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Archive for April, 2012

#56!

Every month at the end of the month, the top five books on Authonomy earn a Harper Collins review.  There’s much rejoicing by the authors of those five books and their supporters, and I’m always happy to see those books get their reviews.

The rest of us enjoy watching our books jump 5 spaces.  But today, my book jumped *seven* spaces.  I’m feeling extra proud of it today.

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Lilacs

This week I noticed a lilac blooming on the grounds of the school where I work.  They bloom here a bit earlier than they do in Spokane, which holds an annual festival in honor of these perfumed beauties.  So prominent are they in the city, that I had to include them in my book, Steadfast.

*********************

Thinking of Trevor’s family caused me endless amounts of pain.  I asked Chris about it as often as I dared and he always insisted it was better they not have any details.  I wanted to respect his judgment, after all, he knew Trevor and I didn’t, but as the weeks went by I became more aware of what it was like to lose a loved one.  I wanted to know what Chris was thinking and feeling every moment of the day.  I wanted to watch the lawns green up through his memories of springtimes past.  Did he notice it?  Did it make him dread having to mow the lawn?  Did it bring back the sounds and smells of baseball practice?  I wanted to see the first sprigs of forsythia bloom, notice the tulips show up in the grocery store, smell the lilacs bloom through his senses.  The Monahans had a huge lilac hedge in the back yard.  What memories came to life when he smelled that hedge blooming?  I wanted him to tell me how his body responded to the warmer temperatures of summer, the trip we took to the lake, the walk along the river.  I couldn’t get enough.  And Trevor’s family got nothing.

The lilacs finally did it.  The common lilac, syringa vulgaris, proliferates in the sun and soil of Spokane.  For about two weeks each May–usually a good week after the festival held in their honor–the smell of lilacs permeates the city and the county.  Every activity becomes more regal, more gracious when accompanied by the fragrance of the lilac.  Eating leftovers outside on the picnic table becomes dining al fresco when the lilacs bloom.  Children walking to school feel smarter, students in college find their classmates more attractive, and married couples conceive more babies ushered by the aroma of the incomparable lilacs.

I had brought in a bouquet of branches snipped from Omi’s yard.  She lent me a vase, and the three branches it held filled the tiny apartment with a fragrance so strong I had to put them in the hallway at night.  Chris began telling stories without any prompting from me.  He spoke of Mother’s Day barbecues held in the shade of that lilac hedge, where Barb received macaroni necklaces and handmade cards.  One year Michael’s card said, “I love you better than pancakes.”  They had given their mother herbs for her garden, plants for the kitchen, box after box of thick, creamy stationery, and hundreds of pounds of See’s Chocolates.  She received each gift with the same delight, hugged each child with the same affection, and even though Chris fell asleep breathing in the flavor of the lilacs believing he was her favorite, he also knew that she loved all the others just as much.

“Don’t you see?” I told him, “Can’t you understand how grateful she’ll be when I tell her this story?  I’ll be able to pull this out when she’s feeling low and give her a bright, happy memory of her loving son.”

“Well, sure,” he said, not seeing where I was headed.

“Don’t you want to give this to Trevor’s family?  Don’t you have something to share with them that can ease their suffering?”

“Heather, you don’t understand.”

“If they didn’t know he was gay, you can tell them you were his friend.  You make a wonderful friend.”

“He never talked to them.”

“Chris, if he was wonderful enough for you to love, then they loved him, too.  What about his brothers and sisters?  What about his friends?  What if you had died down there alone?  Wouldn’t you want Trevor to talk to Reagan, or Frankie, or Michael?”  I closed my eyes to hide my fear.  “Wouldn’t you have wanted him to talk to me?”

“I would have never kept you in the dark.”

“But think about your family.  Once they had the time they needed, they stepped up.  It took them a while, but now we can’t get rid of them.  The place is crawling with them.  They love you.”

“He did talk about his sister.”

“Maybe we could try to find her.”

“I’ll think about it.”

“I’ll remind you.”

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Introverts at Church

My close personal friend*, Jon Acuff, has written yet another post I must share with you.  He wanted introverts to share their ten most awkward moments at church.

My husband and I are both introverts.  We are at this moment sitting in our recliners tapping on our laptops.  The only sound I hear is the hum of the fridge.  We don’t run the TV just for the noise.  We don’t listen to music all the time.  We like peacefulness.

