FAITH: Being still

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In honor of Jesus, I will focus again,
Not on my email or blog, but on Him.
In honor of Jesus, I hope you plan
To come with me Sunday and worship this Man.

This Man who is God and Spirit as well,
The One who exchanges futures from hell.

In honor of Jesus, I hope you will see
How complete is His love for you and for me.

My silence is planned,
I will wait and will pray
That Easter consumes us – and not just today.

[If you are interested in attending an Easter service, I can highly recommend one where you will feel comfortable “coming as you are.” See www.crc.umc.org for details. Services at 9 a.m. and 11 a.m.]

[Note: I will be waiting and praying this week – not posting. If you need me to contact me prior to APRIL 5, please call.]

Confession: The Sub

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(Disclaimer: Before you read this understand that it was written as a memoir from my high school days. There is no excuse for what I did and it was not written to make fun of anyone except myself and my poor judgment.) 

The Tallahassee sun sizzled as my classmates and I slogged our way to math, which was held in a portable classroom. 

What I realized shortly into the class session was that my friend’s idea wasn’t half as brilliant as I had imagined. Thirty plus years later, I still live with the guilt of having willingly participated in a class-wide fake-out we inflicted upon our substitute teacher that day.  

My high school logo.

 

I was a junior and Gayle (her real name) was easily the world’s craziest sophomore – at least at Lincoln High School in Tallahassee in the Spring of 1979. 

 The most fiendish substitute abuse I had witnessed in my academic career before THAT day involved the low-tech, high-annoyance “book drop.” Easily the simplest and noisiest activities of all time, the book drop involved classmates randomly “knocking” a textbook off their desks so it slapped the linoleum tiled floors with a reverberating “whack.” It was especially “fun,” because students individually determined their own “drop times.” It made for a whole class period punctuated with the startling book-to-floor kiss.

 How stupid, I had thought. 

 But on that bright and sunny day, solar exposure must have fried my ability to reason. I willingly jumped into the ditch of immaturity as did 20+ of my peers who also agreed to participate in this plot. It required no book dropping and no noise of any kind. 

 Milliseconds after the tardy bell, our flustered math sub rushed into the portable, half-winded from sprinting across campus and her previous class. The portable door snapped shut behind her as she headed straight toward to the chalkboard in front to write her name. 

 Much to her surprise, however, she found orderly students awaiting and sitting silently at attention – math books open on their desks. Slapping her papers down onto our teacher’s desk, the sub used her hands to fan them apart like a huge deck of cards. Class Rolls. Sub plans. Bell schedules. 

 Once she located our class roll, it suddenly registered that we appeared to be a very cooperative class. Why hadn’t the office told her, she thought? 

 She began calling roll – and after the first three or four names – sprouted a quizzical expression while marking what seemed to be several consecutive absentees. She continued. After no response from students with last names A through K, the sub came to the Ls. This is the point at which Gayle’s plan accelerated. 

 She occupied prime real estate being seated up front. She made eye contact with the sub as if to offer assistance. 

 In a perfectly serious voice, Gayle demolished the sub’s hopes with three short words: “We are deaf.” 

Panic, horror, shock and distress gripped the sub’s face as she backed away from Gayle toward the bulletin board. She covered her mouth and whispered, “Oh my …” to herself. 

It was at this crucial juncture that the sophomores and juniors present maintained all the control and decorum of participants at a solemn state sponsored event. 

 For the next 30 minutes, the sub handwrote explanations on the chalkboard about how to do the math problems on which we were to work. 

 Once the bell rang, we all stood up, began laughing simultaneously and left before we were late to the next class. 

 If, by chance, that sub is reading this today, please accept my profound apologies. I never done anything of this nature again. 

If, by chance, she is not, I am living proof that there is hope for students with character lapses. And, I’m the one in front of students now with a full load of creative writing classes for 6th through 8th graders. 

Just wondering: Do you wish you could take back a response, an action resulting from a lapses in judgment? One of the biggest lessons from this in my adult life is that I violated my treat others the way you want to be treated approach to life. Believe me, it never feels good.

