultures. When you say hello or good-bye, it’s customary to include a quick peck on the cheek.  Naturally, this practice sends me into a spiral of what ifs, internal dialogues, and a general state of panic.

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To the One who is Left Behind by Marilyn Gardner. 

I know with each parting, that life will never be quite the same and I’m never quite sure I will be able to handle it. I’m never convinced that this time might be the time where I become undone, where I can no longer pick up the pieces of those left behind — move forward when those I love are gone. But each time I do. Each time I survive, and I smile and laugh again, and though it hurts, somehow it’s okay. 

In my imaginary world, family lives right next door by Marilyn Gardner.

So in my imaginary world, family is right next door. This is one of the things that we who live a mobile life give up. We give up family. To be sure, family arises in different ways, community is born out of need and desperation and it’s good community. It’s necessary. But we give up extended family and that is not easy. We give up grandparents who speak regularly into our children’s lives and teach them what it is to grow old. We give up aunts and uncles who, crazy as they may be, each come with their particular gifts and idiosyncrasies; with a collective wisdom born of good and bad choices. We give up the spiritual dimensions of lives lived well in the realm of faith, we give up family dinners, we give up family fights and the subsequent forgiveness and making up. When we live a mobile life it is really easy to decide we won’t work through the hard, instead choosing to ignore people and not reconcile our differences and our hurts.

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Meth lab found inside Walmart restroom in Indiana by Tribune Media Wire.

This is the Walmart where I used to shop. I was not especially surprised.

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How American parenting is killing the American marriage by Danielle Teller.

In the 21st century, most Americans marry for love. We choose partners who we hope will be our soulmates for life. When children come along, we believe that we can press pause on the soulmate narrative, because parenthood has become our new priority and religion. We raise our children as best we can, and we know that we have succeeded if they leave us, going out into the world to find partners and have children of their own. Once our gods have left us, we try to pick up the pieces of our long neglected marriages and find new purpose.

To the well-intentioned but ignorant parents of teenagers by Kayla Nicole.

You may be thinking “I’m smarter than that. I have a facebook and I watch my kids online.” You might have a Facebook. So do I. And so does my mom and my grandma and all of her friends. But you know who doesn’t have a Facebook? Your kid’s friends. I took an informal poll of my 150 students at the beginning of the year, and 60-80% of my students don’t even have a facebook. They connect with each other onKik, an app that allows users to text each other without exchanging phone numbers. They use Snapchat, an app that allows users to send pictures that supposedly disappear forever after ten seconds. They use Whisper, an app that a user can “anonymously” tell their deepest secrets to a vast community of other secret sharers. They use Yik Yak, Vine, Tumblr, Twitter (do you know about subtweeting? you should.), Instagram, Oovoo, WhatsApp, Meerkat, and sometimes even dating apps, like Tinder.

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I am a pastor. Here’s why I don’t want you to pray for me. by Theresa Latini. 

Please do not pray for me unless you are willing to walk with me.

Know me. Hear the depths of my fear or anguish or whatever it might be and let it affect you.

Then let us bring our (not just my) most profound needs vulnerably before God. Please do not try to escape that vulnerability. Because if you do, you have left me, and that is not prayer. It is not communion with God through Christ by the spirit.

What it means to “hold space” for people, plus eight tips on how to do it well by Heather Plett. 

What does it mean to hold space for someone else? It means that we are willing to walk alongside another person in whatever journey they’re on without judging them, making them feel inadequate, trying to fix them, or trying to impact the outcome. When we hold space for other people, we open our hearts, offer unconditional support, and let go of judgement and control.

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The Right Words to Say: On being read as White by Dahlia Grossman-Heinze.

When you meet me for the first time, you read me as if I were a book. Every idea you have about me and every word I say is part of that book.

When you look at me, you will think I am white. I already know this. When you shake my hand and meet me for the first time, you always already read me as white. You will hear me speak English without an accent and think I am white. You will hear or read my last name and think I am white. You read me wrong.

10 images of the Baltimore riots you won’t see on TV by Natasha Norman. 

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Expanding the ways we experience God by Shauna Niequist.

