Friday, December 31, 2010

The Hardest Person in the World to Shop For

Christmas Eve  2010


Job 6:8 NIV
"Oh, that I might have my request, that God would grant what I hope for."

The day before Christmas, Allison and John made a final trip to the store for gifts.  After years of buying gifts for me that tend to sit in packages for half the year or longer, Allie has learned to be direct with me.

"Mommy, I'm asking you one last time, what do you want for Christmas?" She pleads with her eyes for some easy answer I can't give her.

What do I want?  Well, I need new shoes, but I want to pick those out. I want a new watchband, but again, I will have to get it.  My mind spins and reels. Surely there is something I can tell her to help her out.

I'd like a digital camcorder, but I know the family budget, and that will have to wait at least a year.  She already bought me the scrapbook I wanted to put my writings in; I know because I was ordered out of the living room as she decorated it. That was my main request this year.

I need a stapler for my classroom. I'm fairly certain they will get that for me.  

My needs are so small because I have all I need. I have my family around me and their love. I don't need any material possessions that I can think of.

"Allie, I can't think of anything I need."

She sighs and gives me a look of extreme disappointment. I have failed her.

"You are the hardest person in the world to shop for!"

I consider her words and think a book of Russian short stories or poetry would be nice, but how would she know what books to buy me?  I like Seek and Find puzzle books, but I know she wants to give me gifts that glitter and sparkle and not an ordinary puzzle book.

She's too young to understand God has already blessed me with all the gifts I could ever hope to receive in life. Love of family and friends.

Who could want more than this? Yes, Allison, these gifts can't be bought at a store, but they are all I want or need at Christmas and in the New Year.
Thank you Lord, for blessing me this past year with all I hoped to receive from life and so much more.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Stepping Outside the Comfort Zone

The Taming of the Shrew
Pushkin Theater
Ashgabat 2009


Exodus 4:12 NIV
"Now go; I will help you speak and will teach you what to say."

I can't remember a time when I didn't like to play "make believe". As children, on stormy summer days when Teri, Rob and I couldn't go outside to play, we'd cover chairs with blankets and sheets and build a "night-night fort". Mom would let us eat Cheerios there, and I think we actually got along with each other during the time we were hidden from sight.

As we grew older, we grabbed chairs and pots and pans and became a rock band playing along with the theme song to Hawaii 5-O. We weren't too bad.

In middle school, our friend, Bekka, threw us into her theatrical creations in the basement of her parents' house after we'd finished Sunday lunch. We'd practice until she was satisfied we had our lines down just right, and then she called our folks to the basement for the grand opening and only performance of our dramatic masterpiece. Actually, most of our pieces turned into comedies, no matter how serious they were supposed to be.

However, as much as I played make believe, I found it easier to speak other people's words than my own thoughts in public. I joined the speech team in high school and gained confidence over four years with being in front of people, but I still felt like I was putting on an act. I was performing.

It wasn't until the summer of 2000 when a political conflict with the school board arose over a proposed policy change that would impact the curriculum we taught, and I was asked to represent the English department in our position, that I had to take a personal stand on an issue and stop letting others speak for me. I was 40 years old, yet I had always managed to be the one in the background to support others. Give the pat on a shoulder. A "rah-rah-rah good job" if needed. I didn't feel qualified to lead this complicated debate nor face the limelight of publicity which would surround it.

However, I trusted that the path we were on was the moral path and the best one for our students, so I looked to God for help to sustain me. He did.

After the conflict was resolved, I saw where God had opened a door to me that had been closed prior to this because I had been afraid to express my opinions.  After the conflict ended, I took on leadership roles at the school, and I was offered opportunities elsewhere, such as the award that took me to Turkmenistan.

By trusting that God would help me find the way to speak and give me the courage to stand before my bosses and deliver words to them they didn't want to hear, but to tell them in a respecful manner, this showed me a source greater than I was giving me words to speak. I wasn't smart enough to do what I did, but God helped me once I got out of my comfort zone.

