Goals for 2013

It's hard to believe we're wrapping up 2012 and welcoming in 2013. Like many people, for the past month I've been thinking about how to make the most out of 2013. One of my favorite writers, Don Miller, writes about making new year resolutions; he writes, "Goals work much better when they're set within a narrative context. Frodo would not have gone on his journey unless the fate of Middle Earth depended on it. [...] Without a narrative context, we have little motivation to become different people than we are." When we think of our lives as stories, and when we're deliberate in creating our stories--then perhaps we can set specific goals that will help us live out the best story possible.

I think most people I've met want to live meaningful lives that tell good stories. To be honest, I don't quite know what story I want to tell with my life. I couldn't map out a plot for you because my plot line would be messy and confusing. And I'm not sure it's healthy to write our own stories and determine our own endings. I do know this: I want to tell a story that is filled with passion for God, love for others, that is messy with conflict because, let's face it...we learn the most from conflict. I want to tell a story that doesn't hold back and offers moments for quiet reflection. When I think of my life in this context, these goals come to mind:

1. Memorize one Bible verse a week. I feel like this goal would help me to connect with God on a more intimate level because it requires daily practice. During my marathon training last year, I used my long runs as times to practice memorizing scripture and it helped pull me through some difficult runs.

2. I want to keep running because it offers that quiet reflection that I feel is necessary in living well. But I want to branch out and have at least one social run a week so I can use that time to connect with someone new. This goal will be a stretch for me. I had a great running partner in Ogallala, and I find myself comparing every running partner with Kristin! The older I get, the more introverted I become; it's way easier to live in solitude. But there is something to be said for a few close friends. I'm still a little fuzzy on how to implement this goal since my social skills are a bit rusty....but for now I'm planning on reactivating my Facebook account (gasp!) so I can seek out a few runners I know. I've got a few races on the list for 2013. I'm planning on running the Rock the Parkway half marathon in Kansas City this April for sure. I'm still debating between signing up for the Chicago Marathon--it's incredibly expensive, and Nate is busy that weekend, so I'd be on my own. If I don't do that race, I'm looking at running a half in the Black Hills with Kristin in June and then possibly either the full marathon here in Omaha this coming September or the 30 mile Market to Market solo run (I'm still not sure how I'll do with high mileage training during the summer months...).

3. Work less. I'm struggling with how to articulate this more specifically. I love teaching English, but I don't want this to be the most important part of my life. The more I work, the more I start to resent teaching. My career won't be sustainable if I go at the pace I've been running for the past five years. I want to take time each week to talk with my husband without a computer on my lap, to read whatever I want to read, to cook, to write, and to play guitar. This goal has been one of mine each year since I've started teaching, and I always seem to fail at it. I'm going to need lots of help with this one...


Responding to trouble

Lately I've been thinking a lot about the little guy we almost adopted this last summer. I thought I had moved on, but about a month ago I received a plethora of pregnancy announcements (which really haven't bothered me all that much lately), and these opened up old wounds. During our life group Bible study a few weeks ago, I confessed to the women in my group that I hadn't really taken time to grieve this. It all fell through the first week of school, one of the busiest weeks for a teacher. I know some people probably think it's ridiculous that I'm still affected by this loss of a child that wasn't even really ours. I can't say I know what losing a child is like, but this hole I feel is pretty terrible.

This week we had to travel unexpectedly to Columbus for my aunt's funeral. She was only 55 and was healthy; she died in her sleep. It's always hard to say goodbye to someone you're not ready to say goodbye to...I can't imagine how difficult it's been for the families of the 26 killed in Newtown, CT. Nevertheless...on the way to Columbus, Nate and I finally had a chance to have a long talk about adoption, our family, and what to do next.

We talked about how hard it's been for me to get over our failed placement, and how hard it's been for Nate to grow older and still remain childless. We talked about praying and how we both feel uncomfortable asking God for children even though we know God knows our desires. We talked about considering fostering children. And we cried a little as we talked.

This morning I spent some time studying the Bible. I finally got around to reading a Bible study a friend sent me called, "When God Says 'No'...Pray." There have been very few times I've actually asked God to make us parents, but that request has been in my heart for nearly seven years (as long as Nate and I have been married). Ever since we've started our adoption journey a year and a half ago, a few people have said things like, "You'll become parents; God will give you that desire." But lately I'm left wondering (again) if maybe God has shut that door. Maybe God has said no this prayer of ours.

The study I read mentioned a dream that went unfulfilled for David, an incredible servant of God who, though he had a few slip-ups here and there, remains one of the faith greats in the Bible. David dreamed of building an incredible temple for God, but God told him no. David didn't respond with weeping, a bout of depression, or anger. Instead, his response was worship (1 Chronicles 29:10-19) realizing that all comes from God--even our unfulfilled dreams.

Sometimes I wonder why I haven't walked away from God. Early in our struggle with infertility, I considered it. This morning I read the end of John 6, and in it many people desert Jesus because He spoke hard truths. At one point Jesus turned to the 12 he called to follow Him and asked, "'Are you also going to leave?'" But Peter bluntly replies, "'Lord, to whom would we go? You have the words that give eternal life. We believe, and we know you are the Holy  One of God'" (John 6:66-69). I haven't walked away from God because I know what it's like to be without Him. It's a hopeless, empty feeling that left me always searching and groping but never finding. I haven't walked away from God because I believe in the promise God's given us.

In times of desperation, in times of sorrow, in times of questioning, in times of unmet desires, we have to believe that God is at work. I'm not as good as David; I don't always respond with worship, but maybe someday later in my life I will.

Snow days

On Wednesday afternoon the snow began falling, and the kids at school began praying for a snow day. By 4:00 the snow was coming down pretty hard. It ended up taking me 1 hour and 45 minutes to get home (normally it's a 25-30 minute drive). I took a different route to avoid the after school traffic in Gretna, but when I got on the interstate, there were two accidents, so I got off on the 144th street exit which ended up being a horrible idea. Apparently 144th street at 4:30 is the road everyone in Omaha takes to get home. Not only was traffic terrible, the roads were awful. Thus, I spent nearly two hours in the car on Wednesday night. Fortunately, all the Metro area schools were cancelled on Thursday. Gretna received a whopping 10 inches of snow, while most of Omaha received 8-9 inches.

Yesterday the snow was drifted around the cars in our apartment parking lot and many cars were stuck haphazardly throughout the lot, so we couldn't leave. We spent the morning drinking coffee, grading papers, and watching my favorite Christmas movie: It's a Wonderful Life by the fire. Nate scooped the apartment sidewalk and helped a few people dig out their cars since our complex didn't get plowed until late afternoon. We ventured out to Target later to pick up a few gifts for a family we are buying for through our church (luckily we have one all wheel drive vehicle because many cars were stuck throughout 144th street), and we spent the evening wrapping those presents and watching Charlie Brown cartoons while drinking hot chocolate with candy canes as stirrers. Cliche snow day :)

I was blessed enough to receive a second snow day today! This morning I spent some good time reading the Bible and praying, I caught up on some much needed apartment cleaning, and later today I will continue chipping away at the pile of end of semester essays and projects, read, play guitar, and spend some time writing. I can't wait.