And my husband does not like that moment in church when the pastor asks us to greet the people around us.  I can manage it a bit better than he can, what with my stellar careers in Customer Service and the PTA.  But he likes to arrive at about the same moment all the handshaking is done.

The other awkward moment for us is when an assistant pastor encourages us to join a small group.  In fact, we recently watched a clever and hilarious video at church about how some people don’t want to get together in fellowship with others.  Dave and I laughed along with everyone else, even though we agreed with the guy trying to evade the small group signup table.  The line I remember best went something like this:  “I don’t want to unpack my issues.  If they’re packed up, there’s probably a good reason for it!”

My husband loves it when he can watch a church event online.  He’s figured out how to attach the laptop to the television so we can watch “The Bible Plain and Simple,” which is a Bible-study that meets once each week.  The thought of driving to the church and mingling with the people holds zero appeal for him.

For most of my life, I wished I had the people skills of my more outgoing friends.  I thought my preference for solitude was some kind of character flaw.  I understand now that I recharge when I’m alone.  Being out in the world among people–I’m a middle school teacher so when I say “among” I mean “beseiged by at every single moment”–wears me out.  Wearing my public face, asking all the right questions, listening to comments, answers, rage, backtalk, singing, and the occasional curse word, sometimes all in one brief conversation…it makes me feel like I’ve run a marathon.  I love it, but it’s exhausting.

So that’s how this introvert feels about church.  What about you?

*I’ve never actually met Jon Acuff.  I just lurk on his website, Stuff Christians Like, and have read one of his books.  For a loner like me, that’s a pretty close relationship.

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Poem in Your Pocket

Tomorrow, April 26, is Poem in Your Pocket day.  You are encouraged to select a favorite poem and carry it with you–in your pocket–so that you can share it with the people you meet as you go along your way.

I’m going to be sharing Invictus, by William Ernest Henley:

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

What poem would you carry in your pocket?

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This morning the radio station I listen to shared stories of how people felt God at work in their lives.  You know, those little things that happen that are too wonderful, or too amazing, to be coincidences.

My husband and I have felt God at work in many ways in our lives recently, but not in ways I necessarily wanted to share.  So I challenged myself to write about them.

We had a fortune.

We had the kind of fortune that lets you stay home and volunteer and coach Little League and just generally hang out with the kids.  By local standards, it was a small fortune.  We didn’t found Amazon or design the 747 or write the code for Windows.  We don’t have a second house or an exotic car.  We did have a boat, but the kids didn’t much enjoy it, so we sold it.  It was a nice, little fortune.

Then, in October of 2008, we lost it, right along with everyone else.

Backup investments?  Yes, we had made many smart investments with our money.

In real estate.

Which was, in addition to the stock market, the other investment to take a huge hit that autumn.

So there we were, with a son in college, a daughter hoping to attend grad school, a huge house payment, no jobs, and no money.

We slashed our spending.  We stopped eating in restaurants.  We called the cable company and asked about less expensive options.  We cancelled the athletic club and the monthly visit by the lawn care service.  We no longer have the windows cleaned each spring.  We ate lots of rice and noodles.

I checked job listings on CraigsList and told everyone I knew that I needed a job.  I wasn’t worried about my prospects; I have retail management experience and retailers always need managers.  Dave’s position was less optimistic.  He’d worked in sales and had been a company Vice President, but having spent several years working for his father, he worried that his list of references might be a tad weak.  On the plus side, he had only recently completed a program at South Seattle Community College in Aviation Maintenance, originally thinking he’d like to own a plane and felt he should know how to keep it running.  Wondering who on earth might hire a former salesman who could fix planes, he visited SSCC to get his transcripts.  Upon hearing that he needed work, the department offered him a job teaching in the program.

Was that you, God?

A couple of weeks later, we got a letter from our mortgage company, which I opened in fear.  It began with a reminder that we had an adjustable-rate mortgage.  The letter began to shake in my hands.  And then I read that our mortgage payment would be going down by a few hundred dollars each month.

God?

I earned a teaching degree back in the last century, and after all my school-related volunteer work, I wondered if I could teach.  .  The Principal at my children’s school had insisted I would be an excellent teacher; her encouragement played a huge role in my interest.  But still, I wondered if I really wanted to begin a teaching career at the age of 49 and I didn’t know if I could get my credentials reinstated.  I visited a couple of classrooms at my son’s school.  I went online to check out the process for renewing my credentials.  After watching a couple of teachers in action, I knew I’d like to at least sub for a while.  I could get my teaching certificate for a small fee.  Within weeks, I had sub assignments—and what’s more, income.