Sometimes getting out of my comfort zone is the biggest step I take all day.
Dear Lord, thank you for giving me the words to speak if I open to you and allow you to teach me how to speak.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Time I Lost My Car

Not an Atlanta Street, but it Could Have Been!
Brunswick, Georgia   2009

Psalms 20:1
"May the Lord answer you when you are in distress; may the name of the God of Jacob protect you."

Summer thunderstorms and Atlanta, Georgia, go together like peanut butter and jelly. Ham and eggs. Simon and Garfunkel (Who are they? the 13 year-old asks).

The summer of 2003 was no different with the weather. The major difference that summer was I packed up from south Georgia and worked in Atlanta for a week trying to help Georgia debate coaches pull off a national debate tournament at Georgia State University.

My son, Russell, and one of my students, Chris, had both just graduated from high school and were now attending their last national competition in Atlanta as well.

I had reserved hotel rooms about 30 minutes outside of the city to keep our costs down. However, the trade off came in gasoline as I always managed to get lost to and from GSU and the hotel. 

Losing my way in the maze of city streets ended up being the least of my worries. The worst moment came when I lost the car in a thunderstorm.

Chris had competed well for several days and finally broke to the octofinals of foreign extemporaneous speaking.

The flip side of his success had been he had missed meals, and he was low on energy. I decided to take him to Underground Atlanta to an Italian restaurant to carb him up.  Problem was, as soon as I got in the car, I got lost, so it took longer than normal to get to Underground.

We finally saw it and found an unattended parking lot nearby where I could park. I took my ticket at the entrance of the lot, drove past the gate, parked, and Chris and I walked a few blocks to Underground to eat. 

While we were feasting on pasta, a thunderstorm erupted over Atlanta.  The heavens opened, streets flooded, the whole sha-bang.   I didn't think much about it except it kept raining hard, and it was time for us to leave. I had to find Chris an umbrella to keep his clothes dry for his approaching finals round.  We hunted all over the place, until, finally, we found a huge golf umbrella that a football team could fit under.

Underground Atlanta is a bit of a maze itself, and we had not paid attention to our landmarks. We didn't remember from which direction we had entered.  Now I heard a clock tick-ticking in my head as all I could think about was getting him back to GSU in time for the most important round of his life.

We ran up several flights of stairs and out into different city intersections. Nothing looked familiar; the rain pelted us.  I thought about hailing a taxi (they were all hiding anyway) but didn't know where to send the driver to find my car.

We had only one option--brave the rain and go out on foot in search of the car lot.

I made sure Chris kept the umbrella. My concern for my looks was long gone as I couldn't decide if the tick-ticking in my head was a precursor to a heart attack or panic attack or both. Whatever it was, my looks would not matter in the hospital. Chris was all who mattered right then. 

Chris' long legs leapt over the gullies of water in the potholes and gutters of Atlanta intersections. I plowed through each one and listened to my shoes squeak.

Chris thought he recognized a landmark; I encouraged him to climb a hill to see if it would pan out.

As I panted up the hill behind Chris, in the middle of a thunderstorm, feet squeaking, head tick-ticking, I heard a male voice behind me asking for money.  I barely break stride, huff and puff and tell him, "No".

He came closer begging again, and I'm amazed he is so dense to see this is not the proper time to panhandle because I am already madder than a rattlesnake for losing my car and probably causing Chris to lose the round.

I still don't break stride and he made the mistake of telling me, "I have problems, and I need some help."  I holler over my shoulder, "Can't you see I have problems of my own right now, Mister?"

Chris was right, he found the car lot, but before I could get us out, I needed to pay. I'd never used an unattended parking lot before.  I needed the ticket in order to pay. 

We got to the car, I grabbed the ticket and told Chris to dry off as best he could.  I went back to the cubby where the pay machine was. When I turned around to leave, I was blocked by another man who wanted money.  This time, I couldn't bear it any longer. 

I glared at him, eyes spinning into the back of my head and shrieked: 

LEAVE ME ALONE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 

I think I actually roared on the last word.  He stood to his full height, shook himself off, spun around in an affronted manner and sniffed, "Well, if that's the way you feel about it!"

