Summer Stars

Corn

It was actually rather idyllic, when you consider just a moment.

It was a beautiful night; the stars were out in full force, spanning in the sky in a spangled arc from horizon to horizon. The wisps of a sunset were still barely visible above the tree line; I had watched it set. The afternoon rain had cooled everything off, and a slight breeze kept the air fresh. There was a rhythmic swish of thigh-high leaves against my legs as I trotted down the rows of corn—chasing a calf. In the dark.

As far as chasing cattle goes, it was one of the nicest experiences I’ve ever had. I was thanking all goodness that I had thrown on a pair of work jeans over my pajama shorts before I stepped out. Otherwise, I would have been cut by leaves, bitten by insects, and in need of a shower. In the end, I ran the full length of that corn field about twice, and I felt good. I was a tad winded, but not much. After only five trips up and down the fence row, Barbecue II decided to go in the gate, and I had only to walk home to knock the three pounds of mud off my shoes. Then I shucked my wet jeans and socks, and was pretty well clean. It was peaceful out there; quiet other than me talking to the calf. Dad’s search light went up and down the road, and even if he didn’t know where I and my tiny light were, I could see him. We had tried communicating via cell phone, but down in the rolling hills of that field, the signal was spotty. No mother cow was yelling at Jr. to hurry it up; just the calf, the stars, a few mosquitoes, and me.

There’s a cornfield, now, with my footprints, the calf’s and goodness knows how much anxious-calf-manure all over one edge of it. I might have missed that glorious star-filled sky if everybody had been staying inside fences like they were supposed to. I was inside writing, much like I am now. There is often something to keep me from admiring good things. In the summer, it’s the insects. They love me, and only me, and I do not love them. In the winter—well, it’s winter. I’m already wearing three layers and a blanket indoors. Spring didn’t happen really, this year, and Fall is yet to come. Sometimes, the difficulties loom so large, I can’t see the stars. It’s not as if they aren’t there. But some days, I forget. I’ve forgotten a lot, lately. The problem, I suspect, is a lack of gratitude. So there I was, trotting up and down rows of rain-soaked corn, gaining poundage in mud, and being grateful.

Yes—it was rather idyllic.

Advertisements

The Gift of the Migraine

The first obvious clue is the sun spots—or star-bursts. No matter where you look, they’re there, obstructing your vision. You can’t see faces well, you can’t read because words have clusters of light exploding in front of them, and driving is kind of a dumb idea. The first time it happens, you don’t know that you’re getting a migraine. Actually, it might take you a few times to learn, especially if they don’t come frequently. But you learn that your threshold for getting a handle on it is narrow; if not now, you’re toast.

Mine have been frequent enough of late to start calling in the kinds of medication that are intended just for migraines. The first time I took some, it felt magical. Within 10 minutes, I sneezed, shivered, and the spots were gone. I drank a Dr. Pepper and ran a voice and movement theater workshop with no problems. But it must have been there all the while, waiting for the meds to run out because it came back. The next time I got a full-blown bundle of joy, I took a full dose right out of the gate. I made it through the school day—barely. Then I went home and hid under blankets in the dark.

You are made of glass when you wake up after a migraine. You feel as though you might shatter. Food is a strange business; standing is touchy; breathing feels a tad miraculous; water is a gift from Heaven. But I am kinder when I hurt; I am more patient when I am in pain; I am gentler with others when I must be gentle with myself to make it the next step.

These are the gifts of the migraine.

Meanwhile, I cannot work with words—and I teach English. I know, for the first time experientially, what it must be like for my dyslexic students to watch the words and letters swim around and rearrange themselves. I know a child’s name and cannot come up with it because my brain is scrambling his first and last. If it was John Smith, for instance, I am trying to call him “Smohnth” or some such nonsense. Instead of words folded neatly and handed to me like clean laundry, I’m getting a ripe pile of tangled socks. I duplicate words on the board, skip them entirely, or make up weird spellings and don’t even know it.

These too, are the gifts of the migraine.

I cannot stay awake because it hurts to move, or see or think, and so I crash into a healing rest to recover first chance I get. But if it’s during the day, then I lie awake at night, unable to sleep. So I write. Because even though I feel like glass, my mind feels clear—as if it’s had a cold shower. The words are ready to come again.

