Have Hope

This week I told my students news I’ve been sitting on for a little while: next year, I’m not returning to teach because I’m going to graduate school in Vancouver, a city in some other country facing out over some other ocean. Some of them were calm when I told them, and some were less-so. Two fell out of their chairs. A few announced they could no longer do the assigned work for the day because of their great grief. I laughed. But my hands shook through the first two classes I had to tell. I am sad. I’m as sure that this is the right decision as I’m sure of my own right hand, but nothing can quite assuage the child-like sorrow I feel over leaving people and places I love.

However, my moving to another place and another life is the least of these things.

My sister told me this afternoon that everything feels heavy right now. This season has been one in which I’ve learned the weight of the world, and this week that weight has been not only burdensome but loud. All the pain in my peripheral vision, the groanings of the created beings around me, are making themselves known in cacophony.

I have been thinking of the Yeats poem I love which says: “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; / Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world, / The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere / The ceremony of innocence is drowned.” I grieve for the things I see that are lost, many beyond repair. He’s right: the things on which we rely will be shattered, and we can’t buy back past innocence for ourselves or for those we love.

I love that poem because it is completely true, but I also love it because it is completely short-sighted. I’m not disputing the obvious brilliance of W.B. Yeats, but human bitterness often assures that our long-distance vision is effectively nil. Things lost may be beyond repair, but they are not beyond redemption and rebirth. The things we rely on will eventually crumble beneath us, so that we may land at last on the Rock, the only one who can, in fact, buy back not only our innocence, but ourselves entire, and bring us into eternity. Yeats tells the truth, but only the first page of it.

One of my fellow teachers, a kind, kind man who was my English teacher himself back in the day, told me yesterday that I needed to write a book, because I had something to say. I hesitantly agreed, and perhaps what I have to say begins with this: I am hopeful.

Once I would have told you that I am hopeful because my students are sweet and bright and growing up into good people. I would have told you that I am hopeful because my family and my friends, they love me and make me happy. I would have told you that I am hopeful because God had given me far more comforts and blessings than I deserve. I would have told you that I am hopeful because spring comes every year.

But now, though my fears are bigger, because my fears are bigger, so are my hopes. They are stronger than they once were. Now I am hopeful because no matter where my students end up, they have a God who loves them each like the hundredth sheep. Now I am hopeful because that same faithful God loves me and has given me others to pass that love on to, in sinful fits and starts. Now I am hopeful because that love is so real that God saw fit to manifest it in his own bleeding, gasping Son on a cross. Now I am hopeful because I serve a God who dreamed up spring, who has pronounced that life can spring forth from the deadest death, that Yeats’ “blood-dimmed tide” will be followed by the clearest dawn.

Lighting the Turtle

Last night I was searching through the depths of my school google drive for something and stumbled upon a mid-year self-evaluation I had completed during my first year of teaching. The young woman who was me almost three years ago came across as sweet and hopeful. She said that she was learning to teach and slowly getting better, that her students seemed to at least be learning something, that she was grateful for the support of the teachers around her, and that she loved her students. She italicized it. She loved them.

I’ve found myself able to be actively grateful for a couple things the last week or two. The first is that God is in control and I am not. I have been holding my hands open recently because if I tried to clamp them tight around my own plans and power, there would be nothing to grasp onto but air. I am reliant on the grace of God. The second thing I am grateful for is the manner in which God has shown me this grace: I’m grateful for my students.

They haven’t been perfect in the last few weeks, but they know that. I haven’t been perfect, and I know that too. Regardless, whenever they’ve walked into my classroom over the last few days, I’ve found it easier to breathe deep. I know that their coming will distract me and cheer me. They’re unwitting bearers of perspective and sometimes even joy. Also, I love them.