I was so mad, I balled up my ticket after I paid and threw it on the ground.

I got in the car, pulled up to the exit gate, head tick-ticking louder than before, and the gate wouldn't open.  What is going on today? I scream in my head.  I look closer and notice a place in the gate where I'm supposed to insert the ticket I have just balled up and thrown onto the wet ground--maybe a water puddle.  Oh no!

I park the car, hustle to the cubby and search the ground. Lucky for me, I find the ticket, insert it, and we start to wind our way to GSU getting lost several times along the way.

Chris made it to his round on time. He did his best, but we later decided that the judges were looking for someone else's style than his, and he had advanced as far as he was going to go even before we went for dinner.

As I think back on that time period, which was less than an hour but seemed to last forever when Chris and I were disoriented, wet, lost, scared (for me, at least) and the pressure of time was on our backs, I realize God was with us. 

My anger and frustration was as much a reflection of my fear and anxiety as anything. Again, my temper flares up in times when I am overwhelmed by events.  I suppose I could have been more gracious to the men harrassing me, but the first one did not react to me until I brushed him off. I just side-stepped the pleasantries with the second one to save time.

I know when those men approached, I felt His strength within me to face them.  There were no other people around us, and I felt vulnerable in the city. 

God was with us on those empty streets leading Chris, leaping like a gazelle over rivers of flooded city streets, to the parking lot we needed. 

As I reflect on this memory, I see where I needed to trust God more and let go of my need to control the situation.  In retrospect, I see that now. At the time this event occured, I didn't let Him speak to me, though.

I need to do a better job of letting go and letting God.
Lord, Thank you for being with me and those I care about when we are in unfamiliar surroundings.

A Bicycle Built for Two

Mother Chicken and her Chicks
Turkmenistan  2009

1 Chronicles 16:34
"Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; His love endures forever."

A virus is eating the memory of my laptop faster than Pac-Man can gobble ghosts. John's trying to save my documents, photos and music from oblivion, but it may be too late.  He's a great computer technician, and I'm holding onto HOPE, which is my watchword this week.

I remember HAL, the homicidal computer, in Stanley Kubrick's version of Arthur C. Clarke's novel, 2001: A Space Odyssey.  He has one of the best death scene lines from a science fiction movie:

Dave, stop. Stop, will you? Stop, Dave. Will you stop, Dave? Stop, Dave. I'm afraid. I'm afraid, Dave. Dave, my mind is going. I can feel it. I can feel it. My mind is going. There is no question about it. I can feel it. I can feel it. I can feel it. I'm a…fraid...

Thank goodness my little laptop isn't so evolved it can talk to me, but thought leads to thought tonight as I worry about memories stored on computer files slipping away from my grasp, and I think about my dad's mom.

Granny was diagnosed with arteriosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries, in the 1970s. Now, most of us in the family might lean toward Alzheimer's as a more fitting description of her later years, but that disease wasn't so commonly diagnosed when she was ill and losing her mind.

My Grandpa took care of her, which took a toll on his heart health, but he watched over her and kept her safe at home. She would forget to turn off stove burners in the kitchen, she'd get mad at one of her kids or us grand kids and turn his or her picture toward the wall.

(We could check our "Friend" status as soon as we entered their house by glancing at the wall to see what direction our school photo was facing.)

Grandpa cleaned her when she soiled herself, she talked to former neighbors and angels no one could see before she slept at night, and when she coughed and wheezed, Grandpa whipped up a homemade tonic of whiskey and lemon to soothe her.

They were married over fifty years and one by one, Granny's memory of that time evaporated. It had to pain Grandpa to witness, but he never complained. I don't know how Granny felt.

However, I witnessed this: They were together through the "sickness" part of their vows.  My Grandpa was a role model for me on how to treat a spouse who is ill and who is not going to get better.

Seeing someone lose her memories is scary and sad. There are no words to describe the hurt. Yet when love is in the middle of the illness, then there is hope that God is in control and somehow the family will endure.

