What I Learned This Seminary Semester

I like to do What I’ve Learned posts periodically, especially during chunks of my life where so much is happening all the time. My life has been like that this semester since we recently moved to a new place, started at a new church, JD has a new job, I started seminary, we are looking for our first house, and now we are getting a new car.

When I imagined moving here, I thought about how uneventful our life would be for a few months because we wouldn’t have many friends or routines, but I was so wrong. I feel like every weekend has been packed with events: traveling, house-sitting, so many dinner dates, house-hunting, concerts, the State Fair, seminars, family get-togethers, etc.

On top of our social life, I started graduate school—a long-time dream of mine, especially seminary, and I’ve gone from being the teacher to being the student again. In a seminary that is very different from the school I taught at for the past 3 years, and very different from my undergraduate experience, my life this semester has been bursting full of challenging ideas and joy and existential crises—all the things you’d expect from seminary.

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I began the semester with a post about the permission slips I gave myself as I entered into graduate school, and I have referred back to those slips from time to time over the past few months, mostly when I’ve been feeling defeated or discouraged. I will end the semester with a post about what I have learned in my first semester of graduate school—but it won’t really be about the content I’ve learned because that would be 10,000 words long and you would stop reading soon after this paragraph. But it will be all the other lessons that accompany actual classroom learning.

1. Just because you entertain an idea does not mean you are married to it for life. One of my students last year wrote an essay about a group she was in where they discussed ideas from different religions and philosophies, and she wrote about how enriching that was for her because it gave her a safe place to think about things she had never dared to consider. And she didn’t feel pressured to think one or the other, but she was simply encouraged to think. I thought about that essay a lot this semester, especially during my existential crises.

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It gave me permission to allow myself to read controversial theologians without anxiety because no one was going to zap me for reading it; global warming wasn’t going to speed up just because I had considered an idea vastly different than what I thought I believed. Because if I’m going to invest time and money into graduate school, if I’m going to do seminary, then what is the point in being there if I’m not going to go into it fully open?

For my very first essay in theology, I talked with my professor about what I was wanting to write about it, but I was full of anxiety because I wasn’t exactly sure where I landed on the topic, and I didn’t want to say something heretical or untrue of what I believed. He told me that I may not agree with what I wrote two years from now, and that’s okay. I may not agree with it two weeks from now, and that’s okay. This essay was to work out my own theology, and it was just a step in the process, not the end result. That was so freeing to me because it allowed me to take risks without feeling like my house would come crumbling down.

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2. Physical activity is a safe place. Going for a walk, working out at the rec center, doing yoga in the living room, taking Lucy to the park—all of these things that require my body to move have been ways to let my mind recharge.

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I read for hours every day and think about crazy things (2nd century heresies, process theologians talking plurisingularity, the construction of the Hebrew Bible, and ecofeminism and its connection to theology, to name a few), and when my brain is full, I need to move my body.

I started going to work out right after my classes in order to clear my head, and that has been the best idea I’ve had with how to spend my time. This semester I had a 6 hour stretch between two of my classes, so working out before tackling homework was a good fit. I’m not sure how next semester will bode with time allocation, but I know doing some kind of physical activity will be a part of my schedule.

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3. We learn from people not like us, and find out that perhaps we are more alike than we thought. I knew this on an intellectual level going in, but I am surrounded by people who have had very different faith experiences than me (some very similar—shoutout to the all the former Southern Baptists) and who think about God in very different ways. Interacting and taking part in discussion with my peers has made my rate of learning in the classroom exponentially higher.

I learn so much from the discussions with my classmates. 10 years ago Ashley would have been frightened to discuss theology with people who believe so differently, but now it’s like checking out books from the library without reading the back cover and being pleasantly surprised every time.

In these discussions, it’s been beautiful to see how much common ground we have. We may have different worldviews, but our worldviews intersect a lot at places like a desire for peace, a desire for justice, a nerdy fascination with Christianity’s relationship with power in history, compassion for others, mutual love for rockstars like Anne Lamott, and so on.

4. Existential crises are normal, so just breathe and go for a walk. There have been quite a few moments, especially in my first month, in which I walked out of class feeling like I didn’t know which way was up or down. I would lay in bed wondering if everything I knew was a lie and was I even real?

My mind would flash back to a poet I read in 20th century Spanish Literature in college who talked about life as one long dream of God—which meant God was asleep and not paying attention. What was his name again? If you know the poet, let me know.