So did God speak to me back in college, or now?  Was that God or the Principal insisting I could teach?

Dave and I are average parents at best.  (You may have heard about our inability to take care of money.)  We accepted that our kids carried on the family tradition of earning grades below their obvious ability levels.  We didn’t harangue them after their sports events.  We bought cars for kids who had B averages, and we paid for their insurance.  Heck, we even paid for college.  Feeling even more terror, we sat down with our kids and explained our financial mess.  They responded by getting jobs.  Immediately.  During an economic crisis.

Was that God?

When I was in college, I majored in English and had a hard time choosing a minor.  In those days, anyone with a teaching certificate could teach in any classroom.  I didn’t need to minor in Social Studies or Math or Science.  I took enough classes to know more than a high-school senior, and felt well-prepared.  Besides, English teachers can teach Drama, Newspaper, Yearbook, and Debate.  God had other plans then.  When I graduated in 1982, the economy was worse than in 2008.  School enrollments plummeted as the Baby Boomers finished their collective educations.  I never got a teaching job.  Meanwhile, state and federal laws about teaching changed.  By the Spring of 2009, teachers had to be “highly qualified” to teach any subject.  So the only things I could teach were English, my major, and Reading, which was my minor.  I had chosen Reading because I wanted to be able to teach the low-achieving students as well as the high-achieving ones.   I thought I was doomed.  No one would need an English teacher who didn’t even have a Master’s.

But lots of schools needed Reading teachers.  In fact, my qualification to teach Reading to middle- and high-school students made me a sort of rare bird.  I interviewed for two jobs and got one of them for the 2009-2010 school year.

You again, God?

My husband taught two quarters at his new job and then had to take half of fall quarter off.  As a non-tenured instructor, he couldn’t work all four quarters of the year.  But then someone recommended that he get tenure and his school began the process of qualifying him.

Wow.  That had to be God.

I didn’t get to keep my Reading job.  Despite my minor, I lacked the ability to coach other teachers on helping students with Reading.  I lacked classroom management skills.  I was woefully out of date on the research in reading instruction.  So I applied to grad school and got in.  I couldn’t stay in (I bet you can guess why!!) but in the two quarters I could afford, I took a class on Education research, which gave me access to all that research I’d missed, a class on assessment, which clarified my muddle thinking on setting learning goals and then assessing them, and on teaching reading to English Language Learners.

In other words, exactly what I needed.  Thanks, God.

In the following year, two amazing things happened:  the woman who replaced me turned out to be the best mentor I could wish for, requesting me as a sub whenever she took a day off, and I worked nearly full time as a substitute.  Every Reading teacher—there aren’t many—requested me to sub.  The English teachers I’d met the previous year requested me as a sub.  And my years of volunteer work truly paid off.  I had at least one friend in nearly every school office.  When they realized I was available to substitute, they requested me well in advance for assignments as long as two weeks.  The more I subbed, the more confident I became about my classroom management skills.  A year of subbing was the best experience I could have hoped for.

One sub job was especially helpful.  I spent two weeks subbing for a para-educator, which took me into the classrooms of a half-dozen teachers.  I learned as much as the students!!  While they learned Math and English and Science, I learned about differentiated instruction, classroom logistics, handling unexpected situations, and about working with kids who have special needs.  I learned how to monitor a room full of students using PC’s.  (I went to school long before the release of the personal computer.  Even though I had eight years of experience as a sales manager at Microsoft, I still couldn’t quite predict the many ways thirty 16-year-olds could find to get off task in a computer lab.)

Than you, God, for giving me exactly the training and support I needed.

In the fall of 2011, I received a call early one morning from a local middle school.  They needed a sub for 2 periods in a Reading class.  I was reluctant to take the offer, because I already had a full-day assignment that day and hated to cancel it.  But the woman told me the job was open, and they would need me for several days.

Thank you, God, for that steady assignment.

