(As the summer winds down, my teacher friends are gearing up for another school year. Over the next few weeks, I'll be rerunning some of my favorite posts about teachers as a reminder of how much educators do to make the world a better place. Let's all thank a teacher today; and let's vote for education reform that honors the good work that our teachers do and respects the value of every single student.)
It’s the rare 18 year old who starts college with the same major she has at her graduation. Even rarer is the one who approaches retirement in that very same career. My friend Lisa is just that extraordinary. What is this compelling field you ask? The answer: middle school education! Middle. School. Ed.u.ca.tion. Teaching pubescent 12 and 13 year olds who giggle when someone says “duty” (“She said doody!”) and who pass gas with smug aplomb. That’s what Lisa signed up for nearly 30 years ago.
It’s true. Even when we were in college, Lisa (Allen) Henson couldn’t wait to teach seventh graders. Some could argue (successfully) that she’s crazy. Just flat-out crazy. But I say she’s a hero. Her commitment to education, inspires her colleagues and transforms her students. Well, just listen to this story she told me a while back.
“Honestly, the entire seventh grade faculty talked about him.” Lisa explained. “They said Jackson* constantly disrupted their classes; and that no matter what they did he just did not respond to discipline.”
Apparently, Jackson’s academic record isn’t exactly admirable. He scores in the lowest percentile on standardized tests. It seems he just never really understands much in the classroom. Or at least, he doesn’t understand the things that are measured on state mandated multiple-choice tests.
Lisa continued. “I couldn’t believe they were talking about the Jackson I knew. I never had those problems with him. Never.” So one day Lisa just asked him. “Hey Jackson? Why do you behave for me and not for the other teachers?”
Jackson, as big as a man, loomed above Mrs. Henson. He looked down at her and said, smiling, “Because you expect me to, Mrs. Henson.”
(Thanks to Lisa and to all our other educators. You matter. You are our heroes every single day!)
It's that time of year: admissions decisions are being finalized, scholarship applications are due, and students are trying to decide where they’ll attend college in the fall. They get lots of advice: sound counsel that really does help and trivial platitudes that don’t do anyone any good.
Here are a few of the most common statements I've heard.
Unfortunately, students also hear things that are more myth than truth and are neither exceptionally helpful nor entirely true. Here are just a few of those.
1. HOPEFULLY FALSE: “This will be the best four years of your life.”
Really? It wasn’t the best four years of my life and I had a great collegiate experience. But best years of my life? Not even close. Frankly, there’s not much that compares to my childhood summers: homemade ice cream under the carport; watermelon seed spitting contests; roller skating, bike riding, playing in my playhouse. Those were some great years. But then, the last four years have been good too. And the four before that. Life is full of great years, so at the very least, you’re overstating.
But there’s a bigger problem with this statement. Expectation. Expectation can just flat slaughter reality. See, no matter how good college is for you, I promise you it won’t be perfect. You’ll have some life-changing experiences, but some of those you would just as soon have lived without. College can be wonderful. It can be difficult. It can be wonderfully difficult and difficultly wonderful. But don’t set students up to approach the next four years as the highlight of life. That’s just not true. And if it is, that’s sad.
2. SOMEWHAT FALSE: “You’ll meet the best friends of your life while you’re in college.”
For me, this is somewhat true, but I’ve also developed friends since graduating college who are more like family than friends to me. Before Facebook, I’d kept in touch with three or four of my closest friends from college. Now I’ve reconnected with many I’d lost contact with and I’m grateful for that. But I’m also in touch with childhood friends and friends I’ve made since the late 80’s. You can make friends whenever and wherever you are. My brother-in-law’s closest friends are high school buddies. My sister’s besties are co-teachers. So yes, hopefully college students will meet and keep new friends. But I for one am grateful that I didn’t stop making friends when I left college.
