Weariness, Scramble, Immersion

Sometimes it feels like being a public school teacher is ALL about time management and prioritizing.  You don’t have time to get everything done.  You just don’t.  If you want to do this, and enjoy this, you have to learn to live with that reality.

It might not be specific to teachers.  It might just be a universal truth of adulthood.

In the life of a teacher, at least, you never get everything done.  At some point, you just have to stop anyway and go home.  I seem to be naturally predisposed to fight against this truth.  I don’t want to accept that things won’t get done.  When things “fall off my to do list,” as I say when I write something week after week, I take it as a personal failure.

I’m working on it.

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This area is my “office.” These two tables can pile high in a short amount of time!

 

One thing I’m recognizing recently is that there are three general paths in the day-to-day grind.  You can experience the weariness of staying a couple of hours after the students are gone.  Or you can experience the scramble of coming in early and working for a couple of house before the bell rings.  Or you can experience the immersion of taking work home.  Choose your adventure wisely.

Good Weary

This path is my healthiest path.  The weariness of going home at 6:00 instead of 4:00 and knowing that everything is in its place for tomorrow is a good weary.  Like getting in a hot shower after a hard workout.  Like packing up your instrument after a long day of music performances.

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A dark line = something DONE.

Like napping in the Colorado sunshine, with your niece asleep on your chest, with a mountain in view, after a week of hiking in the heat of the Utah desert.

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(Best nap ever!) (Unrelated photo because it’s almost summer and my spirit is ready for travel and sunshine and sitting places where I can see mountains. Or oceans. Or just anyplace that is someplace else.)

 

At 4:00, I always want to just go home.  Always.  The trick is to have a snack, and get moving forward.  Knock out a few things on the list for tomorrow.  Start crossing things off.  Keep going until everything for tomorrow is crossed off.

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Pack a snack. Eat the snack you packed. Ignore the vending machine downstairs.

Then I go home, without a work bag, tired and hungry and weary, and whatever I do with my evening, I’m free.  It’s a good rest, the freedom of knowing there’s nothing I should be doing for work right now.  “I did everything I need to do” is my freedom mantra.

In the morning, I’m saved from the immediate feeling of anxiety that hits me if things aren’t ready for the day.  I feel free to have breakfast.  I feel free to get into God’s word, to sit still in His presence for a bit.  I feel free to go into work at 7:30 and plan for next week, or wander in at 8:15 and chat with people who are standing in line for the copier until the bell rings.  Either way, in that moment, it’s a pure choice, not tainted by stress and overwhelm.

Scrambling

On the other hand, I know colleagues who can come in at 6:30 every day, and do their prep in the early morning hours.  I’ve had seasons like that.  For them, getting out of school as soon as possible is key to their rhythm, and they don’t seem to be bothered by that ticking clock in the morning.  The scramble in the morning is energizing.  At 4:00, “It can wait until tomorrow” is a freedom mantra for them.

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Quiet…bright…buzzing with possibility…

Immersion

The third path is immersing yourself in the teaching life, 24 hours a day.  These colleagues appear to arrive at 8:00 and leave at 4:00, day after day.  They carry big bags of work almost daily.  Some need or enjoy the flexibility of time, doing their work after their kids go to bed or after their partners leave for a late shift job, or they simply catch a second wind late in the evening.  Some prefer to do their work in their pajamas, on their couch, watching TV.  I call this immersion because there appears to be no line between working and not working in a giving day.  They are a teacher today, or they are not.  Teaching is an identity.

However…

The truth is, there is a little bit of each story in all of us.  Being prepared is a good feeling, and early morning hours can be magically productive, and teaching is absolutely a part of one’s identity.  All of those things are true, together, no matter what I choose to do today.  I know my best choice is usually to stay at work through the late afternoon, leaving my classroom ready for tomorrow, and bringing home nothing but my empty coffee mug.  But sometimes, circumstances – or my attitude – convince me to take a different approach.

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Fear & Doing

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I made a decision a long time ago that if I want creativity in my life – and I do – then I will have to make space for fear, too.

–Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic

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This is my story of hiking the Fisher Towers Trail.

This is not the story of the trail, how it was created, what kind of rock or vegetation you will see, or when it became a public trail.  It’s not the story of our family vacation, who came with us, everywhere we went, or the retelling of events in order.  Those are good stories, beautiful stories.  But those are not this story.

