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Praise

Praise said the woman, for there are always rafters and trees and eagles overhead, for there is always a voice louder than yours, for there is always someone coming alongside to prop or cackle. To rearrange.

Praise. Let Word order. Let Light penetrate. Let air and breathe coalesce to fill you with peace. You can come alongside, you can walk with me but I am only going where I am going.

Praise my journey set like exact time on a birth certificate. No one changes that. All the worry about clothes falling off and bread

and where the next drink will come. All the untouched sunrises and sets. All the moments when the Great Artist fluttered His hands and created dusk and recreated you.

Praise for the easiness of play and all the good done when I give up the doing of the hard goods. Praise for eyes that see suffering for what it is in the everywhere of every person, and no longer need to require more in the name of the Lord.

Praise the silence of true suffering. Praise the lips who move in reverence of the honest moment. Praise all generosity that arises from this place.

Praise the authentic vocabulary of belief and the speak-easy way the Psalmist’s heart topples on his page. Praise the misunderstood and the beyond- comprehension that is the mind of God and the heart of man.

Praise when we touch that, and we feel something like a bird-wing, and, cradling the unknown, we gently go on our way.

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Assessing

I returned home from a faculty meeting yesterday with newfound affirmation that teaching during the pandemic has been difficult in ways that are challenging to articulate, even for college professors.

For empaths, it has been a two-year marathon of absorption of others’ stressors, anxiety and loss while also dealing with our own personal installments of the dynamically-draining trio.

For teachers, even those of us who support masking in schools, it has been an exhausting marathon without water stations of attempting to forge connection with faces we can only see slivers of while hiding behind our own masks. Wearing the mask causes me to wish I never had to talk at all, so forcing myself to talk in a classroom and project my voice so that at least half the room can understand what I am saying is drop-dead exhausting. There is always repetition involved in classroom instruction, but with a mask on, the necessity of repeating oneself, then sending emails to reinforce the information that students only heard half of has added so many hours to my day that I really don’t want to do the math.

During a pandemic, the grumpy get grumpier, the lazy get lazier, and the delegators seem to go into overdrive. In classrooms, every one of us– students and teachers–are doing more, more, more, but to less, less, less effect.

My super power as a professor is my ability to read a room. Guess what, I read mouths. Turns out the mouth is the facial feature that reveals the most in terms of nonverbal communication. The eyes without the mouth are not so readable.

My course evaluations last spring were the highest I have ever received (and they were already high), but as I read the students’ comments and looked at my numerical scores, I did not feel proud or happy about the results. I felt as though I had gotten away with subpar performance because my students were, themselves, so in need of caring, love and support.

My face is permanently chapped from wearing a mask and my lipstick tubes are all dried up from lack of use. I am dehydrated–physically, spiritually, emotionally, and in ways I am still processing. And, after yesterday’s faculty meeting, I realize I am not the only one. As one faculty member shared “There is just a heaviness about everything.”

When empaths like myself, who are much more comfortable leaning into others’ problems, actually take a moment to share our own struggles, the nonjudgmental caring we so naturally give doesn’t always come back to us in spades. That’s because non-empaths don’t really have the awareness to gage the amount of strength and resilience it takes to listen about others more than to speak about oneself.

My burnout as a teacher is not something I am proud of, but, it is a thing, a real thing. It isn’t the result of my lack of faith or character or willingness to endure when the going gets tough. When the going gets tough, all empaths know that we are the ones who sensed it and felt it weeks, years, months before our sanguine neighbors did.

Listening to my colleagues yesterday strengthened my resolve. This pandemic has affected each one of us, albeit in different ways. It has affected our campus community from the top down.

So, I am not going to apologize for feeling the way I feel, nor am I going to attempt to work my way out of it by working harder. Nor am I going to internalize shame or guilt from well-meaning Wesleyans when I do share.

I might put my friends who are also empaths and colleagues who are in the same lifeboat on speed dial and just share with them. Wait, and blog about it. You do what you’ve got to do. And you are enough. God did not create me to go through a pandemic and not be affected by it, and chances are He hasn’t created our children, our friends, our students, our colleagues to accomplish that either. It seems as though we’d be neither human nor infused with God’s Spirit as believers if we were capable of that feat.

