Insatiable

“Dig deep.  Find your way to your soul.”  –Kami Garcia & Margaret Stohl, Beautiful Creatures

I want.  I want more.  Everyone wants.  Money, food, sex, possessions, fun, achievement, admiration…  Want is definitely a part of the human experience.  It’s inescapable.

And yet…

We mostly try to do the impossible.  To escape the wanting.  To quell the craving.  Even to shame that wanting part of ourselves.  To say to the part of ourselves that craves, “This is not acceptable.  This is not good.  I must extinguish this wanting.  I must learn not to crave anything at all.”

This dissonance between who I am and who I have believed I am supposed to be is in my story.  Is it in yours?

Sometimes it’s about food, sort of.  On Sunday morning I had a frozen caramel latte (extra shot, no whip of course!) on the way to church.  Around noon I was on my way to school to work in my classroom for awhile, and I wanted another espresso drink.  I really, really craved one.  I was hungry for more of that milky coffee flavor, and I knew another dose of caffeine would motivate me through a few hours of work when I’d rather be at home.  So I drove through Starbucks and got an iced caramel macchiato.

You would think the voices in my head would say, “You don’t need that.”  Or, “You shouldn’t spend your money on that.”  Or, “You shouldn’t eat that much sugar.”  But they don’t.  It’s my money and my body, and those choices are mine to make.  It’s not that I believed that I was making a healthy or financially responsible choice.  It’s just that guilt and shame weren’t present in the decision making.

No, the voices were actually saying:  “You shouldn’t want this.  You shouldn’t crave this.  You shouldn’t be hungry for more.  Why are you always hungry for more?  Your desires should fit in the boundaries of moderation.”  The guilt and shame is not about the food.  The story of the expensive coffee is one, small, mostly uninteresting part of a larger pattern.  In your story, you might replace the expensive coffee with binge-watching a TV series, or playing a video game, or shopping.  The hunger is human experience.  The object of the hunger is just details.

“I am a hungry woman.  I am hungry for love, for acceptance, for belonging, for meaning.  I am desperate for God.  I am aware of the aching abyss inside me of which many have written.”  –Stasi Eldredge, Becoming Myself

What if this hunger is not a brokenness, but my true, beautiful nature?  What if God made me this way so that I would not be satisfied with myself, satisfied with this world or with the empty things we find here, but always wanting more?  What if my always wanting more is meant to show me what God is like, always bigger, always more than I can experience?  What if this always wanting more shows me what I am, as an eternal being, as a soul who one day will not be confined in an earthly body?

“What we need is a relentless appetite for the divine. We need a holy ravenousness.”  —Jason Todd

This ravenousness is beautiful.  It gives me a great capacity for life, for love and fun and achievement.  It keeps me moving forward, always growing and changing and learning.  It shows me what my relationship with the divine can be, what I can be.

So I encourage you, as I encourage myself:  Go deep.  Let the hunger be big, let it be beautiful.  Dive into the insatiable abyss and seek what your soul is truly wanting.

Making Space

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Television and blu-ray player, off duty!

And so it begins.

Giving up TV for Lent has become the standard by which all my other Lenten practices are compared.  The first year I tried it, I had a gentle yet spiritually transforming experience.  This year, I want to do it again.  I don’t know what God has in mind for me in the next six weeks.  But I know why I want to do this.

The Rules:  When I am home alone, I will not watch TV six days a week.  This will also include DVDs and any form of online video (Netflix, etc.).  One day a week, to be decided upon each week as my schedule allows, I will be free to watch whatever I want.  When I’m on the treadmill at the gym, I am free to watch Netflix on my phone or whatever.  And any sick days or snow days are total exceptions.

Why give up something for Lent?  Everyone who does it certainly has their own reasons.  My purpose is simple:  I want to give up something that I don’t really need but isn’t inherently bad, and watch to see how God fills that space.

Why TV?  It’s not too important or unimportant.  It’s something I use to deal with stress and tiredness and boredom, but not something I can’t get through the day without.  It’s something I enjoy, but I don’t have a deep passion for.  And most importantly, it fills up more space in my life than its value deserves.  TV sucks away my time without my awareness.  It prevents me from feeling (and dealing with) loneliness or boredom.  Its absence would leave a nice large space for God to fill.