This is my story of hiking the Fisher Towers Trail.

 

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You see, a few years earlier, I hiked most of the Angel’s Landing trail with mostly the same group of people.  On that first trip to Utah, I discovered just how real and present a fear of heights could be.  I found that fear could actually stop me from doing what I really want to do.  I experienced that fear could make me miss out on an irreplicable moment.

On this trip, in August 2014, I was pretty determined to crack the code to my fear, to find a way to defeat it.  I wasn’t expecting to not feel fear.  But I wanted to be able to do things and have adventures and cherish them without fear getting in the way.

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The night before our Fisher Towers hike, we had talked about the trail extensively.  A couple of people in the group had hiked this trail before, and they spoke of a spot where you had to climb a ladder down into a small canyon and go up on the other side.  I had seen a picture of my brother-in-law sitting on an outcropping off the overlook point, and he said he had “hopped across the ravine” to get there.  You can’t know an experience from a description, and you can’t see everything in a photo.  But my imagination was not interested in this logic.  I was imagining coming to the top of the ladder and being in tears, unable to continue.  I was imagining getting to the overlook and sitting alone, far away from the edge, while everyone else enjoyed the experience together.  I spent much of the evening looking online for pictures and descriptions, thinking that knowing was the way to defeat the fear.

Finally, after so much perusing and not feeling any better, I made a decision.  I would go first, as much as possible.  I wouldn’t say anything to the group; I would just lead the way.  When we got to the ladder, I wouldn’t hang back and let someone else go first; I would just put one foot on the top rung, and then step to the next rung, and go.  I would just keep moving.  I couldn’t freeze if I kept moving forward.

I also had this instinct that the way to defeat the fear was to do the exact opposite of what I felt like doing.  Fear said, watch other people do it first.  Fear said, sit still, don’t move.  Something deep in my adventurous soul said, push back.  Push directly into those forces.

I didn’t tell anyone about my thoughts.

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By the time we reached the overlook at the trail end, I had done quite a bit of internal, unspoken fear-conquering.  I did, indeed, do the ladder first.  It wasn’t nearly as dramatic as the situation my imagination had created, maybe 8-10 feet down the ladder then up a steep switchback, but that doesn’t matter.  What mattered, for me, was that I kept moving forward when I knew this unknown ladder situation was somewhere in front of me.  When it arrived, I put one foot on the ladder and just kept going from there.  Before the group had completely caught up, I was down the ladder, and up the other side of the ravine.

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Shortly after the ladder, I was again leading the way, and the trail seemed to end at a wall.  When we got close, we saw a small opening in the wall, about the size of a large doorway, and I moved forward into that opening — and found myself looking out at a steep drop-off and a huge landscape view.  My heart jumped into my throat, my veins felt like they were buzzing, and my hands were shaking.  I sucked in a sharp breath and took a step backwards.  I couldn’t even tell if it was still trail on the other side of this opening, or if we had taken a wrong turn somewhere.

While I recovered myself, my brother-in-law went through the opening and found the trail alongside the cliff.  My sisters offered to go next, but I recited my “one foot in front of the other; keep moving forward” mantra and stepped through the opening again.

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“The very act of doing the thing that scared me undid the fear.”

–Shonda Rhimes, TED Talk

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At the end of the trail, I spent some time on those rock outcroppings.  There was a light buzzing in my veins, but it was nothing compared to the view.  And if you can believe it, the feeling of satisfaction was even better than the view.

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It was somewhere along the trail that day that I realized I might like come back someday and hike Fisher Towers alone.

Alone.

No Sarah or Megan to hold my hand when my heart jumped into my throat.  No Jon to confirm that we are still on the trail.  No Dan toggling between light-hearted banter and reciting bible verses.  No Amy chatting and getting to know each other better along the trail.

It was like something inside me bloomed to life, something that was strength of my own, something I didn’t realize was missing.  Or maybe I didn’t quite realize that it was something that was possible to have.

In fact, almost two years later, I can see a trajectory that I think began that day.  I do hike alone now.  Better than that, my inner conversation is less and less wanting to find someone to imitate, and more and more knowing who I am.

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But that day, I also felt solidarity with my fellow hikers.  Giving in to my fear would have meant that I didn’t get to be on the trail with them.  It would have meant that they wouldn’t have been there to witness my accomplishment, and I wouldn’t have had the joy of the adventure.

