Friday, June 27, 2008

Childhood Dream Come True

For as long as I can remember, I wanted to be a teacher. Growing up, I subjected my sister, along with every neighborhood child I could round up, to endless hours in the "classroom."

The initial classroom was the metal storage shed towards the back of our property. It was blazing hot in summer, had the potential to house bees and other critters, and thus only allowed for brief teaching sessions.

Next up was a huge spool that must have held utility cable at one point. I have no idea where it came from, but a doorway was cut out, it was painted inside and out, and it became the place where I taught school, along with occasional classes taught by my friend Misti.

After we outgrew the spool and it found a home elsewhere (a/k/a the dump), smaller, more formal classes were taught on our enclosed back porch. It was complete with a real chalkboard, an official pen-like chalk holder, and two real student desks. Unfortunately, we weren't often allowed to run the air conditioner out on the back porch, and so school days couldn't last long there either.

I guess never having had an ideal classroom kept the dream alive. At least long enough to mark down on my freshman high school English teacher's form that I wanted to be a math professor when I graduated.

And then real world numbers started speaking. At first softly whispering how one can't live on the salary that a teacher, or even a professor, makes. And then shouting louder. Loud enough to pursue other career fields.

But God has a funny way of often straightening out my path when I haven't allowed Him to use me for the purpose He wired me for. And this is the week He chose to surprise me with a path correction.

On Monday, out of nowhere, a contract employee who works full-time for an "institution of higher learning" asked me if I would be interested in teaching as an adjunct faculty member one afternoon a week in the fall. Surprisingly, I heard myself reply that I would be interested. He gave me some of the details and then asked me to set up a time to meet with the academic dean. I did that today and will begin teaching August 19. I will not be teaching math, but more along the lines of writing and speaking, which is even better since I haven't officially "done" any higher level math in years.

Though I'm really excited, I don't feel the least bit confident in this new endeavor. I haven't taught grown-ups before, and my days of teaching Sunday school to four year olds showed me that I'm not exactly one to hold people's attention very long. I'm trusting that God will equip me for this task if I continue to lean on Him and seek insight and wisdom on how to creatively teach this class. My goal is to be more interesting than Ben Stein in Ferris Bueller's Day Off. By God's grace, hopefully I will realize that goal and come out on the other side of this twelve-week adventure with some good experience and some new insights about myself as I learn through the teaching process.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Bunny Blues

For those of you wondering what happened to the bunnies, let's just say I took the cheap way out and am grateful for the money-back guarantee.

The "Inflatable Natural Enemy Scarecrow" is apparently not the natural enemy of this bunny.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Small Group Reunion

Last summer, I planned a reunion for my mom's birthday that involved getting all of her sisters and their daughters down to Texas. This summer, the reunion planning was on a much smaller scale.

My small group started meeting together in September of 2004, one month after our church was planted. We met together through the end of that year and then split into two groups because the church was rapidly growing. The core members of that initial group--Lee Ann, Melissa, Susie, Stephanie, and myself--are all still attending our church and our small group, with the exception of Stephanie who moved to Dallas.

In the four years since we started meeting, we've had some amazing women pass through our group. Unfortunately, I haven't kept in touch with all of the gals, but I have done my best to keep in touch with many of them. And tonight, ten of the past and present members (& some future members a/k/a babies) of our Wednesday night group gathered for a reunion at my house for a fiesta-themed dinner party.

We had a blast! It was great to hear what is going on in each of their lives. And now I have proof that my "Wednesday small group" that I often write about is not simply an imaginary group of friends.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Adding Hope

I posted today over on my writers' group blog a little diddy on music and writing. Two of my favorite things. Stop on over and check it out if you have a chance.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Celebrating Father's Day

Dear Heavenly Father,

For all these years, I've failed to see Father's Day as a day to honor You. I'm sure that on this day I've thanked You in the past for my earthly father, or at least I sure hope I have. But after he passed away in 2003, I didn't feel that I had anything to celebrate on this particular holiday anymore. I thought of myself as fatherless.

But that's not true.

I've been Your daughter for a very long time. And You have never failed me, even though I have often failed to give You the credit.

You gave me life.
You gave me parents who loved me and a sister who is also a wonderful friend.
You gave me grandparents who adored me.
You have surrounded me with godly friends throughout my life, protecting me in so many ways.
You provided financially for my family, even when medical bills came with every trip to the mailbox, and you continue to provide for me with a job with good benefits.
You have given me talents to use so that I might be a blessing to others.
You have given me food, shelter, and clothing every day of my life.

You gave me a beautiful world in which to live.
You broke down the walls of my heart and allowed me to accept You as my Savior.
You give me an open invitation to communicate with You whenever I want and have never denied me Your ear or Your time.
You have provided healing for hurts and physical ailments on more occasions than I can count.
You have given me Your Word to guide me.
You have given me more grace than I could ever have asked for or imagined.

Father God, thank You for reminding me that I am not Fatherless. Thank You for giving and giving and giving to me. You are more than enough for me.

"Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! (Matt. 7:9-11, NIV)

Saturday, June 14, 2008

All Creatures Great and Small

For several years now, I have wanted to go to the World Aquarium in Dallas. None of my friends seemed to have that same desire. And I didn't make time to go by myself.

When my friend Tammy and I started looking for a place to meet in the area, the World Aquarium started to look really attractive because it is indoors, thus sheltering us from the sweltering summer heat. She had already been before but agreed to go again and bring her children.

So today was the big day. I made my way to Dallas by train (my favorite way to travel, seriously) and met up with Tammy. I hadn't met her son and daughter before, and they made the experience all the more exciting. Their repeated shouts of "WOW!" helped me see God's creatures anew. Like seeing a cuckoo sitting on a post right next to the visitor path. Or watching a spoon-billed bird fly throughout the building and land in the water next to a turtle. Or seeing a waterfall for the first time. They were astounded. And they warmed up to me quickly, which warmed my heart. Her son kept telling us that this was so fun, and I was glad to hear that because he had toured the aquarium before. His only disappointment was not seeing any lobsters, but hopefully a trip to Central Market will enable him to fulfill that sighting.

(Alden intently studying the animals, while Stephen Jr. (in the blue) takes a look from below the fence bars)

Our fun continued through lunch where an overly-eager parker/bouncer (we're still not sure of his connection to the restaurant) allowed us to park at a meter right in front of the restaurant and gave us a card for a free dessert. Tammy's son proclaimed that the chocolate cake was great before it even arrived, and her daughter's satisfied expression after eating every last drop of her ice cream was contagious.

We walked around West End for a bit before I caught the train back. It was a wonderful trip that gave me a new appreciation for time with friends and all God's creatures (even the bats that hung upside down in two of the exhibits!).

Friday, June 13, 2008

Foregoing Words

I consider myself a pretty good listener, but my listening skills have been tested lately. Many of my friends are going through difficult times. Some friends are dealing with physical pain and others are dealing with emotional pain. And I've been listening. Or so I thought.

I caught myself "listening" to their stories while at the same time planning how I would respond. What I discovered was two-fold: (1) I haven't been listening intently, and (2) I have been wanting to say the right words to encourage, often for my own sake rather than for the other person's. I find myself wanting MY heart to feel at rest and for MY words to get out there because I want to make everything better. And at times, I fail to see that the best thing to do is listen and then pray. Instead of trying to find the "right words" for every hard situation, sometimes I need to know when NOT to speak.

I had tried to put this struggle into words last weekend and then found myself in the classroom. Not a physical classroom, but a Teacher/student situation nonetheless. Almost everything that I encountered last weekend seemed to speak to this topic. And so I've been trying to do my homework and learn this material well. I haven't mastered it yet, but here's what I've gotten so far.

For one, our pastor spoke last Sunday on doing things "in Jesus's name" and for His glory. There's no part of that permitting me to steal credit from the One who truly deserves it all. "It is not good to eat much honey, Nor is it glory to search out one's own glory." (Prov. 25:27)

I came across a passage from Psalms that says, "You hear, O Lord, the desire of the afflicted; you encourage them, and you listen to their cry." (Psalm 10:17) That reminds me that Jesus may or may not choose to use me to encourage someone; He can do it by Himself.

The third chapter in the book Encouragement by Drs. Larry Crabb and Dan Allender talks about the reasons why our words often don't have power and about how encouragement will not develop in surface community. Instead, for my words to have any power, I have to know the person well in order to know what will speak most to that person's heart.

And then there are all the Proverbs that deal with holding one's tongue:

When there are many words, transgression is unavoidable,
But he who restrains his lips is wise. (Prov. 10:19)

He who restrains his words has knowledge,
And he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding. (Prov. 17:27)

Also it is not good for a person to be without knowledge,
And he who hurries his footsteps errs. (Prov. 19:2)

Like apples of gold in settings of silver
Is a word spoken in right circumstances. (Prov. 25:11)

But these verses from Ecclesiastes were most convicting:

Do not be hasty in word or impulsive in thought to bring up a matter in the presence of God. For God is in heaven and you are on the earth; therefore let your words be few.
For the dream comes through much effort and the voice of a fool through many words. (Ecc. 5:2-3)

I'm sure that while I'm studying this issue I will have many opportunities to practice holding my tongue. It always seems to work like that. I hope that I will be able to draw on the Truth to guide me through those tests.

What helps you steer clear of offering unnecessary words? I'm all ears.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

The Unexpected

First, the good:

1. I received an email from a friend of mine whom I hadn't heard from in a long while. We've now reconnected through our blogs, and I'll have the pleasure of keeping up with the events in her life more often. What fun to have this new connection!

2. Wishing on Dandelions arrived in the mail today even though my mom mailed it just yesterday! Who knew that the pony express could travel so quickly in this heat?

Now, the slightly bad (or simply annoying):

One of the things that I look forward to each evening is having Annie greet me at the door. She normally dances, brings me her moose baby, and is overjoyed to see me.

Yesterday, I realized that I am now second fiddle thanks to this:

This picture was taken around Easter, and apparently the little critter above has invited its friends over to party in my yard because there were two medium-size rabbits yesterday. Today there were three. Annie stands on guard at the kitchen door, pointing at them until I come in and find her.