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But I get summer off…

I ran across this chart and it caught my eye like a cute pair of shoes, probably because I am a Composition instructor and the “shoe fits.” A teacher with 30 students who averages 15 minutes per essay on grading and feedback will spend 7 1/2 hours of grading to complete grading. A teacher with 60 students (I taught 3 sections of Composition during Fall 2021) will spend 20 hours to grade a single essay assignment. A composition class will usually consist of 4-6 major essay assignments during a semester. For six essay assignments, that adds up to 120 hours outside of the classroom just to grade the major assignments.

That means an additional 6 weeks of work is added to my 13-week semester. I am under contract for half-time work as a professor.

As a Composition teacher, I grade a full set of in-class and/or homework assignments almost every class day. I read every poem, lyric essay, and journal entry that is shared with me by my students and I work hard to comment personally on their writing so that they know their work has been read by someone who cares.

It is impossible to teach the art of writing by designing easy-to-grade True-False tests that can be automatically graded online. It is impossible to assign the same writing prompts or teach from the same textbook year after year. All grading takes place outside the classroom.

Just putting this out there. #spinningmyrealife

What do hardworking teachers trying to keep our heads above water during a pandemic need? Not more to do. Do not tell this writing teacher that I also must save their souls, act as a social worker, submit ALL of my plans before class even starts, or teach while being taped by a surveillance video.

Don’t tell me my exhaustion is really a lack of conviction or self-esteem. As someone late to the party (I have only been teaching for 8 years and I’m 59), I am amazed at the expectations placed on the shoulders of teachers who are barely making ends meet with fast-food level wages. I honestly do not know how writing teachers last for 30 years (teachers giving the online True-False tests, okay maybe…)

I won’t be teaching for much longer. It’s time for me to pursue other adventures and to, well, sleep in on Saturday mornings once in awhile instead of reading essays. But I won’t ever retire from advocating for and expressing deep appreciation for teachers at all levels of our educational system. Teachers deserve our best as parents, community members, administrators, politicians; teachers do not deserve our constant higher and higher expectations for what stands for their best.

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God’s Joyful Surprise

I think I want to be surprised. When I come face to face with God and my life, I want to have served Him with some margin for mystery, not always knowing, not always overtly mentoring.

I hope the poem that is my life will not have always hidden the abrasions of minor keys. I hope there will have been times of uncertainty, when I didn’t just know but I obeyed anyway, not acutely

aware in the moment that an act of kindness or a teachable moment

was obedience. God’s Word hidden in my heart–may that always be

a work of art in progress for which I more than anyone need Grace.

The challenge for the contemplative is the stumbling block of knowledge. May I never know enough. May I always need wings.

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Seeker

As you grow older, closer to

light, abyss, memory,

as you read about strangers’ deaths

in acquaintance obituaries,

as you contemplate so many strangers–

Do you long for more quietude, less of?

Are mountains no longer for climbing and

were they ever, always?

Can you now, finally, hear the words?

They are mouthed in the fragrance of sunwash

and light on water and ancient tongues.

Seek the Lord.

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Grace

you are my life in soft light,

love delivered seamlessly, ebullient

gratitude used correctly in the same life

sentence, righteousness arranged just right.

Grace, I hold to you. I look for you

in the winds. I claim you as color changes

in clear water that shimmers through my desperate

hands. I drink you in.

Please, Grace, work your magic and spin me

better than I actually ever am–first filter

like blue eyes that can only envision blue-white snow.

Turn what I despise into what I most love

so that I can understand the Great Father’s love

for me, a love that makes it easy to expose

the innermost wretches of my heart.

I line up my failures and the dew of the sea

rushes over them, shines them into

something else–a birthright of purity,

celestially new.

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Christmas Life

My Christmas is so much like my life–contemplative

and a bit messy around the edges. I read about adventures

and new recipes, then I pull out my 40-year-old sauce pan

and make the same fudge from memory. Ancient on repeat

seems to be the default bell, jingling from the wings of an old

angel atop the tree. My favorite aunt mailed me fudge once

and I was so touched and homesick and filled with good. She knew

she was dying, and although she had not spoken the word to me, I knew it, too. I can’t really recreate the beauty that has passed before me

but I can remember and I can go through the motions, stirring and stirring until something in my heart begins to taste. Isn’t that what Christmas is all about–the feeble attempt to share the unbeknownst? Bonhoeffer tells me faith requires a first step of obedience and in the same breath obedience requires faith. There is no first ingredient to the formula. Salvation is like a train that a man running hard away from himself can jump on at any time and at any place, and the miracle is, he will squarely find himself again. He might run or he might stay. He might place his head down on the tracks, then pull away at the last possible moment. He might stand in a long, civilized line and purchase a roundtrip ticket in first class with a sleeping car and chicken with wine. What is faith, really, but the idea of no idea?

