Thursday, November 28, 2013

in all things give thanks

Happy Thanksgiving!

Several weeks ago, we had a homily at church, stressing the ALL in "In ALL things give thanks."  Most of us can say that we are thankful for the good things in our lives, and probably even remember to acknowledge God's role in that good fortune.  But that is precisely the point...we are to give thanks in ALL circumstances, not just those that we judge to be good.

Well, I don't know about you, but I'm not even sure I'm a 100% at giving thanks for the things that are "good", and I KNOW I've got a long way to go before I'm very grateful for financial problems, or backstabbing co-workers, or self-centered people, or aches and pains.  But as I knelt in church today before Mass, gathering my thoughts and trying to hear God's wisdom, that was exactly what I heard.  Doesn't God always take care of us?  I know that He does when we get out of the way and let Him.  However, it is not always in the way we would have chosen.  In the last month at church our sacristan has had a stroke and relocated to an assisted living facility and the lovely lady that does our schedule for lectors and ministers of Communion has been diagnosed with stage IV cancer in her lungs, liver, and kidneys.

Are we supposed to be thankful for strokes and lost independence?  For cancer and lives interrupted?  But from a distance, I know that God can take painful circumstances and work miracles in the midst.  An acquaintance of mine passed away in October...she had fought stage IV lung cancer for nearly 5 years...doctors had given her a 15% chance of surviving a year.  She had 3 young children.  The miracle was not a cure, but a witness; so many were inspired by her battle, by the way she placed everything in God's hands.  Good did come from trials and sorrows.  But being thankful seems like a stretch.

I remembered a scene from The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom.  Corrie and her sister were in a Nazi concentration camp, and are housed in a building that is infested with lice.  In all things give thanks. "Lord, we are thankful for the lice," they prayed.  Later they realize that the guards totally avoid the building because of the lice.  Lord, thank you.

In my own life, I can look back and see how good has come from things that I never would have chosen.  9-11 is what gave me the incentive or motivation to make things right in my spiritual life.  There have been other trials and losses and difficulties over the years that I would have preferred to avoid.   Yet, I can sometimes look back and think, "Oh, this is why I had to go through that!"   But even then, gratitude - if it comes at all - is often very much delayed.

Lord, help me to be grateful.  Help me not to ask you "why", but to understand "what" I am supposed to learn or to become from the difficult things in my life.  Help me to give thanks in ALL things.

1/2/14:  Updating.  My sacristan friend seems to very happy with his new living quarters, from what I've heard.

My friend diagnosed with Stage IV cancer is likely very happy with her new home, although we miss her greatly.  She underwent surgery on December 20 with great hope that the tumor could be removed and the remaining cancer successfully treated with chemo.  Her heart stopped after surgery, however, and could not be restarted.  She had told her husband that she might be "spending Christmas with Jesus" and she was totally OK with it.

The thing to be thankful for is that she felt had no symptoms from the cancer and never had any pain from it.  She had time to prepare for her death and to wrap up loose ends, and we got to hug her and tell her that we loved her.  The rosary held at the school where she worked and the memorial Mass held at our small parish were attended by hundreds.  It was beautiful.  She was beautiful.  Her husband told me, "keep praying."

Sunday, August 18, 2013

fresh starts

The school year has begun and for the first time in 20 something years, I am at a new school, in a new classroom, with a new staff, and new students.

The classroom I am now occupying is awesome.  If it had a sink, it would be just about perfect, but I won't be picky.  I have 4 window unit air conditioners.  I have an area along one side where my computers are housed, a main room, a closet, and another room, which can be used for small group instruction or a time-out room.

I spent a lot of time in the closet.  It was a mess!  Days were spent before school started...trying to make some sense of it....

It is better.  Not perfect.  I still have boxes of my own to unload...and school started before I could get them all unloaded.

Did I mention that I love my students??  I have 7 of them right now.  I think we will get along just fine.  Complete strangers have come up to me and told me how glad they are that I am in this class.  Apparently the classroom atmosphere was different last year.

I am struggling to find my feet, but that is always the case at the beginning of the year.  Moreso this year, because I don't have experience with the curriculum that other teachers with this type of class use.  Going to spend the day tomorrow with a friend who teaches this class at another school.  Hopefully, that will help...

I manage my way to and from without the GPS, now.  And I found the nearby Dollar Gen...bought some cleaning supplies there one day.

I have two teacher assistants, and that has helped me to feel comfortable.  I also have a colleague from my old school who is here...a familiar face.  People have been nice.  But as I sat in the auditorium for a faculty meeting after the first day of school, I wondered how long it will be before I could count some of those people as "friends". Fresh starts...