I cried because it was as though I was floating like a plastic bag through the air (I had always thought that simile was stupid, but I was wrong, Katy Perry. It’s actually quite apt). I cried because I missed my friends and my church and my favorite taco place. I cried in anxiety, in grief, in stress, in exhaustion.

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But do you know what was most helpful to me in sliding me along those existential train tracks? Ordinary things like taking Lucy for a walk. Or chopping vegetables. Or folding laundry. Or spending the day outside. In the midst of my plastic bag experience, what brought me back to earth was doing ordinary life things.

5. There should be a day, if possible, when you do not touch your schoolwork. Sometimes, that’s impossible (take Thanksgiving week—so many words to write), but if you can work your schedule out, set aside a day where you can lay in your bed in your pajamas watching Netflix without a shred of guilt. Or you can spend hours with your family and friends because you don’t have to get back to Augustine. Better yet, stay offline so you don’t get worked up about politics or see a Gilmore Girls spoiler.

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6. Read something completely disconnected to seminary (which I suppose seminarians could argue that all things are theological, but let’s tune us out for a moment). I’ve read a few novels that never mention God or theology or homework, and they have been good for me. Some things I’ve read: Lila (okay, so this one mentions God) by Marilynne Robinson, The Namesake Jhumpa Lahiri, What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty, Paper Towns by John Green, and Rosie by Anne Lamott.

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Next semester, I plan to read through the Harry Potter series. When I start stressing about theories of justice or Pauline arguments, I will retreat to Hogwarts. Nothing bad ever happens there, right?

7. Often it is better to listen, especially when you are new to a conversation. It has been a tough year for all of us. And the last 4 months have been especially disorienting, heartbreaking, challenging, frustrating, etc. With the continued police shootings of unarmed black men and the Trump presidency and all that it means for my friends, I have been able to participate in conversations about race, gender, sexual orientation, privilege, economic and social justice, and oppression. If my mind wasn’t blown by plurisingularities before, it was in these conversations.

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The most significant thing I’ve learned is that when I am new to the conversation, it is better to listen. It is better to hear from people who know about these things first hand. It is better to listen to what is said and what is not said.

I have bought a stack of books recommended from these conversations and read articles and blogs that my friends post because I want to know more. I have the privilege to stay ignorant, but I don’t want to.

I have also been a part of many conversations about faith, God, tradition, and scripture in which the views being discussed are new to me. Sometimes I want to say, “But I know the right answer!”

But more often, I want to remember that perhaps there is more than one right answer. Perhaps being right is not what matters. Perhaps there is no right answer. Perhaps I don’t understand what right means. Perhaps I don’t get to decide what is right. Perhaps I don’t understand the conversation if I care about being right. Perhaps this conversation is not a problem or a question that requires an answer. So I listen.

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There were many things I learned this semester, but I will end at 7 because it’s a holy number, and I make lots of nerdy theological jokes like that now.

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What I’ve Learned about Grief: Part Two

It’s been nearly 8 months since my first miscarriage, and during those 8 months of crying and watching the entire series of Grey’s Anatomy, I’ve journeyed through the grief like a hobbit. Lots of people have been the Sam to my Frodo: my husband, my Monday night dinner girls, a therapist, blog writers, dead writers (I teach British Literature, remember), and others. I want to preface this post by saying that at the same time, all grief is different and all grief is the same. If you haven’t had a miscarriage, some of these things may still ring true in your life. If you have had a miscarriage, none of these things may ring true, too. Click here for my first post on what experiencing grief looks like. Here is what I’ve learned about my experience with others:

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5. People can say really inane things to you in times of grief, but it’s not because they are cold-hearted or stupid; it’s because they’re uncomfortable. There have been several moments in which someone is trying to give words of condolence to me, and they begin crying or saying cliche phrases, practically begging me to say something hopeful, so they can feel better. I’m not talking about crying with me—I mean a person begins to cry and breathes a sigh of relief when I say something like “I’ll be okay.” It was really annoying at first. (Mini-lesson #2: do not make the grieving comfort you. If you don’t know what to say, the best phrase is “I don’t know what to say, but I’m sorry.”) But after saying out loud in a therapy session that I have had to comfort people because they are uncomfortable with my grief, it was like the fog cleared a little. I understand that people are doing the best they can in a situation that our culture does not really have protocol for.  Miscarriages are felt differently by women, and we don’t have any kind of marker (such a funeral, memorial service, wake, etc.) for this kind of grief.  Thus, people are unsure what to say.  I can think of inane things that I have said to people in crisis and mourning—things I wish I could forget because they were so stupid.