I discovered when I arrived that the students in these two classes were unhappy and disruptive.  I worried about whether or not I could do a good job, but I knew their curriculum and I knew how to get along with students.  Oh, and the Assistant Principal, the Principal, and the district’s Literacy Coordinator remained in the classroom with me for both periods.  After the day’s classes ended, I made a couple of recommendations which turned out to be ‘spot on’ as my British friends say.  I also made a fairly good impression.  I taught for four days and then wasn’t called to come in the following Monday.  I was disappointed, but figured the school wanted to evaluate some other subs.  That lasted two days.  On Wednesday, the school called and asked me to come back.  I’ve been there ever since.  And today I got word that I’ll probably be there in the fall.

Thanks, God, for creating a job only I could do.

These stories represent a tiny fraction of the times God has spoken to us or stepped in to direct our paths.  We have many more.  What about you?  Has God visited you lately?

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Spring Break

So this is what happens when you create a blog.  You add excerpts from your books.  You post notices letting your friends know you’ve started blogging.  You comb through your PC for previously written gems you can fob off as new posts.

And then you realize, horrified, that you have little else to say.

I’d hoped to blog about the books I read, particularly the YA books read by my students.  But because I spend so much time on Authonomy reading parts of unpublished books, my appetite for completed novels is sated.  Besides, on Authonomy I can also visit with the author.

Sigh.

This past week was our Spring Break from school, so here’s a Spring Break excerpt from “Steadfast:”

Chris began to laugh at the loud voices and I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry or arm myself with a frying pan and a knife.  I pulled on my shirt and opened the door to prevent the neighbors from calling the police.

At the sight of me in the doorway, they dropped the swagger and adopted the look of chastened schoolboys.  They headed straight for me, mumbling “Sorry about the noise,” and “Nice to see you,” as they entered the apartment.

Once inside they hesitated a second as they saw the state of their once powerful older brother.  But to their credit, it was a quick second, and then they were climbing into the bed, stealing his cookies and lemonade and firing questions at him.

“Dude, is she….”  started Matt.

“Always here?  finished Mark.

“Is it true you did it…” started Mark

“With just one guy?” finished Matt.

“Do you have more…” started Matt

“Of these awesome cookies?” finished Mark.

“Are you going to come…” started Mark

“To our baseball games?” finished Matt.

“Why is it…” started Matt

“So effing hot in here?” finished Mark.

I took them more cookies and lemonade.  They ignored me, of course, and I stood by the French doors, watching them.  The blue fire returned to Chris’s eyes as he answered their questions.

“Did you thank Heather for the awesome cookies?”

They turned to me, as if seeing me for the first time.  Their invisible twin communication system crackled, and they bounced off the bed in tandem to embrace me in a terrifying twin bear hug.  “Thanks for the cookies!” cried one, a little too loudly.  “We love you, Heather,” cried the other, also too loudly.  I tried to worm my way out of their moist and smelly embrace.  Mark picked up on my disinclination and turned back toward the bed.

Before he could bounce like Tigger on his beloved Poo, Chris said, “Why don’t you sit in this leather wing chair?” and pointed at one of the lawn chairs.  Mark took the hint.

Meanwhile, Matt didn’t let me go.  In fact, he hugged me right around the edge of the wall into the other room, and whispered “Thank you,” as he looked into my face.  He put a hand on either side of my head.  “I feel so much better knowing you’re here.”  He kissed my forehead and practically sprinted back to the other room to drop into the other lawn chair as loudly as possible.

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Slate has an article about Jesus and homosexuality this week.

Though the article doesn’t reach much of a conclusion, it does allude to my own belief that Jesus believed in tending his flock.  He believed in reaching out to the poor, the sick, and the forgotten.

I guess what I really believe is that Jesus loved us, and wanted everyone to experience the love of his Father in Heaven.  Whenever I hear anyone using the Bible to decide that something is “wrong,” or that certain people can’t be loved by Jesus, I’m automatically suspicious.

We ascend to Heaven based on our relationship with Jesus.  Yes, we can live happier and more meaningful lives if we follow the Ten Commandments and do the things Jesus asked of us.  Yes, we try to glorify God each day through our behavior.  But Jesus isn’t about rejecting folks for the time they coveted the neighbor’s wife or new Lexus.  He’s about loving folks so that they can become more like Him.

Imagine the line of souls waiting to enter heaven.  No one will be asked, “Who received your love?”  But everyone will be asked, “Do you love me?”  And those who answer yes will pass through the pearly gates.

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