The beginning of the school year is crazytown – that’s the best way I know to explain it. It’s busy and exciting and overwhelming. I have been feeling all of those things for the past few weeks during this start of my second year. It’s so different and so nice to know what’s going on and to know what I’m supposed to do – but it’s still a lot. I’ve been overwhelmed and anxious about paperwork and pressures and getting it all done and done the right way.
I was sitting at my desk before school last week drinking my coffee and thinking of things that needed to happen before I left that afternoon. I accidentally moved my mouse pad over, and out peeked a sticky note I left for myself – it said, “my feet are firm, held by His grace.”
(I like to leave myself sticky notes, which is maybe a little dorky, but also it’s awesome. I love words so I leave notes of encouragement via song lyrics, lines from books, quotes, thoughts. This particular note is lyrics from “I Will Glory in My Redeemer,” sung by Sovereign Grace.)
I find it hard to be firm – both in classroom behavior management and in life. I find it much easier to be a doormat, yet I can’t think of one time that being a doormat has been beneficial to me. This lyric reminds me that not in my own strength, but in the grace of Christ, I can be firm. Not mean-and-scary firm, but meaning-what-I-say firm, and not-being-a-doormat firm. And that being firm is a positive thing.
My feet get stood on while I teach, they get slammed on the ground when I run, and last weekend at the Greek Festival they got ketchup squirted on them – and in all those situations I can trust that my feet are held. Even if life is madness and it feels like I’m being held upside down by my feet, I know that it’s intentional and I know that it’s by grace.
My feet are firm in Christ. He leads them and the rest of me generally follows. He doesn’t lead me astray.
I can trust that wherever my feet are, whatever they’re doing, I’m not forgotten. I’m held by One who sings over me, who sees how trivial I am and chooses to still let me be His.
When I wrote these words on a sticky note months ago, I thought they might be encouraging. I didn’t know how, and I hadn’t thought about them in the depth that I did last week when I was supposed to be getting school stuff done. But they were such an encouragement.
I’m a special education teacher. I have lots of kids – kids who call me “Miss Twinkle” and “Miss Dekle-Dekle” and “Mom,” kids who believe me when I tell them that I’m 77, kids who treat me like a friend instead of a teacher (it’s a blessing and a curse), kids who say the funniest things and kids I worry about, kids who are lovely and exasperating all in one package, like cute little sausages.
I love when they ask me for help. It means they know my name! They trust me! They think I know answers to things!
And usually I do know answers to things. I am a grown-up, and I have a college degree, and I have used my brain to do things in life. I’m no Einstein or Hawking (or someone else smart and famous), but my brain has brought me some places and done me some good.
I get to be in charge at school – I make the schedule in my little orange and white room and decide what we’re doing every day. I get to be in charge because I’m the teacher. But then I think – will there be a time when these guys are in charge? Is there a place where what they say goes? Will they find the parts of life where people listen to them and adore them and want to know how old they are and what they’re having for lunch today? Will they have opportunities – to be awesome and to make money and to be heard?
I know I have the power to give opportunities here but what about when they’re 21 and they’re out of high school and they need a job? Will people listen to them? They’re quirky kiddos, but so am I. (It’s why we’re friends.)
I worry because while I know that I’m a goober just as much as my friendsy-friends, I also have marketable skills. I can read and I can do math and I can write words – both for my own entertainment and for getting a job. I can ask for help when I need it. I can express myself in appropriate ways (generally) and function as an independent adult (most of the time). Will my kids be able to say the same? They are wonderful but their brains are kind of betraying them.
I can’t force my abilities onto them. If I could duplicate these marketable skills – like writing legibly and understanding subtraction and identifying sight words not just in isolation but also in text – and share with my kids, I would. But I wouldn’t just give these skills to my kids because I know how difficult life is going to be without them.
And really, I won’t know my kids past the ages of eight or maybe nine. My school only goes through 2nd grade, so 3rd and on is a mystery to me – so unless parents are gracious and remember me, I won’t get to follow my kids in their stories. I know that they will achieve more in life than I will get to be around for, and that is a great thing.
