What I Have Done With My Life

Recently, one of my cousins, one not yet 21 and married less than a year announced that he and his wife are expecting a baby due in August. This news stirred up turbulent emotions and disconcerting questions.

I first thought of my grandmother. She always wanted more babies in her life and a year after she died, a new generation begins. That irony makes me smile. Then my thoughts turned negative, turned to the fact that this cousin is the youngest of the eight of us save one. More than once my grandmother bemoaned the fact that I hadn’t made it a priority in my life to find a husband and give her some great-grandkids. After a while, I stopped reminding her that God had not seen fit to have my life unfold that way and that such comments hurt because they implied a lack of care on my part for things that actually matter a great deal.

Insidious thoughts of comparison crept into my mind. What did I have to show for my 32 years on this planet? My cousin at age 20 has a steady, decent-paying, stable job, a wife, a house and now a baby on the way. Me? The most significant thing I own is my car which currently has a left front tire leak. I live in the same house that I have lived in since my junior year of high school. I face stress and uncertainty at my job and frustration that I cannot seem to figure out ways to improve upon or simply navigate through certain things.

THat is a dangerous road to embark upon. Comparison sows seeds of bitter discontentment. I started to think that perhaps I needed to change something, maybe take on more work ,trim my expenses more or do something else drastic so that I could have something to show for what I have done with my life as if owning a house means that you are successful.

These thoughts battled in my mind with the knowledge that God does not care if my name is on the deed to a temporary structure that He actually owns. As I entered the auditorium for church, I felt conflicted; I simply did not understand. In my head, I knew that all the things of this earth that I could own or accomplish have no value yet I still want it; I crave the flimsy accolades of my fellow man.

I even debated whether or not I should write this post. What good would come from wallowing in self-pity with no answers on how to emerge from the muck. I had decided against it until God stepped in and reminded me of the truth.

The second song we sang that Sunday, the name of which I cannot remember, has the following chorus: “Hallelujah! All I have is Christ! Hallelujah! Jesus is my life!” As we sang these words, God opened my eyes. He reminded me of things I knew intellectually before. He helped me believe that He is all I need. I do not need home ownership or a husband or children or the accolades of man. Everything else I could list here pales in comparison to the incomparable glory and total need satisfying glory of God. He really is all that I need.

So, my original question remains. What have I done with my life? Nothing. I never could and I never will. God has control of my entire life for the good of His glory.

Telling People’s Stories

Long before podcasts gained popularity, I listened with avid interest. Months or years worth of episodes piled up on my iPod like a pile of raked leaves in the fall that I dove into and binge-listened to my heart’s content. Years ago, I alternated between podcast binging and audiobook listening but the advent of the “podcast age” relegated the audiobooks to a thing of the past.

One of the original podcasts that gripped my attention was Storycorp, a podcast produced by NPR. Although Storycorp now has an app of its own and many other ways for ordinary people to sit down and interview each other, the initiative began as a mobile recording booth set up in New York City’s Grand Central Station with one simple premise: collect people’s stories. Anyone could walk into the booth with a relative or friend and interview each other. Each person had a story worth telling and as a result of these recordings, each story now finds a permanent home in the Library of Congress archives alongside interviews form the Great Depression made as a part of the Federal Writer’s Project, recordings of former slaves and many more.

I recently had the opportunity to revisit this podcast in my podcast rotation and fell in love with it all over again. Each person featured, as well as all the ones not featured, has such an amazing story to tell. These people have names that only those in their personal circle of acquaintances know. These people have not achieved some noteworthy status in the eyes of the public. Many of these people, if described using simple adjectives, would appear as the very definition of ordinary. Yet they are not. A soldier tells of the terrible loss of his wife, a fellow soldier, in Iraq, giving honor to her life and laying bare his struggles with grief and PTSD> A woman and her son, a man with Asperger’s syndrome, over the course of three separate interviews, paint the picture of life with an ordinary yet extraordinary disease over the course of his journey from middle school to the brink of adulthood after a tumultuous journey through college. A mother lost her son yet through forgiveness and love gained another, the boy – now man – who killed her biological son. I could continue but I will refrain.

As I listened, my ind continually turned to thoughts of my grandfather, a man whose mind contains an immense, incalculable wealth of stories and memories. Even before my grandmother’s death last summer, I started pulling out my phone every time my grandfather started a trip down memory lane. My voice memo app holds only a fraction of the total percentage of the stories and memories he knows. These stories deserve to be told as well.