Why allow TV one day a week?  I don’t have a spiritual answer.  The truth is, the first year I did this, I ended up continuing to leave the TV off several days a week for many months after Lent was over.  I felt like it taught me how to put TV back in a space in my life that matched its value to me, rather than overtaking my life and my home without me realizing it.  I’m afraid if I go completely TV-free, I will want to do nothing but watch TV when Easter comes.

Why make exceptions for running on the treadmill or sick days or snow days?  Because whatever gets me on the treadmill is worth its weight ten times over!  And if I’m sick enough to stay home, I’m already as miserable as I need to be, and anything that helps pass the time until I feel better is good.  I’m not sure I will make an exception for snow days…but we probably won’t have any more anyway!

How was day 1?  Why, thank you for asking!  ;)  It was lovely, but not life-changing.  The TV and blu-ray player are unplugged until Saturday.  As you might expect, I went a little overboard the last few days, knowing this was coming, and my housework has been neglected.  So day one was mostly about dishes and laundry!

February Goals

If it's going to be winter...it needs to look like this!  So sparkly and bright!

If it’s going to be winter…it needs to look like this! So sparkly and bright!

I’m celebrating a snow day today.  “Celebrating” is the right word.  A snow day is an unexpected holiday marked by extended pajama hours, increased warm beverage consumption, and a high quantity of fiction in the form of TV, movies, and books.  That’s how I celebrate, anyway.  Today on the schedule: Firefly, Serenity, and Castle.  I’m in a Nathan Fillion kind of mood.

A review of January:

-I planned to make myself addicted to exercise by thinking about the good feelings, the immediate gratification of doing some good hard work.  It worked for about a week.  I think I need to combine the “good feelings addiction” with the habits involved in making a workout part of my day without much effort.  I’m also thinking about the practical things that can become obstacles, such as the fact that the gym I belong to is a 15-20 minute drive from my apartment.  I’m not ready to make any changes, but I’m going to keep thinking on this.

-I spent time outside.  It was awesome, and must continue.  The value of absorbing sunshine and seeing nature is immeasurable.

New Goals for February:

-For the body…  Green smoothies!  It’s time to get back on the wagon.  My true goal is to drastically reduce my consumption of sugar and things that turn into sugar in my body, such as white flour, processed potato products, etc.  But sugar is crack, and I can’t just stop.  If there’s one thing I know, it’s that trying to DO something is much easier than trying to STOP doing something.  And the more fresh fruits and veggies I eat, the less sugar I crave.  So in February, I can eat whatever sugary, processed, insulin-producing substances I want…but I will also have a green smoothie.  Every day.

-For the spirit… “A place for everything, and everything in its place.”  I know how much better I feel emotionally when my space is clean and organized.  In fact, an hour of cleaning is sometimes worth more than an hour of sleep.  I love apartment living partially because it’s a small space.  The putting away and cleaning takes a very small percentage of my time.  But it still so easily gets neglected…as with most people, I imagine!  This month, every day, no matter how late, I will spend 15 minutes cleaning up the kitchen, picking up the house, and doing whatever other cleaning and organizing I have time to do.  I have been curious for awhile to find out how far 15 minutes per day would go.  Over time, would I be able to keep up not only with dishes and picking up, but also the housecleaning?  Let’s find out!

“You’re lost in the woods.  We all are.”  –Inara, from Firefly

January Goals

A drizzly December afternoon at Lake Zorinsky.

A drizzly December afternoon at Lake Zorinsky.

After two full weeks off, I’m recharged and eager to go back to work on Monday!  I’m so glad I decided to not bring any work home or go into my classroom to work these two weeks.  Being fully free to live in the moment was more refreshing and healing than “getting caught up” or “getting a jump on things” could ever be.  This rediscovered enthusiasm was well worth any consequences that Monday morning brings.

