So many words, so many words, so many words…

Years ago, I was working with a student who was on homebound due to a serious health issue. She was angry at this health issue, and she had every right to be, and snarky and funny and I loved her and loved working with her. One evening, I pulled out the book we were reading together (which we never finished, due to her parents moving to another school district) and she looked at the page, threw her head back, and sighed, “So many words, so many words, so many words!” and I answered back, “I know! Isn’t that awesome?!” because one of our running jokes was how much I loved reading and math and learning new things and how much she hated all of that. [NB: I don’t think she truly hated all of that as much as she hated how hard it was for her to learn these new things. It was the effort, the ridiculous amount of unrelenting work, it took for her to understand even the smallest concept. She did not see the point of all that work. She was going to die at a relatively young age, so why waste precious time on stupid school work? Which is why I was reading a gloriously wonderful book, along with the pretty decent assigned book, with her, because reading a truly good book is never a waste. Never.]

I have that feeling myself these days, though. So many words, hard work, pointlessness. But these are words inside me, not on a page, and there are definitely too many and nowhere for them to go. I’m not a good enough writer to figure them all out, and this isn’t really writing. This is emoting on a computer screen, and I am not a writer, I am a too-much-of-a-talker who bores people with things they never cared about. I tell myself every time I go to a meeting, “Shut up, Grace, no one cares, no one wants to hear what you are thinking, shut up shut up shut up,” and then blammo, before I realize it, I’m just chatting away like the oversharer I am and the people around me have the look of a trapped animal. Oh my God, make her stop. And I want to stop but I don’t. Why? Maddening.

This is a bad time to want to talk, at least for me. Because I don’t have anything good or kind or positive to say. Work has been difficult. Kids being moved from foster placement to foster placement, laws in effect that pit the school district against the department of children’s services, without real guidance from the state on who is right and who should pay for the transportation of these too-often-moved kids and what is in the child’s best interest and what does that even mean when a child has been moved from their home and their family? Talk about a refugee crisis. We have one right in our midst and we don’t even see it. Kids need to be rescued from their homes and they need a safe place to live. Or maybe families need to be rescued from themselves and we don’t know how. There is so much poverty, of material possessions and of emotional health and the ability to parent, there are so many drugs wrecking adults and kids, so much violence which seems to the perpetrator to be satisfying initially but then only leads to more heartbreak and damage for the abused and more spiritual darkness and death for the abuser.

So what IS in the best interests of the child? I fight for what I think that is, for what my checklists and my training and experience and my colleagues agree it is, but in reality, there often isn’t a true ‘best interest.’ That possibility died the minute the abuse and neglect and drugs and bad parenting craziness began. Long before that child even saw a school, the damage has been done. And my amazing fellow teachers, God knows they are trying so hard and working out behavior plans and academic plans for catching these kids up to grade level, plans for recovering credits and hoping for graduation, and they know and I know that what they are really doing is wading through the worst mudslide and rock avalanche ever, trying to pull that kid toward a safe place that may never be found. Yes, I do believe that education for these wounded kids is the best thing we can give them and that education can give them a better adulthood. But I know, I know beyond any doubt, that no matter how good an education we give them, they will be fighting off the pain of their childhood for the rest of their adult lives, no matter how successful they may be by theirs or anyone’s standards. Children are resilient, that maybe be true, but when they become adults, they are still hurt and they are hurt forever. Scars are healed wounds, but the wounds still happened and the damage is still done.

See? Lots of words, but no good ones. Not yet. But then, it’s January, and January is always a tough month, or maybe that’s just me. It will get better. Spring will eventually come. Things always get better once March is in the rearview mirror. And maybe I will figure out a way to get the words out in a better way, a way that actually helps someone and doesn’t make them wish to run away. Or maybe not. Maybe I will finally, finally learn to talk less (much less!), to listen more carefully, and to parse my own sentences down to what is necessary. Maybe I will instead emote here and be quieter in my non-screen life. Maybe. It is January, the time for resolutions to old problems. A girl can dream… in pretty pictures at least, if not in good words.

 

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How I am bad at love…

I wrote the following a few years ago, and today, it’s a stronger truth about me and how I am bad at love than it was when I originally wrote it. Because I am bad at love and I’m running out of time to get better.