But I see the gap between my kiddos and everybody else. Everybody else can read chapter books and make great connections and figure out what a vocabulary word means from context clues before they even know what it means to use context clues. Everybody else can say “I’m overwhelmed” when they’re overwhelmed, instead of stealing and kicking and yelling.
Everybody else can see how my kids are different, and it doesn’t look like disability-different to them; it looks like weird-different. Everybody else can do these things that I could also do when I was that age: they can read fluently and ride a two-wheeler and engage in pretend play for hours upon hours.
The gap is only going to grow wider. I know this.
I know that my kids are different. I love them for it. They are fresh and original and interesting and full of spirit. And because I know that I know them, I want to go with them all the way through life. I want to tell everybody else that when they do this one thing, it actually means that, and I want to set up the math problems for them so that they can do it and feel so competent! I want to remind to use eye contact. I want to be their protector, their pal, their much older teacher-friend who loves them and is with them always and explains them to everybody else.
But that’s not how life works. Life is ruthless. You have to be tough and well-rounded and fairly independent. You don’t get to take your teacher with you everywhere you go. You have to be a little bit good at most things if you’re going to hack it in the world.
So I pray for my babies. They are little and they don’t know that they’re not really supposed to sit in my lap. My kids are children and I won’t know them as grown-ups.
I don’t know what will happen to them. Will they have friends who love them like I love them?
That’s what I think about when I go out to recess just to see how they’re doing and watch them walk around in a jacket, completely unaware that it’s 90 degrees outside. That’s why I want to cry when I hear that they’re moving away from our great gator school.
I don’t know what’s out there. All I can control is this little orange and white room. I’m scared for them because I love them so.
I read in a parenting book somewhere that every child is born asking: 1) am I loved? and 2) can I get what I want? I’m no parent but I spend a lot of time with these kids and I love them relentlessly.
And just like a parent, I’m learning that I can’t go through life with my kids, that I can’t fix or alter its circumstances for them. All I can do is pray and teach. I can pray for my kids while they are here with me, and I can keep praying after they leave (which my first group of 2nd graders has already done!). I can teach them academics, over and over, as I work to understand how these little minds function, and I can teach that 1) you are SO loved and 2) you cannot get what you want. But then, none of us can. Life isn’t fair.
About a week ago, we were at a luau. We were bowling with coconuts until they cracked, and then we picked them up and chomped on the meat – we learned that raw, fresh coconut does not taste really at all like an Almond Joy. We took Polaroids of our Hawaiian fun and ate exotic foods.
About a week ago, we were at Camp and all together. About a week ago, we were fun and fancy-free; we skipped and sang. About a week ago, we were hooligans, and it was the best.
When I first started working at Camp, I was very overwhelmed by the people there. They were louder than I knew how to be, and they were so comfortable with each other, and they worked so hard! They were carefree and joyful and serious and intentional about what they did. I was so intimidated.
I felt like I should go home. I was seventeen and so shy and mousy and unsure – of everything. I couldn’t imagine my voice ever yelling across Camp or my face ever being so lit up about anything. I barely had any gusto in me back then.
Spoiler alert: It’s seven years later and I still work there, so obviously something has changed.
There are so many adjectives to describe Camp people, and I think the word “hooligan” captures it best. Those people who worked many moons ago when I first started are hooligans and the people who just finished out this summer about a week ago are hooligans. Hooligans are out loud and vulnerable and lighthearted people. They are childlike without being childish.
Hooligans know that Camp is more important than they are. And when they know this and act on it, they start to look more like Camp, and Camp changes based on what they bring to it.
This is a terrifying thing to realize, really – that each time we enter the gates, something is different because we were there. It’s scary because I know that I am whiny and imperfect.
But isn’t the same thing true of everyone who enters the gates? Are we not all sinners here? And doesn’t Camp still welcome us in with hugs and smiley fries and encouraging chalk messages? By this logic, isn’t Camp a kind of extension of the kingdom of God?
Camp isn’t perfect and I know that, but it’s better than so many other places out in the world. Our work at Camp isn’t works-dependent because we know that our works fail, because we cannot do things with perfection. We know that Camp has high expectations for us: to be as faithful, as brave, as joyful, and as fierce as we can be all the time, and that isn’t even enough. We know that we can’t be everything Camp needs us to be, and we also know that none of us is an island – that there is help and, this best part: there is grace!