A quick reflection on my December goals:

-I brought my lunch!  For about two weeks straight it was a Lean Pocket and an orange, but still.  Cheaper and marginally healthier than school lunch or fast food.  I did not every pack all my lunches for the week on Sunday night, but several times I packed 3-4 days worth to keep in the fridge at school.

-As I knew it would be, making daily quiet time was the most important goal of the year.  There is nothing like the constant overwhelm and persistent feeling of guilt that I could have done better and worked harder (otherwise known as just a typical week or month in the life of a teacher – and many other jobs, I’m sure) that make me aware of my need for power, peace, and competence beyond my little human self.  I felt that December was a month of intense spiritual growth and I want more.

New goals for January:

I have thoroughly examined the habits and practices that make my job more manageable, and I intend to continue them:  Leave at 5:30.  Don’t take any work home.  Schedule blocks of time to dedicate to predictable categories of tasks.  Leave the classroom ready for tomorrow.  Use to-do lists in a way that makes sense and is effective.

But here is the cold, hard truth:  I am not superhuman.  I am not omnipotent.  I’m just, you know…me.  I cannot accomplish more in a day than a human being can.  Yet, that’s exactly what I’ve been trying to do.  My humanity is expressed in mind, body, and spirit.  I have a job that engages my mind very well.  I love it, I love being good at it, and I find it meaningful and worthwhile.  And while I want to continue to grow as a professional and improve my effectiveness in the classroom, it means nothing if it kills my body and spirit in the process.

So…for January, my two goals will be directed toward body and spirit.

-For the body:  I must exercise.  I will say it again, I must exercise.  It relieves stress, elevates mood, and increases energy.  And that’s just on the day you do it.  Never mind the benefits of doing it for a bunch of days or weeks or months in a row.  I’ve tried lots of things to make exercise a part of my routine, and still it comes and goes for a few weeks or months at a time.  So instead of focusing on how to make it part of my routine, I’m going to focus on those immediate benefits.  For better or worse, things become part of my routine without effort if they feel good:  Drinking coffee.  Zoning out in front of the TV.  Calling my sister.  Journaling.  Checking Facebook.  Eating something sweet at the end of a meal.  Cleaning up the kitchen before I go to bed.  Obviously, some of these habits are “healthier” than others!  But what they all have in common is that they feel good and those good feelings make me want to do them again.  For the month of January, I’m going to think about and seek out that feeling of having just had a good hard workout.  That warm, cozy feeling of getting home from the gym, taking a hot shower, and putting on clean pajamas.  Or that happy, energized feeling of a morning workout followed by a big cup of coffee.  I’m not going to make rules for myself regarding when or where I exercise.  I’m simply going to try to help myself crave those feelings.

-For the spirit:  I feel it would be beneficial to spend more time outside.  In the daytime.  I never see daylight in the winter, Monday through Friday, except when I’m on recess duty.  (I’m not sure that counts.)  Today I watched Mile…Mile and a Half, a documentary about hiking the John Muir Trail.  I recently read Wild by Cheryl Strayed, about hiking the Pacific Crest Trail.  I’ve been thinking about a day this past June when I went wandering in the woods at a retreat center near where I live, and made rare peace with all manner of stinging, spraying, biting, or just wild creatures that usually feel threatening to me.  “You and I will both walk in these woods this morning,” I wrote in my journal, “and we will both go away unharmed.”  I’ve been thinking about my experiences hiking in and near Arches National Park in August, experiences that made me brave, made me aware of my strength, and left a soul-deep impression.  Perhaps I am learning what so many people seem to already know:  Being outside is live-giving and soul-nurturing.  One cloudy, drizzly Sunday afternoon last month I walked around the east loop of Lake Zorinsky, 4.5 easy miles of paved trail, wandering as quickly or as slowly as I felt like going.  During the month of January, I want to do something like that each week, whether it’s an entire Sunday afternoon of hiking at a nearby state park or just a 20 minute walk around my neighborhood.  Maybe I will even get to go sledding on a snow day…it is winter, after all!  I will spend intentional time outside, for the simple purpose of breathing the air and soaking up the sunshine.