3. POSSIBLY FALSE: "You’ll be fine."
This may be one of the most dangerous things we say to students. Here’s the deal: way too many college students are anything but fine. Depression and anxiety spike during these stressful years. Suicide on the college campus is consistently on the rise. If students go into college thinking everyone else is fine and they are the only one struggling, they can feel isolated and resist mental health resources because of the fear of being different from the masses. A lot of college students find these years difficult and confusing and lonely. So adults, instead of “You’ll be fine,” how about we say, “I’ll always be here for you,” and mean it. And students: it’s okay if you aren’t okay. I promise you are not the only one. Reach out to people you trust and look into collegiate mental health services. Sometimes, we all need a little help to be "fine."
4. FALSE: “It doesn’t matter where you go.”
First of all, this is flippant and dismissive. If you are trying to make a decision that affects your future, it is not helpful for someone to say the equivalent of “Stop whining and get on with it! Your concerns are invalid.”
Secondly, it does matter, but perhaps not for the reasons you think. It’s not because of the college's reputation or status; the quality of the school and its majors are important, but the truth is you can find quality at just about in college or university. There are exceptions, but mostly academic experience is shaped by personal investment.
But it does matter where you go to college. It matters because of the connections you will make both personally and professionally. How many people do you know who are married to someone they met in college? A lot, right? And that best friend thing—most college graduates have made dear friends along the way, friends who have shaped their lives in profound ways.
That’s not all though. During the next four years and beyond, your professors and advisors will share more than academic knowledge with you. They will also pass along information about job openings and career opportunities; they will be your references for graduate school or employment. It matters that you choose a college where the faculty appeals to you.
Indeed, it doesn’t necessarily matter where you go in terms of national ranking; but it totally matters that you choose a college that feels right to you.
So good luck students! And no matter what other advice you get, remember this:
Choosing a college matters; YOU matter more.
This post was first published March 9, 2016.
8/12/2018 How fitting that on my first day as shepherd at Ecclesia Baptist, my "Hur" surprised me and came to the service. Thanks be to God for this precious and dear friend!
8Then Amalek came and fought with Israel at Rephidim. 9Moses said to Joshua, “Choose some men for us and go out, fight with Amalek. Tomorrow I will stand on the top of the hill with the staff of God in my hand.” 10So Joshua did as Moses told him, and fought with Amalek, while Moses, Aaron, and Hur went up to the top of the hill. 11Whenever Moses held up his hand, Israel prevailed; and whenever he lowered his hand, Amalek prevailed. 12But Moses’ hands grew weary; so they took a stone and put it under him, and he sat on it. Aaron and Hur held up his hands, one on one side, and the other on the other side; so his hands were steady until the sun set. 13And Joshua defeated Amalek and his people with the sword. Exodus 17:8-13
Imagine the pressure: Moses—who as we know had his share of problems as leader of the children of Israel—is now in the midst of a battle. The battle goes well for his people as long as Moses lifts his arms; when his arms sag, so does the will of the people and the battle goes badly for them. Think about it. Or try it. Just try lifting your arms while you read this short blog. (I know: you have to lower one arm to scroll down. Make that little exception.) The leader, Moses, was faced with a situation that was physically taxing—one he could not manage on his own. Thank goodness for Aaron and Hur.
Most of us church goers have heard of Aaron. He’s the brother of Moses, the one who spoke for Moses. You may remember the story (you can find it in Exodus 4:13-15). But Hur is a less familiar name. Yet Hur seems to be a part of Moses’ inner circle of support just as Aaron was. In this passage, he’s there offering support to Moses when he grows weary. In a later passage (Exodus 24:13-15), Moses refers the people to Hur and Aaron for handling disputes when he left for the Mount of Sinai.
Leaders need people like Hur: people who will hold them up during times of trial, people they can rely on when responsibilities call them off site. In fact, leaders cannot lead effectively without the Hurs in their lives.
Several years ago, I was serving as coordinator of special grants at a community college. While there, I found out how a Hur can help a leader serve more effectively. In that job, (believe me) I had my share of battles. Sometimes I felt as if I were on the frontline, with student frustrations and provider disputes exploding all around me. I could not have managed on my own. Thank goodness for Keisha.
Keisha worked with me, fielding the frustrations and deciding the disputes. She held my arms up when I grew weary. She stood in for me when I had to be away. Of course, Keisha did not get a lot of credit in the annals of community college history for being my support system. But like Hur, Keisha shared her talents and abilities readily, making possible any successes we experienced in our little department.