This afternoon in fourth period, after I passed out a reading from Frederick Douglass, the boy who sits directly in front of my desk looked up and asked, “Miss Hodgkins, are you going to light the turtle?” On my desk is a turtle candle holder, a gift from a student right around the same time the earlier Alice wrote that self-eval. I remember him telling me cheerfully that I could use it to help calm everybody down. It’s heavy polished stone, with a brightly painted back, and just enough room in the middle of his shell to hold a small tea light. The turtle is a familiar sight to all the souls who like to wander up to my desk between classes and fiddle with its contents. It’s a presence in my classroom, so I’ve been asked to light it many times before, but I’ve always said no. (I say no a lot.)

But today I said yes. Or rather, I looked back at the asking student for a moment, and then I dug into the glass jar on my desk, and pulled out the little blue Bic lighter that lives there. (Note that the lighter mysteriously appeared in my classroom a couple months ago. It’s not originally mine.) The kids cheered softly as I lit the dusty wick. I smiled. (I smile a lot too.)

The turtle burned for the rest of the afternoon. A few of the girls announced that it was the “eternal flame.” A student in fifth period magnanimously promised to buy me a lavender scented candle. At the beginning of sixth period several boys took turns trying to blow it out from a distance, until I stood a folder around it to protect it. After the final bell rang, I walked out into the hall and almost laughed, because the boy who’d originally given me the candle, long-graduated, was standing there with a friend, home from college. I was well-satisfied. I love them.

On Slow Learning

If you have ever owned
a tortoise, you already know
how difficult paper training can be
for some pets.

Even if you get so far
as to instill in your tortoise
the value of achieving the paper
there remains one obstacle—
your tortoise’s intrinsic sloth.

Even a well-intentioned tortoise
may find himself, in his journeys
to be painfully far from the mark.

Failing, your tortoise may shy away
for weeks within his shell,
utterly ashamed, or looking up with tiny,
wet eyes might offer an honest shrug.
Forgive him.

-Scott Cairns

A Very Small Story (with a Moral)

This morning I came into my classroom, made tea, and sat down with a senior to help her with her thesis topic. The chairs were up on tables for the floor to be cleaned the night before, so we just took two down, because that was all we needed.

Part-way through our meeting, a sophomore boy who’s in the elective that meets first hour in my room came in to leave his things there. I said hello, and went back to my conversation. Five or ten minutes later, when the senior girl left, armed (I hope) with revision ideas, I looked up and saw that all the chairs were down. “Did you do that?” I asked him. He shrugged and said yes. I thanked him and he disappeared back out into the hall.

Not only do they clean the floors on Monday, but on Tuesday night as well. Usually I try to remember to ask the kids in my last hour to put them up, but they were very invested in the review game we were playing today, so I let class run right up to the bell, and by the time I remembered about the chairs, the room had cleared out. I began to put them up alone, one by one, silently berating myself for not asking for help when I had it available to me.

Then I looked up to see that two of my juniors were still left packing their things, and two more who I didn’t even have today had wandered in for unknown reasons. Without my requesting help, or the kids even asking if I needed it, they all began to put chairs on tables, juggling their book-bags and binders. The job was done in ten seconds, and by the time I thanked them, they were all already out my door again. They didn’t acknowledge their own kindness.

This is a very small thing, smaller than small, but I haven’t really stopped thinking about it since. I was even distracted from grading freshman papers tonight because I was remembering.

I think there are two reasons that it had such weight for me. First, I am tired, and I have had a hard week or two. Kindness means most when you need it most.

But more than that, help was offered to me so freely, without expectation of anything in return, not even gratitude or recognition. I love my students, and they are often sweet and pleasant, but this reflexive willingness to immediately and unassumingly fill whatever inauspicious need is placed in front of them–this is rare, both among teenagers and among people in general. To see such a virtue active and growing in them moves me more than they can know. When my students are able to step out into the world as that kind of salt and light, they’ll certainly have far surpassed everything I have to teach them, regardless of what they know about comma placement or the cotton gin.

God is good.

Sunday

When I was in college (which sometimes now seems strangely long ago), I used to decide I was going to write a blog entry, and just do it. I would begin (usually on a Sunday like today), and just go, not knowing where the winding trail of words would end up, only trusting.