How ironic that HAL the computer has been taught to sing the lyrics to "Daisy Bell,"  better known as "A Bicycle Built for Two".   This is the chorus:

Daisy, Daisy, give me your answer, do,
I'm half crazy all for the love of you.
It won't be a stylish marriage -
I can't afford a carriage,
But you'd look sweet upon the seat
Of a bicycle built for two.
At his core, even HAL recognized love, but as a machine, he couldn't experience the power of it. 

Love is the greatest gift we can offer each other.  Right now, John is trying to save my personal files before he wipes my laptop clean and reloads all the computer files that should make my laptop run again. He should be resting after a hard day at work, so I  appreciate the love he's showing me tonight.

If I lose documents, I can write again. If I lose school files, oh well, so be it. Photos--well, I was there, I experienced the moments.

But love is one in a million; tonight I think I'll focus on love and not my loss.
Dear Lord, thank you for your love-- displayed in so many ways over the course of my life.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Hope Burns Brightly and Perches in the Soul

Bird at Sunrise
Turkmenistan 2009

Romans 15:13
"May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit."

I've thought about hope quite a bit the past few days. The approaching New Year fills me with a sense of hope for a year where conflicts and problems are resolved. A time when divisiveness is reconciled and self-centered behavior makes way for altruism.

Let me hope, at least.

Emily Dickinson wrote about Hope. Here is one of my favorite Dickinson poems.


Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune--without the words,
And never stops at all,

And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.

I've heard it in the chillest land,
And on the strangest sea;
Yet, never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me.

Without hope, I don't think I could get up and face the new day. As Allison and I drive to work, we see some amazing sunrises that always fill me with hope and prepare me to face the challenges of the day.

I heard a story last night called the "Story of the Four Candles." The author is unknown. It is another perspective about Hope. 

                                             The Four Candles
                                          The Four Candles burned slowly.
                                          Their Ambiance was so soft you
                                          could hear them speak...

                                          The first candle said,
                                          "I Am Peace, but these days

                                           nobody wants to keep me lit."
                                          Then Peace's flame slowly diminishes
                                           and goes out completely.

                                          The second candle says,
                                          "I Am Faith, but these days,
                                           I am no longer indispensable."
                                          Then Faith's flame slowly diminishes
                                           and goes out completely.

                                          Sadly the third candle spoke,
                                          "I Am Love and I haven't the
                                          strength to stay lit any longer.
                                          People put me aside and don't
                                          understand my importance.
                                          They even forget to love
                                          those who are nearest to them."
                                          And waiting no longer,
                                          Love goes out completely.

                                         Suddenly...A child enters the room
                                         and sees the three candles no longer burning.
                                         The child begins to cry,
                                         "Why are you not burning?
                                         You are supposed to stay lit until the end."

                                         Then the Fourth Candle spoke gently to the little boy,
                                         "Don't be afraid,
                                          for I Am Hope,
                                          and while I still burn,
                                          we can re-light the other candles."

                                          With Shining eyes the child took the Candle of Hope
                                          and lit the other three candles.

Hope is an essential element of my life. Without hope, I couldn't face the world around me. No matter what challenges I face, I have had to face them with hope. I've had to hold on to hope for better times.  Life is cyclical, I tell my students. There are good times and bad times, Thankfully, the bad times don't last forever; I just have to hold on and have hope for a better tomorrow.
Thank you, Lord, for the joy and peace you fill me with as you give me hope that each day will be a great day with you.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Christmas in February

Christmas Tree
Cincinnati Zoo, Ohio

Luke 2:10-12 NIV
"But the angel said to them, 'Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.'”

My exchange student and I talked today about the meaning of Christmas as she nervously worried about her box of presents that didn't arrive again from The Republic of Georgia. She's afraid they won't be here in time for Christmas.

I told her not to worry about presents. We don't worry about gifts. We focus on the spirit of Christmas. It's not about how many presents are wrapped under the tree.  If hers arrive late, we’ll celebrate Christmas again.