So many people I talk to are trying to find language for what’s happening inside them, and often the closest they can get is that their faith has stopped working. For many of them, I think possibly what they mean is that the tools they’ve been using to experience a life of faith have stopped working.

Confessions of a high church millenial: Is liturgy a fad? by Erik Parker. 

Christian millennials seem to live in this multi-layered world of reading the bible on their iPhone and tweeting in church, while singing ancient plainsong and praying prayers spoken by saints of centuries past.

Until your pride melts by Kim Hall.

What can we do with all our soul trouble? Where can we take it?

The season of Lent says to God’s people: “Bring it.” Bring your dry bones, your numb hearts, and your wrecked and weary souls. Bring your shame and the sin that you can’t shake. Yes, it is too much for you, but it is not too much for God. Only He can create a clean heart and a renewed spirit within you.

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Note to Self: Finding balance in the digital age by Manoush Zomorodi.

Formerly known as “New Tech City”, I’ve been listening to this podcast a lot and HIGHLY recommend it – one of the best, most thoughtful shows around. Check it out!!!

Look Up. (Spoken word on the importance of using technology thoughtfully)

I forgot my phone.

 

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Lenses of a faithful follower.

I do not often feel full of faith. As a matter of fact, I am far more frequently filled with questions of hows and whys and whens and what ifs. I have known those who walk away from faith in the face of such seeming unbelief. I, too, have had my moments wondering if my lack of belief equated an insurmountable lack of faith. When I reflect on what I have found faith to be, however, I am astounded by how much more there is to being a faithful follower of Christ than merely belief.

The puzzle of many homes.

Surely God intended some of us to stay and some of us to go, some to plant and some to tend, some seeds to grow deep roots and others to float on the wind. It is a purpose that we struggle to accept when we leave behind loved ones and familiar lands.

101 culturally diverse Christian voices.

Check out this list of voices from many backgrounds!

And just for fun…. Meet Dumbledore, my pet tortoise. He really likes dandelions and exploring the back yard. However, he does not-at-all like it when the dog gets ahold of him and tries to bury him.

Dumbledore the Tortoise loves Dandelions

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Families, Children & Marriage, Restoration & Reconciliation

Recovering from graduate school atrophy

PhD.  

Piled high and Deep.

Pure hell and Destruction.

Penniless, helpless and Determined.

Permanent head Damage.

Prepared for a happy Death.

Whatever those darn little letters mean, they sure take a whole lot out of a body.  Don’t get me wrong, when less than one percent of the world gets a college education,  I am keenly aware of – and amazingly grateful for – the incredible opportunity it is to even enter this realm of education.  My hubby spent four years in a full-time PhD program on top of working full time and helping raise our spirited toddlers.  He’s a pretty remarkable guy with an intense work ethic, and I’m still impressed he managed to finish alive and in tact.

But it took a heckuva lot out of us.

By the time he finished, his mind had grown large, but the rest of his body could barely keep itself upright.  We drug ourselves to the finish line and when it was over, just sat there staring at each other for awhile.  We didn’t even have the energy to cheer we were so tired.  It was, in all senses, a paradox of atrophy and growth. While we grew strong in some areas, we weakened in others.  Most days were push-through-and-make-it-out-alive instead of breathe-deep-and-relish-the-moment.  

We’re now a good year and a half post-PhD, and finally feel like we’re coming out of the fog.  I thought it would feel better as soon as he finished, and in a way, it did, but we still spent nearly a year just taking deep breaths.  We visited the beach, climbed the mountains, even went to Disneyland.  We went on walks, took the kids to parks, watched movies.  The oxygen felt good; a body needs oxygen.

But the second year out, we’re learning we not only need oxygen, but muscles.  With the level of intensity the program required of us both (him on the work front and me on the home front), we’ve discovered that the muscles we need for real life have atrophied a little. This year, we’re building muscles.  We’re sitting together more, drinking coffee slowly, chatting about what makes us tick, watching a TV show together, attempting to resolve the pesky disagreements and unite on the big deals.  We’re learning to look each other in the eye again, not just pass by on our way to do something, and to slow down and rest, laugh, and see each other.