I read somewhere (let’s be honest, probably Brene Brown) that we have a guttural need to make someone stop crying. We want them to feel better and frankly, to stop making us feel uncomfortable. But the best thing you can do for someone wiping snot and tears from their face is just to hold that space for them. Sit with them. Don’t tell them to “Cheer up, ol’ chap, there’ll be sunnier days!” Probably the best thing is not to say anything. Or say that it’s okay to cry in the middle of the hallway. Or say that this experience really sucks.  Just don’t say, “Everything happens for a reason.”

6. In an effort to keep people from saying inane things to me, I have tried to beat them to the punch, and thus minimized my own experience. I fear that we will never be able to have kids. That is a legitimate fear. But when I have said that out loud to people, many have responded, “Oh, you’ll have kids one day! You can always adopt! I’m sure you’ll be pregnant again! I/someone I knew/my best friend’s dog/etc. had 304923840329 miscarriages and now I have 300 healthy children!” I know that this is coming from a well-meaning place and perhaps from that “Please stop making me feel uncomfortable” place I mentioned before, but in reality, I do not, cannot know that I will have children one day. I can hope. I can plan. I can pray. But I don’t know. And truly, neither do you.

Of course, it may feel like you’re rubbing dirty salt into a wound if you reply, “Maybe you’ll have children, maybe you won’t.” In your mind, it may seem like you’re being so cruel and hard-hearted, but don’t you think I’ve already had the thought you’re saying? Don’t you think I’ve realized that there is no way for me to know if I will ever have a successful pregnancy? You’re not bringing something up that I haven’t considered. You aren’t reminding me that I’m a passenger on the Grief Bus. I know this already. Don’t worry about reminding me of the uncertainty—I reside there.

So, in an effort to keep people from saying these things to me and thus sparking irritation in my brain and a twitch in my eye, I’ve prefaced every feeling or fear I’ve had with, “I know we’ll probably have kids one day, but I still feel…” Or worse, I’ve laughed at my feelings! All because I don’t want to make people feel uncomfortable! This is ludicrous.

I don’t want to be the bummer friend in my circles, so I’ve said things like, “I’m still sad and I can’t get over it, ha ha, and don’t stop praying for me because I think need therapy, ha ha, and I want to know what the doctor has to say, but I’m afraid it won’t bring comfort, ha ha…” I sound like a maniac. I’ve learned that by trying to say the cliche, unknowable thing first and by laughing when I say heavy things, I’ve been trivializing my grief and trying to downplay my own experience to myself. Which, of course, means I haven’t been able to really feel anything because I won’t let myself. It just comes out in awkward water gun tears and thinly veiled feelings slips.

There are times when you need to speak logic to your emotions. But there are also times that the logic part of your brain won’t let your emotion section do anything. I need to let my emotion section say its piece first.

7. Not everyone wants to talk about grief, but it’s not because they don’t care about you. I swim around in the Sadness Sea pretty much 24/7, even when I’m laughing (at appropriate times) or enjoying myself. JD and I have had hard conversations. I have thought lots of dark thoughts, and this loss and what it could mean consumes my life. I mean, it’s always there looming and because of that, I feel comfortable (word choice?) bringing it up. It’s what I think about and journal about and so it’s something I want to talk about.

Many of my friends will listen or engage in the conversation, some will even cry with me (in a solidarity way, not a “Please make me feel better” way). But some try to change the subject. Some listen and never say a word. Some never, ever ask about it. At first, I thought it was because they didn’t care or that they were scared my miscarriages or sadness would rub off on them (mini-lesson #3: loss is not contagious). Maybe I do represent what they fear, and to be honest, I’ve felt that way about others.

But I think some people don’t want to talk about it because they’re afraid they’ll say something stupid or remind me of my grief (trust me, nothing you say will make me say, “Oh yeah, I forgot about that whole sadness thing until you reminded me of it! Thanks a lot, jerk!”). Or perhaps they don’t have the vocabulary of feelings and experiences to talk about it. Maybe they don’t talk about grief when they feel it, and so they’re not sure how to talk about it with me. Maybe they are so caring that they want to distract me and allow me to have some positive experiences. Or maybe they don’t realize how big of a deal it is for me (these people probably don’t read my blog). There are lots of reasons people don’t want to talk about it, but those reasons are rarely that they don’t care about me.