Random updates

Since my blogging activity has been sporadic lately, here's a few random updates and accompanying photos:

  • Our jobs are busy...nothing new. But they have been going well for us. I've rekindled my love affair with American literature in teaching my English 11 CP course. In our unit on transcendentalists, I hijacked a project that a colleague and friend created to accompany Thoreau's Walden. The activity required the kids to go outside and read, write, and reflect. It was wonderful; the kids begged for more. We just finished The Scarlet Letter, and now we're embarking on Whitman and Dickinson. I purchased a t-shirt with Whitman's face on it for the occasion. I'm wearing it tomorrow :) Nate's schedule picked up in the last few weeks with musical auditions and extra holiday performances. Here's a few photos of their last performance at Joslyn Art Museum: 
  • I mentioned in a few older posts that my district blessed me with a trip to Vegas for the NCTE and NWP conventions. I received an award at NCTE, and at the breakfast where they gave me the award, Ernest Morrell, was the featured speaker. He's the incoming president for NCTE and author of several insightful articles and books about literacy and teaching. It was exciting to be able to stand next to him...nerdy, I know! The book one of my essays was featured in, What Teaching Means, was also the topic of a session at NWP. The editors (teachers from here in Omaha) and a few of the authors all met for dinner one night. It was great meeting these people whose words have had such an impact on me. Here's a photo from our dinner: 
  • To celebrate Thanksgiving, Nate's family initiated our first-ever ugly sweater mandate. Nate went all out for the day, buying a women's cardigan, a nice turtleneck, a pair of loafers, and he shaved a creepy moustache. He was a hit, and I think it will more than likely be a tradition we carry over from year to year: 

That's about all we've been up to! We have two more weeks of madness before break. We are looking forward to some time away with family and friends!

Life without Facebook..it really does exist!

A little over a year ago I said goodbye to Facebook. I was over-stimulated, had lost my ability to manage my time well, and my thinking had become muddled. When I took a step back to examine the cause of these things, I came to realize just how much time I wasted on Facebook. I felt as if I had lost my ability to use social networking correctly. So, on a whim, I deactivated my account.

At first I was nervous that my relationships with people would be comprimised without Facebook. A year prior, a few friends and I had maintained a weekly email swap on the site, but that communication died out long before I ditched my account. Sure, I felt out of the loop with some folks, but without Facebook, I came to realize that my "relationships" on Facebook were shallow and never moved beyond virtual correspondence. Now, some folks may see these "realtionships" as genuine. But for me to feel like a relationship is genuine, I need face to face interaction. I need to spend time physically talking with people so I can observe the story they tell with their eyes and their body language. It helps me to understand people better. It feels more intimate and more real.

Over the summer a colleague and I chatted about Facebook, and she admitted that it changed the way she thought; she felt like, at times, it had turned her into a more self-absorbed person. She shared that she sometimes caught herself thinking about what she should post as her status and what those updates would imply about her. I could relate; social networking allows us to be whoever we want to be, even if that means we're posing as someone we're not. Our conversation moved towards times in our lives when we should've been enjoying a moment, but instead, we let that moment pass us by as we debated over what to share on Facebook in regards to that moment. For example, I know I missed out on genuine conversations with my husband as we road tripped to the Pacific Northwest a few summers ago because I was busy posting about the trip on Facebook.

It's funny how much social networking consumed my thinking. I was so connected with other people and their posts, that I felt like I couldn't generate an original thought that was truly my own and not a derivative of someone else's. I do value learning from others, and I value the collaboration and sharing that can come from social networking, but I had simply let it take over my thinking.

I feel refreshed and centered now that I've been able to take a step back from the constant flow of information. The other night my husband and I chatted about how hard it's been to connect with people here in Omaha. I mentioned that I have some old friends from high school who now live here, and that it would be nice to possibly get together with one or two of them. I haven't talked with many of these people since I deactivated my account. I know Facebook would make initiating communication easier. I lamented to him that I haven't been able to find a running partner to replace Kristin. "Maybe it's time you joined Facebook again," he said. Honestly, I knew that was coming. It's been something I've contemplated for a few months now, but I've resisted it in part because I kind of like swimming against the crowd, but I appreciate the silence and freedom I've had since being away. I know it's a matter of balance. I do feel like I'm struggling with that concept lately as I've let my job consume my life this semester; perhaps Facebook would offer a bit of a reprieve. It's funny, awhile back a friend recommended I read Republic of Noise: The Loss of Solitude in Schools and Culture, and I've put off buying it simply because I've let gading become an excuse for not reading. But today I bought the book.

I'm going to give this Facebook debacle some thought and prayer this week; I guess we'll see where I feel led.


From a hotel window

I scribbled a poem in Vegas last week..as I typed it out tonight, I hemmed and hawed about posting it here on such a public space. I don't know why I feel reservations to share my poetry but I don't feel nervous about sharing details about infertility or other intimate topics. Perhaps it's because poetry really is the most intimate of art forms. It's a window to a person's soul. At any rate, after checking out a few of my former students' blogs and reading some of their poetry, I decided to take the plunge and post the poem. I'm still playing with line breaks, and I think I might even add another stanza or two at a later time. I haven't written a poem in a long while, so it was nice to return to the genre again. 

From a hotel window

I’m watching the clouds roll over the mountains,
surrounding the peaks,
making even their outline hard to see.  

And I’m thinking of what it would be like
to be on those mountains now.
Would the clouds wrap around me
like my mother’s arms?
Or would they just linger overhead
like our fears sometimes do?

I’d want to try and grasp the grayness,
or perhaps I’d stick out my tongue
to catch a sliver and see what gray tastes like.
I’m certain it would taste sweet at first, but
subtle, like an old movie.
Then the gray would burn as it slid down my throat
because, as calming as the color gray is,
there’s a sting to it that reminds me of
loves forgotten.

If I were on that mountaintop now
surrounded by those clouds,
I would most definitely hold my arms out
in surrender
welcoming whatever sensation
those gray clouds may bring.


Conference musings

It's day three of my NWP/NCTE conference adventure. This morning I woke up and felt completely exhausted and achey. I couldn't breathe and had a splitting headache. I'm thinking I have officially come down with a sinus infection. This afternoon I had to sneak away for cold medicine and a thirty minute nap, but I'm still kicking.

So far I've attended sessions on youth writing programs in National Writing Project sites, teaching argument in a variety of ways, an amazing keynote delivered by the hilarious and insightful Sir Ken Robinson about the importance of creativity in education, how to start and maintain a high school writing center (part of this presentation was delivered by a high school student who started a writing center at his high school!), Pecha Kucha presentations, connecting community to literature, research in social justice and the implications it has for English education, and igniting discussion in the LA classroom. This afternoon I'm planning on attending a session about moving composition beyond the classroom, and tomorrow morning I'll attend a breakfast for state affiliates before I fly back.

Currently I'm sitting outside of the MGM conference center enjoying the 71 degree weather. I'm surrounded by palm trees and lots of tired looking English teachers. I had a mentoring session I marked down to attend during this time, but I feel like I needed time to digest more than I needed another session. The downfall of national conferences like this is that it's three to four days of non-stop sessions with no time to process the information. I could've cooped myself up in the hotel room each evening, but I found myself, instead, hanging out with teachers into the wee hours of the night, which is way more fun. But I need time to think, and I know that the minute I step on the plane tomorrow, I'll be working like crazy trying to grade papers and lesson plan for the week ahead. Tonight I'm vowing to stay in and just write.