It isn’t that I am now some perfectly ever-cheerful hooligan. I am still introverted and whiny and imperfect and still have a hard time living brightly and letting what Camp needs be more important than what I want. I am thankful for accountability and for grace.
Our theme this summer was, “live bright, love better,” meaning that the way we live affects the way we love. If we live with gusto, we’ll love with gusto. If we live of light and of brightness, our love will be better.
Camp calls us to do these things and it calls us to be these people of light. The best way to live bright is to live as a hooligan – to be faithful, and brave, and joyful, and fierce, all to our maximum capacity and then more, and to have accountability with others, and to ask for and accept help and grace because they are there.
Camp calls us to do so much and be so much, and it’s all wonderful, and then it’s all over – like right now.
The luau is over. We’re not at Camp and we’re not together. No one is bowling with coconuts and no one is wearing plastic colored leis. But we can be hooligans wherever we are, because that’s what we are.
I drink coffee out of this same mug every morning at school. I found it in the grass in front of the sign at the entrance to Daniel Square one random and rainy day in college. It looked lost, so I picked it up and made it mine. I put it in the cabinet with all of my other cups and mugs, and it moved with me here to Columbia.
Some of these were gifts. Some were inherited. Some were picked up out of the grass (really, though, just the one). Some were bought on a whim. Some were picked up from Clemson football games. Some were supposed to be a wedding gift but I forgot so I just kept them (oops, sorry).
I am fairly sentimental about my dishes, but also I know that what’s in front of me is intentional – just like the things put before me by the Lord.
Sometimes you drink something and you’re so thankful because hydration is important. Sometimes you take one sip of a drink and know that something’s wrong. Sometimes you drink the whole thing and wish you hadn’t. Sometimes you have to drink something that doesn’t taste good but you know it’s good for you. Sometimes you drink something and wish you’d savored it more. Sometimes you wish you’d shared it with someone.
Sometimes there is no cup and you’re walking around parched, just trying work up enough saliva to have something to swallow. And sometimes you’re drinking from a fire hose and it makes your fingers all prune-y.
No matter the cup or what’s in it or how much of it I drink, I find comfort in knowing that the cup (or lack of cup, or abundance of cups, or alternative to a cup) in front of me was chosen by God for me: not merely approved by Him, but specifically sought out for me by Him personally. He knows me and He loves me and He knows how to accomplish His purpose, which is His own glory and not my own comfort.
And I am thankful that living water is more satisfying than anything here on earth, because even though I still am tempted by others, I know I don’t want to drink anything else.
I student taught last spring in 3rd-5th grade resource. One morning I was walking around in a 4th grade class and passed an empty desk with a strip of paper on it. The paper said “small thin peace.” I assume that the original writer meant to say “piece,” but they didn’t, and that makes all the difference.
I hadn’t been feeling specifically un-peaceful, but when I saw that strip of paper and thought about what it might mean, it felt like relief, and it stuck with me.
I considered peace. I’m not a Quaker or a hippie or a Buddhist, and I’d never thought much about peace until prompted by this curious piece of paper. I’d thought about it when reading Psalms or when feeling internally conflicted but it had always ended there.
I’ve tried to provide peace for myself (spoiler: it doesn’t work). I’ve tried to grasp control, to manage the pieces of my life. When things are out of control and unmanageable, I get frustrated and I have a hard time understanding why.
Paul in Philippians says that the peace of God “surpasses all understanding.” It’s greater than what I am able to understand – and thus, control.
I think the peace of God is small and thin.
I think it can be like horseradish, how a little bit of it can bring tears to my eyes and just a taste of it affects the way everything else tastes for the rest of the day.
Small thin peace is meek. It will inherit the earth.
I came across this small thin peace during student teaching, and now I’m a first year teacher. It’s a big job. It’s bigger than me. Right now, every day of my life is a learning curve. In the midst of a learning curve, recognizing peace as small and thin is comforting. It’s not one more thing to push myself to accomplish today – instead, peace preludes everything else. It’s amazing.