Throughout the past year of my blog and the past decade plus in my journals, I have done a good job at telling my story. It would be disingenuous of me to say that my story should not be told. However, a singular focus on myself neglects all those around me. They deserve to have their stories told. In the future, I hope to carve out space here – and elsewhere, though here especially – to tell the story of others. I will have to start small with my expectations and plans but one day soon, I hope to bring you my grandfather’s story and the story of many more.

The Peril of a House Divided

“A House Divided.” This phrase has resonated throughout history since its origin in the gospels. Most Americans associate the phrase with Abraham Lincoln who famously used it to describe the disastrous state of the United States during the Civil War. Recently this phrase and its implications became startlingly clear in my own work life.

The motto of my school is TEAM, Together Everyone Accomplishes More. in emails to the faculty and staff, administrators and faculty alike address the group as “Team.” In an ideal world. this sentiment would infuse our very action creating a powerhouse that worked to better the lives of every student in the school. As is too often the case, the team ideal stops at the surface only and acts as a screen which passive/aggressive actions can be hidden behind and hidden poorly. This reputation plagues my school throughout the district and has for years. I knew this when I took the job and prepared myself accordingly.

If I knew this when I took the job, what prompted me to write this piece now?

Last year, due to the tremendous turnover, only three of the eight seventh grade teachers taught seventh grade the year before, one other taught eighth and had moved down to seventh. The other four, including myself, were brand new to the school. God providentially put together a group of teachers who bonded personally and professionally, creating a real team that operated in lockstep to improve the lives and education of our students.

This cohesion appeared to threaten my principal. At the end of the year last year, almost all of us faced moving to another position. I was told that I would move to eighth grade. My cohort, before transferring to another school was supposed to move to related arts. The math teachers would move to sixth and eighth grade. One of the science teachers would move to sixth grade. There may have been other moves in the works that we did not know about. We fount hard to preserve our team. When the dust settled, six out of the eight of us returned in the exact same position. We started the current school year confident that our team unity would help us endure whatever chaos may come our way.

However, despite considerable advice to the contrary my principal made a decision of questionable legality which has resulted, so far, in the mid-year resignation of one teacher, the near resignation of at least three more and has fostered such intense resentment between some teachers that they walk past each other as if the other teacher did not exist.

Up until the end of January, the seventh grade still worked together, still presented a united front. Some interpersonal issues existed but that could be dealt with internally. We still had each other’s back or at least that’s what my team felt.

Last week my principal dropped a grenade into an already tense situation thanks to snow days and an uncertain testing schedule. This grenade found its origin in the decision I alluded to above. The concussive blast left us reeling. Word of the impending changes leaked out to the students, adding their justifiable fear and insecurity to the already unstable mix.

The previously united seventh grade team, the last man standing, began to splinter. Confusion and animosity soured the air of a meeting designed to help us reach a consensus. The death-blow came that afternoon when two members of the other team chose to air their grievances to the principal in a manner, intended or not, that cast blame on those who formerly worked with them to create a united front in the face of uncertainty.

Much of the fallout has yet to be felt. I choose to not speculate on another person’s motives. I still struggle to understand though. I struggle to comprehend how something like my justifiable confusion over testing schedule was interpreted as having malicious intent. I struggle to understand how we can repair these broken relationships for the sake of our students. I find myself baffled at the choice of going to supervisor with a problem rather than addressing the colleague first. I could fill an entire essay with the things I do not understand about this specific situation.

Some of the uncertainty has been resolved through top down intervention by our grade level administrator, an intervention which could have been avoided if we had been able to work together ass a team. Yet, my heart weighs heavy within me. I hurt for the fallout yet to come. I hurt for the destruction of a tight-knit friendship. I hurt for our students who may suffer because of everything involved.

With little effort, my pointing figure could find those upon whom to cast blame. That solves nothing. That continues and exacerbates the infliction of pain on the one who blames the perpetrator and all the innocent bystanders.

How do we move forward from here? How do I move forward? The easy thing to do would be to sink to the blame game and retreat to the safe haven of those I know will not hurt me or those I love. I am not called to do the easy thing. At this point, I do not speak for anyone else on my team although I have told them what I have chosen to do. As I move forward, I choose to let go of all the hurt caused by the actions of others, something I am able to do only with God’s help. Instead of holding onto hurt, I choose to extend the hand of friendship no matter how they choose to respond.

I harbor no illusion that my actions along will change anything. Why then do I choose to act in a way that could bring more personal hurt? I choose this bath because it is right. I may not be able to change anything but I serve a God who can change everything. Though things may appear hopeless for a moment, God will turn all things to His glory, even this. He will unite the divided house.