I am sitting in my apartment with the AC off and all the windows open, because this morning my roommate found fleas (ugh), so we set off bug bombs this afternoon and now I am airing everything out. The sun is warm on the back of my neck, and I am happy.

School starts on Wednesday. I haven’t taken the time to be sentimental about it, but it occurs to me now that maybe I should. Writing about what I do all day doesn’t give those things their value, but doing so certainly helps me to understand them.

This will be my fourth year in front of a classroom, my fourth year in the working world, my fourth year as neither a student or a child. I have changed. I have changed so much that sometimes I wonder if I show physical signs of it. Do I walk more quickly now? Does my voice have a slightly lower register? Has the shape of my face stretched and sharpened?

But much more has stayed the same. Maybe it’s silly to say that and post it to the internet, which is a place renowned for its daily hysteria over change, but sitting in a quiet room reminds me that it’s true. There are vines which press themselves against my bedroom window, and they are just the same shade of green as the ones I used to play in and around in my backyard as a little girl. A warm room full of indistinct laughter and talk still sounds the way a full stomach feels, the same as it has for centuries. We all still walk around carrying little burdens of trepidation and confusion and annoyance and wornout cares, which would have looked perfectly familiar to the ancients. We still sing.

All of this hints to me that the truth of the matter is not so much that everything changes, but simply that I am growing up in God’s world, and everyday my eyes see more of it: the good, the warped, the beautiful. There will be moments I will meet which will be discouraging, and of course I may allow myself to be discouraged by them, but I must remember that there will be other moments coming, and then more and more. One day, the more will become most, I will meet my Lord in eternity, and my education, my child-growing-to-adult years, will be complete. I will be ready to begin the real business of living.

So that’s how I’m trying to begin this fourth year out in the beautiful old wounded world: worship and keep my head up, so that as I grow I won’t miss a thing.

Measurements

If I were to tell you briefly what I miss most about studenthood, I would tell you that I miss all the measurements. I miss the measurements because back when I had them, they could tell me how I was doing. The grades told me I was doing well, or I was doing alright, or sometimes they told me “Oh no!” The comments I received along with the grades gave me other measuring words: “Excellent analysis” “Adequate reading” “Very poor introduction.” But my favorite was the way that for a student everything, good, adequate, or poor, came to an end: years, semesters, classes, papers, projects. Everything reached a point where it was finished, polished and shiny, ready to become my ancient history. I used to love the moment when they passed out the test and you put your notes under the desk: whether I had studied for fifteen minutes (which was not enough) or three hours (which, frankly, was rare) there was nothing more I could do now. I knew what I knew, and not what I didn’t. I found it easy to be a philosopher when it was up to others to decide the value of my work.

But now it is hard. I have a great deal of freedom in my job, and I am grateful for this, but it means that much of the time I am my own judge, jury, and occasionally executioner. Each day I come in, and for lack of anyone else to constantly measure me, I become the fly on my own wall as I make curriculum decisions, pacing decisions, policy decisions, grading decisions, classroom management decisions. I sit and watch myself, with the good, adequate, and “oh no!” score cards waiting in my hand, as I make second to second decisions about what words and inflection to use with the student I’m speaking to. Oh, I want to do well. I want to do well so badly that I am hard on myself, because how else will I grow? I’m terrified I might end up complacent or even delusional about my own performance. So I come into school each day, saying, “Alright, do better, Alice,” without really knowing what I mean by that. Sometimes I wonder if the standards I ask myself to meet are possible, or even definable. But I never know, because that final test that would tell me never comes.

And if school is bad then summer is worse. It is formless and quiet. By choice I spend a lot of time by myself, left to my own devices. And there’s the rub. Alone, unshowered, on a July Tuesday morning, I sit on my bed, feeling a desperate pressure to accomplish something, without entirely understanding what I mean by that. I know that it is summer, and I am free. Free to do all the things I don’t normally make time for: cook and clean and read and write and walk and talk and put on make up and spend money. The list begins to grow and overwhelm me, the Mr. Knightley I have built out of extra shards of my own conscience says “Badly done!”, and I end up watching Netflix and indulging in a self-loathing which is nothing like rest.

