Words for Teaching and Words for Everything Else

School finished a week and a half ago and my last workday was last Thursday. Since then I have read and gone on walks and written and cleaned out my closet and watched The Office and washed my hair half as much as usual.

May was a tough month. The chaos of the end of the year arose, which we all expected, but it seemed that the weight of the world also descended upon all of our heads, which we didn’t. My fourth period can attest that I felt this way, considering that one Thursday I inexplicably burst into tears after morning announcements. It was a sign that we all needed summer, I told myself.

But in retrospect, when we look back and make sense and try fit our feelings into the facts of the matter, we sometimes surprise ourselves. Since September, I’ve been writing a poem every week. I’ve taken the occasional, accidental week off, but for the most part the green Moleskine my mom gave me when I graduated from college has been a place of solace and even occasional clarity. I often look back through the poems to see what I have learned and which ones are really worth their salt if I were to compile a chapbook one day, so I’m well-aware that all year most of my meterless lines have expressed the constant struggle between my lazily writhing loves and the overwhelming and still power of God.

But not so in May. During that month when I felt most afraid and desperate, I find that I wrote of the largeness of his joy. I reminded myself that he does not grow weary in well-doing. I wrote more than once about hope, Dickinson’s thing with feathers, and about my God’s hands holding us in this long earth’s-hour. While my feelings and actions were tiredly treading the ways and the lies of the shadowlands, somehow the words I wrote knew truth.

Oh, how I try not to discount the power that I know words have in my life, and oh, how often I fail. Since the beginning of my first year of teaching, when, in reading or listening, I come across a line that is particularly applicable to my classroom and to my heart at the front of it, I write it on a post-it and tape that post-it to my desk. Coffee-stained and messy, often covered over with stacks of papers, these post-its have become a chronicle of my worries and small mountains and of the ways in which Christ promises to see me through. They are words of peace, reminders that I am not called to heroism, only to the humble service of a God who died and lives again.

But those words are stuck to a desk and I forget to heed them, especially when I leave that desk for months on end. I wander into summer, nervous and burdened, as if John Henry Newman has not admonished me in my own scribbled ink to “show mercy to the absurd” (even when the absurd is yourself,) and George Herbert has not enthusiastically recommended prayer to me as the “heart in pilgrimage…land of spices…something understood.” I wander as if I did not after all have an anchor, forgetting that so many who’ve gone before me not only offer their shoulders to stand on, but their rich, sturdy sentences.

2nd year desk

I must remember. All the words I build up for teaching, they are truths which are meant for the rest of life too. I am diminishing the Word if I try to corral him and only let his power and his healing into certainly places or seasons or callings. I must let him into all spaces and all parts.

The oldest post-it on my desk is actually one I wrote out for myself senior year of college, while I was drafting a novel (something I am beginning to do again this summer). It is from a John Donne poem, and it says “But who shall give thee that grace to begin?”

So I begin, and so I begin with his words and his grace.

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