Oh, you can put your arms down now. And be encouraged: you don't have to lead alone. Thank Goodness.
(Are you a Moses or a Hur? Have you had a Hur in your life?)
In 2009, I wrote this post for a different blog. June 22, 2014--I preached from this text, in part because our children had heard this story during VBS the previous week.
Recently, my sister reminded me of a family story that I hadn’t thought about in years. It happened back when we were in college, working in restaurants over holidays and summer breaks. At the time, she was waiting tables in our hometown in South Carolina.
Now, for those of you unfamiliar with the South, you need to know this tidbit. In South Carolina, when you order tea, it is assumed that you want your drink served over ice and—unless otherwise stated—sweet enough to pass as a dessert. It’s the rare Southerner who would choose hot tea to go with a meal. Even then, it would be requested with a touch of embarrassment or a word of explanation. “I’m coming down with a cold, you see, or I’d have the regular.” At which point, the waiter would say something like, “Oh! Bless your heart! I’ll getcha some iced tea for after you finish that stuff. No charge. You can take it to go.” In the South, iced tea is serious business, and it’s just not something you want to go messing around with . . . .
As my sister recalls, it all started because one night during the supper rush, a fella complained to the management because he had to request a spoon for his glass of sweet tea. According to him, the tea wasn’t quite sweet enough and he wanted to add more sugar. Not having a spoon readily available (and apparently unable to make do with either his knife, fork, or straw), he made quite a stinker of himself, frustrated that he was made to wait even momentarily for the preferred utensil. His nastiness threw the staff off kilter and made for a rotten night for everyone.
By the time the servers arrived the next day, the restaurant owner had devised a solution to this customer service conundrum. Incidentally, this was the first time in memory someone had requested more sugar for the sweet tea. Never mind that though; on to the solution.
“From now on,” the owner told the wait staff, “We will put teaspoons in each glass of tea. That will solve the problem.”
The staff just looked at her, apparently waiting for her to see the obvious flaw in the plan. She didn’t; someone spoke up.
“Well . . . umm . . . we put the spoons in the glasses of unsweetened tea so we can identify them. How will we tell them apart if we put spoons in all the glasses?”
The owner thought for a minute, came up with the answer, and said, “Okay, in the sweet tea, put one spoon. In the unsweetened tea, put two.”
“Yes! Two spoons.”
Well, you can imagine how this played out. The first really busy night, they ran out of teaspoons early on and the plan was scrapped. Which was fine really, because the problem wasn’t the system in the first place; the problem was a grumpy man who had probably just had one inconvenience too many that day.
Overcorrection: just one more way to create major problems out of minor ones.
Unlike water or wine or even Coca-Cola,
sweet tea means something.
It is a tell, a tradition.
Sweet tea isn't a drink, really.
It's culture in a glass.
(Allison Glock, writer)
(Original posting, November 17, 2014)
We always draw the attention of strangers as we—nearly 20 of us—claim our spot on the beach. It’s impossible for our cumbersome crew to go unnoticed: a half-dozen pale-skinned adults slick with sunscreen, eight bathing-suit-clad Caucasian cousins ages 9 to 18, and one African preschooler whose skin tone matches the color of rich, dark chocolate. So even on South Carolina beaches where almost anything goes, we are the exception.
It all started when my cousin lost her ever-loving mind. I found out from my mother, who called me to give me the news.
“You are not going to believe what your cousin Kathi is doing. You are. Not. Going. To. BeLIEVE it.”
Kathi is about ten years older than I am. Despite a life laced with heartbreak and disappointment, Kathi has done well for herself. She’s always been employed: factories in the early years, grocery stores for most of the last twenty. She owns her own home and has developed a network of faithful friends and beloved family. Her two sons, who she raised without the help of her ex-husband, their dad, grew into responsible, hard-working, family men.
“Kathi is taking in a 3-year old African child,” Mother said.
“Come again?” I figured I’d misheard.
“Your 50+ year old cousin is taking in a toddler from another country.” Mother proceeded to tell me the rest of the story. (For the sake of privacy and protection, I’ll refer to the child as Little One.)