It has been an amazing journey - the last 4 months.  A journey I never planned to take.  Sometimes God has been in the driver's seat....other times he has sat in the passenger seat and navigated.  There have been plenty of billboards along the way letting us know we are on the right path.  My supervisor shared with me that the job was open for "only a few days" before she heard that I had filled it.  It made me wonder what had happened if I had been called on the first day they started placing us...instead of the third.  Maybe this job wouldn't have been available.  I marveled at God's timing.   But now it seems like we are pulling back into the driveway.  The let-down feeling after vacation....when you have to go back to the real world, when you still have laundry and unpacking to do.

But in the end...I have a sense that I am where I am supposed to be...and that was my prayer all along.  Things will happen when they happen.  And all will be well.  I am blessed to be where I am.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

a break in the clouds

This is long.  It is rambling.  And it is somewhat repetitious.  It is mostly a place for me to get things out of my head.  (Because there is already not enough room in there as it is!) The pictures are some I've taken this summer.  You can read as much or as little into them as you wish!

 The last year or so have had some rough patches.  But right now - and for the past few months - there seems to be a "break in the clouds" and I will take that for the gift that it is.

I have blogged about some of the events that have taken place in the last few months, but to do so as the tapestry is still being woven has left some gaps and missing threads.  I truly have felt like I was watching someone else's life unfold, and it has been amazing for me to watch.  

School has been bad for a long time.  It has gradually gotten that way, over a matter of years.  Our 'demographics' have changed.  A "failing" school nearby was closed a few years ago, and we absorbed many of those kids when we were already struggling to keep above water.  No one ever answered our SOS calls. The people I have worked with have, for the most part, been awesome, and that is one reason why I have stayed.  I think that happens in many struggling schools - the teachers band together and support each other because they don't get the support from anywhere or anyone else.  So while things were challenging, this school year was the first time ever in the 24 years that I had been at the school that I requested a transfer (requesting to transfer is NOT the same thing as actually getting a just opens the door for you to pursue it).

This past year, I regularly calculated the amount of days remaining until retirement.  The formula went something like (3.5 x 182) + r, if r = the number of days remaining in the year.  I never purchase alcohol and rarely drink, but this year by the Thursday of testing week, I was rummaging in the kitchen drawers for a corkscrew.  I was sure the pain in my neck and shoulders would require professional assistance.  I could barely turn my head or tilt my head back to drink.  

Married life has also not been all sunshine and rainbows for some time now. Without dragging all of that out, lets just say that someone's expectations exceeded someone else's capacity to give.  And that some people seem happiest when they are miserable.  And that misery seems to expect company.  

In  mid April our principal stood before the school board and explained that she needed to be able to pick her own team of teachers and that she needed teachers that could teach these "children of poverty".  The school board, by a narrow margin, granted her permission to "reconstitute" her staff.  We would all need to reapply for our jobs and be interviewed if we wished to stay.  Having been told earlier in faculty meetings that we need to "own" the students' lack of achievement, it was the proverbial final slap in the face for many.  All of the blood, sweat, and tears we had given for years was so unappreciated.

I assumed that I would stay.  I had my reasons.  I had *only* 3.5 years remaining.  I didn't want to start over somewhere else.  I didn't want to move.  Better to stay with what you know than to go with what you don't know.  But truth be told, you can boil those reasons down to two:  fear and laziness.  

The pain and stress in my shoulders and neck intensified.

Nearly a week later - on April 23 - I was at daily Mass at the church near my school.  The first reading that day was from the Acts of the Apostles, and the first few sentences were something along the lines of the good that happened because of those who were scattered by persecution.  The Gospel spreading because of those who were persecuted.  This resonated with me, because by that point, it had become apparent that many on our faculty (good)  were going to choose to leave (scatter) because of the attitude and treatment (persecution) they had received.  

It was NOT a lightening-bolt moment.  It was just a quiet, "hmmm, that's interesting" moment.  I was at a point where I didn't even realize that I had a decision to make.  I just assumed it would be made for me.  If the principal wanted me, I would stay; and if not, I would go.  There is adoration after Mass on Tuesdays, and I had a few minutes before I had to be at school, so I stayed.  I jotted a few questions in my journal.  I said a quick prayer to be open to God's plan.  But I wasn't planning on making any life-changing decisions - at least not that day.  I had no idea what opening the door just a little bit had done.

When I got to school, I chatted with a co-teacher friend about 8th grade math and inquired about her plans for the coming year.  She was not returning.  I went on about my business for the day.  I can not explain what happened, but sometime before lunch, the thought formed in my head, "You do not have to come back here next year." (Was it that quiet whispering voice of God?)  By the time I went on lunch duty, I heard those words coming out of my mouth, "I'm not coming back here next year!"  And it felt good! 