I tried to explain we're celebrating the birth of our Savior. We're focusing on Christ and the light and hope He brought into the world with His birth.

In 1988 I didn't celebrate Christmas in December because my son was kidnapped December 7th. Our presents for him were put up. If the rest of us opened our presents on Christmas Day, I don't recall it.

We found Russell in February 1989, and celebrated Christmas then. I clearly recall the night he opened his presents.  We were in my parents’ bedroom, where we had stashed his gifts.  We pulled them out of the closet, and he tore into them.

Christmas in February felt like Christmas in December to me, and the spirit of Christmas joy was in all our hearts.

Dr. Seuss may have captured the idea about the Christmas spirit best in How the Grinch Stole Christmas:

And the Grinch, with his Grinch-feet ice cold in the snow, stood puzzling and puzzling, how could it be so? It came without ribbons. It came without tags. It came without packages, boxes or bags. And he puzzled and puzzled 'till his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn't before. What if Christmas, he thought, doesn't come from a store? What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more?

Merry Christmas to you and yours!
Dear Lord, Thank you for your Son, who brought hope for salvation for mankind into this world.

Comfort and Joy

The Old Second Prairie Creek Baptist Church
South of Terre Haute, Indiana
April 2010

2 Corinthians 1:3 NIV
"Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort."

My dad died in 1992 at age 57.

I was ten days away from visiting home, finishing the last semester before summer break. Russell was taking his last tests, and John had cleared time for leave so we could make the trip to Cincinnati.

I had talked to dad about the meal he was planning for us. He was trying new recipes and was excited about a dessert he had made for others and wanted me to try.

I remember telling him I'd see him in two weeks.  I didn't realize under what circumstances.

I miss dad at holidays most of all. He was a pianist and had an ear for songs. He could read music, but he could also ad lib and play by ear.

He would play for hours at night when I was young. I can recall falling  asleep to classical pieces such as Tchaikovsky's, The Nutcracker Suite, Aram Khachaturian's Saber Dance, or Saint-Saëns, Carnival of the Animals.

Dad had a great collection of popular sheet music from
different time periods like, "Mairzy Doats," by Milton Drake, written in the 1940's and "K-K-K-Katy," by Geoffrey O'Hara from WWI.  I learned American history by playing through dad's sheet music as I grew up.

He had a vast collection of Rogers and Hammerstein songbooks, and much of my philosophy of life was shaped by their lyrics.

Got a problem in life?  Climb every mountain.

Want to get rid of a boyfriend?  Wash that man right out of your hair.

Good things happen to you that you don't think you deserve? Somewhere in my youth or childhood, I must have done something good.

Suffered because a man done you wrong? You'll never walk alone.

Want to hide your fears?  Whistle a happy tune.

And always remember---The Hills are Alive with the Sound of Music, so go sing with the larks on the breeze or the brook as it trips and falls over stones.

Yeah--my dad's life had ups and downs. He was a complex guy. Moody and tempermental--he was a musician at heart, and I haven't met many of them who weren't normally brooding by nature.

Dad filled parties with light and laughter, stories and song. As many faults as he had, he had as many charms. I miss him at holidays.  The piano has been silent too long from his touch.
Lord, thank you for memories I have of dad. 

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

How Not to Change a Diaper

                                                    Wainwright House
                                                     Rye, New York

Proverbs 11:2 NIV
"When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom."

My mother is a retired Registered Nurse and once hoped I would follow in her footsteps. I even considered nursing as a potential career and tested it out. 

The summer before my freshmen year of high school, I volunteered as a candy-striper at Cincinnati Children's Hospital, which is one of the best in the nation.

I was assigned to work in the Convalescence Ward, where I played in a recreation room with the long-term patients.

I took pride in dressing up in my candy-cane uniform and polished white shoes. This was the first time I was exposed to serious illnesses such as anorexia or cancer and injuries that required children to be in traction.

I would play "house" with little girls and cars with little boys. 

It was harder to entertain the sad-eyed teenagers who were lost in emotional issues. They were in a dark world all their own that my toys couldn't reach.