Little One’s mother, a friend of a friend of a friend, was incarcerated and needed someone to keep her child for just two weeks. Kathi didn’t know the mother and neither did the woman who called her. To sane folk, the whole thing sounded like a legal disaster. We cautioned Kathi. We advised her. We insisted she procure some official statement of custody. She listened, but as I said, she’d lost her mind right about the time she learned of this child in need. (It might also be possible that Kathi’s mind was right where it was supposed to be, being transformed.)
Little One moved in and soon everyone who loved Kathi loved the child. Two weeks came and went ten times and after five months the mother saw fit to reclaim her child. By then, the bond between my cousin and Little One was strong enough to last.
So for the last three summers, Little One has been with us on the beach: playing in the surf, building sand castles, looking for shells, never out of sight of this new family-in-love. And at some point, salty and sleepy, Little One seeks out Kathi and climbs into her lap.
“It’s not that big of a deal,” Kathi says in response to our praise of her selfless actions. She enfolds the sandy brown hand resting on her knee into her own; the child leans back, snuggled against the shoulder that has proven so reliable. “Little One needed a place to stay. God told me to offer my home. So I did.”
And to Kathi, it really was—is—that simple.
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect. Romans 12:2
Though I was in my early 30’s when I was diagnosed with chronic depression, I had gone to counselors from time to time since my teens. And listen, I’m a big believer in therapy. Frankly, I don’t know why everyone doesn’t go to see a counselor.* I mean if you can afford it, for heaven’s sakes get into therapy. Actually, even if you can’t afford it, check into some options for inexpensive or even free services. Really.
Anyway, counseling was familiar and comfortable and not at all scary. Antidepressant pharmaceuticals? Pills that chemically alter my brain? Yikes!
Plus, at the time of my diagnosis, I was nursing my youngest child; I was wary of anything that might affect her nourishment. So, I did my research, using a new resource called the world wide web, and asked my medical doctor and counselor lots of questions.
(An aside: I learned how to do efficient and thorough research thanks to my undergrad degree in history from Campbell University. History majors—and other liberal arts grads—learn how to collect and process information, and to draw conclusions from that data: helpful skills in any career. Hire a liberal arts major. We are good deciders.)
After weighing the benefits and risks, I decided to give Prosac a try. The initial dose was ineffective, so the doctor increased my prescription to the next level.
Now remember, pre-antidepressants, I cried a lot. Everything made me sad. I had to be careful watching movies or reading books, listening to the news, whatever. Crying was the norm. It was as if I put my whole self into the story—true or fiction—and experienced the same reality as those in the story.
I upped the dose of Prosac. Soon, I realized I wasn’t constantly on the verge of tears. In fact, I felt almost nothing at all. It was glorious (in the beginning). Freeing. I flat did not care! My mantra may actually have been the original “sorry, not sorry.” Then came the night when I was watching 60 Minutes or 20/20 (one of those human interest/news shows). The story that night told of a man and his wife, their beautiful love story that began in grade school and continued into their golden years, and her agonizingly pointless battle with pancreatic cancer. Her dear husband cared for her tenderly until she passed away; now, according to the show, he grieved so profoundly that he struggled each day to achieve basic function. It was a gut-wrenching TRUE tale of love and loss, pain and death.
And yet, as I watched the weeping widower on the screen, I thought, “Dude. People die. Get over it. What? You didn’t think she was going to die? We’re all dying. You, me, all of us. Geez, get a grip.”
I talked to the doctor the next day about considering another medication.
Eventually I tried Effexor and did really well with few side effects. I did so well, in fact, that after just a few months (never mind I’d struggled with depression for the better part of three decades) I decided I probably didn’t need medication at all (raise your hand if you’ve been there). I contacted a local psychiatrist and scheduled the next available appointment; my visit with him lasted an hour. It started with me telling him I thought I could come off the medication, continued with me giving him a detailed history of my depression, and ended with him giving me a prescription for double the dose. True story.