Instead, we enjoyed the accomplishment and adventure together.

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And that steep drop-off right before we went back through the opening in the rock?  I knew I could walk right past it, or stop and enjoy the view for a moment.  Fearless is a powerful semantic, but courage is much more empowering to an experience.  Fear would come with me.  But the doing undid the fear a little bit.  And exploration and adventure were leading the way.

Marking the Journey: The Lessons

So, Lent comes to an end this weekend.  Logistics this year mold my experience into a multi-day celebration.  Last night we met at church to figure out how to have 100 choir and orchestra musicians share a stage with a giant cross that will be raised into the air at the climactic moment of the service.  I am work-free for a five day weekend that constitutes our spring break.  There will be more music, a bit of family, a bit of solitude, hopefully a bit of hiking or at least “medium-distance wandering” outside.

Here is what I learned from giving up TV this Lent:

Just because it was spiritual and meaningful the first time, doesn’t mean it will be spiritual and meaningful the fourth time.  The first Lent I tried this, I learned so much about my relationship with TV, about my relationship with silence and solitude, about how TV has the capacity to be an obstacle to my relationship with God and with other people.  But, in small part because of that experience, I am different now.  I have a more positive view of silence and solitude than I did a few years ago.  Indeed, I now understand that both silence and solitude are essential to my soul’s well being, in moderation.  I now have the ability to see when TV is becoming an obstacle to the parts of life I want more of, and I can fix it.  I naturally “take a break” from TV whenever I need it.  I use TV to be inspired by stories I love and to motivate me through tasks I despise.

Because I know myself better than I did before, I recognize what I need each day and in each situation.  The 40-day examination of this habit was redundant.  It has been examined enough for now.

Giving up a habit or indulgence for Lent is a different practice than examining one’s relationship with a habit or indulgence.  Giving up something you enjoy to enhance your Lenten spiritual experience is best done when you have the intention of joining Jesus in his suffering in order to join him in the joy of his Resurrection.  This is a valuable and wonderful intention.  But it is not where I am spiritually right now.

The God of the universe doesn’t need me to make sure I’m in a place of sacrifice and suffering for a particular 6 weeks each year.  He created my soul apart from time.  He colors my soul with characteristics, desires, impulses, as He sees fit, regardless of the calendar.  I learn over and over again that it is better to listen for His rhythm in my life, not the rhythm of the calendar or any other worldly control.

Awareness to the rhythm of my soul is more valuable than seeking constancy or balance in every moment.  This is a lesson that must be relearned, over and over.  The past week or so, my spiritual practice — how I find connection with God — has been a creative sort of energy.  I need to be inspired by art and make art.  God is asking me to join him in creating.  I need to put myself in the path of other makers, as often as possible.  I need to make something, as often as possible.

Someday soon, this part of the rhythm will pass for now, and I’ll need to delve into scripture, or clean my house as a catharsis, or indeed, to empty myself of something to make space.  Or something else I don’t know about right now.  That’s the point: I can’t predict my own soul’s desires, much less God’s work in my life.  Spirituality, following Jesus, is a relationship, a conversation that continues.

Marking the Journey: Lent Week 5

This week I broke all my rules.

On Monday night, I thought, this can be my TV day.

On Wednesday, I had the day off (the school district preparing for a possible need to make up a snow day), and I thought, this is kind of like a snow day, doesn’t count, I can watch TV.

On my Friday drive to and from work, I listened to the first episode of the Head to Heart podcast, and it was so good.  SO, SO GOOD.  Christa and Luke (I feel like I’m on a first name basis with them after listening!) talked about going deep into your heart, that you’re not there alone, that the way to healing from any sort of wound is to allow Jesus to be there with you in your pain.  I was a little bit afraid to go where Christa and Luke and the Holy Spirit were leading, so I thought, I don’t want to give up TV for Lent anymore, and I numbed out with TV.  On Saturday, too.

This morning, I went to church and the message was all about how Jesus is the vine and we are the branches.  How “remain in Jesus” means to make your home in him.  How bearing good fruit is a result of striving for closeness with the Creator of the fruit, not striving to bear fruit.  How God will prune my vine to make me bear more good fruit, and how that’s not an easy experience.