FUN: Good and clean, of course!

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Call me crazy but one of my favorite times each week takes place at church – not sitting in the pew listening, not standing praising, but in the kitchen – washing dishes.
 
I hate washing dishes – especially the George Foreman Grill I have at home. You can verify this by surveying my  family members or you can simply believe me and begin intercessory prayer on my behalf.  But seriously, it’s true.Wednesday nights at church involve dinner and dinner means dishes. My inaugural Wednesday night job several years ago was to stock a separate dessert table. But that’s a dangerous job for many reasons and anyone who isn’t their ideal weight knows what I mean.  

 So, my day passes and I show up. Prior to kitchen duty I work a table pouring lemonade and tea so those who have a plate in one hand can get a drink in the other without performing crazy balancing tricks. I say hello and introduce myself. I find a strange pleasure in helping people I know and those I don’t with this simple task.    

Desserts are still in the picture, but they’re not a table unto themselves now. They share the end of the drink table. Let’s just say I’m thankful for diversification.      

Sometimes I sit and listen while a video lesson is being shown. Other times, I need to stand because I’ve been sitting in front of a computer screen all day while providing meaningful educational instruction and directing tweenagers in the fine art of expository writing. And then sometimes, I need the alone time.    

Once “it’s a wrap,” the official clean up begins and I head for the sink. There’s not much structure in the process except that unidentifiable hands drop in trays, salad bar item bowls, spoons and a myriad of other items and I take it from there.    

Clean, wet items land on a dish towel to the right where other hands lift them, dry them and replace them to their assigned areas. In the meantime, people drop by and say hello, some give me hugs and others zoom in and out doing the various break down activities needed after feeding 150 people.    

So why am I writing about washing dishes? I think it’s because I want people to know that serving God can be simple. I’m not any more spiritually mature or golden than anyone else, but dishes can be washed as unto the Lord, lemonade can be poured as unto the Lord, and that we can bless others with helpfulness as unto the Lord.    

Tonight one of our pastors popped his head around the wall  inside the kitchen and thanked me. Even if no one had done that I would have been fine. I just smiled and said, “It’s my week to do the dishes.”    

What he doesn’t know is that I’m glad to serve in such a way and I’m glad to do those dishes every week – whether I’m thanked or not.    

Maybe the kitchen is one of my everyday mission fields. Maybe I’ve had too many desserts.  Maybe God gets a kick out of us trying to demonstrate His love doing orindary tasks or it’s all three! Whatever the reasons, though, I’ll be glad to do dishes ANY week – as long as it’s at church.    

 Just wondering: What simple tasks has God transformed in your life as ministry opportunities or ways to show His love to others?

FAITH: My Ways Aren’t Yours…Remember?

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The best timing is God's timing. It just took me six months to realize it.

 

It took me 6 months to remember this scriptural truth when God brought it to my mind this morning between worship services at church. Don’t know why I’m always amazed at how He has that spiritual punctuality thing down.    

But first, a little history.    

For months, probably years, I’ve written and archived short, devotional works. Late last summer I saw an opportunity to submit one in a contest. The prize? Tuition and travel to a large, well-established and respected writing conference known for its quality and focus on writers who include faith in their works.    

My submission was received but not selected. The email I received with the news was encouraging nonetheless, so I didn’t give up total hope.  I simply realized my desire to “step it up” by attending a national writing conference had been extinguised. Maybe next year, I thought.    

I could have gone, but the $1,000 price tag was – shall we say – one that would have put me in debt.    

“It’s an investment in my writing career,” I told myself, trying to justify the expenditure. But reality kicked in and my clearly demonstrated lack of freelance writing income was the watershed test. I could not swing it.    

 So what did I do? I just kept doing what God confirmed as my life work for now – teaching 6th, 7th and 8th graders that their writing matters and that complete sentences are a big boost toward that goal. I consoled myself thinking the time off such a new job wouldn’t have been a wise move either.    