There’s been a time or two over the years that I’ve tried something new on the market, wanting to see if I had fewer breakthrough episodes and if the newer med suited me better. Not a good idea for me: I've just never done a great job of transitioning off one and onto the other. I always ended up under my covers, curled in the fetal position, overwhelmed by such things as poverty, oppression, and world hunger (which I think we can all agree are, in fact, overwhelming in nature).
So now it has been about 20 years since I started taking antidepressant medication and I no longer try to rationalize myself off of it. Here’s why:
Bottom line? If you’re on the fence about taking antidepressants, keep researching, keep talking to your doctor, and keep considering your options. But remember that taking a medication is not a sign of weakness. It’s a sign of wisdom. And it is okay.
What about you? What are your thoughts on antidepressants?
*One thing about counseling: it’s hard; exhausting at least, grueling at worst, but in any case, seriously hard. And it often takes a while to find the right counselor. I have the world’s best therapist now, but it took many attempts. If you need a break from the effort, I get it. But don’t give up. Finding the right counselor is like finding true love: totally worth kissing a bunch of toads to get there.
Complaining about snow days. It’s what we do here in Western North Carolina
The problem? The weather here is anything but homogenous. Seriously. A friend who lives less than five miles from me can get six inches of ice and snow when I get not one flake. The southern part of the county might get a foot of snow while the northern districts get only a few inches. At my house, I can have just a dusting, then hear from a friend in the western part of the county who is looking at a two-inch sheet of ice on her street. It’s crazy.
Not only are the conditions markedly different from district to district, we have roads that coil around the mountains and are tricky when it’s 70 degrees and sunny. And that’s in my Honda. Can’t imagine what it’s like on those roads in a school bus. (Nor do I ever, ever, ever want to find out.)
All this creates a situation uncommon in counties where the roads are straight and every resident gets equal precipitation. I call it the Snowless Snow Day.
Here in Western North Carolina, we have all at some time experienced the Snowless Snow Day. Consequently, we start talking about whether or not schools will close as soon as we see flakes in the forecast. We are not at all deterred by the fact that it does not matter what we think. Indeed, no one cares if we want or need a snow day. The principal of our school doesn’t care. The superintendent doesn’t care. The weather channel certainly doesn’t care.
Truly, the question, “Do you think we should have a snow day,” is about as relevant as “Do you think penguins prefer salmon or flounder?” The answer to either question has no impact on upcoming events. (Unless, of course, you are a salmon. Or a flounder. Or a chef for penguins with discriminating tastes.)
Me, I’d rather schools be closed when there is a chance they could have operated without incident, than to be open when safety is questionable. I think about the teacher driving a mini-van risking a wreck trying to get out of his icy neighborhood; the school bus driver traveling those icy corkscrew roads; and the teen driver who hasn't had nearly enough experience driving in ice and snow.
But I do know that it is not that simple for some folks. As I see it, these people fall into two groups.
Obviously, even if you do have a valid reason for your frustration with the status of school closing, it won’t change the decision. But at least you have legitimate cause to be upset. The rest of us are merely inconvenienced know-it-alls who have suddenly become experts on road conditions across the county.
Snow days are wonderful or hideous, depending on your circumstances or maybe your perspective. But one thing I know for certain is that all the fussing in the world (even if it’s on Facebook) won’t change a thing. So I’m going to try to spend the mental energy I would have wasted on school closings on something more important. Like, what kind of fish do penguins eat?
When my kids were younger, around the first of each January we'd sit at our kitchen table together and make our New Year's Resolutions. We've gotten out of the habit, but what we did back then was shoot for five resolutions, one in each of five categories.
After making these initial five resolutions, break each one down into little goals, small steps, that will help you achieve your resolutions. For example, if the physical goal is to run a marathon, then running shoes might be in order. (Or in my case, a lobotomy.) These short term goals help measure success and help us stay motivated to keep our resolutions. Try to come up with at least three mini-goals for each resolution. Maybe you can break it down even smaller--setting micro-mini goals for each mini-goal. Each time you achieve any of these goals, make sure to reward yourself with at least a pat on the back and maybe even a latte.
In my opinion, goal setting is always good. Even if we fall short of our own expectations, I suspect we accomplish more than if we didn't aim for anything at all. So gather up your kids, family, or friends and plan now for a successful year.