Today I sat in on an incredible session that was a round table discussion about research in social justice and what teachers are doing with it. One of the facilitators shared about a high school in his Missouri town that was reestablishing itself on the premise of social justice concepts in order to teach the whole child. The school sounded amazing. He shared a few beliefs of the administrator of the school that are profound:

First, this administrator asks her teachers throughout the year, "What kind of heart are you bringing to the students?" The discussion facilitator explained that this administrator wants her teachers to be filled and complete and in the "right place" before they come to the classroom because the work of a good teacher is difficult. It reminded me that I need to slow down a bit. I can't be an effective teacher if I don't have my own life in order, and if I'm not filled first (ironically, my own administrator told me this only a few weeks ago). This administrator also believes in "reaching in to reach out." Essentially, she believes that teachers must have time to develop themselves as teachers before they should let someone else develop them. This made me stop and think a bit because I feel like I've been shaped as a teacher by my professional development opportunities  But the difference is, I choose to participate in these opportunities. I wasn't forced or encouraged to participate in them by an administrator. Unfortunately, many districts approach professional development with the latter view in mind. And while I think PD is good for teachers, I do know that teachers can and do become resentful when PD is imposed from the top-down. Teachers can grow even more bitter when the administrators themselves don't take part in this PD.

Last night I spent some time with a college composition professor and a high school principal (one of the youngest high school principals I've ever met) from Louisville, KY, and our chats along with the aforementioned social justice session got me thinking about this question: What do I really want as a teacher? I talked with the principal for awhile about wanting to be involved in educational leadership. I want to impact change in Nebraska schools. I want to help teachers become the best they can be for our students, and I want to help change the climate of education to be more student centered. But, I told the principal about my hesitation to commit to working on an administrative degree because they are known in our part of the country as being watered down and unintellectual. And frankly, I don't want to waste my time taking classes where I'm not challenged. The principal shrugged his shoulders and said, "Yeah, but it's a means to an end." Insightful, right? So simple, but I hadn't thought of it that way. I also realize now how arrogant I probably sounded last night..like I was above "those" programs and couldn't learn anything from them.

At any rate, I'm enjoying my time here in Vegas despite Vegas (I really don't like this city...but that's another post for another day). It's encouraging to be in the presence of passionate and committed teachers. I'm thankful for the learning opportunities I've had this week in the sessions and in networking with other teachers.


Narrative as Trouble

It's day 2 of my conference adventures...I'm fighting a sinus infection and am running on about four hours of sleep and lots of coffee. Vegas is incredibly over-stimulating...the lights, the smoke, the crowds of people, the close quarters--it's all a bit too much for this girl. So I grabbed lunch to go today and headed to my room for a little think time with some mellow Iron and Wine tunes. This post is fragmented, but it's been milling around in the gray matter for the last five hours, and I just had to get it out. 

This morning's plenary featured three authors that have a series of books that came out on teaching narrative and argument. One of the speakers, Jim Fredricksen, said a few things about narrative that really resonated with me (all paraphrased from his speech, by the way) but the
one that stuck with me the most was: "Narrative is about trouble and how people respond to it." 

This quote has many implications for the teaching of writing. He went on to mention that when our students engage in writing, they face trouble. As a teacher of writing, I've seen kids freeze after writing one line. I've endured student blow-ups after I've asked them to write. I've coached kids through anxiety and nervousness towards the task. I've calmed down kids who have burst into tears because I've asked them to write. This reaction has caused me to stop and evaluate the way I approach writing in my classroom. I don't think these reactions have come from the tasks I've asked them to do, or the way I've instructed them. Rather, I'm learning that many kids have a fear of writing that is almost crippling. I've also helped kids navigate broken homes, run-ins with the law, helped them cope with break-ups, and have helped them struggle through life and make important self-discoveries all through writing. Jim mentioned that when we look at narrative as trouble, our work will often feel uncertain, and it might even feel like we're failing. This resonates with me because in helping students navigate these unmarked roads, I'll be the first to admit that I often feel like I don't know what I'm doing (despite being well-schooled in the art of teaching writing), and this isn't a fun place to be. 

But this work we do of teaching writing "matters because kids need to walk away from our classes believing they can change" (Fredricksen). Many of my former and current students would diagnose themselves as "horrid writers" or would boldly declare with disdain their hatred for writing. But it's our job as writing teachers to help them overcome these stigmas and help heal those "writing wounds" so they can grow as writers because I believe if we can get them to grow as writers, then we can get them to grow as people. 


Thank you

Note: I'm spending the last part of this week in Las Vegas learning at the NCTE/NWP annual convention. So the next few posts will likely be musings related to teaching :)

It sounds like rain pelting a tin roof as I listen to 600 teachers take a seven minute break from the morning plenary session at the National Writing Project Annual Meeting to, of course, write. Tanya Baker Harris, of the NWP, has asked us to write thank-you letters to our teacher mentors from the network.

There are so many people from the network I could thank: Robert, Bill, Paula, Diana, Dan, Marni, Susan, Rob, Amy, Jeff, Tyler, Katrina, Ann, Jenny...I could go on for ages. Some of these people have become friends while others are people I’ve only met once or twice. No matter, these people and many others in the Nebraska/National Writing Project have developed me into a critical teacher and a better leader and advocate for education. This organization, however, has done more than just made me a more effective writing teacher. One of the national directors said today in her opening speech that the NWP has made her a better person. However cheesy or overly sentimental the comment seems, I do have to agree with it. I came to the Nebraska Writing Project haggard and  on the verge of throwing in the towel after just one year. And I left the summer institute refreshed to start anew in my both my career and in my life.

For four weeks I was surrounded by intelligent, inquisitive, passionate people who lived out their passion both in the classroom and in their communities. What strikes me about many of the people involved with the writing project (on both our state and national level) is their drive, their fire for life. These teachers have pushed me to think, to question, and to engage. I’m much more aware of my surroundings. I think about things like recycling, energy conservation, the implications of where I shop, and just overall, how to be a better human. One might argue that these changes are due to the aging process, but I think it has more to do with the influence of so many genuine people. These people teach me simply by the way they live. I’m grateful for the people I’ve learned from in the National Writing Project, and I look forward to more opportunities to connect with and learn from other genuine people in this network.


Watching a Legend

Because I'm a music fanatic, every concert I attend is an emotional experience for me. But Saturday's Bob Dylan concert was off the charts in terms of emotions. First, I was accompanied by an old pal of mine from high school, Hannah. She was my first friend when I moved from Crete to Columbus in 7th grade. We have many memories involving music. Once during our senior year we drove to Omaha to spend the weekend with some of our friends who had graduated the year prior. Of course we stopped at Homer's music in the Old Market. That's when I picked up my first Rilo Kiley album. We drove home that trip with the music seeping out of my crappy 1983 Acura's car speakers; it was silent most of the trip home as we took in Jenny Lewis's amazing lyrics. On another trip to Lincoln, we again stopped at Homer's in the Haymarket, and because we were both broke, we split the cost of Simon and Garfunkel's greatest hits album. It was a two disc collection, and we just shared it. Eventually I think Hannah burned me a copy of the CD. I think Hannah understood me better than most people, and I think part of this stemmed from our connection through music. So when I read that Dylan would be in Omaha, Hannah was the first person I thought of.