I have to spend my first words apologizing to people for garbled emails and texts; I was probably abrupt or confusing. Most of the time my students don’t know; only when my classroom lights are off for the hour, and even then, they just accept a weird day with lights off and blinds open. I have very definitive “on and “off” modes in terms of energy, even after my brain has rebooted. But how do you explain that? You can’t. You can try—like I am now. But people have to want to listen and apply, and lots of people don’t or can’t, and that’s not how this works.

Jesus told us that.

Jesus told us it’s not about people listening to us; it’s about us learning, in every weakness or strength, learning to listen to people. I am SO BAD at that. It’s a gift; learning to think less of yourself.

I don’t LIKE migraines. I don’t like the weird buzzy, dizzy feeling of medicine rewiring my brain. I don’t like resetting my internal clock for 42 hours, or a week.

But I am grateful for the gifts.

The Camel and the Cat

You have no doubt heard the ancient tale of the Nomad and the Camel. But in case you’ve forgotten, I shall tell it again.

Marshmallow Nap1

(There once was a cat owner who was rather ill…)

Once there was a desert nomad who pitched his tent in the wind-blown barrens. Even though the night was cold, his tent was warm and comfortable. But his camel outside the tent was feeling a chill on his soft little nose. So the camel politely addressed his master from the door of the tent.

“Master,” said the camel, “I work for you all day in the hot sun and sand, carrying both you and your burden. Yet here at the end of the night, I am left to chill outside.”

“I feed you and provide you with water,” returned the nomad.

“But my nose is cold,” said the camel. “If I could just put my nose inside the tent…”

The nomad considered and felt it was a reasonable request. And so the camel poked his nose inside the door. For awhile, all was well.

Marshmallow Nap2

(This cat is not big, but when you already can’t breathe, 8 pounds on your lungs only makes it harder…)

But then the camel began to feel the chill on his neck.

“Master,” said the camel, “I work for you all day in the hot sun and sand, carrying both you and your burden. Yet here at the end of the night, I am left to chill outside.”

“Your nose is now warm, which is what you wanted,” returned the nomad.

“But my neck is not,” the camel complained.

The nomad considered, and decided it was a reasonable request. So the camel drew both his nose and neck into the tent. Now, if you know anything about camels, you know that suddenly, the tent seemed smaller than it had before. Camels have quite a lot of neck.

Marshmallow Nap3

“Oh, hi…”

Then the camel began to feel a chill on his hindquarters. He wriggled around a bit, causing some disruption in the tent at his other end.

“What now?” asked the disgruntled nomad, who was feeling cramped.

“Well, it’s just that my tail and my rump are feeling rather frigid,” remarked the camel. And then, without so much as a by-your-leave, he wriggled the rest of himself into the tent, pushing the nomad right out. “Ah…much better,” remarked the camel, not noticing that the nomad did not answer.

Marshmallow Nap4

The nomad, reflecting on the wisdom of his ancestors in leaving their camels to get chilly noses, spent a cold night on the sand.

So too, should cat owners, who are sick and cannot properly defend themselves.

Marshmallow Nap5

Well, she is cute…

The Day the Cat Went to the Vet

Cats

“West Central Veterinary Clinic, how may I help you?” said a nice voice.

“Hi, um…my cat appears to be in a lot of pain, can’t seem to use his litter box, and hasn’t eaten in two days. I’m wanting to know if you have any suggestions?” Thus began the little saga of my Saturday. The nice voice said it sounded not-so-great and they would squeeze me in before they closed that day. So I put a very sick tom cat in a box and drove to Rockville.

This is, I need to interject, unprecedented. We don’t typically take our cats to the vet. They don’t get shots or dental appointments or are neutered. They are au natural. But this cat is kind of special, and well, he was awfully uncomfortable. I’ve held a lot of dying kittens in my arms and I just wasn’t ready to do that again. So off we went.

The nurse giggled when she registered his name. “Sassy Pants?”

“Yes,” I said. “And boy, is he.” (His official name is Shy, which he isn’t, so we don’t often call him that.)