As I drove home from school that day, I noted that I could turn my head without pain.  That, alone, was confirmation of my decision.  It has been nearly 3 months since that day, and that pain, that stress has NOT returned to my body.  One of my co-workers noted later that it "sounded like a healing".  Maybe it was!

I walked into my house, dropped my keys on the counter and said to my husband, "I'm not going back there next year."  "Good," was his reply.

The next day I went to Mass at my own parish.  I am sure the homily was not very memorable to most who attended that day, but all I could say when he finished was "wow!"  My good priest, had chosen to preach on how we hear the Spirit.  It starts as a seed planted in the Liturgy (just like at Mass yesterday).  Then it is nourished by prayer (staying for Adoration) and in talking with others (like my friend before school and other teachers during the day).  "We seldom hear God speak to us in a booming voice" (I sure didn't), he went on.  The Spirit works through ordinary things.  The more he said, the bigger my smile got.  It was as if he had been following me the day before.  I had to email him and tell him "thank you", even though I'm sure his homily was in no way intentional...more like following the Spirit.  More confirmation.

As I told my co-workers of my decision in the following days, I received responses ranging from high-fives to sadness to questioning if it was really God that I was hearing.  One of my favorite responses was from our 80-something year old clerk...the only person who has been there longer than me.  "Good for you!" she said.  The next morning, I found a fortune-cookie sized slip of paper in my box from her.  I taped it to an index card and stuck it on the door to the cabinet behind my desk.

As the year drew to a close, my co-workers and I began to dream of what might await us beyond our current situations.  There were a huge number of resignations and retirements during the school year throughout our system, so chances were excellent that there would be some desirable positions available.  If we chose to be displaced, we had to be placed somewhere, and we had first choice of what would be available.

"Don't work for a woman." (that piece of advice from a woman)
"Get off of this side of town." (From our campus cop)
"It's a matter of you choosing who you want to work for."
 "Don't go to a 'D' or 'F' school."
"You might like a mild/moderate class."  (from my friend who taught the mild/moderate class at our school)
"I think I might like a school where children actually bring pencils to school."
"My dream school will have its own Brainpop account," I messaged a co-worker one night.  "Way to dream big," she replied.
"I want a  good boss," I had texted one of my old [good] bosses.

"Where are you going?  What are you going to do?" people would ask.  "I don't know," I would reply with a smile.  "They have to put me somewhere and I'm sure God has a plan that is better than mine.  I'm sure wherever I end up, there will be a reason."  I stuck with that line throughout.  "God has a plan."  People would tell me that they were praying for me to get a "good school" and I would ask them to simply pray for me to know the "right one" when it presented itself.  But truthfully almost anything had to be better.

On May 6, ironically the first day of Teacher Appreciation Week, at a faculty meeting that lasted past 5 pm, as a huge roach crawled across the ceiling in our library, we were given papers to sign indicating whether we would (a) reapply for our jobs (b) voluntarily be displaced or (c) resign or retire.  Nearly 2/3 of the faculty checked the second option.  Only 6 core teachers of 19 asked to stay, and one of those has since accepted a job in another system.  Words like "blindsided" were whispered in the coming days, but I don't know if that was really the case.  However, I am glad the task of filling the shoes of those that chose to leave is not mine.  Other schools are gaining some wonderful teachers.

The next day, I returned to Mass at the church near my school.  "Sometimes it is better not to stay," said the pastor in his homily.  The Biblical reference was to the Ascension of Jesus, who could not stay with His Apostles,  but the application to my life was too obvious to be missed.  I had to hug him after Mass.  After 24 years, I had chosen not to stay.  More confirmation.

Married life continued to limp along.  Things were seemingly calm on the surface, but the anger and resentment leap out of any writing I did at that time.  My good confessor had told me months earlier to offer the anger to God every day.  He said it wasn't wrong to be angry, but to offer it so that Jesus could help me channel it.  And every day, to ask God to help me be as patient with   as God is with me.  And so I did.  About mid-May, with all the other stresses of special ed paperwork and moving and planning my last Honors night, my frustration with married life was overwhelming.  "I can't fix it. Only God can," were the words that ended a long, ranting journal entry - I guess that is where I channeled the anger.  Those are true words.  In our weakness is often when God's power is shown.  

Maybe it was that day, or maybe it was a few days later, I stood in front of the tabernacle in the quiet, empty church, and told God the same thing:  "I can't fix it.  You show me what I need to do, but you are going to have to handle the rest, Lord, because I am fresh out of ideas. You made him.  He's yours.  You fix him."  I think sometimes God gets right on those prayers...the prayers of desperation or surrender.  It didn't take him long before he showed me what I could do.  It was something I knew already, but haven't done nearly enough of.  I have had the sense for quite some time, that "this kind only comes out by prayer."