When Dylan started playing with his band, a lump formed in my throat. He didn't have a flashy, magical moment where he made a big deal of coming on stage...they just started playing. I couldn't believe I was watching a legend like Dylan, now 71. I wish I could say I've listened to Dylan all my life, but I haven't. In fact, I heard my first Bob Dylan song during my first year of college at UNK when I haphazardly signed up for Dr. Benzel's literature of Walt Whitman and Bob Dylan class. I loved Whitman, and I had heard of Dylan and knew he was cool. I think the first Dylan song I ever heard was "All Along the Watchtower," and I wasn't impressed with his nasally tone and slurred words. But after I heard Dr. Benzel talk about these songs with this glazed over look in her eyes and compare them to Whitman and Sandburg's poems, I wanted more. I was drawn to her obsession with Dylan. Throughout the course we listened to and studied many of Dylan's songs (and Woody Guthrie's songs!). The ones I remember the most are "Man on the Street," "Who Killed Davey Moore," "He Was a Friend of Mine," "Only a Hobo," and "The Death of Emmett Till." I was intrigued by such activism. Needless to say, Dylan is about all I listened to that semester. I was hooked after that. The entire concert was like this for me: floods of memories with every tune.

I wasn't particularly blown away with his performance; I texted a fellow music nerd that I needed some sort of app to be able to use in order to decipher Dylan's mumbling. But it didn't matter...I still loved every minute. He played many of his newer tunes that I'm not as familiar with, but he did play some oldies: "Ballad of a Thin Man," "Highway 61 Revisited " Like a Rolling Stone," "All Along the Watchtower," and he ended with an encore--"Blowing in the Wind." The last song was awesome. There were so many middle-aged adults in Chuck Taylor shoes and earth toned sweaters waving lighters around for it. Each time Dylan played the harmonica, the crowd leaned forward to listen in a bit. It wasn't a particularly rowdy crowd, but there was a sort of reverence present for the legend on stage.

I should mention that his opening act, Mark Knopfler (lead singer of Dire Straits), was amazing. What an incredible musician. His set ranged from rock, to jazz, to blues, to celtic. I hadn't heard much of his music before, but I have been listening to him quite a bit since Saturday.

Unfortunately I don't have pictures to remember the event as cameras were banned from the auditorium (they seriously confiscated batteries from the devices!). But, I think it's fitting that all I have to remember the concert are memories and words.  All in all, the concert was cathartic and worth the money.


At least I'm not naked

Yeah, you read that correctly. A few days ago, my daily Bible reading brought me to Isaiah 20. The short chapter briefly explains how God commanded Isaiah to take off his burlap clothes and his sandals and walk around naked...for three years. And he did it! Kudos to Isaiah for being so faithful. I can't say I would've agreed to that kind of command.

I've been thinking a lot lately about faith.

We prayerfully considered our move here and felt nudged to take a leap. I accepted my job in Gretna long before Nate was offered his job at Burke, but we had faith that God was nudging us, and so He would provide. But it feels like the minute we moved, things fell apart. Our car broke down, our house sold and then un-sold, the adoption we thought we had in the bag crumpled, and my job has been more difficult and consuming than I anticipated. I've questioned our decision to move a few times this fall. After I read Isaiah 20, I thought to myself: Well, at least I'm not naked. 

I'm sure Isaiah's three years of nakedness was a humiliating time. And I'm sure Isaiah probably wondered why God would have him do something so nuts. But, Isaiah writes in verses three through six that this time wasn't without purpose. God's plan wasn't merely to make Isaiah's life difficult; He used Isaiah's humiliation to show Judah that if they put all of their trust in human governments, they would eventually fall to them and experience that same kind of shame Isaiah endured.

The thing is, God has provided for Nate and me.  He provided a job for Nate. He provided a temporary place for us to live this summer with godly people until we could get an apartment. And then He provided a renter for our house and an affordable apartment for us. He's led us to a church that's encouraged and challenged us. Though God's plans sometime seem absolutely bananas to us, He is deliberate. God has given us more than we deserve...the least we can do is follow Him in obedience waiting on His perfect timing. God has a purpose for all of our tribulations. He will not waste our suffering, and neither should we. So, my plan this week is to quit sulking. When I'm tempted to whine about my job or sulk about not being parents yet, I'll try to remember Isaiah's faithful obedience to God's command and be thankful that I get to wear clothes while I endure my trials.


What we've been up to in photos

Nate turned 30 at the end of September, so I threw him a surprise birthday party for our friends and family to help him celebrate. Doesn't he look good in this photo?!

I've been exploring the city via running. I took this photo on one of my favorite runs...the city hired a graffiti artist to  jazz up some of the boring underpasses on a few of the trails here. 

Nate had his first concert at Burke a few weeks ago. He carried over his tradition from Ogallala of having the kids surround the audience and sing "The Lord Bless You and Keep You" as a closing song. The kids in the front wearing street clothes are some of Nate's former students...four girls from Ogallala who are now in college at Lincoln and one young man who Nate taught in Elm Creek now attends Grace University here in Omaha. It was so cool to see them singing with the Burke kids :) 

Nate has a show choir this year...he's about to get really busy with show choir performances and musical. 

This is from our date night last night at Crane Coffee

And we had a Market to Market team again


Yes...I'm still here...

 I grew up Catholic, and so I'm accustomed to the concept of confession. When I pulled up my Blogger account today for the first time in nearly a month, I was reminded of going to confession as a kid as the words "forgive me Father for I have sinned; it has been 1 month since my last blog post..." came to mind. Maybe that's a little irreverent...

At any rate, I confess: I'm terrible at managing time this year. I can't believe October ends in two weeks. The bags and grayish-purple rings beneath my eyes are indicators that the quarter ended today. It's been a rat-race lately. Tomorrow the kids have the day off and the teachers "get to" learn about vocabulary strategies all day. So I left all school stuff at school tonight. No school work for me. Instead, I'm drinking a beer and listening to a Bob Dylan and The Band compilation cassette tape. Yes...a cassette tape. I just ordered Chinese take out. I'll be curling up on the couch tonight to settle in for a few hours of TV. Go ahead, call me lazy.

I think this is the first school free night I've had all year. Not kidding. It's been a ROUGH one. Here's what's left me struggling this year: I don't have a classroom because the building is under construction, so I travel to a different room each period. I'm teaching all new courses which means I am living period by period, planning as I go (luckily I teach with amazing people who have helped me more than they realize). Gretna has a strict accountability policy where kids have to do their work. They cannot not do the work...and they have to complete the work to a passing level. This equates to spending time every day with kids before and after school which is (sometimes) a good bonding experience, but I've had to adjust in the sense that I can't work before or after school because I'm helping kids. I'm teaching a dual credit Comp course which means grading LOTS of essays...however, this is one my favorite classes to teach. I'm facilitating a grad class for teachers this year through the Nebraska Writing Project. We meet for three hours twice a month...it takes a lot of time and planning. I'm a co-director of NeWP this year, too...so, with that comes more responsibility. I hope you don't mistake this for complaining. Though I'm so tired, seriously...so tired...I do love it. It's just at times I feel suffocated with all the responsibility. It's a blessing, I think, that we had a failed adoption in August.

I've been terrible about balancing this, though. My dear husband has truly received the short end of the stick. He gets what is leftover at the end of a day, which honestly is not much. He often gets a frazzled wife in sweat pants or nasty running clothes. Sometimes he has to put up with a sobbing wife who can barely choke out a sentence about how stressed she is. I've neglected almost all of my friendships, and we've only made time for a few social outings.