In my next post, I’ll discuss what happens when the grief feels like too much.

Letter to My Teenage Self

Dear Teenage Me,

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I see you. I see how you make a joke and then quickly glance around to see if anyone was listening. I see you obsessively finger your braid, thinking about checking your reflection in the mirror for the 20th time today. I see you journaling and reading, and then downplaying it when someone catches you, hoping they don’t realize what a nerd you are.

Do you know how bright you are? How funny you are? How thoughtful you are? I know those words make you uncomfortable because you don’t believe them about yourself. You can’t see yet that the hours you spend in your room writing down your thoughts and obsessing over what someone said or didn’t say is actually a whisper of your desires and gifts. You won’t see for awhile that no one is looking at you, at least not in that way. They, too, look around to see if anyone heard them, if anyone thinks they’re attractive, if anyone caught a glimpse of who they really are. You don’t realize right now that we’re all dying to be truly seen, and we’re all scared to death of being truly seen.

I hear you crying into your pillow, wondering why your friends didn’t invite you to what seems like the most important gathering of your life. I hear you fighting with your dad about the clothes you want to wear but can’t walk out of the house in, and doesn’t he realize that your entire existence in the social stratosphere depends on this shirt?

Sweet girl, you can’t see yet how little true friendships depend on social events and sexy shirts. It will be a few years until you realize that true friendships are made side by side in a kitchen, fingers sticky with cookie dough. They’re made on walks around campus and serving together at church and road trip conversations. They’re made with people who don’t look like you, who aren’t always the same age as you, and who grew up in another place than you. But those loves will be deep and true and kind and will withstand party attendance and distance and changes in fashion.

I smell the cheap perfume you put on at school, hoping to get his attention. I hear the whispers you share with your friend about the thing he said to you in biology class, and I hear your speculation about what kind of girl he likes. I also see the tears of heartbreak stream down your cheeks as he sits next to another girl, whispering the same things he said to you.

Beautiful girl, I know it hurts. It feels like your world is imploding and your heart is shriveling up. You feel humiliated, angry, exposed, raw, and small. Those feelings are real, and you can cry. It’s okay. But as you wipe those last few tears, I wish you could see how worthy you are of real love, and that real love doesn’t often happen when you’re 16. Real love endures the days when feelings are absent, endures the hard arguments that are really about something else not being spoken, endures the passing of time. Real love sees you at your most helpless and vulnerable state and instead of walking away, comes close to hold you. Real love listens to your stories, laughs at your jokes, cheers you on, believes in you, and holds your heart carefully. Real love is not rushes of emotion that clash in one kiss, but it’s lots of kisses and words and moments that build a place for that love to live. Real love is risk and adventure, and at the same time, it’s a safe place and home. High school is a hard place to find that. It’s okay. Focus on geometry right now. You’ll need that later.

I see you gingerly put on the layers of dogma and tradition, hoping to find fulfillment and security, the kind of fulfillment and security your teenage years have been spent searching for. I see you making all kinds of promises about dating in an effort not to be hurt again, in hopes that you can be protected. I see the neurosis it causes in you, the obsession and paranoia, and I want to say to you, “Let go.” Dear one, being free and risking pain far outweighs being enslaved and never feeling anything. But I know you have to encounter freedom on your own. You have to hear from men and women you admire these words over and over again until you realize that those layers you’ve put on can be taken off.

I see you struggling with shame and self-hatred, wondering why you can’t just do better, be better. I see how many times you say “Yes” when you really want to say no, and the hours it steals from your life. I hear the cruel internal monologues, the words that you say to yourself that cut and twist inside you. I see the clutch that perfectionism and approval have on your throat, and even though you can’t see it yet, you can feel it. It controls you, silences you, traps you. Oh teenage me, wait a little longer. You will see one day that the hand on your throat is your own.

I see you not really seeing yourself because you can’t. You haven’t lived long enough to realize that the you now is not weird or abnormal or wrong, and you can’t see that those labels are stupid. You can’t see that the insecure, obsessive, lonely you is not the real you. It’s not the only you or ultimate you. You won’t be your teenage self forever. One day you will wake up and think, “I’m an adult, and I have been for awhile.” And you will think back to your teenage years with the grace you don’t yet know. You will think of yourself kindly.   Hold on, love.