Later that morning, I met up with one of my favorite substitute teachers at school.  She is an older black lady, and there has been a connection from almost the first time she subbed for someone in my classroom.  We have had good conversations, and I love talking to her.  So that particular morning, I went out of my way to visit with her while she was standing outside of a classroom.  She started to tell me about a book that she had gotten the night before from her church library (where I had just visited hours earlier)  that she could NOT put down.  "The Power of  a Praying Wife," she said.  "Please, you HAVE to read it," she begged.   "OK, God, I hear you," I thought.  When I got home that evening, I dug out the Amazon Gift Card I had gotten for Christmas, downloaded the book, and began to read.  It was good.

Sunset over the Mississippi River 7.9.13

The school year was wrapping up.  Packing picked up steam.  The week before Mother's Day, I had placed a box on one of the desks in my classroom and labeled it "Give Away Box".  I explained to my students that they could take anything they wanted out of that box. Two items that were placed in there early on were a half burned candle in a cute container, and a kind of ugly yellow flowery coffee mug that I had used to hold pens and pencils.  Things I neither wanted to throw in the garbage or move.  Two different kids plucked them out of the box, and each kid asked me if I had some wrapping paper.  They were so proud to have something for their moms for Mother's Day.  It was sad and sweet all at the same time.

The Give Away box became two, and then covered a couple of desks, too.  I have a friend starting her own homeschooling business, so her husband came and picked up much of it.  I emptied filing cabinets (except for one drawer I had no idea what to do with).  I bagged the contents of my desk in ZipLocs and wiped out the drawers.  The closet gradually emptied.  I threw away so many things.  Finally it was done. The room echoed. There was a little twinge of sadness, but mostly relief.

I had heard about a potential opening at a middle school 4 minutes from my house.  It met one or two of the requirements on my list.  It was a mild moderate class in the back of the school somewhere.  I dropped off a resume and a cover letter and even interviewed with the principal, but the teacher who was leaving had not yet resigned.  I did what I could to make that job happen, but it did not.  So I assumed God's answer on that one was "no".

When Human Resources began to make the long-awaited phone calls, I once again found myself in the quiet church.  All along, I had prayed to know the right job when it came along, but now it was crunch time.  "How will I know?" I asked out loud to the good Lord.  There was silence.  But I clicked open my journal (it is on my iPad and is one of the best things ever).  I made 2 lists:  Jobs I Would Say Yes To and Jobs I Would Say No To.  There were 4 on each list.

Finally, I called HR, because they didn't seem to be calling me, and they started fumbling around for openings I was qualified for.  There were not many.  A self-contained class at School J, I automatically dismissed because it was "too far" to drive.  Others I said "no" to because they were worse than what I had left.  Nothing on my "yes list" was offered.  There was one more - one that I had put on my "no" list. But it seemed like the lesser of the evils being offered.  So in the heat of the moment, I accepted it.

When I met with the principal that afternoon, I found out that I had not gotten the whole story from HR, and that I would also be teaching 2 regular subjects in addition to 2 Special Ed classes.  I regretted the choice almost immediately.  The planning and paperwork would have been epic.  The next morning, June 21, I set to work trying to find out if the spot at School J was still available.  I emailed the principal.  I called.  I put the address in my GPS and drove to the school.  Took the chance that someone would be there, and ran into the principal and another staff member.  It felt right.  By that afternoon, the change had been made and I was elated.

As the weeks have passed, I have had time to process it, and check the items off of my wish list.

  • Male principal. (Don't work for a woman.) Check.
  • On the other side of town.  I think it is the furthest point away from my old school.  Check.
  • Not a D or F school.  It's a D, oh well. (Editing to Add:  In October new "grades" came out, and the school improved to a "C")
  • A Mild/Moderate class.  Check.
  • In the back of the school, out of the drama. There is a garden outside my door.  Check.
  • At a school where kids bring pencils. To be determined.
  • With its own Brain Pop account. I checked it out, and it worked!  Check.  
  • Principal with a soul.  I have heard promising things.  Check.
  • Decent supervisor.  Again, I have heard good things.  Probably a check.  (Editing to Add:  Check.)
When I look at that list and see that God answered my prayers, pretty much down to the most ridiculous detail of having its own BrainPop account, I am in awe.  (There is still something in the back of my mind that thinks that may all go out the window when actual people show up, but for now, I am going with gratitude and answered prayers.)

Sometime in the midst of this, things began to be better on the homefront.  It is a superficial kind of better, but I will take that for now.  It is a happier attitude, acceptance, a smile.   I do not know why.  I don't know if it is prayer, or medications, or a reaction to my lack of stress.  But whatever the cause, it is something to be grateful for.