A baby? A manger? An unusual star? Do I dare believe this? Open the box. Taste. See.

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Quiet Time

Sometimes I must tell time to be quiet, to “shush”–

Time is an indolent child, unraveling a blanket

thread by thread with a radar for my distraction.

The lid of winter closes down and I realize it has been days,

weeks, months, years, a lifetime of serving two masters.

Here’s how to stretch an eternity in the present like salt-taffy

held in tension and rain: bed down in the love of your ancestors,

write a long letter, give something away, sit with someone who remembers you young. Double your day by letting the morning sun

dance in her dusty shadows without you. Be a watchman, be a lighthouse

for the word that will come from the Lord. Pay attention to how God

knows you and speaks to you, and only command your ears to stiffen for that. Pick up the threads of your own soul and let them meander

into the wind of the unknown and weave.

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Hummingbird Cake

You are having these conversations with your God that no one else is having, and sometimes it is easy to forget that and to think that the mediums God uses to connect to your soul are the only ones available to mankind.

The Word is the Word and that goes for everyone. Sure. But within that Word are connotations and whispers and secret language because nothing makes us feel more loved than a love note in special, contrived

shorthand that might look and sound and feel like a jibberish to everyone else. Sometimes I open my Bible and a passage stands out to me and it feels like a piece of hummingbird cake saved for me because I was a little child who fell asleep at the birthday party. Sweet taste for my tongue only.

But that cannot and should not discount the sweet tastes of others, who may be meeting God on a different plane in a different time zone, listening with their own eccentric ears and experiences.

God’s Word doesn’t change. Truth doesn’t change. But the ways God places His truth into the palms of his adored children are for Him to decide…not me.

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The way to the heart might be through the stomach…

I am reminiscing this morning about all the wonderful places my husband and I have shared a meal together. Eating out has been something we’ve always enjoyed. Our first date was at Applegate’s Landing, a Midwestern version of an Italian restaurant in our little college town. Then there was Sal’s in Delano, California, our family gathering place for delicious, authentic Mexican food. Once while en route to California on a road trip with the kids, we ventured out in New Mexico for a dinner for two for some of the best Mexican fare I’ve ever eaten, and true to form, I can’t remember the name of the place. We had so few date nights in those days, everything about that meal from the chips and salsa to the honey we drizzled on our dessert tortillas, was special. Santa Fe’s Cafe Pascual’s and El Encanto in Scottsdale are two restaurants that we will make reservations for every time we are in proximity. El Encanto’s tamales, with their sweet masa, are unforgettable.

There was that Italian restaurant we were taken to on a job interview, “Papa or Mama–something.” This was the dinner where the 2-year-old son accompanied us. He was so well-behaved I think it actually worked in my husband’s favor because they offered him the job on the spot. While my husband conversed with his possible future employers, I scarfed down lasagna like only a woman in her third trimester can do.

Our week in Ireland several years ago provided us some of our most memorable eating experiences. In Sligo, we became chummy with our taxi driver (we had the same one for almost a week and on our favorite driver’s day off, his uncle came to pick us up). He even delivered our laundry to and from the laundry service place while we hiked Knocknarea, and as he transported us from place to place, we conversed about poetry and food. His mother was an amazing cook, and we were very close to securing an invitation to eat at her house. I think he wanted his family to experience listening to us butcher the pronunciations of all the local landmarks. At any rate, his suggestion for the best local food in Sligo was Lyon’s Cafe. We ate there several times for lunches–it was that good AND it was not pub food. I had remarked to Taxi-Driver-Friend that dark, damp, over-greasy fish and chips was not my thing. At the time, I did not appreciate Guinness the way I do now. I must go back. While in Sligo, we also ate at an amazing cafe on the coast with seafood chowder that tasted like a book taken at face value for a “beach read” that ends up a part of your inner life forever. The name escapes me (I should keep a food diary) but I remember the exterior clapboards were painted deep blue and there was a statue of Yeats nearby (not helpful in Sligo as a landmark…Yeats is everywhere). There was also a sign on the shoreline that read “For Yeats’ sake, pick up your rubbish!” While in Northern Ireland, Magherafelt in County Londonderry to be more exact, all we had to do for one of the best “fancy food” experiences of our lives was walk across the street from our Seamus Heaney B&B to Church Street Restaurant. We ate several suppers there and everything we consumed from the wine to appetizers to soups and salads to seafood, steak, chicken was delectable. My mouth waters as I remember. This was a place locals obviously loved but it also felt like a restaurant where important celebrations were taking place around us. It was humbly elegant.