What I Learned in 2015

1. My one word this year was Create, and I learned over and over again that creating takes courage. My taglines for create were to create space, to create community, to create art, and to create life.

a. Creating space meant I had to say no to a lot of things that seemed great so that I could say yes to down time, to rest, and to playing with my dog.

b. Creating community meant I had to do things that would nurture friendships–go to Monday night Bible study (one of the best decisions yet), ask a friend out for coffee, say yes to meeting up with a friend instead of 6 hours of Netflix, etc.

c. Creating art meant I actually had to write. I used most of my summer mornings to write works for grad school applications, and it took discipline and a lot of courage and self-pep-talk. This was awesome and fulfilling and also really scary–I applied to grad school, a long-time dream, and I might not get in. But I’ve already told myself that even I don’t get in, I applied. I did that. That was brave.

d. Creating life meant trying for a baby. And we got pregnant! Which was happy and beautiful, and then I had a miscarriage, which was traumatic and sad and a lot of other feelings I’m still sorting through. But we created life, however brief it was. And while my miscarriage was the lowest point of my year, finding out I was pregnant was the highest point, regardless of the outcome. It was only for 7 weeks, but it was still beautiful.

2. It’s not stupid to believe in yourself. I think sometimes we think that it’s arrogant to think we can actually do something or we can actually try something new. We can get discouraged by less than enthusiastic words from friends or family about our dreams. But just because someone we respect doesn’t understand our dream doesn’t mean it’s the wrong dream or it’s not good enough or it’s impossible. It may just mean that they don’t understand. And that’s okay.

3. Having a dog changes your life, so make investments accordingly. Lucy has forced us to change our routines in the afternoon, making us slow down and put down our phones and pick up a frisbee. She requires exercise and cuddles, so it pushes us to take that walk we’ve been talking about and spend some time on the floor giggling at her clowning. We put her in a rigorous training program (Sit Means Sit) this past summer that was especially for impulsive, distracted dogs (it’s like they knew Lucy was coming), and it was one of the best investments we made this year. We’re halfway through our year of group training, and she is already way more obedient and attentive than when she first came home after training. When we paused at the cost of training, JD and I both quickly came to the rationale that we were investing in the next 10 years of our life–in our public outings, in our interactions with children, in our hospitality, everything. Training Lucy has greatly improved our quality of life, and it’s made our time together more enjoyable for all three of us.

4. Limiting my yes means limiting my crazy. This year I decided to say yes to very few things (see 1a) in order to give my attention fully to what I felt was important. I also decided to do this in my classroom. I am convinced that high school English teachers have one of the toughest jobs in schools because we have to do 390438249 things in our 50 minutes/a day, and I was tired of trying to juggle so much. So at the beginning of August, I decided to only have 4 things that I would focus on during the year: writing improvement, literature connections, vocabulary building, and rest. If activities, reading assignments, or homework didn’t serve one or more of those purposes, we didn’t do them this semester. And my life has been less hectic, as I’m sure my students’ lives have been as well. My student aides made Apples to Apples cards with my vocabulary words on them for my kids to play when we have an off-day, which accomplishes two of my four goals. So limit your yes. Serenity now.

5. Lean into each other when you want to lean away. JD and I had a tough spring–it was busy for many reasons, but we felt like we were barely treading water (I actually felt like I was drowning near the end of April). Because we barely saw each other or made time to talk about things besides Lucy’s bowel movements (like I said, having a dog changes you) or our calendar, going into summer was disorienting. Then a few months later, we sat in our living room after a day at the ER hearing heartbreaking news and stumbled through that for awhile. This year, we have been tempted to hole up inside ourselves and turn away from the other one, and it would have been easier in some ways to do so. But we are each other’s lives. Our marriage is so much more important than our careers, our success, our sleep (though rested arguments are definitely preferable to bleary-eyed ones), everything. Even though doing the work of turning toward one another and leaning into each other is tough and frustrating sometimes, we’re in this together. Ultimately, the work is worth it. In the words of Sara Groves in one of my favorite songs about marriage, “Life with you is half as hard and twice as good.”