I am looking forward to the coming school year with hope, instead of dread.  God is so very good!

11/29/13 Editing to add:  When the "School Report Cards" were issued in October, my new school moved up from a "D" school to a "C" school.  Now even that can be checked off of the list.  Everything I asked for, I received, through no merit of my own.  Glory be to God!

Sunday, June 23, 2013

12 seconds

It has been a roller coaster kind of week.  When we volunteered to be displaced from our school, we were led to believe that there would be some sort of fair, orderly process in which new jobs would be offered.  We were led to believe that they would be offered in order of seniority, and since I have 25 years in the system, I would have been very near the top of the list.  But that is not what transpired.  Some of my former co-workers were placed on Tuesday.  They had many years less than me, and we assumed that maybe HR was going in alphabetical order.

Things continued on Wednesday shooting down the alphabetical order theory, and we waited for "the call".  Finally on Thursday, I called them.

They ticked off the few jobs that were available.  Nothing at the school 4 minutes from my house.  Positions at other poorly rated and alternative schools.  "Thank you, but I would have stayed where I was at...."  Positions at schools 20 and 25 minutes away.  Finally, I hastily selected a position at school A teaching special ed English, even though I prefer Math .  I called the principal and scheduled a meeting for that afternoon.  The meeting with the principal revealed that I would be teaching both regular and special ed English AND a regular section of Science.  I toured the school and he gave me keys to my room.

Sometimes the placing of displaced teachers is little more than a blind date.  Unfortunately it is often difficult to call of the relationship once you've agreed to the date.  But the more I thought of the requirements for this job, the more my un-ease increased.  I had prayed to know the "right job" when it appeared, but had no particular insight when I was offered choices.  I had done the best I could with the information given me.     I am used to teaching small groups of children...the thought of having classes of 25 was overwhelming. And Science....I would have been learning it along with the students.

Perhaps God thought it was "Opposite Day".   As Friday dawned bright and sunny, I realized that remaining in the job I had selected would be an injustice for everyone involved. I had picked the wrong job - not the right one!  One of the jobs I had passed over because it was a little further from my house was a "Mild/Moderate" class.  This was really what I wanted.  Your stereotypical "special ed" class.  I dropped my son off for his 7 a.m. driver's ed  class and then plotted my next move.

I texted my former principal who had spent the last semester at "School B".  No answer.  I texted my supervisor to see if she knew anything of the job 4 minutes from my house.  The job that was not yet open.  No answer.  I pulled up School B on my ipad and emailed the principal.  I tried calling.  No answer.  Finally, I put the address into my GPS and hit the road.  It was a 25 minute or so drive.  I arrived at a school in the middle of nowhere.

The architecture reminded me a little of the high school I had attended.  There were 2 cars in the parking lot, so I parked and made my way to the office.  Birds were chirping and I noted neglected box gardens in the front of the school.   Eventually, I met up with the principal and another staff member.  "Are you looking for a report card?" they asked.  "No, actually a job."  "Are you Karen?"  He had gotten my email and had already called HR to find out if the job that I was seeking was still open. (No answer for him, either.)  We chatted for a few minutes, and I left feeling like it would be a good match.

It took me until early afternoon to find someone at HR to reverse my decision, so that I could return the keys to school A.  In the meantime I talked to a few more people who affirmed my choice, so that was good.  Now I have that peace that this is the "right job".  All the pieces line up.  Good principal.  Good supervisor (so says a much-loved supervisor that I had years ago.)  The type of class that I wanted in a "quiet school".   I will trust that God has His reasons for wanting me to travel the 20 or 30 minutes each way, instead of 4.

After all was said and done, just for fun, I googled and mapquested to find the nearest Catholic Church.  Spending time in the empty church near my old school is something I have enjoyed in the mornings before school starts.  I put in the addresses and the result came back....12 seconds.  The church is 12 seconds from the school.  Not 11.  Not 13.  I had to laugh at the exactness of the answer.  Thank you Lord, for answered prayers.

Sunday, June 16, 2013


 It's been a few weeks since I locked the door for the last time and left the keys in my box.

Twenty-four years worth of stuff sorted through, purged, and packed.  We relived a few memories along the way of kids who had come and gone.  We made many trips to the dumpster.  We hugged some kids and wiped away a little snot the last day of school.  Some of them loved us...

This is the sign that was on my door for the last few weeks of school.  One afternoon, the bathroom, the copy machine and the coke machine all had Out of Order signs on them.  I decided to join them, and trust was v.e.r.y out of order in my room!