The months came and passed.    

Yesterday, the high school for the performing arts in my city produced its 11th writers festival. My school – the middle school for the performing arts – had a financial stake in the event by sponsoring a nationally known slam poet, Patricia Smith. If our school had enough students attend, our department chair and I could attend for free.     

And we did!    

 So there I was – at the conference being present as an example to my students.    

 And then, within a few short hours, the following happened:    

  •   I reconnected with a dear friend, the one who told me in no uncertain terms during a tentative time in my life, “Cheryl, you ARE a writer.”
  •  I met the former chair of the creative writing department at my school who is also a ghost writer and mom. Ghost writing is a new interest, so meeting her helped me ponder its potential. Ghost writers are hired to pen work under someone else’s name.
  • I met a children’s editor, which gave me tremendous hope for a close-to-being-finished seasonal, picture book text I’ve written.
  • And of the sessions I attended, two will directly help my professional writing endeavors while another will impact my classroom teaching.

No, I didn’t attend the fall writers conference, but yesterday was almost like God brought one to me.    

 Like I mentioned before, His ways aren’t mine. I’m glad.    

 And all it cost me was 6½ hours on a Saturday.    

 Just wondering: How has God taken one of the desires of your heart and fulfilled it?    

Links to speakers mentioned above:    

Jocelyn Bartevicius: http://www.english.ucf.edu/graduate/staff.php?id=174    

Nancy Bethea: www.rivercityrevisions.com    

Nick Eliopulous: http://www.guidetoliteraryagents.com/blog/Editor+Interview+Nick+Eliopulos+Of+Random+House+Childrens.aspx    

Patricia Smith: http://wordwoman.ws/

FAITH: Mouth wide open

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 I don’t know about you and where you are on your faith journey, but God simply amazes me when He uses others to speak about specific circumstances in my life. Such was the case the other morning as I sat in the dental chair at 7:30 a.m for a cleaning. 

First, you must know that my verbal abilities don’t boot up until I’ve been moving around for about 30 minutes. I had woken up at 7 and was at the office within 30 minutes. 

Second, you must know that the last two weeks have been extremely trying ones in my current teaching position. It’s a good thing I know God never forsakes me. 

No this isn't really me OR Minda - but you get the idea!

 

Third, you should know that my hygienist Minda is a strong believer and that I always feel refreshed (and not just from clean teeth!) after I’ve been in her chair. 

OK, so here I am watching The Today Show on a TV secured in the ceiling while the chair is reclined. I always hope that whomever installed it was careful to do a quality job because it surely would hurt to be hit in the head by a TV falling from the ceiling. 

But back to the story. 

Minda is updating me on her plans to finish her bachelor’s degree and then go to dental school within the next couple years. I’m glad she gave me some notice. I am pretty attached to her since she’s done my teeth for 100 years! 

So she talks about her life’s calling – her platform – and knows assuredly that being a hygienist is on the road toward it. 

I tell her, between swallows and apparatus darting in and out of my mouth that I know for certain that teaching creative writing in the middle school classroom is where God wants me. I’ve had too many confirmations to think I simply landed there because I’m such a great writer! 

Then she stops, looks at me and says, “What grades do you teach?” 

“All three,” I slurpily respond. “6th, 7th and 8th.” 

“Man,” she replies. “Don’t take any crap [from them behaviorally]. I remember my 2nd grade teacher. She was the toughest ever; I knew she cared about us but we knew she meant business. And to this day when I see her, she remembers every student.” 

OK, so now God really has my attention because I had not told her that my recent struggle had been with understanding how to use the tools I have for classroom management so they’re effective without OVERusing them so that students don’t care – especially after being corrected.  And, let me remind you, I have wonderful students. 

Behavior issues run in what seem like cycles and there’s always a student willing to challenge if you mean business, really care without being “momlike” and want to teach them. 

“It’s hard,” is all I can manage to respond. 