In a way, it’s a gift to the middle-years-rat-race of raising a family and making a life together.  What marriage doesn’t face atrophy at some point?  In a lifetime together, muscles are bound to get tired, even if a PhD program isn’t involved.  I have friends raising sick children, battling addictions, navigating crazy families, holding intense jobs, nursing childhood wounds.  With the occasional taste of these realities I’ve known myself, I can attest that they’re not for the weak, and a body needs some pretty strong muscles to hold up.  But sometimes, the muscles, strong that they are, still get tired and give way.

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, I read, and I wonder what it means in today’s realities of noise and technology and traffic jams.  And then I remember what it meant to me as we plodded through those hard years…

Come to me, you who just lost your temper with your wild little ones, turn on Sesame Street for the crazies and sit yourself on the couch for take a deep, long breath.  You need oxygen.  

Come to me, you who haven’t seen your husband for a week, who just bit his head off when you did because you’re tired and lonely and worn thin.  Let the tears fall on the pages of my Words.  I hear them.  

Come to me, you who white knuckle your way through to stay strong.  It’s ok – you don’t need to be.  Take a nap along with the wild ones; I will give you rest.

Come to me, you who don’t know how to survive the masses who just don’t get what it means for your multi-colored family to be different in a sea of sameness.  You may feel alone, but you are not.  I am with you.

Come to me, you who were scheming to move east.  In spite of your great protests, I will send you west, and there, I will breathe life back into your souls, rebuild your muscles, make you strong again.  It may feel far and foreign  but you will find me there amidst the palms and the foothills. Lean into the home I’m creating for you.

Come to me, you who feel torn apart and tired and distant from each other.  I will rejoin you, restore you, rebuild you.  Though your mountains be shaken and your hills be removed, my love for you is not shaken, nor my covenant to walk with you removed.

One of the most beautiful paths we have walked, recovery sings its calming melody, reminding me that we aren’t the ones who held ourselves together through hard years. It regrows in us one-moment-at-a-time a quiet strength that always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

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Families, Children & Marriage

Surviving your spouse’s graduate program

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Staying occupied with my camera

A pit sank in my stomach as we leaned our heads together to pray there in the laundry room before he left to catch his flight.  It was my husband’s first trip to the partially residential PhD program he was starting, and we were half-terrified / half-thrilled over his new pursuits.  We’d decided that he’d travel to complete his PhD while continuing to work full time.  Our reasons were sound: we didn’t want to be buried under debt, I could continue pursuing a career that I loved, and we had family in state to help with our young children.

But all the rational thinking in the world didn’t remove the tears that poured that morning.  The change on which we were embarking was an overwhelming prospect to consider, and in that moment, we let the fear slide down our cheeks.  Then we took a deep breath and dove in.

It was an intense four years with raising toddlers and juggling careers and hubby both working and doing his PhD full time, a scenario that more and more couples are facing due to the rising costs of education.  Quitting work to pursue education is mostly a choice for the elite or the single, and many graduate schools are adapting program models to survive in light of this reality.

When pursuing further education becomes a reality for a married couple, a variety of emotions are bound to set in:

  • Excitement over pursuing dreams.
  • Apprehension about how it will all play out.
  • Gratefulness for the opportunity.
  • Fear of failure.

Regardless of the emotions, the only way out is through, and because pouting isn’t productive on *most* days, I quickly looked for ways to develop some coping mechanisms.  Here are a few that helped me get through:

Develop a hobby.  I quickly realized that if I was happy and enjoying myself while hubby was off studying, we’d all be happier campers.  I took advantage of the ‘extra time’ I had access to and taught myself photography.  I took up writing again and read the whole Harry Potter series for the first time.

Take on a challenge.  Doing a PhD is hard, and doing one on top of full time work even harder, so I decided it might help me to also take on my own challenge to better empathize with hubby.  I’m either crazy or stupid, because I signed up for a half-marathon having never run a mile let alone a race.  It was hard, but the focus, discipline and intensity of it helped me burn off energy that I may have otherwise used to resent my husband’s absence.  (I might note, however, that I did NOT view cleaning my house in the same light.  I hate cleaning, so we hired a student to clean so as to keep that resentment in check.)