I shared the waiting room with a man and his hyper little golden dog and a tiny girl and her grandfather. Sassy yowled from his box. “Kitty!” the little girl said. A short while later, she and her grandfather passed me to go to one of the examination rooms; their critter had just been brought in from his pen outdoors—a lamb. He baaa’d at us and she waved.

Upon entering the examination room the vet expressed surprise at finding “Sassy Pants” to be a tom. A BIG tom. Sassy didn’t care what anyone thought. He wasn’t interested in his surroundings; he didn’t care about being weighed or inspected. He was not himself at all; he seemed more comfortable when I was holding him—another sign of serious problems. He is not, shall we say, a snuggler.

When the vet was done listening and feeling, he gave a sigh. “Well, Mom,” and he launched into it. I had been hoping for something simple like a little medicine, a shot.

No such bananas.

The vet was quite nice about it, but he made it clear. Either I took my cat home and he died a miserable death in day or so, or he had surgery immediately.

SURGERY?? On my cat?

About half an hour after I got home, I got a call. “Sassy Pants is out of surgery and waking up right now. He’s doing just fine, Mom.”

Two days later, he was still in the cat hospital under observation. I stopped by to see him and pay his bill. (He’s an expensive cat.) The nurses giggled again when I asked to see him.

In examination room three, Shy, alias Sassy Pants, was so delighted to see me he deposited a pound of fur on my jacket. His throaty rumble filled the room. He was all over me, the examination table and the room in general. He was clearly feeling better. It made me grin.

It is both the first and the last time I will probably pay for a cat to have surgery. (No, I am not his “mom.” Good heavens.) It’s also probably the first and last time I could actually pay for something like that. But I’m not at all sorry that I did. Like I said—he’s kind of a special cat.

Long may he live to terrorize the local rodents, rub fur on our pants, and lick toes.

Unwrap-able Christmas Gifts

IMG_20171227_171224_processed

Twenty-one people were crammed into Grandpa and Grandma’s house for Christmas. (We could have had thirty-two people this year, if all the married grandkids had made it.) If that sounds nuts, it isn’t, really. We LIKE each other; that’s kind of the point. Two bathrooms might make it a bit silly, but we manage. About every twenty minutes or so, there is a race for the shower with lots of laughter and shoving and yelling involved. Meals are insane, but we like it that way. The closer we get to actually eating, the more people show up in the kitchen. It’s a miracle no one is burned. Card games are hilarious. And when we get snowed-in, we get snowed-in together. We get up when we feel like it, and sleep when we can’t keep our eyes open anymore. We figured that we went through at least four pots of coffee a day—probably more. A few poor souls would find the empty coffee pot, make more, and then come back moments later to an empty pot again.

On Christmas Eve Sunday, we all got to church early to practice. The family choir was a little smaller than years past, but we were full-voiced and full of heart. We sang as a family in between the congregational carols and read the scripture verses we were handed. We come equipped with our own pianist and choir conductor, so it only makes sense that we make music together.

We went out to eat together and the whole family adopted our waitress. It was her birthday and she was working on Christmas Eve at lunch time. She told us she didn’t like her birthday anyway—so she was just hoping the day would be over soon. So we did our best to make her day special; I love watching my family do that. We did everything else too—spilled water, earned our very own coffee pot, stayed after the place closed (we didn’t know) and in general, laughed a lot. I think we all tipped our waitress. I hope it made her birthday and Christmas special; I hope she read the tract we left behind with it.

There’s been an old wind-up record player sitting in the corner of the living room in that house for my whole life. I had never heard it played. So this year…we played it. It was scratchy and squeaking and you could adjust the speed with one little lever. It was kind of awesome.

And then on Christmas Eve, it SNOWED. Is there anything quite so magical? I might not care to play in it like I used to, but that doesn’t keep me from pressing my nose to the glass or dashing out to take a few pictures.

IMG_20171224_174225652.jpg

We got out Grandma’s wedding china for Christmas dinner this year and made one long table of it. Presents always come later. Presents were preceded by carols in the living room. We did pretty well until we got to “Good King Wenceslas.”