I say all this not to sound dire, but because this is so often the gist of my inner monologue. I want to be told that I’m doing wonderfully, and by a more reliable source than myself, but I also want to be alone, and do things my own way.

So first I must laugh at myself, because that is usually a good way to begin (and beginnings are the best endings).

And second I must repent of more than a little self-aggrandizement. I must repent of the silly belief that even if I cannot be the savior of the world, I can still be the savior of myself. I must remind myself that goodness and growth and learning come not through human effort, but through God’s grace to us.

Last, I must find a new way through. I am not a good measurer of myself, so I must find something else to measure, some other structure to lean on, to tell me the value of the work I am doing. I must hold it up to the cross, I must ask it about joy, I must find if it leads me to worship.

Philosophers have measured mountains,

Fathom’d the depths of seas, of states, and kings,

Walk’d with a staff to heaven, and traced fountains

       But there are two vast, spacious things,

The which to measure it doth more behove:

Yet few there are that sound them; Sin and Love.

Classroom

I have been thinking about trying to write more. Not write on here, but push myself and write the things that are hard for me to write, like short stories. (It’s a little funny that short stories have become the most frightening form for me, considering that’s where I started as a teenager.) So I was thinking the other morning that I should write what I know. It is not the only writing advice, but it is tried and true and good for quelling fear. I looked out over my sophomores who were working on their journal entries with kind-of-sort-of-maybe diligence, and I thought, But how do you write fiction about that? Those kids are real and personal and ever mutable. They’re wonderfully, painfully individual. My everyday experience as a teacher is shaped by each one of them, and though my words can accomplish something, I am not fool enough to think they can capture all of who my students are in a single plot arc.

But there is one way to give you an in to the day-in and the day-out, I think, and that’s to tell you about my classroom.

My room number is 208, but I’m always getting confused and telling people it’s 210. It’s the room where I took Geometry and Precalculus when I was thirteen and fifteen, so it knows my tears and worries of old. It has green carpet and one green wall and two windows with curtains that, like so many other things, I inherited from a teacher before me. The walls are littered with maps and colorful student projects, and a lot of things in my room are broken. Notable items include a three-legged table, a chair separated from its seat, and a pencil sharpener with a crank that’s inconveniently missing its handle.

In fact, back in December when I injudiciously allowed my precious freshmen to decorate my room for Christmas and the whole scene turned into a magnificent catastrophe, I made a “Broken Things” list on the board, to which a few students joyously contributed.

The list was, perhaps, a bit hyperbolic, but there is no denying my students are very comfortable in my room. They tell me so themselves and sometimes I am frustrated. All of my current students are at least fifteen years old, which is quite old enough to understand that when they make a mess, someone, somewhere, must eventually clean up after them. And yet at the end of a long day as I pick up debris off the floor, I will remark bitterly to anyone in earshot (or very often no one at all) that my classroom is probably the world’s largest trashcan. (Though I do get a lot of nice free mechanical pencils.)

Other frustrations include the fact that space is at a premium and so aside from the previously mentioned broken items, my fairly small room houses two teacher desks, ten student tables, twenty student chairs, various and sundry cabinets, shelves, and storage towers, and whole lot of moving bodies and foot traffic.

So the familiar running patter of instructions in my classroom includes: Get out of my window, stop leaning back in your chair, get out from behind Ms. Gillespie’s desk, whoever that water bottle belongs to needs to put it away so I don’t see it again, don’t sit on that table it has three legs, yes I know my stool is shaky but it’s mine not yours, STOP leaning back in your chair, take your bag off your desk, no projectiles in my room no I don’t care what it is or why, get your hands off each other, put the scissors away, shut the door for me, put my table back where it goes, do you understand that every time you lean back in your chair like that I picture your skull crushed on the floor and your blood and brains splattered across my carpet?