Find healthy ways to cope.  While it’s easier to mope about life’s less-than-ideal circumstances, on my better days I was able to use my alone time to embrace life-giving choices like reaching out to invite a friend over for coffee, spending time with a good book, or working on a hobby.  When I felt whole and content, I was much more likely to support hubby’s hard work rather than resent it.

Look for silver linings.  While we’d all have preferred to have hubby around, one of the silver linings in his absence was having one less will to navigate.  We all have opinions in my house, and sometimes this fact makes planning a challenge.  With one less opinion to consider, the kiddos and I could stop the park on a whim or explore a new place to our heart’s content.

Embrace the moment.  Hubby was way more fond of the toddler years than me, and also had a few more pounds of parental patience than me, so he often cushioned a lot of parental trauma for me.  With him not around as much, I was forced to face my lack.  Toddlers can’t be left alone, and learning to respond to them patiently really matured me as a mother.

The good news is that we made it through, and are happily recovering!

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Families, Children & Marriage, Spiritual Formation

Finding hope in the shadows

After 13 years of marriage, it is a joy to reflect on the growth that has occurred since the experience I share below. I remain deeply grateful for the beauty that such broken times can become; and this reflects one of the most redemptive, restorative and valuable experiences of my life.

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“That counseling ain’t gonna help no one,” the speculation rolled off Marco’s sorrowful lips, no hint of their familiar bitterness. “We’re still gonna think the whole day about how he died. The driver was stoned—ran right into Dennis on the side of the road while the mother of his unborn child watched from their car. It just wasn’t fair, you know. All he ever did was smile.”

My teacher-self paused slightly, there in the hallway, to ponder the meaning his words held. Just a week before, I’d sent Marco, once again, to the vice-principal for lack of respect. I’d never really bought into his tough-guy shell; nonetheless, he’d pushed the limit too far that day.

Yet through his words today, my original suspicions were confirmed—his heart was breaking, life was unfair, and he wanted more than what these days offered. With shrugs of “I don’t care” and “none-a-yo-business,” he liked to pretend he was hopeless. But in the few words he shared, I suspected he was closer to hope than he let on.

As Carl says in Willa Cather’s O Pioneers, “There are only two or three human stories, and they go on repeating themselves as fiercely as if they had never happened before.” This simple commentary seems haunting when one of the human stories repeats itself to those who have not yet experienced it.

Grief is always new. Strange how it is not something to which we comment, “Been there, done that, movin’ on.”

Loss paralyzes us. The world appears to stop, as all that was seemingly urgent and important fades away.

A son loses his father and we all stop to weep. A mother loses her hopeful companion and our hearts sink in pain. After all these years here on earth, one would think we might be used to death and pain by now.

No chance.

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All these years here on earth, and I would think I’d be used to some death and pain by now.

No chance for me either.

When one of Willa’s human stories repeated itself, fiercely, in my life for the first time, it sent me reeling. While I knew this story had been told over and over for generations, it still caught me off guard, still snatched my breath away.

We had been married for only a few months, and each month of marriage had grown more difficult than the last. In short, the intimacy of such a relationship had forced us to face the depravity of our true selves. Truly, the heart is deceitful above all things; and it was in marriage that we finally were forced to face our long denied deceit of stubborn habits, selfish expectations, and unrealistic dreams. Disappointment surged as I grappled with the reality of truly knowing and loving everything about another despite his flaws.

Flaws, I chuckle, such an understatement of the tears, the fights, the misunderstandings!  And yet, to overcome this trial, I had to allow our intimacy to become far more ugly, painful, and revolting than I had ever anticipated.

We entered the counselor’s office with some trepidation, fearful that if we acknowledged our struggle aloud, it would destroy us. But in that small room, a gentle, observant soul with a white board and a marker set us off on a journey toward a deep, no-holds-barred intimacy that is taking a lifetime to develop—far from Hollywood’s fluff-of-the-month romance story.

