Friday, October 31, 2008

Exterior Changes

Five years ago, I bought a house. (It's a bit clearer in real life; this is a picture of a picture.)

Some of its features bothered me. For one, the broken gas lantern screamed, "Juveniles, here's a place to play with fire." The landscape was lopsided. The gray door needed some color. And so the work began.

After the initial changes were complete, new ones made it on to my radar screen. Like the screen door that blocked out the bright red door. And the vinca that grew out of control. So a few more changes commenced.

Though these changes have attempted to improve the curb appeal of my house, they would never convince someone to buy my house if the inside of my house is in disrepair.

If this sounds like a similar post, it's because it probably is. I seem to need to repeat some lessons, and the amazing God that we serve finds unique ways of getting my attention. This time by using the analogy of my house to enlighten me that there is a similar pattern in my life.

I always have a list of personal changes that I'd like to make. I gravitate toward the quick changes. I get a new haircut, a makeover, or a new outfit to improve my outward appearance. But the internal changes that take a bit longer to make remain on the list. And because I keep putting them off, I receive these not-so-subtle reminders.

Does this ring true for you?

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Provider

"How was yesterday's class?" you ask.



"That's what I heard."

My lunch didn't agree with me yesterday. About an hour before class, I began to doubt my capability to carry out my planned lesson. I went to one of my co-workers and asked if he'd cover for me. At first, he declined, but then he realized that one of the teams he coaches would be presenting a demonstration and jumped at the chance to see them perform.

Thankfully, this wasn't a two-hour lecture class. My plan was to pass back their last assignment and show them clips from two arguments so that they could get a feel for what they will need to do.

But the fact that there wasn't a lengthy lecture planned didn't make what God did any less magnificent. I was in awe that God provided someone who was willing to step in at the last minute and who was more capable than me of presenting the materials. Because my co-worker coaches a team, he knows what the students should be aiming for in their own arguments. He was able to add in his own commentary for the clips and point out good and bad things that each of the speakers did.

So for class 11, the script played out a little differently and a lot better than I had planned. All because I let Someone else take charge.

If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen. (1 Peter 4:10)

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Still Learning, Part 3a - Students' Assumptions

Had I sat down to write this on Tuesday evening, therapy writing would have poured forth. Many people with whom I came into contact that night got to hear the live version of my frustration. But thankfully, the time gap has produced some prospective.

Towards the end of Tuesday's class, something that I have been saying almost every week since class 4 finally got through to the students, probably because their major paper is due in a little over two weeks. When I reinformed them that they would have to support their arguments with citations, they reacted by informing me that they didn't write that way last year and were forbidden from such a practice. Their nonverbal reactions proclaimed, "Professor, you don't know what you are talking about."

I have only two classes left to attempt to overcome the unspoken moron label I've now "earned." I think that begins by urging them to put aside their assumptions--that this class would be a continuation of their last two writing classes. My job is to teach them to write something they've never been instructed on how to write before, and yet they are convinced that they should be able to use the same format that they used last year. Even though some have admitted that this "new way" sounds more logical and makes more sense to them, they still think I'm off base because I'm asking them to go against what they learned in the past.

Jesus faced similar attacks as He taught. I've always wondered how the people in Jesus's day could fail to believe the gospel when they had God in-the-flesh standing in front of them. But I think I've failed to account for how hard the law was drilled into them. Everything they did was guided by the law, and this grace that Jesus preached was a foreign concept. Sure, it sounded good, but it wasn't what they were used to. So they resisted.

In other words, this battle I'm facing is nothing new. Resistance is a normal response when asking people to change their ways. I just didn't expect the students to assume that old rules applied to a new type of writing assignment. But, I'm hopeful that the lure of a good grade will convince many students to put aside their old ways of writing and adopt the new ones.

Friday, October 17, 2008

The Diamond in Dallas

Last night, as a continuation of the birthday celebration, I boarded the train and headed east.

A concert for the generations was on tap. I left my rule-following tendencies behind in the west and captured these shots as the legendary lyrics from this man got the crowd on its feet.

"Forever in Blue Jeans" and "Sweet Caroline" were by far the biggest crowd pleasers. Sadly, the crowd didn't respond as much to the newer hits, including "Pretty Amazing Grace," whose lyrics run deep and strike a chord with me.

Neil put on quite a show, but so did the crowd. The audience included young girls about five years old to those in wheelchairs with oxygen tanks beside them (no joke, three of them rode over on the train with us). Some of the audience members probably should have gotten a check-up from their doctors before coming to the concert because one lady (who was completely sober) almost fell while attempting to stand up to dance, and one man sat with his hand on his heart throughout the performance. And you'd have thought that Neil was as good-looking as Patrick Dempsey by the way the middle-aged, married women were swooning and fanning themselves. It was a sight to behold!

I can now cross Neil off my "Must See Before He Dies" list and move on to others, like Josh Groban, who are on my "Must See Before I Die" list.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Queen for a Day

Everyone should have the chance to feel as celebrated as I've felt today. I wish I had pictures to capture all the wonderful things my family and friends did for me today from birthday wishes sent via text, email, and regular mail to packages that arrived overflowing with love and thoughtfulness to meals composed of all of my favorite dishes. Who wouldn't feel loved with all this?