We prayed together; we sang together. We encouraged each other with the promises of Jesus when we found moments tucked away on couches and chairs to talk. And I was aware all over again just how rare that is. We thanked God together for the past, the beautiful present and the yet-unseen future—whatever it is, we know He’s in it.

So we are grateful. I know I am.

IMG_20171224_172622426.jpg

Festival Philosophies

 

Once upon a time, two bloggers wrote a joint post. They liked it. So they decided to do it again. This it. The link to E’s blog to be posted here later…

~The Rewriter

Bridegton1

 

We meet on a sunny Saturday the last weekend of Bridge Festival. The last time we went adventuring—over a year ago–we went to Spring Fest. Since then, I have finished my third degree and started a new school year. She has traveled around the world. Literally. (Check out her travel blog: https://kiwihoosier.com). But since she has so recently returned home, she wants to play tourist one more time, looking with new eyes at home: so we go to the Fall Bridge Festival.

Once upon a time in high school, she was a covered bridge tour guide. I am jealous; I’ve always wanted to do that. Parke County’s claim to international fame is that we have the most covered bridges of any county anywhere. That gives us an excuse to festivalize; it’s fun. Crafts and antiques and festival food pop up in little towns all over the county. We wander to a few of the booths at our starting location of Rockville. But our main goal is to find a map of historic, old, covered bridges and just enjoy them and Fall and catch up.

We stop at our first bridge and start by taking a picture. We document ourselves there, too. She is a photographer and a writer; I can depend on her for great pictures. I’m just a writer. Capturing the moment visually is seldom something I think of.  It’s a lovely little bridge, happily spanning a trickling creek. It should be more than a trickle, but the water table is rather low this season. Off to the north, a herd of Angus chews its mid-morning cud in the sunshine. While E. takes pictures of the interior, I step around the edge to a little narrow wall overlooking the water so that I’m out of the way. I can feel a migraine coming on—a more regular occurrence than not, these days, so I have my sunglasses on. She finishes and comes back, and I turn around to step back across onto the bridge…and stop.

I have forever been and likely always will be rather leery of anything that looks…snake-like. The squiggly-looking thing in front of me MIGHT be a worm, but it’s squiggles are a little too…vertebrae-ish. I take a closer look… Oh, my heavens, there’s a head on the end of that. “E,” I say, “What you see right now is me not panicking about the fact that there is a snake between me and the car. If you could just give me your hand and give me a yank…” She gives me her hand and pulls me over the gap.

If you are not now applauding me for not panicking, then you should be. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that said snake was only three inches long.

Still.

As we drive from bridge to bridge, we note builder’s names written on the end. We note the differently shaped openings and windows. I can ask questions of my personal tour guide; she has all kinds of bridge facts neatly tucked away for easy access. There is no pressure; there is no rush. Just Saturday, sunshine, good company and good conversation. She tells me that the bridges were covered because they were built of wood, and that was the only way they could protect it from the elements. This is likely also why I can still drive my car across half of these. The paved road has been diverted around others, so we park and walk into them. Most are painted bright red, perched over creeks and surrounded by changing leaves. It’s really no wonder someone decided to have an annual festival.

Our midday stop is Bridgeton; a covered bridged used to be the entrance to the town. Now, it’s off to the side with a concrete bridge doing all the hard work. An old mill, still operational, is in full swing. Hundreds of booths and tents are set up down main street and down alleys. Private residences have turned their front yards into festival grounds. We’ve decided to hunt down lunch, here. Once upon a time, I had a Polish sausage with my mother at the Bridge Festival. I’ve always wanted one since. I finally find a place that sells them, but am rather disappointed by my purchase. A Polish sausage should be drippy, messy, and slathered in peppers and onions. Mine has about half of a bun, a beautifully cooked sausage with a skin so think you can’t even bite it, and about three slivers of onion. I will just have to wait a bit longer to relive that happy memory.