I remembered seeing an article scroll by my Facebook feed, about failing at Lent.  I found it back and read about the irrefutable law that “one needs to be dispossessed of all the possessions that possess us — before one can be possessed of God.  …  But the flesh is corrupt.  I can’t do it.  …  Jesus will have to do everything.”

It all comes together at this point.  Jesus will do it.

Jesus is the Healer.  He is with me in pain; he is angry with me; he is sad with me; he is overwhelmed with me.  He is the Creator of good fruit.  He is my Home, my place of comfort and refuge and nourishment.  He is the Gardener, pruning away what impedes my growth.  He is the Grace that will do everything, as I will always fall short, and he loves me too much to let my inadequacy be the end of the story.

He is all these things.  Not me.

My goal, my hope, is not to perfectly follow my own rules.  Or to perfectly follow any sort of moral code.  That kind of hope will never be fulfilled.  My hope is to experience closeness with Jesus.  My hope is to open myself to his Love, in whatever capacity or condition I find myself at the moment.  My heart is His to do with, to change, to grow.  He does this.

I am not my own savior.  I am simply the beloved of a Savior.

Marking the Journey: Lent Week 4

This week, I didn’t cheat.  Exactly.  I abstained from TV for five days.  Then I started watching TV on Friday night, thinking that I would allow myself TV for 24 hours, and turn off the TV by 6:30 or so on Saturday night.

Which isn’t exactly the deal.

Also, I didn’t do that.  It was more like 27 hours.  Minus sleeping, of course, but again, that wasn’t the deal.

So…better than last week…but not quite fully faithful.

I’m to a point where I just want this to be over.

This week, I’m thinking that the thing you give up for Lent teaches you more about your relationship with that thing than it teaches you about your relationship with God.

I already knew that I experience TV in two ways:  I enjoy it for entertainment, or I use it as a numbing behavior.  Right now, I just want this to be over because I’m craving some good strong numbing behavior.  I’m trying to make some decisions about which direction to go in several areas of my life…and I’m so, so tired of the weight of these decisions.  I’m tired of not really having any gut feelings about them, tired of seeing too many choices and no excitement or passion in any of them, tired of the back-and-forth of changing my mind in a matter of hours.

That’s just…adulthood.  Part of the process of making big decisions.  Eventually, you have what you need to make the decision.  Doors close or open.  Gut feelings emerge.  Passion ignites where it’s suppose to.  This chaos-plus-apathy is just an uncomfortable but necessary step toward getting there.

And I want a break from it.

So, that’s the part of this experience that I already knew about.  TV is what I often use to take a break from my feelings.  Numbing behavior.

Here’s some new learning:  TV is pretty much the only numbing behavior I have right now.  I’m not sure how I feel about that.  Do I want numbing behaviors in my life?  Is it unreasonable to expect myself to go through life without some way to take a break from everything?  Is “numbing behavior” another word for “coping strategy?”  There are other things I do that I would call “coping strategies,” such as exercise or doing something social or even sitting through an orchestra rehearsal.  But they don’t have the same immediate relief.  Also, they’re more effective in actually helping to process the feelings and issues, whereas TV gives me a temporary reprieve and leaves me at the exact same point when I return to the feelings.  So it’s a different kind of thing.

Still, the experience continues.

Marking the Journey: Lent Week 3

This week, my promise to abstain from TV was like a bad but committed marriage.  Some days I cheated.  Some days I was faithful.  I never considered giving up on my vow, but I wasn’t particularly attentive to it either.

As planned, I am recognizing when it feels better to have the TV off.  I am eager to have a little piece of quiet in my evening.  I am finding that things get done when my mind isn’t always “plugged in.”  I fold the laundry and unload the dishwasher…my most avoided household tasks.

I’m still struggling to “run to Jesus” instead of finding ways to zone out when things are hard or I am tired.  In lieu of TV, I scroll through Facebook and Instagram or play games on my phone.  (Brene Brown would call these “numbing behaviors,” and as much as I don’t want to, I tend to agree.)  I’m not convinced that numbing behaviors are all bad, but I’m not connecting with God most days.  I’m not connecting with myself enough to know how I am really doing.

Maybe these are two separate issues, the numbing and the not connecting.

The experience continues.