Clearly I say a lot of words every day, and sometimes, like my teenagers, I complain just to hear the comfortable sound of my own voice, but the strange fact remains: most of those “broken things” have been in bad shape since around October, and I have yet to put in a help ticket to the trusty facilities team. And it’s not because I’ve forgotten.

I suppose the silly secret is that I’m a Romantic. I think of my classroom as a living thing, an organism, a place of life. I secretly like that it has wounds, that it shows signs of my students’ sometimes-misguided exuberance. I am grateful to find that the space where I breathe and sit and sigh and dream and talk and spin my energy out like thread for at least eight or nine hours every weekday actually feels lived in.  It reminds me that quite a few souls are constantly in and out of my door and that things happen there every day. I must continue to make sure those things are valuable.

A Brief Note of Appreciation

I’m writing this because my mom suggested it a while back, but also because I mean it. (I always mean it.)

Week before last, over Thanksgiving break, I got together with a bunch of high school classmates. Since I work at my alma mater a friend wanted to reminisce about our teachers, and he began enthusiastically with “Of course, Mrs. Liebmann was always a champion.”

I’ve been processing this. I think of her now as a friend, and don’t always take the time to remember her as a teacher. Freshman year we spent long hours over creative art projects and she read to us, not just picture books like I do now at storytime, but whole chapter books, stories of people lost and found. I was in her small group and she prayed and prayed and prayed over us. She taught us all through our tenth grade year about the age of exploration and the promise of the new world  while her hair fell out from chemo. (She announced that it was Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, but that it was “not Alice’s fault.”) And senior year she listened patiently in Apologetics as we haltingly expressed our fears and hopes about the strange caverns in our souls. We talked one day about the things we were absolutely sure of. She said that the one thing she knew beyond any doubt, even at her most lost, was that God is. God is and He is and He is. So that was, for me, a place to begin.

Yes, she was a champion. I look back now with a much fuller picture, but I see that even then she was always fighting for something. Fighting for justice, fighting for our innocence, fighting for our hope, fighting to lead us to understanding, fighting for us to comprehend beauty and joy. Most of all though, I think she fought for wisdom. Ours, but also her own. She was constantly searching to know what was good and true, because what was good and true was all that was worth living for. Proverbs 4:7: “The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom. Though it cost all you have, get understanding.” She fought to know and serve her God better, and we watched with ringside seats.

So I am writing this because I know I do not say thank you enough and I think people get tired and they forget. They forget that God uses their obedience to him in ways both large and small.

So know this, Leslie: I owe more than I can express to your steadfast teaching, and as the layers of my old stubbornness wear away I have only learned more. But the web spreads much wider than that. For years you’ve championed Wisdom daily at the front of your classroom, for hundreds of kids, and because of you she has made triumphant inroads into those hundreds of hearts. You’ve left tracks, friend. I see them.

Saving and Spending Myself

This summer I was talking to a former student about how she wanted to travel the world. I said that I had never really had wanderlust, but that she should follow her dreams and go every place she could and all that jazz. She paused and said, “Well, if you don’t want to travel, what do you want?” I had never been asked that before, or at least not so bluntly. “A house.” I told her quietly. “I want a house.”

I have been drawing blueprints for houses since elementary school. Many of them were for fictional characters to live in, but some were just for me. And in the houses I drew for myself, there was always one central, special haven of a place. There was always a great big round perfect bathroom. It had a domed ceiling, with windows high in the walls. There was a fireplace and bookshelves wrapping all around. A toilet and sink would be tucked away behind some curtain somewhere, and the enormous claw-foot bathtub would sit in the heart of it all, built with ledges wide enough to hold books and papers and snacks and drinks. Most importantly, the door would shut and it would lock. If that bathroom ever actually existed, I would probably never come out.

I love closed doors. I love closing my bedroom door and my classroom door and the door of my car. I even like closing the door of the stall in public bathrooms. It gives me instant relief when I am anxious and it makes me feel safe.