The days at the end were bittersweet.  I have loved the people I've worked with.  I've loved my cozy room.  I've even loved the kids.  But in the end, it was mostly relief that I felt.  We had a deadline of 9 pm on our last workday to have everything out, and we made it with hours to spare.  The later it got, the more we threw in the garbage can.  When the room started to echo, I knew that we were close.  

This was my corner of the room.  I took pictures when we were finished, but for some reason, none of them came out.  A friend took these for me a few days later, and my desk has been pushed against the wall and the student desks pushed to the other side.  The red cabinet door - a previous owner had painted them, and I thought the red was awful.  So we kept them covered with blue paper.  

The view from my desk.  I will miss my Promethean board.  

The side with my assistant's desk, the kids' desks, and the computers.  

The view outside my door.  Unique architecture for a school, but I always thought it was pretty.  Our custodians kept it nicely landscaped and clean.

I have defined "done" in different ways...the empty room, the boxes stacked in my garage, the pile of clothes that I won't wear in public again...

They say when one door closes, another opens, and I am looking forward to that.  I have had one interview, but hiring is frozen in our system right now.  Some teachers are waiting to retire/resign, so it is hard to get an accurate picture of what is available.  

The last five weeks of the school year - when I knew that I didn't have to go back - were the best ones of the entire year.  It feels great not to be stressed and to be able to turn my head without pain.  I feel for the people who chose to stay.  

In the end, I packed what I wanted and disposed of the rest.  But the most important things that I took didn't fit in a box.  Each and every person that I worked with touched my life in some way...and that is the real treasure of what I took away.  

Thursday, April 25, 2013

it opened

Going off of the last post....I knocked; the door opened.

I have been so extremely stressed about the goings on at my school lately.  Even if I try to avoid it, my body knows what is happening and the knots in my back and neck and shoulders give it away.

I met the whole "reconstitution" issue with a rather neutral frame of mind.  No real feeling one way or the other.  And then mixed feelings.  Almost immediately after it passed, our principal began drafting her new "team"...meeting with the teachers she would like to stay.  Many of them are choosing to leave in spite of her offer. Thursday and Friday passed with no contact from her (and so have the first 3 days of this week).  Monday she was out (interviewing our replacements at a job fair).

Monday, after speaking to my sister-in-law the night before, I had posted the St. Michael prayer as my Facebook status.  St. Michael and I are pretty good friends - he has gotten me through some tough times before.  On Tuesday, I woke up like any other day.  I went to Mass at the church near my school.  The first reading caught my attention.  It was from the Acts of the Apostles and spoke of the good that was accomplished by those who were scattered as a result of persecution.  I know they weren't talking about middle school teachers, but that just stuck with me.   The people at my school have always been a family, and now we are being scattered to the four winds.

They have adoration after Mass on Tuesday, so I stayed for a few minutes, wrote a few questions in my journal about it, asked for guidance and the openness to know His plan.  I thought about my integrity as a person and how much I am willing to put up with.  A flash of the staff member that gave me so many problems a few years back had also visited me in a dream the previous week.  (I'm not much for putting a lot of stock in my dreams, and I seldom even remember them, but that seemed to remind me that her return to our workplace was a possibility.)

I arrived at school and ran across one of my friends on the sidewalk.  I followed her to her room, and we chatted about 8th grade math and her plans for next year (she is leaving).  Nothing dramatic.

I do not know what happened. But by the time I went on lunch duty, I heard the words "I'm not coming back here next year" coming out of my mouth.  I don't know where they came from.  I've been at this school forever - I've taught the parents and aunts and uncles of the kids I teach now.  I have always joked that I would die or retire there.  Lately with the stress - dying seems the more likely option.  (An assistant principal and another teacher left last week on medical leave.)

As I drove home Tuesday afternoon, I noted that the stress in my shoulders and neck was gone!!  That was confirmation enough for me that the decision was the right one.  Where will I be next year?  Not a clue.  What will I be teaching next year?  I don't know.  But I do know that God has a plan, and it is better than mine.  Will it be some piece of cake dream job?  Probably not.  But there will be a reason why I am where I am.

I didn't really need any more confirmation.  But the next morning at Mass with my own good priest, I sat in amazement.  In his homily, he detailed the very process that I had walked through the day before when we "hear" God.  The "seed" planted in liturgy;  the prayer and discernment; the conversation with others; the fact that it seldom comes in a huge booming voice, but often a quiet whisper.  He likened it to the process of how the politicking that went on before the pope was chosen...the Holy Spirit moves in ordinary things.  It wasn't a particularly memorable homily, but it was a WOW! moment for me.

