Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Wishing for a Snow Day, I Mean, a Sabbath

Our church is going through a church-wide study based on a book called Emotionally Healthy Spirituality by Peter Scazzero. I was really skeptical when we started it. Partly because the title sounded funny and was hard to remember but also because it sounded like another me-centered study, which I’m always suspicious of.

I have, pleasantly, mostly been wrong in my suspicion. Both Mark and I have learned a lot from this study and have had some conversations that probably wouldn’t have been unearthed for a long time if this book hadn’t brought them to the surface.

Last week we read the chapter titled ‘Discovering the Rhythms of the Daily Office and Sabbath.’ The subtitle is ‘Stopping to Breathe the Air of Eternity.’ In my week of test-taking during which I did little other than read textbooks, this chapter was definitely needed.

True, I didn’t read it throughout the week, letting the ideas soak in. I read the whole chapter quickly in the 20 minutes before leaving for church Sunday morning. But even in those 20 minutes of skimming I was convicted.

The chapter has two main premises. One is that we as Christians should be stopping to be with God throughout the day. The ‘devotions’ that most of us U.S. Christians have for about 15 minutes once a day doesn’t cut it. For one, most of us are focused on getting ‘filled up’ for the day, not on who God is. For another, once we snap the Bible closed after those 15 minutes, most of us don’t give God a second thought for the rest of the day except for a quick prayer over our lunch at work. Scazzero calls Christians to task and says that’s wrong. We can’t expect to grow into healthy ‘little Christs’ without an intent focus on being with God, on loving God for who He is and focusing on Him before focusing on our daily lives. That’s what the ‘daily office’ Scazzero describes is all about: stopping periodically, if for no more than a few minutes, to focus on God and be with God.

The second premise of this chapter is that Christians do not treat the Sabbath like God intends us to treat the Sabbath. So many of us long for snow days. (I’ve actually had conversations with coworkers in the past week, wishing for a mammoth snowfall so we would all be required to stay home for a day, so this really hit home.) Scazzero argues that the Sabbath should be like a snow day for us. We should feel obligated to stay home and relax, or go out and relax, whatever makes us relaxed. But, our Sabbath snow days should also have the element of stopping to be with God. Otherwise, the Sabbath is just a secular day off.

Anyway, this chapter was convicting to me for a couple reasons. Number one, I leaned waaaaaaay too far in the direction of studying and found myself drifting into Type-A Study-Til-You-Drop Land during the past month or so. Maybe it was needed; I won’t know my scores beyond pass/fail until early April. But still. Definitely no Sabbaths for me during that time, and definitely no Daily Office. I was too focused on remembering the different theories of ESL education and Kohlberg’s theory on moral development.

Looking ahead to the next two years of teaching, I’m concerned. If that’s how I was for test-taking, what will I be like when I feel like I have the responsibility of educating a class of kids? How can I find balance? How can I take time out for God throughout the day? How can I keep a Sabbath for resting? How can I take care of my marriage and other relationships, for that matter?

I don’t really have an answer to these questions right now. I just wanted to put them out there. And I’m much more likely to mull them over a little bit if I put them up on a blog because I have the accountability (if only in my head) of knowing that other people will be reading my questions too and then watching to see how the answers play out.

I hope I can find a balance. I’ve thought about starting a Sabbath habit this week already. And both Mark and I have committed to taking time out to spend with God at least two times a day. That’s all great, and I’m glad we’re doing it, but the true test, I’m sure, will begin the first day I step into my classroom.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

After Test-Taking

I could tell that I was starting to crack under the self-imposed pressures of MTLE testing this week. As I wandered around the library reshelving books, I found myself lingering by J.K. Rowling’s shelf and Roald Dahl, imagining which books I would pick up if I actually had a few hours to devote to reading. I began to feel jealous of coworkers who were authentically sick and had to be sent home. I want a sick day, I thought. I want to lay on the couch all day and watch movies!

Last Monday when I drove over an hour to get to the city where I could take my first test, I only brought my driver’s license as a form of ID to get into the testing room. That was fine; I was able to take my test. But on Saturday morning, as I was getting ready to leave, I begged Mark to take down our fireproof box and pull out my passport. I knew it was crazy, I told him, but I wanted to bring it “just in case” they didn’t accept my driver’s license. Bless his heart, all he did was raise an incredulous eyebrow at me before reaching up into our closet and pulling down the fireproof box.