When I got home tonight, all I wanted to do was write and play guitar. I know I should be grading, reading, lesson planning, cleaning my messy apartment, cooking dinner, or running, but I just can't. I've stretched myself too thin. It's easy to stretch yourself thin when you love what you do (even if it stresses you to the point of tears).

My vow is to get better at this balancing act as the year progresses. I had a meeting with my principal last week to talk about my job targets. One of my goals this year was achieving a balance between work and a personal life. He asked how I was doing with that goal, and I admitted my epic failure as I held back tears (he probably thinks I'm an unstable nut-job). He gently scolded me and instructed me to take care of myself so I could be the best teacher possible. In an attempt, I spontaneously abandoned my cheapskate personality and splurged on Bob Dylan concert tickets (hence the Dylan cassette tonight). A dear friend from high school and her sister will be joining me, and I can't wait until November 2nd. I even bought a polka-dot sweater vest for the occasion (stop laughing).

I don't know if anyone even reads this crappy chronicle any more, but if you do...sorry for the hiatus. Here's to hoping to achieve a better balance...


Teaching kids to embrace creativity

If my memory serves me correctly, I was an imaginative, curious child. I enjoyed reading the children's encyclopedia's my grandparents kept on their living room bookshelf because I enjoyed hearing about how things came to be. And atlases allowed me to dream beyond my small Nebraska town. I'd flip through the pages, each page its own state, examining the tangles of highways and interstates wondering what the trees in Connecticut looked like or what kids did for fun in New York. Our backyard was a place to be explored. There was an old shed on the property, and my brother and I would set to digging with little garden spades and plastic shovels searching for obscure objects in the dirt. Every now and again we'd find treasures: plastic army men, old glass viles, rusty nails. Each item found soon had a story attached as we imagined who left it behind. My dad loves to tell the story about the time I turned a box of Kleenex into a hundred little "ghost-es-es" that covered my bedroom floor. My sense of imagination didn't tame with age. In high school history classes my notes took the shape of comic strips as I illustrated Confederate soldiers armed with bayonets, and my proton and electron Chemistry notes were atomic love stories of the two particles that couldn't be separated by any force. My imagination was active, and I was always wondering and creating.

Fortunately, my parents and a few of my teachers took notice and encouraged me to keep these habits. My parents gave me permission to question and explore even if it meant conflicting with them. They allowed me freedom to create and express myself. My 11th grade English teacher encouraged me to join the journalism staff and put my creating skills to use writing for the school paper. And my 12th grade English teacher pushed me to develop my thinking beyond the surface level. Each time I claimed an opinion in an essay without backing it up, she scribbled the word why? in red ink throughout the paper until I learned to articulate my opinions with a well-rounded explanation. Though I sometimes resented her for all the revising I had to do, her demand for nothing less than my best pushed me to meet her expectations. Without my parents and teachers, I'm not sure I'd be as critical and engaged (though I have room to improve) as I am today. I'm not sure I would've had any success as a teacher without their encouragement.

Now it's my turn to give kids the same chances I had. I have the beautiful burden of shaping kids. I try to instill that same sense of curiosity and imagination I had (and still possess) in my own students by creating an environment where they can explore, create, engage, and ask questions about literature and the world around them. But the longer I teach, the more I see students approach curiosity and imagination with hesitancy; many times, they just want the answer. They want to be told what to do and how to do it. Each time I assign a piece of writing, students ask: How many pages? How many paragraphs? What should we write about? What do I need to get an A?They desire steps, formulas, and outlines. And while there is some value to this, at a certain point in a child's education, he/she must be given freedom to make these decisions for themselves so they can take some ownership of their education. They must be given freedom to think, to wonder, to create. I'll refrain from stepping on another soapbox, but the hesitancy towards this kind of learning frightens me. It makes me nervous to think about what kids might be like in 10 years.

Stepping into a new district with new curricula and new students is overwhelming. While it might be easier for me to slip into a more traditional method of teaching English (read the book, fill in a study guide with comprehension questions about the plot and characters, and then test the kids afterwards before repeating the process over again) for a year just to get by, I feel like I just can't do that. I don't want students to get by in my class without thinking critically or stretching their imaginations. Yes, it means more work for me. Yes, it means that I might struggle more in the classroom as both my students and I grow familiar with one another and this way of learning. And yes, it means I'll probably face resistance from both kids and parents. But, that beautiful burden of shaping kids means I have a huge responsibility. Though I really want to take a nap each Saturday, spend an hour a night watching TV, and run at least 30 miles a week--I'll keep plugging away, finding new ways to engage them in creating and thinking even if it means I'll have to sacrifice a bit. I realize I'm a bit idealistic. But the moment I trade idealism for cynicism towards kids, is the moment I'll need to make a career change. I hope I can maintain this sense of idealism for many years, because I love kids and I love teaching. 


Our Failed Adoption Story

I'm struggling with where to start when sharing our story. I guess I'll begin by saying that we are sharing this story in order to relate to others who may be experiencing a similar struggle because there's a strange comfort in shared circumstances.

In mid-May our caseworker called with the news we had been waiting almost a year to hear: a birth-mom picked our profile; she wanted to meet us. We met her that next week and continued to build a relationship with her and her family throughout the summer. Her beautiful baby boy was born July 1st. Due to certain circumstances, the baby was placed in newborn care through our agency while we had to wait 30 days for an adoption to be finalized.

We maintained good contact with birth-mom, and in mid-July she requested that we meet her and the baby at our agency's office in Lincoln just to spend time together. It was the first time we saw him. He was perfect. Quiet, a head full of dark hair, and perfect mocha colored skin. We spent two hours holding him, talking with our birth-mom, and snapping photos. We excitedly told our immediate families and just a few close friends. A few weeks later we visited the agency again, this time to hang out with our birth-mom, the baby, and some of her family. We knew we still had a week left to wait, so we tried to keep our hearts guarded as much as possible. But it is hard to remain guarded with a beautiful baby boy sleeping in your arms who was soon to be ours.

It seemed as if our dreams of growing our family were about to come true. We picked out a name, completed a baby registry online, called daycares to arrange for child care since school was just around the corner. On day 31, August 1st, we were scheduled to pick up the baby who was to be our son. We didn't have a time nailed down because the agency couldn't reach our birth-mom to schedule the time. So we waited anxiously by the phone for our caseworker to give us the go ahead to depart for Lincoln. At 4:00 we got that call, but it was to let us know there had been some hitches with our birth-mom. She ran into some trouble with the law. We'd have to wait until tomorrow when her caseworker could meet with her. So, we waited.

A few days passed and still a caseworker was unable to meet with our birth-mom for various reasons. A week went by, then two, then three. No progress was made. Our agency did what they could, but could not obtain a signature from our birth-mom for the adoption to be finalized. On September 2nd we got final word that an adoption would not be happening. The agency would continue to provide care for the baby for an undefined amount of time, and we were back to square one.

Last week on our way to our nephew's birthday party I deleted the last pictures of us and the baby from my phone. It was a difficult moment as I grappled with the reality that this baby had no permanent home and we were still childless. Tears fell on my phone as I hit the trash icon and watched the photo of Nate holding the baby we thought would be our son disappear.