And if I needed any further thumbs up, the fight that I broke up between 2 brawling 13-year-olds in the middle of 3rd hour math class did it.  I maneuvered one - the one who was 'losing' -  outside of the classroom while the other teacher called the office for assistance and kept the other kid inside the classroom.  The kid I had in my grasp broke away and stood outside banging and kicking and screaming at the locked classroom door.  There's the door thing again!  After our campus cop and an assistant principal arrived to take them away, the other teacher looked at me and asked, "reconsidering your decision yet?"

So my focus for the next couple of weeks is to finish the never-ending paperwork, as much as it can be finished and then to sort and pack.  My prayer is to know the right job when it appears on my radar.

The only other person who has been at my school longer than me is our 80-something year old clerk in the front office.  I whispered my decision to her yesterday.  Today, I found a fortune cookie sized slip of paper from her in my box.  It made my heart smile.

 True words.  He makes all things new.

Editing to Add:  The disappearance of the horrendous stress that was weighing down on me has been signal enough for me that the decision is the right one.  Everything else on my plate has remained....but the stress has not returned.

Last Monday, I signed the paper to make my decision official.  I did this as a humongous cockroach inched across the ceiling in the school library.  I said that I would like to be "displaced".  I will be placed somewhere else in the system.  On Tuesday, as I sat at the same church where the seed had been planted a few weeks earlier, the theme of the priest's homily went along with the Gospel "sometimes it is better not to stay."   I could have hugged him.  As a matter of fact, I did, after Mass.  

And one more...because the confirmations keep coming.  On Monday, I was spending a few quiet moments in the church by my school (same church) before school.  I was looking in my "Courage to Change" book from AlAnon for readings about some other issues (there is a reading for each day, but an index of topics in the back), and I figured I would start with that day's reading.  What should I find, but this?

I find it much easier to risk making decisions when I stop thinking about suffering the consequences and remember that I have the option to enjoy the consequences. Since coming to Al-Anon, I make my choices my conscientiously. I do whatever footwork seems appropriate and then turn the results over to God. The results are often quite favorable. Even when they aren't, I can still celebrate the fact that I have done my part.

For a long time, I avoided decisions because I was sure that there was some magical "right" choice that would get me what I wanted, yet I never seemed to know which choice that was. I waited until the last minute to decide and never felt good about my choices. Today I know that choosing not to decide is to decide.

It can be very liberating to make a decision. Once the choice is made, I can trust that the consequences will unfold as they should. With a slight change of attitude, perhaps I can await them with excitement and hope instead of fear and dread.

I have to think that my recent acquaintance with this group - though I have not been on a regular basis - has given me the courage to at least make this change in my life.

God is good!

Thursday, April 18, 2013


It seems that doors have been slipping in and out of my thoughts of late.  Kind of random, I know.

Last Saturday, as I quietly entered the adoration chapel, I took note of the door.  A keypad on the outside.  Then carefully, slowly, closing the door behind me as I entered, so as not to disturb the others.

It reminded me of the way I enter the confessional, minus the keypad.  Stepping inside and quietly closing the door behind myself.  And in both cases, it is Jesus who waits on the other side of the door.   In the Chapel in the Eucharistic Presence.  In the confessional, in Persona Christi –  in the person of Christ present through the priest who offers counsel, mercy, absolution.  Grace and peace available in both places – overflowing grace and mercy and peace.

During the Triduum and sometimes during Communion at Mass, I am struck by the open tabernacle.  It was about the doors again.  During the Triduum, the Tabernacle is open, empty.  When Mass begins on Holy Thursday, the Tabernacle is empty.  After the Eucharistic procession, the Blessed Sacrament is placed in the Tabernacle during Adoration, but the end of the appointed time, it is removed, and again the Tabernacle is vacant.  There is a feeling that all is not quite right in the world.  On Good Friday and on into the Easter Vigil, the Tabernacle is empty and its emptiness in there for all to behold.  When finally, at the end of the Easter Vigil Celebration, the Eucharist is placed in the Tabernacle, and the door is closed, there is a sense that order has returned to the world.  During Communion last week, it occurred to me that the empty Tabernacle is rather like the empty tomb.  Jesus is among us.

The weekend after Easter, the Gospel is the one for Divine Mercy Sunday.  The one where the  Apostles are gathered behind locked doors.  My priest chose to concentrate on the "locked doors" for his homily.  We all hide behind "locked doors" of some kind.  Whether its a locked door of impatience, unforgiveness, fear, addiction, anxiety, etc.  God is with us - as he was with the Apostles - behind the locked doors.  Later that afternoon, I emailed my pastor about the possibility of blessing the Eagle project detailed in the previous post.  He knows my struggles and my situation well, and I signed my email with something along the lines of  "unlocking doors, one deadbolt at a time".  He replied that he would indeed bless the project and that I could "start with the hinges if the lock was very difficult to turn".  This made me smile, and I thought for a minute, that maybe he was talking about someone else in my life who is very difficult, but then I realized that I don't have the keys to that person's locks.  It must be my own hinges that I need to start with.