There is a shift in how I am making my goals.  I am more complex than I can wrap my own mind around.  We all are!  I want to be good at my job, to work for this forward-thinking, innovative school district, to be a leader in my team and to do work that is meaningful to me and matters to my students.  But my purpose on this planet is to be firmly, deeply connected to God, to thrive in this body He gave me to live in and use, to breathe in the air and soak up the sunshine of His creation, and to live in community with my fellow humans, His beloved children.  My career is an expression of part of that purpose.  My career is one beam radiating from the source.  It doesn’t give light; it needs light from the source.  How easily I forget.

Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God.  (2 Corinthians 3:5)  (Also, this clip from a recent message at my church made a huge impression on me.  The whole message was fantastic, if you want more.  Of course, I say this several times a month.  My thirsty soul just needs everything it can get, and the pastor at my church is awesome at scripture-based, Spirit-fed, deep-yet-relevant teaching.)

Hold me fast / ‘Cause I’m a hopeless wanderer  (“Hopeless Wanderer” by Mumford & Sons)

Keep close to Nature’s heart… and break clear away, once in awhile, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean.  (John Muir)

December Goals

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(Long-overdue vacation pics coming soon!  Elizabeth gives you a preview:  “Yeah, I hike.  You see my family?  If my parents, grandpa, and aunties do it, I want in!  Wait…what’s going on with all the air hitting my face?  Why is the sun so bright?  And why is it so hot?  Is this what hiking means???  Take me back to the airport.”)

A quick reflection on my November goals:

-Creating blocks of time assigned to general categories was very helpful at work!  I stayed more on top of things that are important but easily procrastinated, like planning guided reading groups.  I found the “projects and tasks” category particularly helpful.  If I finished prepping the next day at 5:00, I picked something off my running list of projects and tasks and got to work.  It made me feel like I had extra time, once in awhile.  Well, not really extra time, but a smaller negative balance on my time, at least!

-BarNoReMo…needs to be in a summer month!  Fifty pages a day???  What was I thinking?  To be fair, I still have five days left, and it’s the long weekend for Thanksgiving, but so far I’ve nearly finished Insurgent.  That’s it.  I’ll try again another time.  Apologies to the poor suckers who agree to lend me books.

-Eat at the table?  What?  I completely forgot about that one.  Oops.  I knew three goals would be too many.

New goals for December:

Let me start by telling you where I’m at these days.  I’m feeling physically neglected – sleep, fruits and veggies, exercise – and spiritually thirsty.  I’m living one day at a time, just trying to make it through the hours and the tasks.  Sometimes that’s what is necessary, but it can’t be my whole life, week after week, month after month.  I want more than surviving another hour or day.  I need a stronger center, a stronger mind-body-spirit to endure and flourish.

I will continue maintaining my work-related habits:  following a general, loose plan for getting things done; leaving each night with materials prepared for the following day’s instruction; and working 7:30-5:30 most days.  But my two goals this month will both be things that happen between 5:30 p.m. and 7:30 a.m.

-My first goal is work-related, in a way.  I will bring my lunch!  This shouldn’t be that hard.  But I’ve had way too many school cafeteria, gas station, and fast food lunches in the last couple of months.  I have had maybe 8 green smoothies this entire school year so far, and I think I spent 10 straight days this month without a single bite of anything raw and living.  I feel like death warmed over.  Food makes SUCH a difference!  So for the month of December, I will try packing lunches in batches, all five lunches packed on Sunday night and ready for the week ahead.  Fresh fruit, salads, smoothies, sandwiches, soups…whatever it is, it will be better, healthier, and likely cheaper than the alternatives.

-Second goal…and much more important than any goal I have set this year so far:  Reconnect with a daily dose of quiet.  A daily spiritual practice that quenches a thirsty soul.  For me, that means getting up early, lighting a candle, reading a few verses, and a little prayer journaling.  If the one practice that most drives spiritual growth is reading your bible and thinking about it, then my thirsty soul needs more of this practice.

“THAT Kid” and the “Other Kids”

This morning I read a lovely, heartfelt, so very TRUE article responding to parents of the “other kids” in the class who are concerned about “THAT kid.”  The wise and delightful Miss Night seems to have struck a chord with teachers and (most) parents alike, igniting an empathy for THAT kid, eliciting patience and kindness and trust.