* * *     * * *     * * *

It is entirely possible that this is only an epiphany to me. Y’all have perhaps known this all along and I’m the old slow one. If so, it’s okay for you to point this out with much laughter. Anyway, here goes…

If indeed we are, after death, all in the presence of God and it is our love or hate for God’s love for us that makes this afterlife heaven or hell [see “River of Fire” by Alexander Kalomiors], then there is a step I hadn’t considered until now. Think with me here: the hug of a loved one – a child (this is the one I most feel connected to), a parent or sibling or friend or spouse or lover – at that moment is sheer, complete, total love and contentment. Because we as earthly creatures are bound by time, we cannot stay in that perfect moment of love. We move on, we get bored or restless or tired or any thousand thousand things that take us away from that embrace. But what if we could only ever be in the moment, if we didn’t get tired or bored or hungry or whatever? What if we stay inside the sweetness of that love? Conversely, the hug of someone we do not love is truly awful. The body and soul, even if they endure the embrace, recoil and wish for escape. But what if there is only moment of being embraced and no escape? Here is my unconsidered step. It is easy for me to say to myself, “Oh yes, of course, I love God and want the eternal embrace that is contented, happy love.” But maybe I must also be willing to accept God’s mutual love, His “hug”, with people I really, really don’t like. With people I despise and hold in contempt and am angry with and hurt by and who have injured me and whom I have wished and do even now wish to injure. With those who just bug me and irritate me and nag the living crap out of me all the damn time. And if I intend to love God and stay in that love forever, I must find a way to forever love these awful people too. I think it is in James that there is something to the effect that I cannot say I love God whom I have not seen and yet hate my brother whom I have seen. That sounds temporal to me and so I constantly try to find ways to slide around such a basic statement of fact. But what if it isn’t temporal? What if it’s eternal, and I cannot say that I love God, I cannot in fact love God and be loved in that eternal happy moment if I am not willing to hug the others I can’t stand and never want to see again who also love God and are loved by God? I must reassess how I view other people, how I respond to them, if I do in fact love God and if I am willing to see these people as the image of Christ Himself and if I am willing to love them forever. This will be and is right now SO HARD for me…

 

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Want of Confidence…

Last month, I had training hosted at our downtown public library. As I sat outside with others in our group waiting for the doors to open, a man who looked a bit down on his luck said hello to me. I looked up and smiled and said hello back. [Note: the man pauses for several seconds after every sentence he says.]

Man: How are you?

Me: Doing well. How are you?

Man: I’m hungry. I haven’t eaten all day.

Me: Well, it’s only 8.43 a.m. There’s still time to get breakfast.

Man: Yeah. [long pause]

Man: Are you a Christian?

Me: Yes, yes, I try to be one.

Man: No one who says they’re a Christian lives like one.

Me: Yes, well, that is true of most of them, but not true of all. A few people who say they are Christians do live like they are. Not many, but a few. So while I agree with you that most don’t, I believe a few do.

Man: Why do you want to be a Christian?

Me: Because I believe that it’s the best way of explaining how God has revealed Himself to us.

Man: Oh. [long pause]

Man: Do you believe that God created white people and that the devil created black people? [the man talking to me is black] An old white lady told me that once. She thought I stole her computer.

Me: No, I absolutely do not believe that. That is a bunch of crap and that old white lady was completely wrong.

Man: How do you know for certain so you would say ‘no’ that quick? I mean, how do you know that?

Me: Because I’m smart and because I know that evil can’t create anything and I know that isn’t what real Christians believe. Evil can twist things and hurt you and destroy things, but it can’t ever create anything.

Man: Well that old lady said that to me. And she put me in jail for six months for stealing that computer over at Patten [Patten Towers, where I have a weekly reading group, is across the block from the library] but I didn’t steal it and then she said black people were created by the devil.

Me: Uhm, I’m not sure she could put you in jail by herself, but she was totally and completely wrong and I’m sorry you’ve had a hard time.

Man: Yeah. [long long pause.]

Man: Well, I don’t know what I’m going to do today. I’m hungry.

Me: Do you need something to help you get some breakfast?

Man: You don’t have to give me anything. I don’t want to take your money.

Me: It’s okay, I have a couple of bucks.

Man: Why are you being so nice to me?

Me: I’m not being nice. I’m not nice, it’s okay. Take care of yourself, be safe today, get something to eat, okay?

Man: Okay. [turns and leaves]

I see others from the training looking at me quizzically.

Me: I’m an easy mark.

 

And I am. To quote from Howard’s End: ‘ “It’s better to be fooled than to be suspicious” — that the confidence trick is a work of man, but the want-of-confidence-trick is the work of the devil.’

 

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Why I failed at grad school.

I have a master’s in secondary education with a specialty in special education. And I thought I was done with school forever because if there was one thing I had learned my first go round, it was that going to grad school and teaching special ed and working extra homebound and evening school and being sad about the state of my existence was really hard. Lop of that last one and it was still hard. Happiness didn’t make homework get done any sooner.