There is a door that I often stand in front of.  It is the door to the tabernacle at a church near where I currently work.  There are images of wheat there.  The Bread of Life within.  Me, just a grain of wheat.

Sometimes, when no one else is in the church, I feel myself drawn to the Tabernacle.  I kneel in front and try to open myself to the graces He has to give.  Sometimes my prayer is, "Lord, fill me."  So much strength and peace comes from those quiet moments.  When school is out, and I am no longer in that area on a daily basis, I miss these minutes very much.

I began this post a week or so ago, and tonight another door image floated into my consciousness.  It has been a very difficult year at work.  We changed principals at midterm and our new principal proposed that she be allowed to "reconstitute" the school.  Last night her proposal was approved by the school board. This means that all staff must reapply for their jobs.  Most are seeing it as an opportunity to leave.  I am viewing it with mixed emotions.  I have been at this school for half of my life.  The friendships I have made there will endure, I think.  People have come and gone, but we have always been a family.  There is the feeling that the door on this chapter of my life is clanging shut a little sooner than I would have liked.  I have 3.5 years to retirement.  But, I have confidence that God will put me where I need to be.  When one door closes, another tends to open.

Knock, and the door shall be opened.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

the path to eagle

There was a time, not too long ago, where my response to some event would be "oh, I can blog about that." But so rarely now does that happen.

Holy Week and the celebration of the Triduum awakened some of that.  It is so full of imagery and just good "stuff".  

Another stepping stone occurred this weekend, too, that I would wish to document (and which the teen subject would probably be OK with).

It's been a long process to get to this point, but his Eagle project was completed this weekend.  Other things remain before he can submit his application, but the project is DONE! 

Planning began in earnest about a year ago.  He had seen a stepping stone Rosary and when the time was right he approached the principal at the school he attended for grades K-8 about doing such a project for the school.  They were willing, and so he began work on a proposal, submitted it for all of the signatures and had it approved last summer.  At some point, we were told that there were other plans for the area that he wanted to use for the project, and they were unable to find another suitable chunk of real estate.  They suggested painting a Rosary under a covered area that they have.  Since this was a major change in the project, he was required to do another proposal and submit it.  This happened during the fall.

Then wrestling season began.  If you have wrestlers, you know that nothing else happens during wrestling season (November - February, more or less).  Then he got a job.  I have been forbidden to post that picture on the internet.

A few weekends ago, we bought the supplies.  Last week we were out of school, but the "project beneficiary" was not until Friday, so we (he) made final plans and decided the project would take place on Friday and Saturday.

Friday morning, a small crew - his brother and a good friend - prepared the surface..

 And then they waited...and waited.  We made a run to WalMart for donuts and cookies.  And waited.  Finally, they decided it was "dry enough" and began to lay out the pattern, tracing each bead with chalk.

This process took quite a while, because you know that even though it had been carefully measured and drawn, things did not fit exactly.  So there were changes and decisions to be made along the way.

 Finally, it was time for a trial run with the paint...

They mixed in some gold paint sprinkles...thinking that a little glitter would be a cool thing.  That was pretty much a fail.  Even though we used more than it called for, there was no sparkly glitter effect when we finished.

They painted the "Our Father" beads, and that was a learning experience.  The first one had paint that had oozed under then stencil and then they got paint on the asphalt when they put the stencil down after peeling it off of the circle.  But, they figured out how to fix both of these problems. They cleaned up and went home.

Saturday morning a larger crew showed up.  He had worried about having too many "little kids" that would be careless with a paint roller, but in the end the six that showed up, were perfect.  It was amazing how much debris collected on the covered surface overnight.

I love the picture below - of my Eagle-to-be giving instructions.

Then, working in pairs of one older and one younger, the painting commenced.  It went perfectly.  No drips, no spill, no runs...

What to put as the "connector" on the Rosary had been a problem that he needed to figure out.  In the end, he chose the school logo and made the stencil himself.

For the Cross, he just elected to free-hand it with the roller, and again, it worked quite well.

 A Scout is clean, you know....and paint is messy, so here is the clean-up.

I love this picture, here, too, where he seems to be offering it up to the good God.  Actually, he was looking at the paint he'd gotten all over his hands after taking off one of the paint rollers...

And a final picture of the crew, with the project.  

He is so proud.  Just now, he saw me looking at the pictures to put on here, and he had to stop and look through them again.  "Yeah, I did that," he said.  "Mom, do you think we could go by there tomorrow....just to get another good look at it with it all dry?"