Monday, August 27, 2012

The time I should have thrown it In

     I hit on 13 words of truth last week. Actually they were handed to me like a Café Americano for my writing enjoyment. You don’t see the miracle if you throw in the towel. I was able to write about the value of hanging in there in order to see God’s work through. It was about keeping the faith. My writing and Monday blogging factored right into it. But I also mentioned that there have been times that I should have thrown in the towel, but I didn’t. I wondered how I could share the value of giving up.
     The incident that stands out was after we came back from two years on the mission field in Budapest, Hungary. I had taught English as a second language to public high school students. I came to like a lot of the kids that were considered troublesome by the rest of the faculty. I became known as a teacher not easily rattled and the more wild students took a liking to me. It’s quite an ego boost to come in as an inexperienced teacher from a small part of the world like Hawaii and do well in a big city in Central Europe. I was rather proud of myself.
     When we got back to Maui I was able to finally get a job as a substitute teacher. To get into the computer system’s joblist I needed at least one school to sign me on as a preferred sub. The principal of an intermediate school who had once been my high school councilor remembered me and gave me a chance. I started teaching in October 1998.
It wasn’t long before I ended up teaching a class where the regular teacher was on long term disability. I was thrilled that I seemed to have secured a long-term job. The teacher taught math but had asked to teach art. So there were two math classes and four art classes and one prep period. I learned that there had been several substitute teachers in this position already who had given up. I soon saw why. Not only was there a tremendous amount or planning and grading, (what subs don’t normally have to do) but the kids were… I can’t think of a polite description.  To put it bluntly, in all my years teaching before and after with rowdy Russian kids before and street gang members and emotionally disturbed kids after, the kids at this particular intermediate school were the worst kids I’ve ever encountered. They were rude and deliberately disruptive. Not all the kids, of course were like this, but enough that the whole classes seemed to feed in.
I thought that there had to be some good kids there that wanted to learn. I thought that I had handled worse. (I hadn’t) I made long-term lesson plans for the art class using art projects I had learned in college. I tried my best to teach algebra to a class of 30 something but couldn’t turn my back to write on the board without being hit with crumbled paper.
I came home to my little apartment each day angry and tired. Prajna was in her third trimester with Sarah, our fourth child. Harrison was having trouble getting along in kindergarten at the school that preceded the one I was teaching at. I should have walked into the office at my school and told them I would be leaving that class in two days.
     Instead I took a week off when Sarah was born and then went back to work with the same class. Some of the teachers I worked with got me a gift card as a congratulations present for Sarah. The teachers seemed to appreciate me. Even some of the students seemed happy to have me back and complained about the substitute for me. But within days the bad kids were worse than ever. Finally one day a kid was sitting with his chair pulled up to some side cabinets pounding on them with his fists. I walked over and asked him to stop and he didn’t. I calmly tipped his chair and he tumbled out onto the floor, smiled and splayed out his arms and hands. I had technically assaulted a student. The principal came to my classroom that afternoon and dismissed me. I should have been grateful to that kid for that.
     I should have walked away from that job as soon as they told me to do report cards in November. I was under-qualified for such a job. But I never would have admitted it. My pride kept me there as if I had something to prove. And something more than pride held me there, something I still struggle with today. I felt the need to be needed. I still struggle with this. It's called codependency.
     There is no question that the school desperately needed a good teacher in there that would create some consistency and care about the kids. That’s what I tried to do in earnest. And I was doing that, but all the while it was taking from me more that I gave. No paycheck would have been enough for what I did without support from the administration and leverage in disciplining the kids. I couldn't do enough for that situation or for those kids and I didn’t want to admit that I was powerless and just needed to walk away. And there was a part of me that felt that need to be needed and every day I felt so needed. 
   And here is the amazing thing: One would think that there had been a satisfaction in that job. But there wasn’t. Because in an unhealthy condition like codependency if I try to fulfill my need to be needed in an unhealthy way it will just drain me and perpetuate the condition, just like any other addiction, hurt, hang-up or habit. There is no satisfaction in an unhealthy situation like that. And I just went back for more.

And what about that miracle I would miss from throwing in the towel? Truth be told, by not giving up, I was relying on myself rather than God. That’s idolatry. The miracle was that we would survive without me sticking to that job.
     For the rest of the school year I taught at other schools. I ended up back at that intermediate school sometimes but never as a preferred sub and I avoided long-term jobs after that. At the elementary school that I had attended as a kid I did a lot of work for the fifth graders there and always looked forward to those kids.
     And today I am learning about codependency and boundaries. It’s hard to need to be needed and to try to find a healthy way to be needed where I don’t get burned out at the end. It was a long and rather unpleasant story today. Those kids are all in their mid 20’s now and I wonder how some of them are doing. It was a hard lesson I learned from them and I’m glad I am where I am today, not just thousands of miles away from that school, but hopefully somewhat wiser too.