Marking the Journey: Lent Week 2

Like a rappeller believes in the rope

This week was a taxing, overwhelming, brutal week at work.  Reflecting on that would be another whole blog post, if I were so inclined to reflect publicly.  I tell you because it affected my Lenten fast from TV a little bit.

On Thursday night, I had big, BIG feelings to deal with related to work.  I also had to get myself calmed down enough to correct district math assessments and do the bubble sheets for them.  You know how I feel about bubble sheets…I can barely handle doing them WITH a nice distraction of fictional television, much less in the quiet of my home when I’m upset!  So I decided at the spur of the moment that it would be my TV day.  I caught up on an episode of Castle, and I watched Grey’s when it was actually on.  (When was the last time I’ve done that?!?)  I felt a little better, but I couldn’t bring myself to tackle the math assessment.  So I watched several episodes of Friends and then went to bed.

I still wasn’t really at peace.  I didn’t sleep much.

On Friday morning, I finally decided to just get up and dig into the math assessment at about 5:00 a.m.  I decided this would be an extension of the TV day, like I was trading the hour I could have had on Thursday if I had gotten home earlier.  I watched three episodes of Dharma & Greg while I graded and bubbled.  I went to work feeling very accomplished!

On Friday night when I was at a play with some friends, I felt like I was coming down with something…sniffles, chills, general feeling of malaise.  As usual, I assumed I was just overtired.  I hadn’t slept well the previous night, of course, and big emotions can be taxing on the body.  My bed has never felt so good.  Sure enough, on Saturday it developed into sore throat and fever, with more sinus and ear discomfort, no appetite…just general awfulness.  I curled up on the couch with plenty of fluids to drink, essential oils to support my immune system, and a good book.  And then another good book.  And then a nap. And then I decided that if I had a fever on a weekday, I would be taking a sick day.  And I was skipping out on my Saturday evening plans and Sunday morning commitments, so it really was a sick day.  And sick days are an exception.  So I watched more Netflix.

I was doing okay, really.  I didn’t need the sick-day-loophole that I gave myself.

And now that I’m bouncing back, I’m reflecting on the week as a whole.  Yes, there were those infernal bubble sheets.  Yes, there was a fever.  But the deeper issue is revealed in the other days.  I didn’t go running to Jesus when things got difficult.  I didn’t take my disappointments or my overwhelm to his feet.  I did what I often do:  I forged ahead, assuming that if I worked longer and harder I could solve everything, or if I were better at my job I wouldn’t be going through this, so I really deserve it anyway.  Neither of those thoughts are true.

Running to Jesus doesn’t solve everything either.  And running to Jesus doesn’t take away the natural consequences of my choices, when there are legitimate mistakes that lead to legitimate unpleasantness, which was mostly not the case this week.

Running to Jesus turns my eyes toward what is most important, my relationship with him.  It connects that most important part of my life and identity to the other parts, including the difficult or painful pieces.  Prayer doesn’t change God; it changes me.  It nourishes me to go on.  It is how I receive my daily bread of the soul.  It is not a “quid pro quo” with God.  I don’t think God gets something from my praying, other than that he loves me and he is delighted when I want to have a conversation with him.  He doesn’t give me strength and wisdom as a reward for praying.  God always wants to give me the strength and wisdom I need for today.  But he created me with free will, and he won’t go against that will.  If I refuse to open myself to communion with him, he won’t force it upon me.  If I am obstinately looking for strength and wisdom in my own power, he is willing to let me use what little I find there.

Sometimes I doubt the method by which I find communion with God.  (By communion, I mean that deep and holy connection, a soul-conversation.)  Maybe I should be more like my Catholic roots and find it in sacraments.  Maybe I should be more like my current church community and find it in deep Bible study.  Maybe I should find it in nature.  Maybe I should find it in stories, or spiritual literature, or even secular literature.  And I sometimes do find it in all of those paths.  But in true “rogue Jesus-follower” form, the most faithful path to soul-conversation with God is in journaling.  My journals are a life-long conversation with the Holy Trinity.  (Seriously, I talk to Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in those pages, depending on the day!)  God wired me this way when he made me.  He made sure I need nothing but pen and paper to find him, and I am infinitely grateful for that gift.

It’s going to be another challenging week at work.  Not as brutal as last week (I hope), but there will be plenty of opportunities to find myself overwhelmed, overtaxed, overtired.  May I run to Jesus this week.  May I believe in him like the rappeller believes in the rope.

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