Something as simple as an excursion to Bridgeton is already wearing me out; I just don’t have the energy to do lots of things anymore. Being tired often results in a migraine; if I push too much, I might actually just sort of collapse in the grass. So, I measure my energy carefully. E is very thoughtful and patient. We take breaks now and then; she a great person to just stop and look at things; she doesn’t mind quietness. I like watching her take pictures; it’s always fun to watch an artist at work. I find that I see lots of lovely things when I’m too tired to actually do them. As we prepare to leave Bridgeton, the last thing E wants to do is try to take pictures of the famous Bridgeton Bridge and mill. The lighting isn’t quite right, but it’s a pretty place, nonetheless.

Somehow or another, E and I always come around to the “Old Soul” conversation. She doesn’t like the phrase; she feels like it’s a sort of backhanded compliment—saying that someone is old and out of date and behind the times. I say it’s a compliment. It means that you have a vision of the world and wisdom unusual for your age. You have the ability to enjoy things much older than you and have an appreciation for the generations and advice that came before you. This describes E; after all, not many people would spend a Saturday afternoon photographing 100-year-old architecture in the middle of nowhere. Somehow, we always get around to that conversation. Maybe someday, we’ll finish it.

Elise1

I am no photographer, but I like that this captures E at her art. Also, I like the light circles on the floor.

 

We wind our way through the countryside, driving through towns I’ve heard of but never seen. (There are no more reptiles.) The final bridge is one her great-grandfather built. The lettering is peeling off one end; but the other end is perfect for photography purposes. Our last stop is Tangier, where the Festival Buried Beef is famous. I have come prepared to buy some for supper. E waits for me; she has probably had more buried beef than she can stand already this week. Her family is from Tangier and is involved in the meal preparation. It’s pretty impressive…and the beef is kind of amazing.

Her house is just down the road from there. We end our trip in sunshine and a confused discussion about what the large bumpy fruit is that hangs over the fence in her yard are called. Ugly fruit? Hedge apples? Then she collects Frodo, the stuffed Kiwi, from the dash (he has been perched there the whole trip) and heads into her house. I drive home through the afternoon Fall sunshine.

Parke County is a funny, rural place. Lovely in places; not always lovely in others. While part of the county delightedly celebrates Fall and history and the local economy with the Festival every year, there are always people who don’t. Today, someone saw us admiring the Fall foliage and called at us to “get out of Parke County,” assuming, of course, that locals would never admire the view and that tourists are annoying. Wild, isn’t it? Maybe what they need is a touch of the “Old Soul”; the ability to see the loveliness around them; the appreciation for the past and it’s gift to the present. Maybe what they need is a sunny Saturday, the last weekend of Bridge Festival, to just drive, and chat, and look.

 

LongestBridge1

The Theology of Teaching When You Cannot Teach Theology

Hebrews 4:15

He [Jesus] was tempted in all points as we are, yet never sinned.

I have this theory, simple and not too profound, that Jesus got angry with His students—and He didn’t sin. Jesus was the ultimate teacher. Kind, profound, miraculous: these are things He’s known for. But He also got angry—and it made an impact.

Teachers get angry all the time. It’s actually a tool of the trade. I remember a gym teacher, Mr. Lane, who would drop a folding chair on the gym floor from his height of six feet and yell at us. It was terrifying and it made the point.  I remember another teacher, Mrs. Black, who threw books at us. I’ve worked with directors who called their cast and crew stupid when they were trying to make a point. These things are their legacies in my memory. They were effective strategies if the goal is to just get the class quiet.

But then there are the teachers who are quiet and firm. Mrs. Sawyer’s eyes flashed fire the day she caught one of my classmates cheating on a test. Her voice raised only ever so slightly, but we all shrank in our seats. That gentle teacher had been disappointed and Heaven forbid that anger be directed at us; I would have died had she been disappointed in me. It was all the more poignant because we never saw it happen. I remember her today as someone who had an eye for the future. She didn’t just demand a quiet class; she wanted to teach us to be great human beings. She was preparing us for our future, not just her immediate present of a controlled class.

Jesus taught like that. There was a time when He was so angry that He kicked His students out of class, if you will. He visited the temple, saw abhorrent behavior, and overturned tables holding coinage. It was probably a mess. He told all the people there that greedy men had made God’s house a den of thieves; I doubt He did so quietly and gently. And yet, He did it without sin. It would take a special occasion and much grace for me to do both, but He did. He made His point, loud and clear.