Once, the nurse asked me to change a diaper on a baby, who was asleep in his bed in his room. I was an arrogant 14 year-old who thought I knew everything.

(Now I am embarrassed by this story and wonder why I didn't ask for help. It is, however, the reason I am a teacher and not a nurse.)

The bed had a rail that lowered from the top and one that rose from the bottom. I had to move the rails in order to get the baby out to change his diaper. 

I couldn't figure it out.  I looked for ten minutes for a lever and was too stubborn to admit I didn't know where it was.  

I didn't ask a nurse for help. Instead, I looked at the baby. I sized him up and I looked at the gap between the top and bottom rails.  If I worked it right, I thought I could just slide him through the gap.

I picked him up, so as not to waken him, and got his feet and torso between the rails with no problem.

However, when I got to his head, it turned out to be rounder than I imagined, and I banged him on the head and woke him up, whereupon he let loose with a scream and cries. 

I lowered him into the bed, crept out of the room, and walked rapidly down the hall in terror.

I decided right then medicine was too dangerous a career. I could kill somebody.

I'd look for another profession where I could do less damage.
Dear Lord, heal the sick and bless those who work with them.

Her Last Tardy

A "Dead Head" Butterfly
Its Exoskeleton is on the Outside of its Body
Turkmenistan   2009

Deuteronomy 15:11 NIV
"There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your brothers and toward the poor and needy in your land."

You just don't understand, Ms. Durham. I was late because of the flies!

The flies?

Yes, ma'am. They were everywhere, and I just couldn't leave the house for school.

Ok, slow down. Start over. I just don't follow this at all.

The senior was dangerously close to failing my 12th grade English class based on her tardiness and absences. She had already been moved from a more rigid teacher's class into mine because Guidance and Administration knew I would work with her, but guidelines had been set in place for her. I was her last hope for graduation.

I hadn't seen much improvement on her part since she’d started with me, and if she wasn't willing to make an effort to help herself, then why should I help her? 

Now I was trying to figure out what flies had to do with her most recent tardy.

Ms. Durham. It started with the dead dog.

The dead dog?

Yes'm.  The dog was dead in front of my window.

I’m slow to catch on. I have no life experience to piece this together, so I force her to reveal her life's secrets to me.

It was hot out all night and this morning, and the dog had been dead for a long time. The flies had been around him for awhile. I live on the ground floor. I don't have a screen in my front window, so the flies started to come into my apartment.  I called the city workers to come move the dog, and I had to wait for someone to get there.

Also, my mamma was late getting off her shift last night, and I couldn't leave my baby until she got home to watch her because someone had to keep the flies off her.

By now I had a clear picture of not only my student's morning, but of her major challenges in life.  I didn't hold her accountable to the guidelines she had entered my classroom on. Instead, I worked with her to make up missing work. She was bright but happened to live in extreme poverty.

I don't know where she is now, but I will always remember her story.
Lord, I know the poor will always be around me, so let me help the ones I can.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Dash Away, Dash Away, Dash Away All

Jekyll Island, Georgia  2007

James 4:10 NIV
"Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will lift you up."

In high school, I fooled my friends into believing I could sing alto so I could hang out with them. They were talented singers, so all I had to do was stand between strong altos like Patty and Valerie, and I could stay in pitch.

Terry was our pianist and Leigh our musical director.  Becky, Faith, and Mia sang soprano. We were a girls' ensemble from 9th to 12th grades.

One time we sang Christmas carols at the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park before the start of Oliver. The musical was sold-out, but we got to watch it for free from the back row of the theater just for singing carols.

However, we were more excited about our debut performance on radio at the Tri-County Mall. We were to show up on a Saturday morning, be taped, and then go home and listen to ourselves on the radio. We had told everyone we knew when we would be on the radio. We practiced for several weeks for our "breakout" performance when Hollywood would discover us.

We showed up at the mall, Terry took her place at the piano, and we began to sing, "’Twas the Night Before Christmas," which lasts about three days.  Well, not really, but it seemed like it that morning.