But I feel loved day in and day out because God has surrounded me with an amazing group of people who love Him and let His love overflow through them. I am blessed beyond measure. So thank you for loving me well and making my birthday so special.

(The yummy red velvet cake from Bluebonnet Bakery that I took to work today. But even this tasty treat could not compare with my friend Lee Ann's homemade cooked banana pudding with meringue, which was served warm right after a meal of chicken spaghetti, beef stroganoff, and salad prepared by Lee Ann, Sandi, and Susie. And the fifty-degree temperature outside made this warm food taste even better. I must be livin' right, as my friend Susie would say.)

*Note: I confess that I am also the queen of delayed postings. I started this post, along with the two others below it, earlier in the week but did not post them until Oct. 17.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Class Notes

22 = the number of students in my class

19 = the number of papers I wanted to shred this past weekend as I graded assignments that revealed my directions had not been followed

9 = the number of classes I have taught

4 = the number of classes that still remain

3 = the number of weeks until the students' big paper is due

2 = the number of substantive classes left to prep for

1 = the number of days until my birthday

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Still Learning, Part 3 (Updated)

A few classes back, one of my students laughed and played on the internet without trying to hide it for the entire two-hour class. Even though I knew that I couldn't force this student to learn and that it was this student's choice to ignore me, I was frustrated, to put it mildly.

I thought I had this student all figured out. I presumed the student was bored or simply chose to chat online instead of take notes.

Even though I know better than to assume, I did so anyway. I labeled this student in a negative way in my mind. And braced myself for what would unfold in the next class. Only the student no-showed.

Fast forward to today.

I walked into my classroom a bit early, and the only person waiting in the room was the laughing, internet-obsessed student from a few weeks ago. The student approached me and explained that life was not going well. This was a particularly difficult time: it was the one-year anniversary of a younger sibling's death. A death that the family didn't grieve well. And as a result, they were struggling individually and as a family. Those earlier harsh thoughts dashed out of my head as I choked back tears, encouraged this student to take some time to grieve, and offered my condolences.

This student's personal struggles in the midst of a tough semester made me grateful that I didn't have any family tragedies while I was in grad school. It also reminded me that everyone has a story. Every student has a life outside of class. One filled with other responsibilities and relationships that produce joy, sorrows, anxiety, and any number of other emotions. And each day when I step into the classroom, I'm competing not only with the distraction of their wireless internet computers but also with all the life baggage that they bring into the classroom. If I remember that, hopefully I'll be a little more compassionate the next time a student seems disinterested in my lectures.

Brandon Heath's song "Give Me Your Eyes" echoes the tune that has been playing in my heart ever since this encounter:

Give me your eyes for just one second
Give me your eyes so I can see
Everything that I keep missing
Give me your love for humanity
Give me your arms for the broken hearted
The ones that are far beyond my reach
Give me your heart for the once forgotten

I've been there a million times
A couple of million eyes
just move and pass me by
I swear I never thought that I was wrong
Well I want a second glance
So give me a second chance
To see the way you see the people all alone

Monday, October 6, 2008

Morning Coffee with Jesus

My friend Renae recently asked some of her friends to guest post on her blog. She's walking her readers through the life of Jesus, and she asked me to cover Jesus's encounter with Levi. You can read what I wrote here. Just be sure to grab some coffee to go with your morning reading!

Thursday, October 2, 2008


This word rambles about inside my head. In some ways it defines me--I consistently read my friends' blogs, pay bills on time, get health check-ups, and more often than not, sleep at least eight hours a night. In other ways, this idea of being consistent seems elusive because I'm not consistent in all areas in my life, though I long to be

Consistent with exercising.
Consistent with eating healthy foods.
Consistent with writing well and writing on a regular basis.
Consistent with keeping in touch with friends.
Consistent with staying in the Word.
Consistent with growing in my relationship with God.
Consistent with loving others who seem difficult to love.
Consistent with turning a deaf ear to gossip.

On a daily basis, I make choices that frustrate my attempt to be consistent in these areas of my life. I simply walk off the path that I need to be on, failing to recognize my wandering choices until after the fact. Remarkably, I usually get back on the right path within a short time. But I seem to beat myself up for all the little slip-ups along the way that result in my being inconsistent. At that point, I want to toss out the concept of being consistent and just do as I please. But I don't.

Maybe because God's Word says,

So we're not giving up. How could we! Even though on the outside it often looks like things are falling apart on us, on the inside, where God is making new life, not a day goes by without his unfolding grace. These hard times are small potatoes compared to the coming good times, the lavish celebration prepared for us. There's far more here than meets the eye. The things we see now are here today, gone tomorrow. But the things we can't see now will last forever. (2 Corinthians 4:16, The Message)

There's no requirement that I be perfect. Instead, it's incumbent upon me to not give up. To press on, allowing God to change me in and through the process. And when I have cause to doubt, I need only look at the truly consistent things in this life: God's unconditional love for me and how He has allowed me to experience that love through my family.