Sometimes, teaching demands the kind of honesty that strips away layers of skin before it applies the healing salve. For instance, Jesus once told Peter, “Get out of my sight, Satan. You treasure the things of earth more than those of God.”  That wasn’t just name-calling out frustration. Jesus clearly saw Peter displaying the mind of the devil in his behavior and called him on it. Students seldom enjoy being called out and as a teacher, neither do I enjoy doing it. I’ve had to learn how to speak with that kind of bald honesty over the years. It doesn’t come easily to me. But I think you can say the same words with different purposes. I can either scream at a student, satisfy my desire to “give them what they deserve”, and take care of the present problem, or I can say the same words firmly, calmly, and even loudly with love and an eye for the future. Jesus also praised those who got it right. In front of a whole crowd of faith-taught Jewish listeners, Jesus told a hated Roman centurion that his behavior had proved that he had more faith than anyone in Israel. There is great value in praising those who get it right.

Sometimes the difference between those two is obvious; sometimes, it’s only in the confines of my heart where God alone can see it. Jesus was—and is—the ultimate teacher. He knew best how to communicate and knew His students (or disciples) better than anyone else. He knew them better than they themselves. A teacher frequently CAN see things no one else can see; not in the way Jesus could, certainly. But it is an ability that comes from much observation. But Jesus had to listen to his students arguing about who was going to be greatest in Heaven. Even after LIVING with the perfect teacher, eating with Him, seeing miracles and essentially having private lessons, His students still didn’t understand. They needed time, just like the rest of us. The Bible tells us that Jesus wept over Israel; I suspect He wept over His students, too. They must have known it. Their relationship was too close not to.

Most of my students will never know how much I love them; I may not like them so much some days, but I do love them. I have to be tough; I demand a lot from them. How much joy would there be if we could all agree that I could teach, and they would apply themselves? I suspect that Jesus often reflected on this lost opportunity for joy…yet He did even that without sin. It grieved Him deeply, but never to sinful despair. Of all people, the Son of Man never forgot the end of the story.

This is what I have to remember when the simplest instruction is met with peculiar volatility. Saying “hello” to some of the people I serve is often met with anger, an eye roll, or a snarl. Most days, that doesn’t bother me. But I won’t kid you; sometimes it seems futile. Sometimes…well, sometimes, Titus seems impossible.

To speak evil of no man, to be no brawlers,

but gentle, showing all meekness unto all men.

And let us also learn to maintain good works for necessary uses,

that they be not unfruitful.

This year in the classroom, it’s going to get worse before it gets better. But this conversation has been in the forefront of my mind. For ten years I’ve been thinking on it. I’ve had conversations with fellow Christian teachers who fall on different sides of the problem. Some wonder, like me, if it wouldn’t be better to hang it all up and start screaming. Start being brutally honest without a filter. What are calm and firm achieving anyway? I’ve received advice from veteran teachers, whom I deeply respect, to be sarcastic; be a witch. Goodness, I need barely try. It comes too easily. Perhaps my best reason to go the longer, slower route is because the first just comes too easily. It’s my first nature. But if I rely on the Spirit to guide me, He closes my mouth. He inserts gentleness; sometimes I’ve been amazed. Sometimes, I lie in bed at night and just…read Titus. I have to answer to God for my teaching, someday. Indeed, I have to answer to Him for every word that I say. He said so. So…I seek to raise my voice with gentleness. I seek to mete out discipline with firm love. At least, that’s the goal. It’s pretty high up there.

Teaching comes down to a job between Jesus and me. It always was and it always will be. It’s about demanding high-level behavior and academia from my students. It’s about my conscience before God. It doesn’t actually matter if I like the job or not. It doesn’t matter if my students like it. I can’t teach them about my Jesus; I teach the subject at hand. But I can do so, with God’s help, in a manner which exemplifies the Greatest Teacher the world has ever seen.

Titus 2:8

In all things showing a pattern of good works…sound speech,

that cannot be condemned;

that he that is of the contrary part may be ashamed,

having no evil thing to say of you.