I can blame this on my introversion all day long (and sometimes do,) but the fact is, I am saving myself up. This is my justification. I don’t want to run dry and run out so I conserve energy and patience and self, as if I, a human being, am some allocated amount of precious resources which must be spent judiciously and reasonably at just the right times and in just the right places, then locked away when not in use, away from all those leeches: those other human beings.

I am not a misanthrope, but, though every one of my vices is pretty darn drawing-room appropriate, they are all ways of pulling the latch-string through, retreating, “shutting the door and sitting by the fire.” So many things I run to to heal my soul seem to be just more ways to keep people out. As if the others are the problem. As if my occasional human agony and weariness is not born of the sin in my own heart.

I am not some valuable resource to be scrimped and bartered with. I am a growing, stumbling child on the great communal road to righteousness. I am a created vessel, meant to be filled and poured out, washed and filled again, always open. I am a door for my precious students to walk through and through and through.

A great and dear friend of mine wrote once that we ought not “draw imaginary lines on the seat; let people lean into your space and when the pain comes ask Jesus for the grace to bear it.” I have not been redeemed  from the pit by the God of the universe so that I can spend my time locking myself in bathrooms. I have been redeemed to be an image bearer, to become like Jesus, to take up my cross and give myself away.

I still want to buy a house. But I’d like some other people to live in it with me. Or at least one. We’ll start there.

An Anniversary of Evil and Hope

I’m teaching freshman writing this semester. I have kids who are a full decade younger than I am.

For the end of the week, I pulled out an editorial about 9-11 that I knew Sonya had loved to teach, then found a couple more good ones and printed them all off. I mentioned to my mom that I was going to do something about the attacks, and she said I should show them some of the news footage.

So I went home that night and found a video on youtube that was about ten minutes long, which showed the main events of the morning from the vantage point of all the major news outlets. I listened to the confusion and fear of the broadcasters and realized that I had never actually seen the live footage before. On the morning of September 11, 2001, I was in my fourth grade classroom. When I went home that afternoon, my parents hadn’t exactly turned on the tv and suggested I watch.

The next day my first period came in, full of life and sort of antsy. I told them they were going to write about 9-11, and took a poll. Most of them weren’t even alive. The ones who were were only a few months old. A couple boys told me proudly that they were born just days after the attacks.

And then I started the video. We watched Flight 175 crash into the second tower again and again, exploding into that black and orange cloud of fire that, to most of our soft minds, looks like CGI. After a few minutes, I glanced out at my students, who were leaning forward against their desks. Their faces were still and white and they looked as if they had swallowed poison. My own stomach suddenly hurt. They’re fourteen. I thought. They’re children. What am I doing? I shouldn’t have. No. I turned back to the footage as one of the reporters was saying, “And now the south tower is…it’s falling apart. There’s no other way to describe it.” Where it had stood, there was a thick, awful column of smoke, as tall as the tower itself had been, but containing nothing living.

When the video finished, the room was very quiet. I told them to read the three editorials (which you can find here, here, and here) and I put an assignment up on the screen for them to write an editorial of their own.

For the rest of the period (and the two periods after that), I sat at my desk and read my students’ journal entries about last night’s volleyball game, and how high school has a lot more homework than they expected. And they sat at their desks and read and wrote about fear and pain. I looked up at them a few times. Christ Jesus makes all things new, and sometimes I think our grief over wicked things must be made new too. I watched it made new in their faces.

The assignment isn’t due until Monday, but some of them turned them into me already and I read them this weekend. Most of them were angry, the boys especially. They talked a lot about cowardice. They used words like slime and sick and evil and monsters. They said that watching the footage made them tear up or gave them goosebumps. They said they didn’t understand and they wanted revenge.

But that’s not all they said. They talked about bravery and they talked about sacrifice. They had quite a lot to say about justice. Several of them talked about healing. They said that pain was pain, but in that moment, for a while at least, it brought us together on our knees. America woke up and remembered itself. One very-nearly quoted Maya Angelou: “We are more alike, my friends, than we are unalike.” My students, who remember none of this, saw death and wrote about hope.

I am thankful.

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.