I agree.  With every word.

And I would like to add on.  I would like to make a case for the value of being THAT kid’s classmates.  Not just tolerating him, or learning to deal with her until next year, or hoping you can make it through the year without your kid getting hurt.  No, I’m talking about real, actual benefits to the OTHER kids as a direct result of being classmates with THAT kid.

You see, the vast majority of parents would very much like the world to revolve around their child.  And they have every right to do so.  (I will not get out my soap box and talk about how my generation was deeply harmed by the “you are so very special, you can be anything you want in this world” attitude of our parents and wonder why we as a culture haven’t learned anything about teaching humility and others-centeredness.  Nope.  I will leave that discussion for another day.)  A parent is supposed to be their child’s best advocate.  They are supposed to be invested and attached, in their child’s education and well-being and future.  They are supposed to feel strongly about their child’s struggles.  This is how it’s SUPPOSED to work.

But here’s the thing…  My job, among other things, is to build a community.  To teach generosity and self-control and others-centeredness and conflict resolution.  To make sure the world doesn’t revolve around anyone, and yet, that we all revolve around each other.

In the easy years, we go about our days, learning how to read and write, add and subtract.  We learn to say “thank you” and “excuse me.”  We occasionally say, “I’m sorry.”  We learn to be happy and calm and responsible.

But the hard years…oh sweet soap-on-a-rope, those are the growing times.  We learn to say, “Please stop, I don’t like that.”  And, “I forgive you.”  And, “How can I help?”  We learn, “I see that you didn’t mean to do that.”  And, “I can wait until the teacher is done talking to (THAT kid).”  And, “I think (THAT kid) needs us to care about him right now.”

And that very hardest year?  My kids learned to leave the room without me, go next door unannounced, sit down and read a book.  They learned to be patient when we walked laps around the first floor, as every time we passed our classroom, I glanced in to see if one of my superhero teammates had made it safe to return.  They learned to ignore the distraction when all four “THAT kids” screamed and yelled and banged their books on the floor under my table or in the corner or in the middle of the room.  They learned to be calm and self-sufficient in moments that looked and sounded anything but calm.

And what about the time the “other kids” begged and pleaded with me that even though “THAT kid” had been suspended earlier in the day on Halloween, we should all pass out candy for him anyway and save it for tomorrow?

And the time the “other kids” all thought of something kind to say about “THAT kid” after she had a very challenging day?

And the innumerable times I’ve seen the “other kids” ask “THAT kid” to play with them, over and over, no matter how many times the game ends in tears and frustration?

The “other kids” practice patience and kindness and generosity and forgiveness.  These are things we learn only when we have many opportunities to try them out.  They are the hardest things in the world for our broken humanity.  I struggle with every single one.

A small, not-at-all extreme example:  The other day, I had pulled a small group for reading, and found that K went to the library even though it was her group time.  Not exactly a “THAT kid” moment, but I was irritated.  I said, “K signed up for library?  She has small group!”  Her group-mate S responded to me, “She just made a mistake.  I know she didn’t mean to.  She didn’t see her name on small group.  I do that sometimes.  You do, too.  You remember the day you signed us all up for the wrong small group times?”  Point taken.

To be honest, I am “THAT kid” sometimes.  So are you.  We yell.  We throw things – sometimes metaphorically, sometimes literally.  We shut down and give the silent treatment and build walls.  You do the best you can with what you have to give, and sometimes in that moment, it just doesn’t work out well – for you or anyone around you.  But whether I am “THAT kid” or one of the “other kids,” those moments are more opportunities to practice being generous and kind and forgiving.  The messy struggle of working though tough moments and difficult relationships with patience and grace — it is redemption in action.  We are so much better as individuals and as a community for knowing “THAT kid.”

November Goals

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A quick reflection on October’s goals:

-Leaving work ready for the next day’s teaching was moderately successful.  I estimate I was ready for the next day before leaving for the night about 80% of the time.  It freed my mind in the evening to take a true break, and it cleared my mornings to work on other things – data, paperwork, projects.  I intend to continue this habit as part of my routine.