So Minda goes on to tell me exactly what I need to hear based on Scripture and providing encouragement that’s more than a “rah rah you can do it” type of thing. 

For the first time in my life, I almost cry in the chair and not from pain but from relief. 

“There’s hope,” I say. 

“You always have hope,” she says. “And even if you don’t feel like you know what you’re doing, win an Academy Award for looking like you know what you’re doing.” 

After she cleaned me up I gave her the Reader’s Digest Condensed Version of  my recent struggles. 

Then I headed to my mission field and platform – school.  

Not only did I leave the office with a clean mouth that felt great, I left with a dose of hope. 

Later that morning, I began my Academy Award winning performance as my students and I learned about sequential writing. 

Just wondering: How has God used people or circumstances in your life to confirm what He has told YOU in Scripture? Remembering these times bolster faith when times get tough.

FUN: Completion is a beautiful thing

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A beautiful spring morning.

3.1 miles.

Thousands of people!

53:25.

Not a world record, but one for me.

I can now officially check off this accomplishment from my list of five goals for 2010.

 *            *             *

6 a.m. came earlier than usual, it seemed. But I was motivated. Following through is – well – hard work for me and today I was determined to finish what I started three months ago when I put this run/walk for charity on my list.

 Also, one of my sons needed a good breakfast before he took the SAT.

 My husband and I proudly donned our blue shirts, pinned on our numbers, tied our shoes and pried our eyes open long enough to see where we were going and to creep along in the miles-long carline that spanned the Hart Bridge.

 Serious runners. Teams of runners. Runners of all shapes, sizes and ages. While they  filed themselves into gated areas by their pace times, us “5Kers” plodded up to the start line in front of it all, were startled by the starting cannon and took off as well-wishers lined the route shouting we could do it.

 How could they believe that about me? They don’t even know me. But I chose to believe them. I kept to the right so joggers in the pack could cut loose and get up front.

 Mile 1: not bad. 20 minutes.

About what I had expected since doing the Tallahassee Turkey Trot 5K last Thanksgiving. We picked up the pace a little by alternating our impressive jogging form – ok – we’re just glad to be able to jog at all! – with brisk walking. Perfect weather. Sunny. A breeze when you needed it and enough room to be in the crowd – anywhere.

 At the half way mark, near our city’s museum of modern art and an open air plaza, track club members greeted us bearing small cups of water.

 I knew it would pay off to meet the deadline for having my name put on my race number!

 “Come on, Cheryl!” one young man yelled. I went for the cup he held out and then wanting to toss it to the ground like a real runner, held onto it instead and then scored two points by tossing it into the large trash bag held by another track club member.

 We rounded another corner to be greeted by the clock at Mile 2. We had gained five minutes. Now it was back the same way we’d come to the finish line.

 We kept our pace jogging and walking approach only to find that the finish line appeared sooner than we had thought. As I had passed others on the trek I heard snippets of conversations.

 Between a son and his dad: “Where’s mom?”

 “She’s back there somewhere,” dad said. “We’ll be in Lake City before she finds us!”

 Between two friends:

“And when you buy stock in this company, you can only sell it for the price you paid. It keeps out those who just want to own things and have no real interest in the company.”

 And as we trailed behind a dad and his 6-year-old looking daughter:

“There’s the finish line. Are you skipping across or running?”

 I smiled and told my husband I wanted to run across.

 And we did. In 53:25.

 What fun.

Next time, I might skip across the line.

RUN: No, but walking, yes!

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Three short months ago, I unveiled my five smart goals for 2010. Tomorrow, I check off number 2, which is to participate in the 5K Charity Run and Walk event held in conjunction with my city’s annual River Run, a nationally known 15K that draws tens of thousands.

 So tonight, with only 20 minutes left before closing time at the Runner’s Expo, I darted into the packet pick up area where I acquired my official race number customized with my first name. Not an historic event by any stretch, but once I decided to do this I wanted proof that I’d taken steps to actually plan for it and put it on my calendar. So tomorrow, amid the sea of humanity at the race, I – number 17730 – will have my name in bold capital letters. Yippee!