These rabbits have been digging holes, which they use to recline in as I caught one doing today. Needless to say, I'm not a happy camper. Especially knowing that where there are two or three rabbits, many more will soon arrive.

Does anyone have any tips for getting the rabbits to move along to another yard? They appear to be immune to the bait box shown in the picture above (which was supposed to be for field mice). I live in the city, but you'd be hard-pressed to tell by the critters in my yard.

Now, I will return to the good and begin reading my new book!

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Book Review: Watching the Tree Limbs

This past week I turned silent. The cause: I was completely engaged in Mary E. DeMuth's book Watching the Tree Limbs.

Thankfully, a friend had warned me that the first couple of chapters had hard material. She had given me the same warning with Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers, which turned out to be one of my favorite books. So I braced myself, made it through the tough stuff, and kept reading because I had no choice. Mary's redeptive prose painted beautiful pictures that I hope will be made into a movie some day.

Mary is also the author of the book Authentic Parenting in a Postmodern Culture, and she spoke at my church's women's retreat in April. Having heard her speak, I knew parts of her personal story and caught glimpses of it in her main character, Maranatha. The terrible things that happen to Mara, while creating a dark backdrop, somehow allowed God's grace to light up the pages all the more.

Next in my reading queue is the sequel, Wishing on Dandelions. So if I go mute again, you'll know that my nose is buried in another book and that I don't do a very good job of balancing my reading and my writing.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

BlTS's Anniversary

Today is my blog's one-year anniversary! It's been an incredible year! For one, I can't believe I've posted over 130 times, and for another, I can't believe how many wonderful people have stopped by to read, encourage, and comment. Thank you so much!

Amidst this celebration appears a bit of irony. Lately, I've been pondering whether I have a "voice." I can't seem to find the right key when I'm singing, and I can't seem to put my voice in tune in print either. I should be an expert on what I sound like, but for whatever reason, I can't hear that still, small voice.

In an attempt to find it, I've read over a few of my past blog posts. Some of them I honestly don't remember writing. It's as if the words in those posts were never mine to begin with. It's no surprise those are usually my favorite posts, probably because I didn't force them to work. They simply came. And I was the lucky scrivener who got to jot them down.

I pray that I will get that opportunity many more times in the future. But even if I don't, I'll continue to try to learn the craft and hone my voice.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Wide Open Spaces

I wasn't raised in West Texas, but I have a great appreciation for its wide open spaces. I was reminded of this when I drove through West Campus at UT this past week and noticed the hair's width of sunlight trying to peak between the numerous apartment buildings, sorority and fraternity houses, and the businesses that are all elbowing one another for space.

And for me, that love translates from space between houses to space on my calendar. I'm not fond of having events back-to-back night after night. But sometimes a busy calendar can't be avoided. The past two weeks have been an example of that.

The trip over Memorial Day weekend to see my mother was a top priority because neither my sister nor I had been able to spend Mother's Day with our mother. My sister and I had a wonderful time on our road trip down south, stopping at local bakeries along the way even though we already had cupcakes from The Cupcake Cottage in tow. What can I say; we brake for bakeries.

While we were home, we looked at pictures from my mom's recent trip to the Holy Land and heard her version of the trip, tried a new local restaurant that serves great sandwiches (and has yummy sweets as well), and made a trip to San Antonio to do a little belated Mother's Day shopping.

One of the highlights of the trip was worshipping at a church other than the one I grew up in. The church body was small in number but exuded amazing faith and authenticity. A guest speaker had been scheduled to speak that day but asked to come at a later date because the body had just lost one of its members to cancer. The worship that morning celebrated her life as well as the life we all have in Christ. It was beautiful to witness how this body of believers does life together. And it was great afterwards to get to drop in on some family friends before hitting the road to return.

My sister and I returned to Cowtown late Sunday night, and she flew back to California on Memorial Day. I unpacked, did laundry, and geared up for a short work week (that included training two interns in less than two days) and another trip south--this time for a work seminar. The seminar is one of two that are held each year that is specifically related to my field, so I felt that I needed to attend, despite the bad timing. And so I went.

The second trip made me realize how infrequently I travel now that I'm no longer an auditor. There was a time when I traveled 13 weeks during an 11-month period. Thankfully, that isn't the case anymore. But I must say that I recognized anew the perks of traveling for work: staying in a nice hotel where someone else makes the bed, where a sign actually asks me to leave my towels on the floor so that housekeeping will know to put out fresh clean ones, where a newspaper awaits at my door each morning and Starbucks beckons me from the lobby with iced green tea each afternoon, and where the view looked like this:

Not bad for the government rate!

I have come to recognize that my desire for wide open spaces on my calendar is simply another way that my desire to control things manifests itself. I want to be able to decide when I go and where I go, but mandatory events inked on the calendar chip away at that control. It's not a pretty picture and can cause me to miss out on the great views that God wants to give me, if only I would freely let Him be in charge of the calendar and the pen and stop trying to wrestle Him each time some back-to-back events hit the schedule.