This intimacy became the microscope through which I was examined without relent. It smooshed me flat on its viewing slide, no cell left unseen. I was humiliated to be seen for what I truly was—yet also relieved to finally come out of hiding. In the past, such transparency had appeared quite appealing to me. To know and be known beckoned as the pinnacle of human experience. Yet now that it was actually happening, it felt like it was the inferno. Put simply, I did not want my happily imagined knight-in-shining-armor-husband or Disney-princess-self to be tarnished.

My starry dreams melted to realistic faults as I learned that, in marriage, we live with human beings, not human dreams. My high hopes crashed to humdrum expectations as I faced the reality that even I myself could not measure up to my own standards of perfection. In the pit of my stomach, I had discovered both the deep disappointment and the great hope in life.

Sometimes I was tempted to sugarcoat my disappointments and pretend that life was just plain peachy, that I had no problems or sore emotions. Yet in more sacred moments, I would speak solely from the disappointment in that pit of my stomach, from my own personal tragedy of life, “I so wish this story of pain and disappointment weren’t repeating itself on me,” and silently let my long withheld tears fall.

Through my tears, unexpectedly, I read another’s story of tragedy with an odd hope: “We can use any tragedy as a stumbling block or a stepping stone,” comments Glyn, a Lou Gehrig’s patient very near to death. “I hope [my death] will not cause my family to be bitter. I hope I can be an example that God is wanting us to trust in the good times and the bad. For if we don’t trust when times are tough, we don’t trust at all.” (In Max Lucado, The Applause of Heaven, Word Publishing, 1990, 5).

On encountering these words, hope emerged from that same pit of my stomach. While the nature of my current tragedy stemmed from an entirely different experience than Glyn’s, I had caught an oh-so-slight glimpse of those who faced their own failures and disappointments and pain. I caught a glimpse of why it had come to me.

In one fleeting moment, a glimmer of hope shone onto the shadows of my disappointment.

In slow and small moments, the glimmer grew to a beam and illuminated all that I was. It illuminated my fear to trust, to believe that hope may still be there even when all I saw were shadows. It melted away the sugarcoated lies in which I had buried myself and shamelessly exposed my fear of transparency. In one slight flicker, it changed the lens through which I had been viewing hope.

The counselor put her marker down, and grinned subtly at the realizations I was making. Through tears, I looked beyond myself to see my husband for the first time—a broken but redeemed soul encountering the story just as fiercely as I was.

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From pits of despair, the psalmist often proclaims variations on the theme of “My hope is in you, my savior, my Lord” (e.g. Ps. 25, 42, 130). It is difficult to imagine that the psalmist’s picture of hope as a romantic sunset and trouble-free life. He does not allow for this misinterpretation when he speaks of his enemies attacking or his heart anguishing within him or his body wasting away. The hope of the psalmist stems from a view of his savior that outlasts his own tragedy. His hope stretches to a life beyond his own.

It is with this view that my own disappointment began to mingle with hope. No longer are the recurring tragedies I encounter – both big stories and little ones – characterized solely by their shadows.

The light has shown itself, and I am stepping, albeit slowly, toward it. It may be that many remaining steps will hold great sorrow, struggle, and pain; I have no way to know. Yet when I face the light, the shadow is now cast behind me rather than leading the way.

What I do know is that Marco was right: hearts break, life is unfair, and we deserve more than what these days give us. It is only when I allow my disappointment in this life to surface, when I actually hold it in my hands and look it in the eye that I catch a glimpse of how “hope does not disappoint us.”

When God comes to us at our most powerless moments, who among us is able to stand (Rom. 5:4-6)?

Who among us even wants to?

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Recommended Reading

Holy the Firm by Annie Dillard

“We sleep to time’s hurdy-gurdy; we wake, if ever we wake, to the silence of God.  And then, when we wake to the deep shores of time uncreated, then when the dazzling dark breaks over the far slopes of time, then it’s time to toss things, like our reason, and our will; then it’s time to break our necks for home. There are no events but thoughts and the heart’s hard turning, the heart’s slow learning where to love and whom.  The rest is merely gossip, and tales for other times.”