The problem was the acoustics in the mall were horrible. None of us could hear the other to stay on pitch or tempo. Terry did her best to help us, but the piano arrangement didn't lend itself to help the singers. It had a life of its own. 

We were all over the place, but when the performance was over, we assured ourselves we didn't sound too bad. Hollywood would call us by next week.

However, when we listened to ourselves on the radio, we heard something else.  All our grandiose ideas about how good we were went flying off the rooftop with Santa's sleigh.

Needless to say, none of us were discovered by Hollywood scouts.
Dear Lord, help me remain humble and remember where my true gifts lie.

Monday, December 20, 2010

The Lesson of a Lifetime

The Caspian Sea 
Turkmenbashy, Turkmenistan  
October, 2004

Hebrews 4:16 NIV
"Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need."

In 2004 I was selected for an exchange program to Turkmenistan through American Councils for International Education and the U.S. State Department.  I had to Google “Turkmenistan” as I hadn’t heard of it before. 

Since then, I’ve returned three times to work with teachers and students through a program I co-founded called the Turkmen Writing Project.  I work with English teachers and their students, but I also help in other ways.

In 2008, the teachers requested I show them the Heimlich maneuver when I returned in 2009. All the next year, I gathered materials: pamphlets, videos and posters and refreshed myself on the technique to teach it to them. 

The summer of 2009 I taught the Heimlich maneuver to teachers, students and community members. My lessons on the technique were the first ones these individuals had ever received.

When I left for home at the end of my visit, I left training materials with the teachers so they could teach their students the manuever.

A few months after my return home, my daughter, Allison, was talking and laughing as she ate dinner. I was in the kitchen when I heard her cough.  Then she didn’t cough. I looked in the dining room and saw her red-faced trying to breathe. I ran to her and began to administer the Heimlich. 

I reacted. No thoughts went through my mind.  I pumped and pumped.

My husband, John, who had been in the garage, walked into the house to witness these events.  He called to me, "Lori, you stop once she's breathing!"

I looked at her and realized she was breathing again. I let go, found a chair and shook with nerves.

During all those sessions in Turkmenistan, I never once thought I was preparing to save my own child's life.

Had it not been for an award in 2004 to a country I had never heard of before, I may have never taken the time to brush up on my first aid skills in 2009 when I needed them most.
Dear Lord, thank you for your grace, which goes before me to prepare me for what is coming next in life.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Truth is a Hard Deer to Hunt

Wilderness Conservancy      Rye, New York  October 2010
Acts 21:34 NIV
"Some in the crowd shouted one thing and some another, and since the commander could not get at the truth because of the uproar, he ordered that Paul be taken into the barracks."

One of my favorite short stories, "By the Waters of Babylon," by Stephen Vincent Benét, contains the following statement, "Truth is a hard deer to hunt."

I was asked in a job interview once what my greatest weakness was. I answered, "I trust my students."

Trust is a double-edged sword as students can mislead me.

Some students use my good nature to their benefit, and later I find out their true deceptive motives. Other students are worthy of my trust, and I am honored to teach them. For example, my former debate team taught me how to be a coach at the same time I showed them how to improve their public speaking skills.  

The problem with truth is its subjective nature, which was Benét's point.

At school, rumors run rampant among students, and truth is impossible to hunt down. Fights break out on whispers of half-truths. Even after the fight, it's impossible to discover the truth of the issue.

As I've listened to my students in recent years, I've noticed disturbing trends in their lives.

Too many are estranged from or have dysfunctional relationships with their parents. I believe much of the depression and anger students bring to school reflects their troubles at home.

Truth may be a hard deer to hunt, but I can add two and two together and get four.  Their faces and actions reveal the pain inside them.

I have to discern the truth of my students' lives the moment they walk through my door. I have to perceive their moods, their hunger, their thirst, their bathroom needs, and the holes in their hearts in a split second. Then I try to educate them.

I teach them concepts like: "Truth is a hard deer to hunt."

Dear Lord, fill the lives of young people, who are hurting because of broken relationships, with your light and love.