And then something weird happened, and the man related to me by marriage [hello, TKLittles] indicated that he liked it when I was ambitious and involved in my own life and doing my own work — which seemed nice in one way and totally odd in another because why didn’t he want us more intertwined and spending time together or maybe he didn’t mean that and he only meant he liked my work ethic and he doesn’t even remember now what he said, much less what he meant. Regardless, because, as if by magic, soon after he said that somewhat enigmatic statement, I received an email at work about a new grad program that would allow me to work toward my administrator’s licensure and also allow me to work toward an Ed. S. in School Leadership. Woot! All I had to do was apply, take out yet another school loan, and do lots and lots of homework designed for someone who works in one school. Awesomesauce!

But then, less than a month before classes started, my dad died. And two weeks later, my oldest son and his wife and my daughter moved from being a couple of miles away to over a thousand miles away. But I’m strong and super sassy, right? I can do this! I can start classes anyway. But the first day, when I sat through eight as in 8 hours of classes in  a really uncomfortable chair, I started having a really bad feeling about all this. All these projects were designed for me to observe, be working in, doing leadership-focused assignments and projects all involving my actions in my school. EXCEPT I DON’T WORK IN ONE SCHOOL. I meet at every and any school in our district that has a student in state custody who is eligible for spec ed services. I do not interact with the same staff on a regular basis. I am a loner, working on cases that are important to the kids and teachers but only matter to my bosses when a mistake is made, keeping my own calendar, and seeing none of my lead staff colleagues for days at a time. I am a tiny ice-rock satellite on the furthest orbit possible from the central office sun. So although my work allows me to see all the different schools in our district and observe the differing administrations, it was not allowing me to interact in ways required by my homework. And even though the professors were trying to be flexible and give me ideas of alternative work-arounds for the assignments, it was becoming ridiculously complicated trying to get my homework completed. My brain was starting to freak out a little bit. Or maybe a lot.

Plus, I was feeling terrible, but thought it was just the stress of trying to settle Dad’s really messy affairs and missing my kids and starting a new school year. But no, it turned out that I was sick. Really sick. As in having emergency surgery and staying in the hospital for a week sick. Seriously — a week in this hospital, in this day and age where they kick you out the same day you have surgery. But the infection from the ruptured appendix and perforated lower intestine was a stubborn one: abscess, drain insertion issues, problems with the IV necessitating that it be moved to a new section of my arms and boy did that get old, and being almost totally alone all day every day because of my husband’s horrible manager… Whew, did it suck? Why, yes. Yes it did.

I bombed out. I hadn’t finished enough homework in one class to get an official incomplete but they did allow me to officially withdraw, and they also allowed me to apply for the winter semester. Because I’m better and I can do this! I can figure out all the weird work-arounds required, I can finish the assignment from the first semester and salvage one of my two classes, I can take courses in the summer and get this this done and be proud of myself and be yet another super well-educated female known for being smart and dedicated to kids and helpful to her colleagues and involved in the community and all those good things.

Instead, I failed. I tried hard, but I failed. My life is NOT harder than anyone else’s, I am not worse off than anyone else, I am grateful for the good things and people in my life and I know I am oh so lucky in so many true and important ways. But I needed more than I could give. And all the kind help being offered was not enough to get me to a place where I could complete the projects and assignments and do all the other things, like be a new grandmother (I am called Gangey, just like on Arrested Development) and work with two homeound students and deal with the fallout from Dad dying and me still not being quite healed up right and the teenager we have guardianship deciding to do something really horrible that ruined some deeply important relationships. I just flat out failed.

I failed. I wasted time and money and resources. I. Failed.

And now I’m trying to come to terms with how disappointed I am in myself and still find some meaning in my work and in my life and realize that failing is part of my existence and yes, others are better and stronger and smarter than I am and God bless them for being so. I am not special, I am instead someone who fails. But I am also someone who keeps going, trying to take care of the small things within my grasp, and encouraging and loving those who can do more.

Failure can be endured and learned from, failure can be a blip on the screen, seen by only a few, forgotten by everyone except yourself. So, the lesson is to keep trying and don’t worry so much about failing because probably it’s going to happen somewhere sometime. And, I still love you anyway.

 

 

 

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And then…

My husband’s best friend and one of my favorite people ever died. I was all set to do better, to do good, to become a kinder, smarter, more loving person (like that’s ever been a sustained success for me). And then Jim died and all I was and still am is angry and sad. I’m crying just writing those words: “And then Jim died….” Why now? Why so soon? I don’t know. My still-firm Orthodox faith does not have an answer for me (and hasn’t at any of the other sadnesses I’ve experienced — this isn’t my first go-round the grief block). But he left us, collapsed from cardiac arrest and never woke up again, and it flattened my pathetic self, right down to the ground.