6. Metaphors help us understand why our lives don’t fit into boxes. My Monday night Bible study recently read Pray All Ways by Edward Hays, and one of things Hays argues is that we are like spiders. Through suffering and setbacks, our webs get holes and detach and fall apart. But like the spider, we must go back and respin the web. We must seek to patch the holes and reattach and put together what was destroyed. It may seem like a completely new web after the repairs, but it will be stronger, and it will be the fruit of our effort to start anew. This metaphor was so meaningful to me after a year of hustle for the first half, the hard work of reconnecting in the second half, miscarriage, and letting go. My web looks a lot different than this time last year, and I’m mostly glad for it.

7. Miscarriages are common, tragic, and traumatic. I still cry about losing our first baby. On our 7 hour plane ride to London recently, I listened to a song on repeat about 30 times about dancing on the lawn when the grass is greener after a winter of tears. I desperately want that to be true for us. Hitting repeat was my prayer. I think this grief will last for awhile, and I’ll probably still cry when I get pregnant again.  To risk putting your love and hope in something so fragile as a baby is a kind of insanity. I’ve tried to avoid obsessively seeking for a reason or lesson from the miscarriage–I don’t think that’s healthy because it attempts to compartmentalize and categorize pain, and really, healing comes from reckoning with the uncertainty and senselessness. Question marks and ellipses are the punctuation of healing. However, as I’ve sat and cried at my desk at school or stared into a pot of soup for an hour, I have experienced some of these question marks becoming parentheses–caveats, exceptions, secrets, asides, so here is a little bit of what I’ve learned throughout the past few months:

8. Be fully present in joy and pain. St. Ireneaus said, “The glory of God is man fully alive,” and that means jumping up and down squealing when you find out you’re pregnant and sobbing on the couch until your eyes can’t open anymore when you find out you’re not pregnant anymore. I can’t have the first reaction without risking the second reaction, and though the second reaction is painful and terrible, it is worth the risk. And even though I’m not pregnant, it’s still worth it. The day before my miscarriage, I was writing a friend about the pregnancy, telling her I wanted to tell people early because I was happy, and I didn’t want to be scared or superstitious about telling others, and alongside words of caution, she posed an important question: “Who by worrying can add one day to her baby’s life?” So though I cried a lot, being happy and telling my friends about my pregnancy was the right thing to do for me, even if I had to tearfully tell them when it ended.  Which brings me to my next point.

9. There is nothing like the comfort that community brings in the midst of pain. I’ve struggled to find words to describe this, so I’m just going to tell you what happened. I was at school, in pain, the day I had my miscarriage. When I saw blood, I went to the school nurse, whose office is in the elementary building, and told her what was happening. As I lay down in the back room, repeatedly calling JD (he can’t always get to his phone at work), one of my good friends hugged me while I sobbed in fear.

Because I couldn’t get a hold of JD, I called our preacher’s wife, unsure what else to do with my own mom 3 hours away. When she called back, JD was already on his way, but she and the preacher met us at the hospital and sat with us. They cried with us, prayed with us, and were there each time I came back from tests. The wife texted and called me for the next few days, just to see how I was doing.

I emailed my Monday night girls to tell them what was happenings, and I got emails and texts immediately from nearly all of them with words of comfort and camaraderie.

My friends at school took care of my substitute work and texted me every few hours to check on me.

My mom left work as soon as I said, “Can you come now?” and drove down to stay with me.

When I finally posted it on Facebook, I was flooded with support and love and “Me, too”.

The girls from the senior class at school found out what happened and they surprised me a week later by coming in a herd to my classroom with a huge care package full of poetry, coffee, tea, a fuzzy blanket and socks, and other fun items. They filled an envelope with letters about how they love me and how I’ve changed their lives. Then they prayed over me. I’ve cried a lot about this particular act.

Friends sent comforting messages to both me and JD and held us when they saw us.

Throughout all of this, I was surrounded by mamas who had miscarried, and I realized how common it was, how terribly common it was. Each “Me, too” hug has been women taking turns applying pressure on a bleeding vein. They know the wound well.

10. Give myself permission to grieve however I need to. I decided early on that if I needed to cry, I would cry, no matter where I was or what I was doing. If I needed to be alone and listen to my sad song on repeat, I would do that. If I needed to hide in the bathroom during Thanksgiving because I was suddenly overcome with grief, I would do that. Sadness takes on many shapes, and it reappears in times I’m not expecting, still. I expected to cry the first week. I was not anticipating crying a month and half later in Hungary at the trigger of melancholy skies and loud techno music, but I’ve tried to let the tears flow when they come. If you need permission to grieve, here it is. It doesn’t matter if what happened occurred 10 days ago, a month ago, 5 years ago. Grief doesn’t care about time or etiquette.