Like salvation, peace requires a request and an acceptance. It requires me to admit that I can’t provide it for myself and it requires me to beg for it. It requires my ultimate thankfulness because it is provided. It requires my attachment to Christ. It requires my submission of control.
Small thin peace means that I’m not in charge. Small thin peace means that when I’m confused about what to feel, when I’ve messed up, when I feel like saltwater taffy, when everything earth-level is not okay, all is not lost. Prior to, during, and after crises and catastrophes and Mondays, the peace of God gives grace and rest. Prior to, during, and after scares and surprises and breakdowns, the peace of God gives grace and rest. Life on earth and the peace of God are not mutually exclusive. That news is grand!
Having peace in my heart, however, does not mean I don’t feel stress or want to control things; but it’s bigger than those things. Just like how God is bigger than the bogeyman, His peace is bigger than my desires and tendencies. It gives perspective to all of life.
There are always reasons to not be peaceful or to not accept peace. There are always holdups. There will not be a time where life is perfectly restful and quiet and calm and peaceful.
Peace is not contingent upon circumstance. Regardless of circumstance and regardless of understanding, when I put my faith and trust in Christ, and when I let Him be peace instead of trying to manufacture it for myself, His peace transcends my understanding. That takes off so much pressure.
Directly before Paul says that the peace of God “surpasses all understanding,” He says to not be anxious in anything. He follows this with telling that the peace of God (“which surpasses all understanding,”) “will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”
There is no need to say no to peace. It comes from Christ. He guards my heart and mind. I need this.
This summer, I returned to Camp! I got to live there all summer. It was magical. It was a blessing and a challenge in a lot of ways, and I am ever thankful that it exists and for the time I’ve spent there and hopefully will continue to spend there for the indefinite but hopefully forever future rest of my days.
During the eight weeks I was there this summer, I said “I love you” a lot. I said it to campers, to counselors, to co-supervisors, to my boss, to the Camp dogs, to God, and to the sky – because it’s nice to look up and find beauty anytime of day or night.
In addition to saying “I love you,” I also sang this lullaby to just about every female camper –
I love you truly
Oh yes I do
I don’t love anyone as much as you
When you’re not near me, I’m blue
I love you
Yes I do!
Campers, counselors, co-supervisors, my boss, the Camp dogs, God, and the sky all were with me during Camp. I am thankful for the presence of each of these. When I told them I loved them, I didn’t just mean that I loved them in that moment; I meant that I was articulating a long-term commitment, a lasting choice. In saying “I love you,” I was saying: I am devoted to you for right now, for tomorrow, for the next day, and beyond. I am devoted to your well-being, your learning, and to you seeing and receiving the gospel.
Because if I am a friend but have not love, what am I really? If I give hugs but have not love, if I do paperwork but have not love, if I sing Camp songs but have not love, if I hold hands but have not love, if I do camper laundry but have not love, if I give direction/correction but have not love, if I read a goodnight story but have not love, then I’m useless. My job at Camp and my purpose in life are to show love – love not of me – to everyone/everything around me. If my actions are not infused with love, then I am completely ineffective.
However, here is the thing: I don’t have the capacity for all of that. Emotionally, spiritually, physically, socially, I can’t hold or dispense love that grand or rich. I’m a girl, not a factory. And I’m a broken girl – any love I have to give is flawed and broken and imperfect.
And so this is what I’ve learned: love takes faith. I always thought that love just flowed, that it never ran dry, but that’s not true. I’ve been in situations where I ran completely out, and in situations where what I gave was more than what I had, and that showed me that God is love. And I’m His person.
I am a conduit of perfect love (not a producer). I have to put faith in Christ that He will give me what I need, and that He will give it to me when I need it. God has given me Camp and Camp has taught me to ask for what I need and God has taught me to trust His timing.