Needless to say, my driver’s license had not become more skeptical as a form of ID in the five days from Monday to Saturday.

I passed all my tests. (Jubilant, cork-popping, confetti-throwing happy dance!) I just about killed myself with worry and fretting, but I passed all my tests. Well, all except for the basic skills writing test. I won’t get the results of that one back until early April because it was more than just multiple choice. But, frankly, I’m not terribly worried about it. If I could pass the math section of the test, I can probably feel pretty confident that I passed the writing section as well.

When I arrived home yesterday afternoon, I hardly knew what to do with myself. I seem to have ingrained a sense of urgency into my attitude toward daily life since beginning to study for the tests. (How horrible is that, really? I’m fairly horrified and disgusted with the lack of control I seem to have over my tendency to worry.)

I settled down after a while, though, and made supper. I wrote some letters and thank-you notes for birthday cards and gifts I received at the end of January that had been left in an After-Testing pile. I looked gleefully over the mound of textbooks taking over a corner of our house and thought about how good it would feel to return them all to the libraries and friends from whence they came.

Today I’ve further settled down from an ongoing sense of urgency. I made pizza with the sourdough crust Mark and I prepped last night. I started another batch of yogurt incubating on the counter. I read for a while (Harry Potter). And then I spent some time listening to some music and playing with my hair. Yes, I’m shocked too. I didn’t accomplish much, other than reaffirming the fact that I can’t seem to wrap my fingers or my brain around any new ways to fix my hair.

Then I decided it was time to take a celebratory walk over to the local college and return the stack of textbooks I had borrowed from them for studying. I bundled up, scooped the books up, and whistled my way over to the college. I knew that this particular school closed its library on Sundays. What I did not realize, however, was that they also lock the book return on Sundays. I stood in front of it for a while, stubbornly yanking on the slot door. I contemplated leaving the books propped up against the front door of the library, thought better of it, and started my walk home, no longer whistling.

Ah, well, I guess I’ll get to take two celebratory walks over to the college to return my books.

So, what’s next in the continually-transitory lives of Mark and Hillary and on this blog?

1. Downton Abbey, Season 3, as soon as whoever has it out at the library returns it. This will be a Hillary-only activity, as Mark has made sure to remind me.

2. Continuing to read Teach For America books, articles, and other materials, as they send them.

3. Job searching, for Mark. (Please pray for that!)

4. Recording and sharing what I’m reading (because that’s still my favorite activity).

5. Deciding how to make a sugarless diet mostly sugarless and sustainable in the long-term.

6. Preparing to move. Be warned: you will probably be reading about this, as mundane as it is, in the coming months. I’ve already begun to make a mental list of things to do: change of address, move our banking accounts, plan an organized, color-coded system for packing, and so forth.

7. Daydreaming about getting a dog. (More on that definitely coming soon because I would much rather build upon my delusions about being a soon-to-be pet owner than about changing our mailing address.)

Have an excellent rest of your day, ladies and gentlemen. I think I hear another hour of Harry Potter and a cup of tea calling to me…

Monday, February 18, 2013

One Test Down!

First test -- done and passed! 

I won't even tell  you about my crazy nervous neuroticisms during the hour leading up to testing and during testing. I'm too embarrassed. BUT I did pass this first test. So, I'm starting to compile a list of events and ideas I will blog about when I can focus on something other than textbooks again, and a whole day vegging in front of Downton Abbey is already being planned.

Happy Monday!

Monday, February 11, 2013

Patient Trust

Patient Trust

Above all, trust int he slow work of God.
We are quite naturally impatient in everything
to reach the end without delay.
We should like to skip the intermediate stages.
We are impatient of being on the way to something
unknown, something new.

And yet it is the law of all progress
that it is made by passing through
some stages of instability --
and that it may take a very long time.
And so I think it is with you;
your ideas mature gradually -- let them grow,
let them shape themselves without undue haste.
Don't try to force them on,
as though you could be today what time 
(that is to say, grace and circumstances
acting on your own good will)
will make of you tomorrow.
Only God could say what this new spirit
gradually forming within you will be.
Give our Lord the benefit of believing 
that his hand is leading you.
And accept the anxiety of feeling yourself
in suspense and incomplete.