On a lighter note…

11. I was wrong to doubt Taylor Swift. For years, I shrugged my shoulders at her music, not wanting to join in the hype, not believing she was more than every other country/pop crossover singing about breakups. Even after using her music in my classroom, I still didn’t give her the credit she deserves. Sure, I can use different covers of “We Are Never Getting Back Together” to talk about writing voice, and instruct my seniors in writing quatrains by using a mash-up of her lyrics, but she was still just like every other singer. But then 1989 came out. I felt myself giving in to the jamming when the songs came on the radio. I started clicking on every cover (see this one and this one and this one) that appeared on my Facebook feed because her lyrics translated so well from the big pop stage to an acoustic barn. Then one day I woke up and I was a fan. And if I needed any kind of solidification in my fandom, she stood up to Apple music in defense of the little guys. She’s got class and great songwriting skills. I freely admit it now.

12. My students teach me so much. I discover this every year. They challenge my generalizations, offer innocent yet bold opinions, sit in wonder as they begin to think critically about their lives, and give lessons in how to be gracious every day. One of my students, K, gave a message at Senior Sunrise on the first day of school this year, and she challenged her classmates to ask some questions throughout the year: What can we do to challenge each other? What can we do to encourage each other? What can we do to inspire each other? I posted her questions in my classroom because I knew that morning that my students were going to challenge, encourage, and inspire me, and they have.

What did you learn in 2015?

What I Learned in July

It’s August 1.  I am refusing to believe August is here for just a little while longer.  To help me do that, here’s my semi-regular monthly list of what I learned in the month of July… the silly, the serious, the goofy, the heartwarming.

1. We all need an activity in which there are no such things as mistakes. In Zentangles, there are few rules: 1.No erasing, 2. There are no mistakes. If you make a mistake, you transform it into something new. Perhaps there’s a lesson there. Regardless, Zentangles are pretty and fun and mindless and perfect for catching up with friends during the summer.
Zentangle zentangle2

2. There is something about a stack of books that thrills me. Maybe it’s the anticipation or a Pavlovian response, but thinking about reading all of these books makes very excited. Shoutout to secondhand stores and book giveaways!
Books2
3. Did you know people leave amazing things on their curb in south Austin? Like this Crate and Barrel, barely scratched cabinet thing (note to self: look up what it’s called)? They do.
tvstand
4. Family time gets sweeter as I get older. My parents came down to help us paint and my brother and cousin came down to have some fun paddle boarding and exfoliating. One weekend I’m a grown-up learning paint tips from my dad, the next weekend I’m making pancakes for my youngins even as I feel 10 years old again with them. It’s weird and fun and sweet.
cousinfun
5. Speaking of paint… oops paint is super cheap. I already knew this, but what I didn’t know was that if it has the right hue, you can ask the desk to mix a new color out of oops paint for you instead of opening a brand new can of paint. You just have to be flexible on the shade. We didn’t do this for all of our paint, but we did do it for two of our colors, including the yellow on our kitchen wall!
kitchenwall
6. Our church is the place for us. I already knew this in the same gradual way the heat of the afternoon creeps up on you, but this month, JD and I have been a part of some church-growing conversations, and we are so blessed by the prayerfulness of our leaders. These church-growing conversations are not about numbers, but about spiritual growth and our identity as a church, which makes JD and I feel secure in our church family. We are not a number or part of a headcount. We are fellow workers in God’s field.

7. There is a part of me that is a cheerleader. But that is not all parts of me. I spent my last few days as cheer coach at cheer camp last week, and it was really fun and stressful and bittersweet. Coaching cheerleading has been a joy in my life the past two years, watching the girls grow and succeed, having mini-dance parties at 6:30 AM, being a trustworthy adult to some amazing young women. But there is a time to move on. Being at cheer camp last week was the perfect send-off (it was SO fun), but it also affirmed that I had made the right decision in passing the team off to someone else. Closing the door of cheerleading means opening the door to other things.
cheerpicWhat did July teach you?

What I Learned in June

I can’t believe it’s been exactly 4 weeks since school let out.  I’m grateful for more than 4 weeks left of summer.  Here’s what I learned in June… the silly, the serious, and everywhere in between.

