Friday, April 25, 2014

Five Reasons I Love Teaching on a College Campus (and an update)

Today reminded me yet again why I love working on a college campus. Let me list some of those reasons for you.

1. I get to work in a gorgeous setting. The building I teach in is old. Really old. And it's surrounded by flowering trees that make going into work at 7:00 a.m. . . . dare I say . . . nice?

2. I get to hear amazing speakers for free. This morning I went to chapel to hear Canon Andrew White, also known as the Vicar of Bagdhad. I will go hear Canon White any chance I can because A) he's hilarious, B) he encourages students to "take risks, not care," and C) he absolutely LOVES Wheaton College (even more than his beloved Cambridge, he boldly admitted today). This morning he solidified my admiration by making the entire chapel sing "I've Got the Joy, Joy, Joy, Joy Down in My Heart" together. 

There might have been a couple of tears.

(For a really interesting interview with Canon White click here.)

3. I get to see crazy campus capers. Apparently, today was "Dick's Day" on campus (in honor of one of our former presidents, I assume). It's an annual tradition whereby students conduct a "Braveheart" style joust or something like that in the middle of campus. Everyone was there, faces painted, and it was hilarious. 

They even had bagpipes.

4. I get to have lunch with amazing students. One of my students from the fall of 2012 keeps in touch, and we have lunch together every few months. Today I listened to her tell me about her year and what she's learning in her classes, how her relationships with her siblings have gotten better, how she's going to serve God in Amsterdam this summer, and as she spoke I realized that I was seeing real change in this girl. She's growing. She's learning more about herself and others. She's loving intentionally. 

And I thought, what a privilege that I get to witness this!

5. I get to watch the lightbulb go off. If you've never experienced it, you won't know what I mean, but when you watch a student struggle over their work, then suddenly they get it--they've worked out a sentence just so or they narrowed their thesis until they have something workable or, best of all, they recognize their own mistakes!--there's nothing like it in the world. That moment makes everything worthwhile.

Oh, I have my days when I wish I could be free from the bondage of grading papers, to have time to travel, and to have more hours in the day to write (that's for sure!), but then I look around at all I do have, and I realize how blessed I am to rub shoulders with these students. 

And so, with that in mind, I have to tell you something. Remember the post I wrote a couple of months ago about being in a time of transition? Yeah, well, that. 

A couple of weeks after I wrote that post, my department chair called to say that some things had come up and they needed me to come back next year after all. I had a day (!) to make up my mind, and I'm still surprised that I said yes. I had so adjusted to the thought of doing other things next year that I was getting quite excited about it.

But, hey, when a door opens, you've gotta walk through it, right? 

So, actually, the transition continues, but just in a different way. My mind is still reeling, trying to get around the thought of teaching again next year, but I'm excited. 

It feels right to be able to still be in a place where kids still joust, a room full of (nearly) adults sings preschool Sunday School songs together, and lightbulbs never dim.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Jesus at My Kitchen Table

Are you doing any special reading for Holy Week? Our church sent out some booklets of brief devotional thoughts for the week, so I’ve been working my way through those.

This morning’s reading was about Jesus before Pilate (found in Luke 23). This chapter of the Bible tells how Jesus was put to trial, first before Pilate who couldn’t find any fault in him; then to Herod who mocked him and sent him back to Pilate; then to Pilate a second time. Still, Pilate could find no wrong in Jesus, but because Pilate was a weak leader and a coward, he ordered Jesus to be flogged and killed, releasing a thief and a murderer instead of Jesus.

The whole time, Jesus stood silently, not answering his accusers. Not saying a word to defend himself.

I thought about how quickly I jump to defend myself, how I always have something to say, especially when I feel backed into a corner. If anyone was backed into a corner, it was Jesus. False accusations flew all around him, and yet, he did not respond.

I wonder why. Why did he just stand there and take it? Why didn’t he just bring the temple crashing down on them all? Why didn’t he at least laugh at them and tell them that their day is coming?

Humility. Jesus knew that this was his time and that no answer he could give would save him from what he had come to do. Jesus knew that he was the only one who could set the world free, but in order to do that, he had to endure suffering, mocking, torture, and humility.

As I wrapped up my time in the Bible this morning, my coffee cup in my hand, I started to imagine what it might be like to have Jesus sitting at my kitchen table with me. His physical scars healed, yet still visible. His compassion showing through his eyes. His love overflowing.

And I wondered what I would say to Jesus.

I would tell him about my friend who is in a place of intense spiritual warfare. I would ask him to help another who is suffering with mental illness. I would ask him to help another who is struggling financially after a divorce.

Surely he knows the people I love who are hurting.

And I would tell him all about the incredible blessings in my life—my husband, my daughters, my family, my friends. We could talk for hours about the blessings.

Then I would take his hand, open his palm, trace the scars, and whisper, “Thank you.”

Monday, April 7, 2014

Practice Week

Now here’s a term I loathe: empty nest. There are just too many connotations behind those words.

Some people think of the empty nest as freedom. Some think of it as bondage.

Some people think of the empty nest as activity. Some think of it as rest.

Some people think of the empty nest as a new life. Some think of it as death.

I don’t think of it as anything but change, and, as I’ve said before, change and I don’t get along so well.