--Pierre Teilhard De Chardin

What does it mean for you to trust int he slow work of God today?

Saturday, February 9, 2013

I'm Here! I'm Just Studying at the Same Time

I was told today that I’ve been ‘silent online’ recently, and that’s definitely true. I’m still here, though! Tonight I’m going to give blog writing an honest-to-goodness fighting try. I’ve begun a few blogs over the past two weeks, and they’ve all fizzled into nothing. They almost all start with some variation on the theme, “I’ve been studying.” Then I realize that pretty much all my attention has been sucked up by that studying, so I don’t have much to write about other than elementary pedagogy and linguistics. (For example, did you know that the reason it’s so hard to learn English grammar is because English has Germanic roots, not Latin roots, and grammar rules were first devised by Latin teachers who tried to fit the English language into the Latin rules they were used to? No wonder learning grammar is the bane of all fifth graders’ existence!)

But really, I have had a life of some kind over the past couple of weeks, although the variety of life experiences has been much reduced. What has happened?

1. I have studied. My tests are coming up on February 18 and February 23. As I keep telling co-workers at the library, I will be a different person when those tests are done: a happier person. The tension frown between my eyebrows will (hopefully) disappear and I’ll have a sense of humor again.

2. We have decided to get a hamster at the library. National Library Week is in the middle of April, and the three of us on the planning committee for this momentous week in the world of librarians decided it would be fun to get a hamster and then allow children to participate in a naming contest for the hamster. My vision for the hamster is that it will live in the office that my fellow children’s librarian and I share and that we will bring it out after school gets out and let kids pet it. Maybe we’ll let it roll around the children’s section of the library in a hamster ball. You may think that we’re crazy for wanting to get a hamster. But really, it’s only the other librarians who are crazy because the hamster is my idea and I will be washing my hands of the little rodent and leaving it and its smelly cage in their care in about 2 ½ months.

3. I have studied more.

4. I had a birthday. Having a birthday in January means that I often receive calendars or winter-related items. I tend to not be terribly excited about calendars after years of calendar birthday presents. Neither Mark, nor his parents, nor my parents gave me a calendar. This year, my parents gave me a coat.

 Pretty, yes? I told Mark that the amount of teal and turquoise in my wardrobe is reaching a critical level. I don’t want to turn into a turquoise Dolores Umbridge.

 For my birthday, Mark and I went to a classy little café in the next town over. We had crepes and good coffee.

 Then we spent some time continuing a discussion on ‘family values’ that we started on our 3rd anniversary date in August. We’ve wanted for a while to write down a list of values and post them in a visible place in our house.

 The idea is to try to live up to the values. That may seem obvious, but I find, at least for myself, that life gets in the way and I don’t end up really thinking about my values. I only discover later that I’ve passively adopted habits that reflect a rather disappointing value system. So, the hope is that with these values posted in our house, the habits will come as a result of the values, not the other way around.

5. I have taken practice tests and studied the rationales behind the answers on the practice tests.

6. I have gotten a haircut. It was a really not-dramatic haircut. I didn’t have the energy to think of anything exciting to do with my hair.

7. I have found more materials to study and pored over them in an antisocial way at the break room table at the library.

8. I have not read much, other than textbooks and the books that I’m supposed to read in order to lead various book club discussions at the library. For those I’ve read What Alice Forgot  by Liane Moriarty, which I found both fascinating and then disappointing; Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly, which taught me more about the French Revolution than any history class I’ve taken; and am currently reading Amazing Grace: The Lives of Children and the Conscience of a Nation by Jonathan Kozol, which I sneakily planned into the book club schedule when I was making it last fall because of my interest in Teach For America. Oh, and I've also plowed through 'The Dark is Rising' series by Susan Cooper. Fun, but, as I said, I had to plow.

The tests have undoubtedly stressed me out on occasion over the last couple of weeks. I’ve had a number of optimistic cheerleaders hooting and hollering for me, even when I have felt like I will never pass the tests, which will render my life pretty much worthless. (Did I mention that stress makes me prone to overreaction?)

I’m feeling pretty optimistic about the tests now. But I still may not be ‘here’ much until they’re over!