Do you have tips for making resolutions? Share in the comment section. Already made yours? Tell us about them!
See, whether we like it or not, we often learn more from our failures than we do from our successes. Failure underscores the lesson, highlighting it for future reference. It points to areas of growth and opportunities for improvement. Success feels good in the moment, but failure can benefit a person for a lifetime.
Still, the mother in me—and the aunt for that matter—hates to see children I love experience the pain of disappointment. I’ve seen it plenty of times though. Here are just three of examples.
In each case, though, my children learned more from these failures than they ever would have from succeeding in the same situation. My oldest learned that careful research is actually its own reward, no matter what an impartial judge may say. My son has developed persistence that is unrivaled; loss never diminishes his resolve. My youngest, still spunky and opinionated, discovered that true conviction is more important than academic assessment.
None of those valuable life lessons could have been acquired through success. It took failure to teach them the hard lessons.
Knowing this does not mean I want my kids to fail. I don’t. I never celebrate when my beloveds fall short of their objectives. (Frankly, if I had my way, my kids would never even have a bad hair day, let alone a true heartbreak.) When things don’t go their way, I grieve with them and share their disappointment.
But over time, as tears dry up and emotions settle, I do my best to uncover the blessing in the setback. And it’s always there. Always.
Now in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate there is a pool, called in Hebrew Bethzatha, which has five porticoes. In these lay many invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed. One man was there who had been ill for 38 years. When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had been there a long time, he said to him, "Do you want to be made well?" John 5:2-6
When I was in Israel in 2008, we went to the pool mentioned in this text. We stopped there for a bit while Dr. Robert Canoy, Dean of Gardner-Webb Divinity school and leader of our trip, led us in a devotion. Interestingly, a few months later, my pastor at the time, Dr. Guy Sayles, preached on this text. I’m indebted to these two theologians for much of my understanding of this passage.
The Pool of Bethesda is huge. And since the water is all drained out now tourists can walk around in it, amongst the porticoes and down the stairs. You can see the Sheep Gate from there—the gate that the faithful would enter when bringing their sacrifices to the temple. And just a few steps away is the door to St. Anne’s church.
Do you know who St. Anne is? I didn’t, but I’ve learned that she was Mary’s mother. If tradition is correct, the church stands just over (at least approximately so) the spot where her home had been. How about that? The pool of Bethesda was located in the neighborhood of Jesus’ grandmama’s house. Follow me now. For as long as Jesus could remember, this man had been lying there by the pool. When Jesus was a toddler, the man was there; when Jesus was playing stick ball with cousin John, the man was there; and when Jesus began his ministry, the man still lay there.
So what does Jesus say to him? He says, “Do you want to be made well?” That’s all. He’s not sassy or flippant or sarcastic or anything. For example, Jesus did not say, “Hey Mister, I’ve been watching you soaking up the sun there for a quarter of a century; I’m starting to think you like your problems, bucko.” He did not say, “Man would you dadgum swim or get off the deck? You are flat wearing me out here.” He did not say, “What is your problem dude? You are seriously wallowing in your woes.”
“Do you want to be made well?” Jesus asks.
And me? I’m not sure I do. Sometimes, often, I prefer lying by the pool watching others dive into the pool of wholeness. I prefer inaction. I prefer woe.
But Jesus says, “I’m not forcing myself on you. It’s your call. Do you want to be made well?”
Too many times I don’t have the strength to accept wholeness. But Jesus, amazing sweet Jesus, keeps asking me, every time I’m sprawled out, paralyzed by self-pity, “Aileen? Do you want to be made well?”
I say, “Jesus look at me! I’ve been soaking up the sun here by this pool full of the same old problems for a quarter of a century. What’s wrong with me? Why don’t I just swim and get off the deck? What is my problem? I am just a wallowing, woe-loving mess.”
Jesus looks at me with love’s eyes and extends love’s arms. “I know exactly who you are. I’ve been right here your whole life. So,” Jesus says to me, to you, “Do you want to be made well?”
Just for today, I’m going to try not to point out all the reasons why that’s hard and just say, “Yes.” How about you?