And then Prince died and I am sadder than makes any sense. As much as I love him and his music, I was not friends with him, he wasn’t embedded in my life and I wasn’t embedded in him like I was with Jim. So I think I’m having a bleed-over reaction, where I am truly sad about Prince and I’m utterly forlorn about Jim and I cannot keep the lid on the sad or my eyes from constantly leaking tears.

And it may not get better. I am not being cynical or mean or depressed, but, rather, realistic. Things can always get worse. They can get better, but often they don’t. So, what now?

Thinking hard about that answer…

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What a screw-up am I…

So, when the choice to love someone who is intensely unlovable but needs love presented itself in real life, I failed just as badly, as hideously, as anyone I’ve ever looked down on or criticized or judged as being lesser than. We still have a young teenage boy living with us, he continues to do some seriously ugly things to other people that hurt himself and damage others, and I am completely failing to love him in any real or honest way. Instead, I fantasize about inflicting pain, paying him back for hurting good, kind people who loved him and tried to help him. But really, what pain can I inflict that he hasn’t already experienced? When I am contemplating such actions, I am a monster and indulging that monsterish side of myself is a sin, plain and simple. I want to be loving and decent. And I occasionally make some tentative motion toward being so and he, for reasons I can only imagine are designed to hurt others as much as he is hurt or perhaps to destroy himself as his self-preservation instincts are the worst I’ve ever seen, returns that effort with meanness, not usually toward me directly (I am a scary battle axe of a middle-aged woman, and he is somewhat cowed by my dead-level stare, but he knows I am susceptible to his actions harming others.) Sadly for this child, I am still his only legal guardian, but there is a small chance that he will return to his home state to live with a member of his biological family sometime in the next 6 to 12 months. (One of the great sorrows of his life is that almost no one in his family wanted him to live with them when he was a little kid, and that as he gets older, he becomes less attractive as a person and so these family members really REALLY don’t want him around now. Except maybe one does, or says she/he/it does.) We’ll see what happens with that. I’m holding no breath, indulging in no hopes. Rather, I am believing that life will suck in this area until this child turns eighteen. Jesus, have mercy.

My life took a tumble these last seven months or so. Actually, the last year became a gauntlet of sadness and pain. My dad, who had had Alzheimer’s for the last 8-10 years or so, was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer last February (2015). I can’t write about all those details yet (yet — I’ll try sometime, but not now), suffice to say that he died in late July. Then in August, my oldest son and his wife and my daughter moved over 1,000 miles away and I miss them in ways that make breathing difficult sometimes. Then I started a new graduate program, an Ed. S. in school leadership, what am I thinking. Then in October, my appendix burst and my lower intestine decided to play along with some sort of perforation, and I ended up in the ER having surgery at 10:30 p.m. at night and then in the hospital for a week (!!), and my life is still very effed up because of  that experience. Lord God, have mercy.

Okay, don’t let me get too dramatic here. It has been hard, I am in pain in many ways physically and emotionally and even spiritually, yes. But I’m still alive, I still have a semi-functional brain, I still have wonderful children and a kind husband.

And I am still, maybe even increasingly, wanting to talk about education. Because things are crazy in education, as many other much smarter and better writers are discussing. So I will get back to writing about education soon. Soon. Promise…

 

 

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Doing What We’re Supposed To Do…

THIS POST IS FOR MY FELLOW ORTHODOX CHRISTIANS.

Not that others can’t read it, but it really is for those who hold my spiritual values.

As my practically perfect oldest son Samuel can attest, I truly believe that we Orthodox Christians will be judged for not helping our neighbors (Jesus’s definition, btw, not ours) enough, and specifically the orphans — those in foster care and waiting for adoption. Our modern-day record of sharing our resources is abysmal and we should be ashamed. We deny the faith of the martyrs and saints, we deny the faith given to us by our Lord and God and Savior Jesus Christ. (My sister Melissa is the only person getting a pass on this rant, btw, as she has fostered AND adopted.)

Matthew 25:45 doesn’t leave us any wiggle room, y’all. We Orthodox, WE, should be leading the charge to help these children. And we don’t. We are failing and we will be held accountable. And anytime we complain about the state of society or lawlessness or whatever stupid ass complaint about how tough out lives are — we lie and the truth is not in us. WE are why things aren’t better. Nobody else is at fault.

So, the upshot? FOSTER AND ADOPT. VOLUNTEER. SPONSOR AND SUPPORT THOSE KIDS WHO ARE AGING OUT OF FOSTER CARE WITH NO FAMILIES. HELP THESE CHILDREN.

You should. You can. You must. We can only call ourselves Christians if we are obeying His Word!! No dodging the truth, people. We cannot claim we don’t know what we’re supposed to do. We know. So, DO IT.

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