I've spent a lot of time in prayer the past few weeks praying for the future of this baby, our birth-mom, and for peace. We've been blessed by the church we've been attending here in Omaha; each sermon we've heard in the past three weeks has helped heal our broken hearts. We've been studying the life of David; today we focused on David's run-arounds with Saul who tried to kill him multiple times. We looked at David's response to this (Psalm 59), and the pastor ended today by reminding us that God does not waste suffering, trials, or challenges. God's desire is to lead us to something better. If we're honest, we don't like to accept that our hopes and dreams are not God's hopes and dreams. But David wanted what God wanted. I needed this sermon today because I think I've been too attached to the idea of becoming a mother to this little boy. I think I've wanted that more than I've wanted God.

Next week we'll submit a revised profile letter to the agency and we'll be placed on the list again of available adoptive parents. It's tough to go back on that list, but my prayer is that God would help us keep our eyes focused on Him no matter the outcome.


Another brief update

It's been awhile since my last post. In fact, it's been awhile since I sat down at our computer desk to do something other than grade papers! Life has been crazier than ever as we scramble to keep up in our jobs--we both feel like first year teachers again. Last week we ran into more problems with our Jeep, so after spending nearly 10 hours at a dealership here in Omaha and trying to survive with only one car, we finally broke down and traded in our Liberty for a 2011 Honda Civic. Buying cars always makes me nervous, but I think this little car will serve us well.

Last week we also moved into our new apartment. It's great to have our own space again. It's a spacious two bedroom in a decent location (walking distance from a TCBY and a Starbucks). We're all settled and unpacked, but as we unpacked we realized we are missing a few boxes. Who loses boxes when they move?!?

Last night we finally had a chance to enjoy some downtime with friends. We trekked to 50th and Leavenworth (close to my favorite part of Omaha...Dundee!) to enjoy Gerda's Oktoberfest. Gerda runs a little German restaurant and bakery and each fall and spring she puts on these great outdoor celebrations with authentic German food, beer (bring your own stein!), and live music. It was a fantastic time. I got this sweet shirt, and even talked Gerda herself into signing my shirt and posing for a quick photo op.

Though our schedules are nuts right now, I'm digging Omaha. It's great to be close to some of our friends and family, and I love having entertainment options at my fingertips. We miss our students in Ogallala; we've had several "remember when..." chats as we talked about all the great kids we watched grow in the four years we were there, and we miss the friends we left behind. Despite this, methinks this was a good move for us.


Quick update

It's been a long time since I've posted...I'm a bad blogger lately.

So, here are a few quick updates:
  • School is in full swing...I've learned all my kids' names now, and the essays are rolling in. This weekend I'll be neck-deep in grading Literacy Narratives and Honoring our Ancestors essays....I'm not sure how I feel about grading essays yet!
  • We're moving into an apartment this Friday! We have someone renting our home in Ogallala with the intent to buy. Our friends (the Yosts) have been so gracious to us, and have let us live in their house since June...I'm sure they're ready to have their home back. We are excited to get into our own space as well and we're hoping it will help us fall into a better routine.
  • I'm trying to maintain a running schedule despite my crazy work schedule...in the next few months I'll be running the Dirty Girl Mud Run in Lincoln and the Market to Market Relay that goes from Omaha to Lincoln. Though it's been tough to fit running into my day, I'm working hard to log miles because I feel like it's the only time I get to think...and I'm just addicted the feeling of tired legs.
  • We've found two churches that we both seem to like, so we're getting close to picking our church home. They are both small churches that seem to have a great community feel to them.
I am ready to settle into a routine that has some sense of predictability. Tonight I'm really homesick for Ogallala. I'm missing all of our great friends and our students. Moving has been a lot tougher on me than I thought it would be, but day by day it's getting easier, and Omaha is really starting to grow on me.

Sorry for the fragmented thoughts. I'm hoping to have a little more time to write something more substantial next week after we get moved and I get all those essays graded!


A new year

This week marked the end of summer for us, which is good because this summer seemed to be long and trying. We both started meetings at our new schools---Nate will teach high school choir at Omaha Burke and I will teach English 11 College Prep, English 12 College Prep, and Dual Credit Composition at Gretna High School to a little over 100 kids (my biggest load yet!). I also have the great privilege this year of helping facilitate some staff development for middle school teachers in my new district through the Nebraska Writing Project. I think it will be a great way to get to know more people.

I'll admit though, I was not particularly excited to start a new school year. All of the junk that's gone on in our lives in the past two months has overshadowed the excitement of starting a great, new job. But after a few days of learning about my new district, my excitement is growing. Of course, I'm anxious. I always worry that I won't "fit in" to my new environment---that my teaching colleagues will find me incompetent or that I won't know how to connect with my new students. And though it was time to leave Ogallala Public Schools, I miss my kids. I always loved the first day of school because it was fun to reconnect with kids and see how they changed over the summer. I feel like Nate and I had some great relationships with kids and families in Ogallala that took a few years to build. While it's cool to have the chance to start fresh again, I do miss the familiarity of Ogallala. I'm sure with time we'll build that familiarity in our new schools. For know it's just a bit uncomfortable. But at the start of each year, I always tell my students that if they remain in their comfort zones, then there is no room for growth...I guess it's time to put my words in action.

Today I have a break from meetings. It is my last day of summer. I slept in until 6 and took advantage of the 55 degree weather by squeezing in a morning run before I drove Nate to work (one of our vehicles broke down yesterday). I plan to spend my last day of summer cleaning, responding to emails that have been neglected all week, working on course documents, and I might squeeze in a trip to Barnes and Noble to spend a gift a card I won at our new teacher meetings. Tonight we're headed back to Ogallala to spend time with some of the greatest people we've ever known. I'm looking forward to a bit of downtime with the familiar before we run full force into the unfamiliar.


Responding to Calamities

Author's note: This post is long, I'm sure, a little rambly and incoherent, and it takes on a bit of a Bible-thumping nature. But it is genuine and writing it has helped me process through some major faith-issues. Many of you know about the struggles we're enduring right now---a recent failed house-selling experience (we "sold" it last week and then our buyer's loan fell through yesterday after we put a deposit down on an apartment), a tumultuous adoption journey, anxiety of starting new jobs. So this morning I found it fitting to read through the book of Job to figure out where to go from this hole of desperation and hopelessness we've fallen into. And after a few hours of reading, I feel pretty convicted that my faith is shallow. I feel like I sometimes give a persona on this space that I am this faithful person who is unshaken in the face of trouble. But as I read about Job and his response to calamities as well as God's response to Job, I realize how surface level my faith is.

Early in the book of Job we read about an encounter between God and Satan where they talk about Job and how blameless he is. Satan then challenges God and says, "'Yes, but Job has good reason to fear God. You have always put a wall of protection around him and his home and his property. You have made him prosper in everything he does. Look how rich he is! But reach out and take away everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face!'" (Job 1:9-11). God responds by allowing Satan to to test Job but draws a line at harming Job physically. Soon Job is hammered by messengers who bring all this bad news: his livestock is stolen and killed, his hired hands destroyed, and all of his children are killed. His response is: "'I came naked from my mother's womb, and I will be naked when I leave. The Lord gave me what I had, and the Lord has taken it away. Praise the name of the Lord!'" (Job 1: 21) It's always amazed me that Job's first response is to recognize the absolute authority of God and praise Him.

Later on Job's health is afflicted and he's covered with sores. His wife encourages Job to curse God so that he can die and just be put out of his misery. Job is not shaken. He responds to her with, "'You talk like a foolish woman. Should we accept only good things from the hand of God and never anything bad?'" (Job 2:10).