THE PRE-RACE EXPERIENCE

 I remember the first time I met a friend at Starbucks. It was like entering a foreign land – especially since I never learned to like coffee and my dad, who is from Michigan, is the only one in our clan who drinks it and he prefers it black.

 I got that same feeling entering the Runners Expo – only without the coffee scented aroma. A low hum of activity electrified the large room turned marketing extravaganza and temporary shopping center. I was determined to not gather lots of giveaway “junk” from various vendors and actually did pretty well. I even looked at the expo map and noticed that an orthopedic practice had a table. 

When I walked up, the woman behind it – loaded with her personal belongings and clearly on her way out the door – glanced at me but was probably secretly hoping that I was meandering and not really making a full and complete stop at her table because of interest.

 “Hi,” I politely said. “Is anyone still around?”

 She smled awkwardly as if I’d said, “gotcha” and I proceeded to mention that a friend of a friend had referred me to the group.

 “Oh, really?” she perked up, shifting her belongings to her other arm. “Do you need a hip or knee replacement?”

 “No,” I said. “Just need help with my ankle.”

 I guess that WAS the wrong answer. Not only was I deterring her departure, I was a low priority, nonsurgical case, at least that’s how I felt.

 I compensated and consoled myself by saying, “I guess I’ll just take a brochure.”  Then she smiled and scooted out.

 Thank goodness for the free hand sanitizer she left on the table. At least my ankle can be the most germ free one in town until it gets better!

 AND then, back at the Florida Milk table, I spotted it. A spinning wheel, which has that “you’re on The Price is Right” feeling to it. 

“Oh, joy,” I thought, dragging my husband behind me. I love milk even as a grown up and well, it was at table I hadn’t seen before so I trotted up just in time to be the next to last spinner for the evening. 

“Giving away any free cows?” I joked, knowing they too were ready to mooove on out.

 “No,” said the woman behind the table, reaching over and spinning the wheel FOR me.

 “Wow, a sweat towel; thanks!” I said as she mechanically repeated the process and handed my husband his own sweat towel with imprinting urging us to refuel with chocolate milk. Mmmmm is all I thought. I was happy with the towel and did a quick pass around the outside of the room since the inside featured running apparel and accessories.

 And then I spotted the Success Rice booth and spinning wheel! I recognized the woman behind the table and mentioned I had seen her at a recent marathon expo where I tagged along with one of my sisters who is a marathoner.  

 “Yes, we were there,” she said acknowledging my conversational effort. A dad and two young sons were ahead of me in line. The oldest spun and got a pencil. The youngest spun and won a box of rice!

 “I’m sure that little one is good luck,” I thought, so I took my turn after him.

 Wow, a jar lid opener, with the company logo. And then my husband spun and won a box of rice. Oh happy day, I thought, dinner’s half done for tomorrow!

 On our way out, we hit the Publix promotional area where free green grocery bags with coupons were available. And the line, for this wheel, was well, impressive.

 “What didja get?” I asked a young man gleaming after his turn.

 “An ice cream coupon!” he said. “I love ice cream.”

 I had my sights set. I, too, wanted an ice cream coupon. Unfortunately, I landed on the mystery prize, a somewhat odd looking white handle with a blue plastic top containing a turkey-call like noise maker inside.

 “What is it?” I asked the young man handing out the prizes.

 “I don’t know,” he said.

At least he was honest. I’m wondering, though, if  Publix got a great deal on “mystery prizes,” had to slash its marketing, giveaway budget or if  the chain is trying to overtly sabotage the cow-bell clanging crowds that cheer runners at these type events. This might call for an investigation. But back to the story.

 My husband won a can koozie and we left feeling like winners. At least we’re ready for tomorrow. By the way, I’ve never had a can koozie that actually worked. Any ideas for recycling it?

 Just wondering: Have you ever walked into a new environment and “kept to the edges” instead of becoming involved more deeply? Tell us about it.