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.
“Reading is not walking on words, but grasping the souls of them.” – Paulo Friere
The summer between my kindergarten and first grade year, my mom made me read a book every single day. I whined and complained and dragged on about it, but I did it anyway. Then, in first grade, I was the best reader in my class. Thanks, Mom!
Now I’m attached to books. If reading was a magnet, I’d be all the metal in the world, spending my existence reaching for books. If literacy was the ocean, I’d grow gills so I could live surrounded on all sides by and soaking in it. If books were coffee, I’d be the most jittery and awakened person alive.
Books to me are like a security item. If they’re too far from me, I kind of feel like I don’t know what to do with my hands. I don’t go anywhere without a book in my purse (even to bars! It makes me feel spunky! But also, I don’t go to all that many bars).
I like to lend books to people because it’s nice to share what I love, and I like to think that I know people well enough to prescribe what they will enjoy reading. I love to talk about what I’ve read with others. Reading is a solitary sport but it can be social, too.
One time I let a friend who didn’t know what to read (she was having what you might call “reader’s block”) borrow several of my favorite books. After she had finished them, she returned them to me on a summer day in a plastic Walmart bag. I pulled them out of the bag unceremoniously but then my heart was unveiled: this was us being reunited! This was a joyous occasion! My books were warm coming out of that bag because they had missed me. Their fluttery hearts were beating and so was mine. We were so mutually thrilled to be back together. That is dedication.
A good book is like a good burger. You can’t put it down until it’s been consumed, because you know that if you do, the whole world will fall apart.
People say things like, “reading takes you to new places!” and it’s true! It does! But these phrases are overused, and then they don’t sound very inspirational anymore. Really, they sound like they’re trying to sell something. I am not trying to sell anything. I’m just trying to communicate this very exciting thing!
Because literacy! It’s no joke!
I love reading. I. LOVE. IT. It’s nothing short of amazing to me that I can empathize with someone who’s been dead for many moons, or be in places that don’t even exist, just by looking from left to right, left to right, line by line, on a funky rectangle made out of dead tree.
It’s incredible, really, just like how sugar and flour and eggs all stirred up together with chocolate chips creates magic (chocolate chip cookies), letters and spaces all stirred up together with pieces of punctuation creates stories and ideas and communication and prose and poetry! It’s truly amazing. It’s like alchemy, but it’s real, and it’s definitely a good thing.
The invention of the wheel was revolutionary for humanity, and so was sliced bread (“that’s the greatest thing since sliced bread!”). And while both of these things are important and worth recognition, I think the written word and the printing press are undercelebrated. They have brought us so far, given us so much, allowed such progress! Where would humanity be without writing and reading?
If you think about it, reading a book is kind of like a small miracle. So much goes into it: an author putting in their whole soul, the editing and publishing process, and then a book ending up in my own hands! It’s nothing short of predestination, for the book and for me.
I want to find joy in the life that’s around me, and here is some! It’s in my hands, and my nose is buried in it.
Last August was a mix of old and new. Old friends got married and I got to see them and spend time with their families, but then there was the new – settling into a new town, a new job, a new church. I had an income and a classroom and a job. I had just finished Camp and was mentally processing the summer while preparing my classroom. It was busy and exciting and scary and big. My brain was constantly abuzz with thoughts and learnings and ideas.
What I Learned: August 2016
Liking kids and being good with kids are not the same thing. Some people are one, some are both. Sometimes you can become the other if you are only one. But they do not necessarily come together. It’s unfortunate and not a lot of people know it.
Teaching is not Camp in lots of ways, and one of these is that a session is nine months, not one week. So not sleeping for a whole week is not a great way to do things because there are 35 weeks to go after this one.
People romanticize the past – more than just old people saying, “when I was young…” but young people, too. All people think fondly on things that are over, and tend to think back on things as easier or more fun than they truly were. Things are generally harder in the moment than they will seem when we’re looking back on them, and when we’re looking back, they’ll seem breezier than they feel now.
Be at an event in enough time that you are sitting and ready when it starts (example: church and professional development), not pulling into the parking lot at the exact time it starts. It really is better to be an early dork than a late dork.
It takes more time to leave a happy place than it does to get there. The trip home always goes by quickly because I’m so excited, but leaving is a drag and seems like it takes forever.
6. Being grumpy is not an excuse to do whatever you want (one would think that this is something I would have already known by now, but nope, something I learned one year ago this month).
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.
Most of July of last year was spent at Camp. I was (and still am) learning how to lead, which was hard. Then, the day after Camp ended, I moved to a new town and all new things – job, apartment, roommate, church, etc. July was a very overwhelming and very exciting month.
This is what I learned through all of it –
Sometime patience and persistence are the same thing.
You don’t have to be good at everything, but you do have to give things a chance. Try new things. Do hard things.
If you see or are a part of something that’s wrong and don’t speak up, then what you are communicating is: “everything happening here is completely okay with me and approved by me.”
Sometimes you see another person’s sin and you are appalled at that person’s capacity to hurt people or ruin things or be a sinner. You need to know that you also have that same capacity and are no better. All humans are inherently awful.
Don’t weave your whining and complaining into conversations. If you’ve got to say it, just say it, and then be done with it.
6. Excuses don’t last long. You can only say, “I moved here yesterday” for one day.
June 2016 was a new time. I was starting in a new role at Camp, and that was hard. I was learning to be a leader. I was also transitioning from college student to whatever comes next, which was harder than I anticipated. I was in some weddings for friends, which was so fun. June 2016 was the busiest I had been in a long time.
Here is what I learned during that time –
“Leading means relinquishing the right to being told what to do.” – this is from my wise Camp boss, and it was good and hard for me to learn.
If you are grumpy or in “a mood,” either talk about it or get over it. Being elusively grumpy is dumb and annoying and unproductive.
You cannot control humans.
But you can influence them.
It’s hard to lead people if you don’t love them.
6. When you are sleeping somewhere with no AC, end your shower with cold water. You will start sweating again as you exit the shower.
7. If shoes are less than comfortable when you try them on, they will be painful when you wear them for an entire day.