The best pizza we’ve found in Chicago is Lou Malnati’s. Best French Fries–possibly Boise Fry Company, Boise, Idaho. The accompanying burgers were not bad either. As for barbecue, I’ve lived in Texas and Oklahoma and I’ve tried North Carolina’s smoked offerings. Of this I am most certain: KC Joe’s. The sauce. In a pinch, Hickory Hut in Salina works for us. Best meal while in Hawaii is a hole-in-the-wall Teriyaki place –Mark’s– that made us so happy, my husband put the name of the place in his phone so we can head there straight from the airport next time we are on the island of Kauai.

Prague was the site of two of the most expensive and formal dinners we have ever had the pleasure of partaking in. One took place in the famous “Fred and Ginger” building, compliments of Glen’s company, and the other was one of those 12-course delights where the Chef brings out two tablespoons of food with a wine pairing over and over until it ends up costing you hundreds of dollars per person, and like the Emperor in “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” you find yourself, not naked, but starving (so “naked” in the metaphorical and gastronomical sense). The company of our friends made this memorable and fun and the room-service hamburger filled our growling stomachs at around midnight when the dinner finally ended.

The best meals are those that check all the boxes–ambiance, occasion, and ingredients. My favorite food memory shared with my husband took place at our 25th anniversary dinner in Asheville, NC, at the Grove Inn. I ordered a baked chicken with a delicious sauce that included sweetness, a bit of a kick and pecans. We dined outdoors with a stunning view of the Smoky Mountains. Our waitress was perfect–attentive but not intrusive–and, not only were we celebrating our anniversary, but earlier in the day our son had called us to tell us he was engaged to be married to his high school sweetheart.

While in Scotland on a company trip, we were served a feast fit for Mary Queen of Scots at Stirling Castle, one of the castles she lived in as a child. I have seldom tried a food I didn’t like, but on this evening, I couldn’t bring myself to try the haggis. Since traveling there, I have learned through 23-and-Me that my genetic profile is predominately Scottish, Irish, and Native American. In fact, some of the ancestors who immigrated to this country from Ireland, were also Scottish along with the the Scottish Scots. So in a sense, I’ve probably tasted haggis.

I’ve made several trips to Oregon in recent years to visit my daughter, son-in-law and grandson and I have to say that every bite of food from start to finish in this state has been delightful. Even the Portland Airport serves fresh, delicious food. The best French dip sandwich was eaten at my daughter’s butcher shop (also a lunch spot) in North Plains. We love Tom’s Fish and Chips at Cannon Beach, as well as the lovely breakfasts at my favorite hotel–The Stephanie Inn. The best news is foodies tend to begat foodies so when in Oregon, we have family to embark upon eating adventures with.

Once, with another daughter, I attended the Madison Food Festival, in Madison, WI. It will forever be a life-highlight. Macaroni and Cheese Pizza from Ian’s, Cheese-curds from everywhere, the best ice cream ever…everywhere. We would leave our hotel room, walk across the road and eat bread and cheese concoctions until we were so full we would hobble back to the hotel room and crash on the bed for a few hours. Then repeat. For three days. It felt both sinful and holy at the same time to do so. Mimosas and Brunch at the Old Fashioned topped off our long weekend. You think when you give birth to your daughters that you will have this long stretch of time for making memories, but life moves so quickly and there is always so much to do. I will never forget this time of laughter and eating and dream-sharing with my daughter. Also, I gained ten pounds in three days. I think it was my heart, not my stomach.