The whole idea of an empty nest, an empty house, whatever you want to call it, makes me a little uneasy because it’s a big change. And it’s coming.

So I was glad that last week, B and I had a chance to practice the empty nest. My dear friend, Kathy, who also has a daughter who is Julia’s friend, knew I had to teach last week, so she invited Julia to go to Florida with them for spring break.

(Nice friend, huh? Everyone should have a Kathy in her life.)

So since Julia was beach bound and the other two were away at school, B and I spent the week at home.



Because in two short years, our nest will indeed be empty, and, to be honest, I have lots of conflicting emotions about it.

I often wonder will it be too quiet? Will I have enough to do? Will we even like each other anymore? Will I miss the girls too much? Or not enough?

I feel like I need Charlie Brown’s pal, Lucy, who gave 5 cent psychiatric help to get through this.

(As a side note, one of my friends, whose nest has been empty for a while now, wisely dragged her husband to counseling six months before their last child left the house. When I asked her why, she said, “I want both of us to be prepared ahead of time.” What a proactive wife!)

You know what? I didn’t die.

I won’t say I was thrilled to have my daughter gone for a week, but I didn’t pine for her, I didn’t cry. I survived.

In fact, my week was busy.

I taught. I got some things ready for a shower I’m hosting soon. I met my husband for dinner one night. It felt like every minute was filled all week long.

And the best thing of all? We acted really young and took a quick road trip over the weekend to watch the Blackhawks play an away game. 

(I know! Crazy kids, right?!)

(B had bought the tickets, thinking he would take Julia while I stayed home to teach, but when she got a better offer I told him I’d go if we could leave after class.)

It was spontaneous and fun. We talked for six hours each way in the car. We laughed and dreamed and gave thanks for our lives.

I consider last week a gift—a time to practice being “empty nesters” for a week.

You know what I learned? It’s going to be O.K.

The transition won’t be without some bumps along the way, some lonely moments, some wishing we could go back in time if just for a little while. But now I see that I also have a lot to be thankful for and a lot to look forward to.

Maybe with a little more practice we’ll be really good at it when the time comes.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

The One Thing I'd Like You to Remember When You're Out on the Road

Want to know what will add about ten years to your life? Teaching a kid to drive.

And since I’ve done that three times, I’d say I’ve nearly got one foot in the grave by now.

Julia has her permit, and even though she’s 16 she doesn’t quite have enough behind-the-wheel hours to get her license. We’re working on it, so last Saturday as we went out to breakfast and ran some errands, Julia drove while B and I sat helpless and added gray hair to our heads.

(Just kidding—it wasn’t that bad. Julia’s actually a pretty good driver.)

The problem is all the OTHER drivers out there.

Even though I’m teaching my daughter to drive, I’m still a student, too. Here’s what I’ve been learning lately: when I’m driving, I’m not the only one on the road.

I know! Revolutionary, huh?

But, see, sometimes when I drive, I can tend to think that it’s all about me getting to where I need to be and getting there as quickly as possible. Everyone else, get out of my way!

What I don’t think about are the kids like Julia who are just learning how to drive and who might be a little unsure of themselves.

Or the little old lady who I saw just this afternoon turn the wrong way down a one way street right in front of me as I was out walking the dog. I waved her off before she got too far.

Or the pregnant mom driving herself home from a doctor’s appointment who might be distracted about the news she just received about her baby.

Or the man who just left work because his wife called and the news isn’t good.

See, when I’m out there driving on the road, so are all kinds of other people—some good drivers, some not so good, and some who simply have other things on their minds.

And then there are the drivers who think they own the road and that everyone should drive just like they drive and if you don’t accelerate as fast as they’d like you to they feel like they have a right to zoom around you and give you a heart attack.

Like the guy did last Saturday when my pre-licensed driver accelerated out of a stop just a little too slowly for his liking. He was behind her in his big, black, luxury sedan that, I’m sure, scoots from 0-60 in just under 3.2 seconds. I was watching from the rear view mirror—he was on our tail, willing Julia to speed up. And when she didn’t speed up fast enough, he zipped around us on the right, just as two lanes were merging and Julia, being in the left lane, was veering slightly to the right, almost smack dab into the side of his shiny, black car.

Let’s just say it was a near miss.

But it was a near miss that I’m sure my little girl won’t forget. She ended up shaking and crying but trying to pull herself together because she was, after all, driving.

And Mr. Hotshot? He zoomed ahead of her, only to have to stop a block away at a four way stop. We practically pulled up right behind him.

So where did that move get him? Pretty much nowhere.

And where did his stunt leave us? Rattled. Scared. And calling him names I don’t like to use except in select situations, this being one of them.

But back to my lesson. I learned on Saturday that when I get behind the wheel I need to just take a deep breath, slow down, and realize that there are new drivers—and old ones, too—who need a break from us.

Would you join me in remembering this lesson? Next time somebody doesn’t drive quite up to your standards, will you also take a deep breath, exercise some patience, and remember that there are all kinds of scenarios out on the road with you?

My daughter thanks you.

*Disclaimer: that photo was taken in a parking lot. It is NOT my car. (My car isn't that dirty . . . today.)