-Keeping sweets to twice a day was very successful!  It was easy to resist temptation during the day because I knew something was waiting for me in the evening if I was still craving sugar.  Once again, I recognized the difference between how it feels after eating too much sugar and how it feels to eat well.  I even chose to dial back how much sugar I put in my coffee in the mornings, and by the end of the month I was really only having a serving of sugary food in the evening, most days.  Experiencing something is almost always the best way I learn, and despite my instincts that lean toward “all-or-nothing,” working through this goal gave me experiential evidence that moderation can be more successful than extremes.

New goals for November:

Just like last month, new goals began to make themselves clear to me a few days before the end of the month.

-At work…  To build off of the adjustments to my afternoon routine, I’m going to try assigning general categories of tasks to particular blocks of time.  You can see a first-draft schedule above.  The job feels so big, so complex, and so unpredictable that there is no way to say, “On Tuesdays from 7:30-8:30 I will work on _____.”  But there are categories, general goals under which individual tasks fall.  I need to plan.  I need to work through and respond to math data.  I need to work through and respond to guided reading data.  I need to attend to materials like sharpening pencils, stapling blank books for writing, and cutting out any laminating.  The specific tasks might be different from week to week, but every week needs time to accomplish these general goals.

There are also tasks that may happen only once, or only once every few months, that don’t fit into a general category.  For example, this week I did paperwork for my career development goal for this year.  I also filled out a somewhat time-consuming survey for my principal.  And a student moved away, so within the next few days I’ll have to update his cumulative file to send on to the next school.  These tasks are big enough they need to be assigned to a block of time or they won’t get done.  However, they are not part of the weekly rhythm of my job, so they are harder to schedule.  I’m simply calling these things “projects and tasks.”

You can see there are some unassigned blocks, and obviously most days updating the class Facebook page or responding to parents’ emails or voice mails won’t take my whole plan period.  For the moment, call those spaces “room for surprises.” Maybe organizing time and tasks comes easily to other teachers.  Maybe, if you’re a teacher who is reading this, you think I’m just being a big baby about all of this.  Maybe the immensity of the job is specific to my school district.  But I know this:  If I am going to survive this job for much longer, I need to find out how to make it less overwhelming.  Also, I’m not willing to do less than excellent work.  I’m not ready to give up on making those two things work.

-At home…  Did you know that November is NaNoWriMo?  National Novel Writing Month, for crazy people who have a stirring in their heart to write a work of fiction but need a burst of motivation.  It sounds fantastic to me…except that I have no desire to write fiction.  I do, however, have an addiction to reading fiction!  And to prove it, on top of the shelves of books I own but haven’t yet read, I have a whole shelf of novels borrowed from other people.  So I am calling November BarNoReMo: Borrowed Novel Reading Month!  I don’t expect to finish the whole shelf.  I intend to read at least 50 pages of borrowed fiction per day, on average.  That means on certain busy days I might not read at all, but on a free Sunday I might read a couple hundred pages.  Since this adds up to 350 pages per week, I estimate I will read about a book a week.

So four or five people might get a book back that I borrowed from them.

Or my sister-in-law might finally get the three books back that I have borrowed from her.

That math is not very impressive.  I’m currently looking directly at a bookshelf in my home and realizing just how much time is represented on those shelves.  :)

This goal is actually two-fold.  In order to read more, I need to leverage what little free time I have.  And what sucks up everyone’s free time?  That flat black rectangle in your living room!  I’m going to change up my TV habits a little bit.  In particular, I want to change one specific TV habit.  For the month of November, for meals I have at my home alone, I will eat at the table with the TV off.  I tend to start an episode of something to fill the house with noise, and after I’m done with my meal, I sit and finish watching the episode…and another episode starts…(Thanks, Netflix.)…and before you know it, two hours have passed, it’s 10:30 p.m., I should really go to sleep, and not one ounce of progress has been made toward anything productive or meaningful.  Dinner does not take two hours.  I am curious to find out how much of my free time I would effortlessly get back without that one little mindless habit.  I am curious to find out what I would do when I was done eating, if the TV wasn’t already on.

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