1. Doing massive purging in my closet is empowering. I heard about the capsule wardrobe a month before school let out, and I’ve been working to sort through all the items that I’ve held onto needlessly since then. The aim was to create less stress. And it worked. Here’s a picture of all of my clothes, summer, winter, and in between.  It feels wonderful to have it in one non-crammed closet!
capsulewardrobe
2. Summer allows for discoveries, big and small. Frozen cherries in granola? Yes, please.
granola
3. There is an awesome dog-sitting site (rover.com among others) that matches your dog with a rated, qualified dog-sitter instead of leaving them in a kennel! We are pumped about Lucy’s vacation when we head over to Hungary for Christmas. Oh yeah, we’re spending Christmas in Hungary this year. Currently looking for some good snow boots.

4. Prayer is less about eyes closed and meditation, and more about daily rhythms, acknowledging God’s presence as I fold laundry and feel the sun on my arms and sit next to JD at church. I recently read Pray All Ways by Edward Hays, and it has made me think about prayer in the ordinary movements of my day (chewing my food, laughing, etc.).

5. I grew up in and out of the houses of my extended family, and I used to be sad about growing up because I was afraid that I wouldn’t have good relationships with my family as I got older. When my mom told me that she didn’t talk to her cousins very much, as a 10-year-old looking forward to a sleepover with my own cousin, I was devastated. I knew adulthood would be the end of all fun. But that hasn’t been the case. While we’ve grown up and moved all over the map, it’s been wonderful getting to know my cousins as adults and having grown-up conversations with my aunts, uncles, and grandparents. Relationships don’t have to end when they change.
Cousinscousins2cousins3
6. In the heated political climate and the violence all around us, I’m grateful for big picture people like this pastor, the loving work of Jeremy and others at Preemptive Love, hard yet needed words by Rachel, and the people closest to me that speaks words of life not just on Facebook but also in person.

June has been a historic, rainy, full month.  What have you learned?

What I Learned in January, or We Got a Puppy

Thank the Lord January is over.  It has felt like three Januarys (Januaries?) joined hands in front of us and said, “You shall not pass.”  January brought the return to school routine, crazy events like lip-sync battling and Homecoming, April weather, and a little furball JD affectionately calls Poopface.  While I love the resolutions-new-beginnings-renewal-ness of January, it’s time to get this year rolling.  But before we roll right into February, here are a few things I learned in January:

1. If you listen closely when you’re out of the room, it sounds like someone has split personalities when talking to a dog. “Nooo….. Chew this…. Noooo…. Good girl…. No…..sit….. Goo–wait, noooo…. Don’t do that…. You’re so cute….” Training a puppy takes a lot of work and patience and “We’re in it togethers”, but the moment that furball kisses my face or stumbles as she runs toward me, I suddenly can’t remember the nips and accidents and spastic freakouts. Getting a puppy with JD has been an amazing (and amazingly tiring) start to 2015.

Lucycute

2. I think I would like and dislike being a Shakespearean actor. The more I read Shakespeare with my students, the more I feel like I would love to be saying those words for real, onstage. It’s incredible how much I put myself out there when I’m teaching (see #4). The passion, the vengeance, the agony–Shakespeare wrote real people (thank you, Samuel Johnson, for pointing that out). However, I love explaining the significance of what Macbeth has said or how the blood on Brutus’s hands is a symbol. I’m afraid if I toured with the Royal Shakespeare Company, I would be stopping every few lines to ask the audience if they caught that.

3. Sometimes you have to keep your options open.
Processed with VSCOcam with m5 preset4. I am much goofier and braver in my classroom than I am in real life. But being goofy and brave in my classroom has made me more comfortable with myself outside the classroom. I will get on my knees to deliver an impassioned monologue, gallop around the room to illustrate iambic pentameter, and compare the Greek chorus to High School Musical just to draw a student into the lesson–things I would typically never do in front of my peers. But putting myself out there in front of my students has made me bolder in front of my peers. Students, you teach me every day to be brave.

5. I still need my mom sometimes to calm me down when I’m crying. I called her this week at 6:30 AM completely dissolved because Lucy had gotten sick. She gave me advice, “It’s gonna be okays,” and time to calm down, even though she had to get ready for work. She’s the best.

6. 5th grade heartbreak stories become funny when you look back on them at 25. I’m totally over you, Ryan.

7. Sometimes sharing a sunset with a pup quiets the heart more than 5 AM readings of Ezekiel.
LucysunsetWhat has January taught you?