Eventually Job is overwhelmed and starts asking the question we all ask when crap is thrown at us: Why? Why me? Passionately Job cries out, "'I cry to you, O God, but you don't answer. I stand before you, but you don't even look. You have become cruel toward me. You use your power to persecute me. You threw me into the whirlwind and destroy me in the storm...So I looked for good, but evil came instead. I waited for the light, but darkness fell. My heart is troubled and restless. Days of suffering torment me. I walk in gloom, without sunlight...'" (Job 30: 16-22, 26-28). My current state doesn't even touch the depths of Job's suffering, but still, I feel like I can relate to Job's many cries.

Continuing in the book of Job, some of his friends give nuggets of good advice that is buried amongst advice that is irrelevant to Job's situation. His friends all maintain that Job must be suffering because of some past sins he committed---but we know from earlier in the book that God stated Job was a blameless man, so we know that this wisdom is not applicable to Job. Eventually his friend, Elihu, pipes in and in chapter 32 he points out that maybe Job isn't suffering because of some past sin, but maybe Job was sinning in his suffering. Job had become so focused on his trials and on figuring out why God would allow them, that he became a bit self-righteous, like he was above this suffering. In all of this Job forgot that God, the creator of the universe, is good and ordains all things and has vision. Throughout some of these intense life trials Nate and I have endured, my trust in God sometimes is dependent in WHAT He is doing, not in who He is. I become so fixated on figuring out the reason behind these struggles and what I can do to fix them...my focus, then, is on me. Not on God.

Eventually God interjects in Job's situation and for two chapters he hammers Job with a barrage of questions impossible for humans to answer but not impossible for God to answer, in order to humble him and remind him that He is bigger than Job. God concludes with one question: "'Do you still want to argue with the Almighty? You are God's critic, but do you have the answers?'" (Job 40:2) But God must have known Job wasn't quite humbled enough, so He continues his questions for another two chapters. Eventually Job cracks...again. But this time he's really driven to his knees in repentance for his arrogance in questioning God (Job 42: 1-6).

My first inclination in all of my struggles has not been to praise God...and I've found it difficult to truly accept these struggles. Sure, I've been driven to my knees in prayer---but when I reflect on my prayer I feel like it's been selfish in nature. I may have uttered in my prayers that God is sovereign and authoritative and whatever He brings, I'll accept....but in my heart I've added something like a P.S. to my prayers that goes something like this: But God, I really want this baby, or We need for our house to sell. While I think it's alright to ask God for specifics, I think we first have to be okay with trusting God for who He is and not trusting in merely what He can do for us. And in order to get to this point, I think we have to be driven to our knees and made uncomfortable even to the point of pain where we have no other option but to see God for who He is.

Job's story ends with restoration. God blesses Job tenfold, and we are told that Job lives a long, full life. Our stories may not all end with restoration in this lifetime, though. That would be too easy and wouldn't allow for total submission and reliance on God. However---God does promise that He "...causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose" (Romans 8:28). We might not see restoration here on earth, but as believers we are guaranteed eternal life. That promise is far sweeter than the blessing of a child, selling my house, or success in my career. That's what I want to chase after with all my being. Today I spent time facedown in prayer confessing my arrogance and self-righteousness to think that I should be immune to trials. I can't do it on my own, but I want to rely on God for who He is and not what blessings He will give me. It's not going to be an easy journey...


Spoken Word Poetry: Reconciling My Apartment Complex

My brother in-law, Pat, sent me this poem after we had a conversation a few weeks ago about moving into an apartment complex. It's a beautiful piece about community that really hit me between the eyes. As a teacher, I always say I value community, and I encourage my students to engage in their community.

But engaging in community is not my first inclination. By nature I am an introvert; I prefer a night at home with my husband over a crowded room full of people. I'm self-conscious, and I think that makes me a little self-absorbed. And as I listened to this poem I found myself desiring a certain lack of restraint with my neighbors. I want to drop the cynicism that so often frames my perception when I meet new people so that I can engage more fully.

That's my hope with this new move--to engage with my neighbors on a deeper level....now I just need a place to live ;)


Finding Certainty Among Uncertain Times

God's been teaching me a lot in the past few weeks. Early this week I listened to a sermon from Christ Community Church about idolatry (it's the earlier one from Gavin Johnson if you want to listen), and it convicted me to think hard about what "good things I'm turning into God things." Then we attended our friends'/housemates' small group where we focused on Isaiah 40-43, and the concept of God being the one true God--absolute truth--and how that should change us. If we believe that God is who He says He is, then we have certain responsibilities. We talked a bit about how to talk with believers and non-believers about this idea of God being absolute truth. In addition to these great truths, another more common truth I've been dwelling on lately is the awesome certainty that comes with being a believer.

Many of you know how uncertain the Helzer lives are right now. We've had to swallow our pride and live with friends for an undefined length of time as we wait for our house in Ogallala to sell; adoption stuff is up in the air out of our control; we're both stepping into new jobs soon; and one of our vehicles is (we think) on its last leg. We've been overwhelmed. After working on our budget for a few hours this week, we realized that unless we sell our house, we don't have enough money even to rent a cheap place here in Omaha. It was a breaking point for us. I think we both just wanted to get mad and maybe even go to sleep to avoid thinking about it all, but instead we laid on the floor, closed our eyes, held hands, and prayed. We praised God for the blessings He's given us and prayed for peace amidst these crazy times. We prayed for wisdom to make tough decisions, and we prayed that God would use this season to grow us as a couple. I'm not going to lie and say that I've felt instant peace since then because I've still felt a bit lost and hopeless. But one thing God's revealed to me in the last few weeks is that even though things might be unstable in my life, there's one thing that's steady: Him.

Here are a few scriptures I've been considering lately:

Do not be afraid, for I have ransomed you. I have called you by name; you are mine. When you go through deep waters, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown. When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you. For I am the Lord, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. I gave Egypt as a ransom for your freedom; I gave Ethiopia and Seba in your place. Others were given in exchange for you. I traded their lives for yours because your are precious to me. You are honored, and I love you. --Isaiah 43:1-4

While this scripture is God's message to the people of Israel through the prophet Isaiah, I take great comfort in the truths it carries even today.

Most of Psalm 119 has been an encouragement to me, but it's long. So, I'll only quote a few verses:

My suffering was good for me, for it taught me to pay attention to your decrees. Your instructions are more valuable to me than millions in gold and silver. --Psalm 119:71-72

I am worn out waiting for your rescue, but I have put my hope in your word. My eyes are straining to see your promises come true. When will you comfort me? I am shriveled like a wineskin in the smoke, but I have not forgotten to obey your decrees. --Psalm 119: 81-84

I have suffered much, O Lord; restore my life again as you promised. Lord, accept my offering of praise and teach me your regulations. My life constantly hangs in the balance, but I will not stop obeying your instructions. --Psalm 119: 107-109

The teaching of your word gives light, so even the simple can understand. I pant with expectation, longing for your commands. Come and show me your mercy, as you do for all who love your name. Guide my steps by your word, so I will not be overcome by evil. --Psalm 119: 130-133

The Burden of a Public Proclaimation

Sometimes I really wonder whether or not I should write about my faith walk on this blog. Writing is obviously my way of processing life, but the problem with making this kind of writing public is the accountability that comes with it. There is no way for me to be perfect. I try to live my faith, but no matter how hard I try---I often fail. And I fail publicly. I don't want to be another Christian hypocrite---but let's face it, often unintentionally, I am. Sometimes I'm guilty of living a life of excess relying too much on material things to make me happy or running my mouth to an excess. Sometimes I fail to invest in human relationships. Sometimes I make life all about me and not about God. It's a glorious burden to be a follower of Christ. While we have a responsibility to proclaim boldly, we're also called to live differently from how the rest of the world lives, and I have troubles maintaining consistency with the way I live. This burden reaches beyond faith---anytime we publicly proclaim a lifestyle, belief, value, etc. we have an accountability. When we identify with a particular organization, there are expectations that come along with that identification. It's tough to live up to all of these expectations. I suspect I'm not the only poor sap who struggles with this....I don't know. Just a few rambling thoughts for the morning before I break down some scripture I've been learning from this week....