Because sometimes I tell a person I love them, even though in that moment I am not their biggest fan. Sometimes I tell a person I love them even though I’m not sure what to do to show them that I mean it. Sometimes I tell a person I love them even though they’ve made choices that hurt me. Sometimes I tell a person I love them even though I’m scared of them. Sometimes I tell a dog that I love it even though it’s lazy and I’m jealous because I’d like to lie in the grass, too. Sometimes I tell the sky I love it even though I wish it had not chosen to storm in the middle of the afternoon while we wanted to play outside. Sometimes I tell God I love Him even though I don’t understand the way He does things.
I mean what I say each of those times, and in all of those times, I’m trusting that God will give me what I need to really mean it and to show it.
And He always does. During some moments, all I need are the words “I love you.” During some moments, I need the actions to prove it. During some moments, I need both. In all of those moments, it’s Christ, not me. His perfect love casts out fear and hesitation. It enables me to do my job and to live in the world as one of His people.
It’s beautiful. I love learning – I’ve worked at Camp since I was 17 and I’m not learning any less than I was when I started. This lesson is only one of the things I learned this summer.
Love takes faith. It isn’t easy or light. It’s serious and intense, yet joyful and wonderful.
After careful examination, I’ve come to realize that I resent Cinderella. I find her so easy to frown at. She’s a saint and she’s never sassy. That’s not like me and I hate her for it.
She doesn’t do anything wrong. You can’t be mad at her. It’s infuriating, and it’s ironic. She has the hardest life of anybody, and she’s the most humble of anybody. She doesn’t pout, and she doesn’t roll her eyes, and she doesn’t sweat. She is responsible and kind. She looks lovely always, even covered in soot. She’s submissive and an awesome cook, like a good wife is supposed to be. Other girls feel inadequate when compared to her, because no one can live up to her peace and simplicity.
Her prince is perfect, too; he’s not into potty humor and he doesn’t play FIFA. He’s actually not a real dude.
Eventually in her story, Cinderella receives justice for the wrong done to her. She’s an underdog. (We like to think we’re underdogs). She’s the chosen one, like Harry Potter and King Arthur: they all have a humble and abusive beginning, and greatness thrust upon them that they then thrive in ever so diplomatically.
We want to that – we want to be Cinderella. We want to overcome any disadvantage our childhood may leave us with and become the most successful, the most beautiful, the most wise.
So we work really hard. We don’t take breaks. We always say yes, because saying no is unhelpful and it’s selfish. We turn ourselves into martryrs (It used to be that a martyr was a person who sacrificed self for faith to the glory of God, but now it’s someone who sacrifices general health and well-being for being seen as a hard worker to the glory of pride). We are blind followers of good feelings and we bottle up our frustrations because that’s what Cinderella did and things turned out really swell for her.
We feel unnoticed and sorry for ourselves and convince ourselves that we deserve grandeur, and we strategize ways for other people to observe this about us, too.
We get frustrated by life, because life isn’t fair. We look for reasons for the hard parts of life, and we convince ourselves that we are the victims here, even though we know that’s wrong. Life is hard because of sin, and we are sinners. It’s the truth, and the truth hurts.
Cinderella is just like Jesus (only not real). She’s patient and kind, she endures all things, she’s impossibly perfect, and she ascends to the throne after the climax of the story.
Jesus is real and Cinderella is not. Why do we try to emulate Cinderella more than we try to emulate Jesus? No one told us to try to be Cinderella, and we are told countless times in the Bible to be like Jesus. Cinderella can do nothing but disappoint us as we try and fail to become her. We were never supposed to be like her.
Cinderella is a character. Characters don’t sin. They don’t have sin patterns and they don’t have to repent of anything. We can’t be Cinderella because we sin. Cinderella is a pauper turned princess, and we are (still) sinners. We were and are and will be.
Cinderella can’t do anything for us, and Jesus already did. He came to save us from this silly striving. Here we are, trying to turn ourselves from actual humans with personalities and vices into flat fairy tale characters. He saves us from that. He changes our hearts from wanting to be our own creation to being transformed into His own perfect and pure and complete likeness and creation.
Cinderella isn’t real (Harry Potter isn’t real. King Arthur isn’t real). Perfect princes aren’t real. But love is real and Jesus is real.
So this is love: royalty would voluntarily sacrifice grandeur for fools (that’s us). And that’s how we know real life is better than fairy tales.