If I Should Have a Son

Author's Note: This piece has been a long time coming. Earlier this year I ran across this TED Talks video from poet Sarah Kay where she performs her piece, If I Should Have a Daughter (see below). I fell in love with the poem instantly. Much later this school year my English 9 students had some great conversations about society's expectations of girls---and many of my 9th grade young men surprised me with the maturity in their comments. One of my boys stated poignantly, "I'm attracted to girls who are more natural, the ones who don't wear make up," and right then I thought, man, if I have a son--I want him to be like so many of these young men I have in my class. This summer I finally got time to sit down and write the piece in response to both of these incidents. I should also preface that I realize this is all a bit idealistic of me--but I've always been one to dream big....

If I should have a son I will be sure he knows we will always be here. His dad and I will not leave him like so many parents do. We will stay and remain firm, and though we won’t have all the right answers and make all the right choices, he will know we love him. And later, much later, he’ll want the same for his own family.

I’ll teach him that he was divinely and wonderfully created, and though he was adopted, his momma loved him more than words. She loved him so much she made the difficult choice to grow him and then give him to us so he could have all he needed. I’ll let him ask questions about her. And I’ll work to keep her involved in his life, and I’ll be sure he knows that she is his mom just like I am his mom.

I will teach him that to be strong does not not require hours in the weightroom; instead it requires openness to feel, to respond, to engage, to love, and to stand firm on his convictions when all around him the sand shifts.

I’m gonna be sure he opens doors for me so on that day long in the future when he picks up a girl for a date, he does the same without thinking. And when he drops her off, he will walk her to the door, thank her parents, and shake her father’s hand for allowing him the privilege to date their daughter. I wanna teach him to look beyond makeup and clothes, to see each girl as beautiful and unique and worthy of his respect. When that first girl breaks his heart, his dad and I will be there to comfort him. We will not let him speak hate out of hurt or turn to destructive outlets to ease the pain. We’ll teach him to get back up though he might not want to. And if he should choose to marry, he’ll pick a wife who loves Jesus and serves others before herself, who brings out the best in him and helps soften all those not so awesome qualities.

“Because you are a man, you have the responsibility to lead well” I will tell him. And he won’t like it because some of his friends will neglect this responsibility and it will require him to be different, to be bold during the tough moments when he’ll want to give in like the other “cool” guys. And he’ll mess up and take wrong turns. But we won’t yell at him, even though we’ll want to. We’ll help him examine the situation and find out where he slipped up so he won’t make the same mistake too many times.

I will raise my little man to be decent towards others, to be genuine, and when that one boy in his English class doesn’t get picked for a group because he smells funny and talks different, I want him to reach out to him and say, “Come work with me.” And later on in life when it would be easy to slip into a middle class comfort zone, I will encourage him to step out and into tension so he doesn’t remain stagnant and close-minded.

When he asks a thousand questions a day, and when he questions my rules, I will breathe deeply ten times reminding myself that to question is to learn. “What else do you wonder?” I’ll ask.

And when life catches up with him, and he feels too tired to take another step, I’ll teach him to go another mile. I’ll run alongside him in this marathon and help him fight past the wall of exhaustion that so often paralyzes because giving up is not an option.


'Ya Heard?

This summer I've been soaking up some good tunes to get me through a tough class and to keep me occupied on my many trips from Ogallala to Omaha, or Omaha to Lincoln, etc. Thanks to NPR and Spotify, I've stumbled across some solid tracks and albums. Here's what's been flowing from my earbuds lately (along with a bit of my rambling commentary):
  • "Americana" from Neil Young and Crazy Horse--I have to say, this record is best enjoyed driving on an open road--think some highway that passes through a small town every seven miles. It's a bit of a dark twist on the traditional folk songs we all know---like Travel On, This Land is Your Land, Oh Susannah, etc. The songs are still recognizable; they're just roughed up a bit with a Neil Young flare.
  • "The Only Place" by Best Coast---I heard this band for the first time last night on WBEZ Chicago's Sound Opinions broadcasted on Omaha Public Radio. I fell in love right away. Her pop voice and catchy melodies make it the perfect summer album. Normally I'm skeptical of poppy music, but the depth of her lyrics make the album endearing.
  • Sun Kil Moon's "Among the Leaves"--I loved this band when I was an angst ridden teenage girl. I loved that nobody knew who the band was, and I loved the lead singer's, Mark Kozelek, smooth, haunting voice. It's one of those that hangs in the air like a stale cigarette. This is a great late night album paired well with low lighting and coffee (as cliche as that sounds). I read a review recently that criticized the sullen nature of the album as well as the reflective insights on aging---perhaps my recent struggle with growing older is what's drawn me to the album. This album does have some strong language, so proceed with caution if you're sensitive to that sort of thing.
  • And if these don't fit your fancy, here are a few more artists I've been digging on this summer: Band of Horses, Carolina Chocolate Drops, Sean Hayes, and Brandi Carlile.
Happy listening!


Master Helzer--Squared

Today marked a monumental step for Nate and me: we finished our Masters Degrees! Nate passed his comps a few weeks ago and had his last class today to earn a Masters in Music Education. And I passed my comps on Monday and deposited my thesis (Nate always giggles when I say this because it sounds like deposit my feces....he's so grown-up) today on UNL's Digital Commons website to earn my MA in English. The kind people in Graduate Studies gave me this little button:

If you can't read it, the button says: Congratulate me, I just completed my thesis! It's not near as cool or monumental as my sister in-law's button she received for completing her dissertation, but I'm still pretty tickled about reaching this next step. We started our programs in the summer of 2009. Nate has taken courses every summer since then, and I plugged away taking at least 6 hours each school year and 6 hours each summer (with the exception of this summer). I started the thesis process this fall by reading through a stack of books to finally stumble my way into a solid topic: Using Place Conscious Education and Social Action to Plug the "Rural Brain Drain." After four years of juggling, it's weird to be done. We both commented on the way home that we'll miss the interaction each summer with highly motivated, quality teachers. They pushed us to evaluate our own classroom practices and become better teachers. Our Master's programs gave us more than a few steps over on the salary schedule: they gave us each a professional network, reinforced our decision to become teachers, and gave us a strong desire to learn. I think in the next year or two we'll find our way back in the college classroom because we're nerdy like that :)

Graduation is August 10th at UNL, and though it seems that many people don't walk at their own graduations anymore--Nate and I have decided to be there. It's a big accomplishment that we did together, and it's our way of celebrating. So if any of you will be in the Lincoln area that evening, give me a call. We're just planning on going out for dinner, but we'd love to have you join us!