Monday, August 20, 2012

13 Words or Play Chicken

     When I started blogging I wasn’t sure what I was doing. I’m convinced that the more I write the better I can be at it. Looking at my first few months of blogging is proof. It took over a year to really find my voice in what I was doing. And it isn’t just the form and sentences, which are what needs the most practice. Over a year ago Prajna suggested that I change the content of my blog and begin to tell what God is doing in my life. Make the blog more topical. Up until then I could pull any story out of my past and just write it out, give it a clever title and there was that week’s blog. When I started trying to write more of what was going on in my life a couple things happened. The overall quality of Roadwalker improved and it got a lot more difficult to think of a good topic.
     Over the past months I took a vacation and also gave my testimony. I had plenty to write about. When another hen went broody I asked Nathaniel to take a few pictures of me treating her so I could blog about that. Then things stopped happening, or at least I stopped observing things happening. I talked to Prajna about how I actually was feeling dismay about my upcoming blog. It began with me telling her that I was talking to my favorite hen, Suzie about how I get anxious about blogging lately. Suzie will sit in my arms and softly question me as I tell her that maybe I’ll never write anything good again. I confessed how I sometimes get. I just want to give up writing and blogging completely. Prajna however stepped up and diagnosed me. She told me how hard I’ve been working without much of a break. I argued that I’ve had a pretty easy week at work, and a vacation a month ago. Prajna she reminded me that the events at work and a lot of minor commitments added up to a lot. She knows that I refuel best when I can get away for a while by myself. And whenever someone doesn’t enjoy something that they normally look forward to, she said, that can be burnout.
     I didn’t think it was burnout. I thought I just would never think of anything to write about anymore. But I went online and looked at Mojave Desert Preserve and Death Valley and made up my mind to go out to Death Valley sometime in October. It’s still almost two months away, but I can look forward to it and that will help. As for my writing, I had written down a little phrase while vacuuming the other day and thought that maybe I could make something of it. Maybe it would be mediocre, but at least I would be writing and could go out and tell Suzy the hen that I pulled it off one more time. For at least one more week I wouldn’t give up.
     Last night Prajna and I were talking about Celebrate Recovery and all the potential it has. We were talking about what a mistake giving up can be. She said: “You don’t see the miracle if you decide to throw in the towel.”
     I looked at her like she had just pulled a fresh, buttery soft pretzel from the oven. I asked her to repeat it which she did and she admitted that yes, she had thought of that herself, but I could use it. I wrote it next to my computer.
     You don’t see the miracle if you decide to throw in the towel. There have been plenty of times when I didn’t give up when I should, but that was out of nothing but pride. I could write a whole entry on that. But I was reminded by Prajna’s words that if I did just choose to sleep in on a Monday morning, ask someone else to make breakfast and feed the chickens and do my laundry on another day and just sleep ‘till noon and write nothing, then what? Then I've done nothing. 
     The truth is that God works in my life every day and maybe it’s not something fascinating enough to share, but there always has to be something that I can pass on. This blog is a writing exercise and that means that even if I have a dull point I can present it well.
     So was all of today's musing of writer’s angst leading up to the conclusion that something will always step in and save me? No. What happened this week was that I wanted to give up. Then I didn’t because I was inspired to write about inspiration. And the anxiety may still be there if next week I don’t have something to share. I might be right back where I was, wanting to sit in the backyard with a hen on my lap asking what to do. But Prajna spoke 13 words that I can try to stand on and press forward with. And if they work in a little hobby like writing, I should imagine their potential in the real world.
     By the way, I don’t own those 13 words even though Prajna gave them to me. (I keep telling her that her blog could be outstanding with her wisdom.) If anyone needs to write them on a notecard and use them, feel free. If, in fact someone would rather sit and hold a friendly hen and whimper they can do that too. This week I pressed ahead. I hope if someone else needs to, they can use the words and not play chicken.

One last note. This is Roadwalker post #200. Thanks for sticking with me-


Monday, August 13, 2012

All we,like hens have gone broody?

     If you’ve ever heard the expression “broody” you might picture someone worrisome or troubled. It can even mean contemplative or moody. At least that’s what I thought it meant until we got backyard chickens.
     A broody hen will undergo a hormonal change. Her internal temperature rises and she has the compulsion to sit on eggs. She stops laying and sits in the nesting box on whoever’s eggs happen to be there. If disturbed, she will utter a noise like no other, a cross between a long squawk and a mountain lion’s soft growl.
     The broody hen is only comfortable when she’s sitting on eggs. The cure we’ve learned of is efficient. I don’t know if the hot weather this week brought on the condition in Tater Tot (Benjamin named her). She may just be inclined to this. It’s the second time she’s gone broody and another Plymouth Partridge Rock like her also succumbed several months ago.
     Monday morning it was obvious Tot was broody. She had spent the night in the nesting box and ruffled her neck feathers when we peeked in at her. It was time for treatment.
     I love my rubber boots. I can stomp around in anything and keep my feet clean. The hens nearly always hurry over whenever I come outside to see if I have something for them. They have remarkable faith in me.
Nathaniel took these pictures for me. This is me fetching the hose.
And filling the 5 gallon bucket.
I’m getting Tater Tot out of the nesting box here. The other girls are hanging out. Most of them are very friendly. You might notice the nesting boxes are from Costco and once contained frozen chicken parts. Most of the time the boxes have napkins covering the openings to give the girls a little privacy.
Usually Tater Tot is a little shy, but she was so fixed on staying in the nest that she let me get her out. Once we are holding a hen they stay pretty docile. 
This is how you lower the internal temperature of a hen. Here she is about to be dunked into a bucket of water. Lincoln Rooster watches, bemused.
She will stay in the water for five minutes.

She was mostly calm. When I took her out you can see I have her wings and feet restrained. 
And into the wire cage. Into the cooler.
The cage goes up on buckets.
And I give her some water.
And here she is in the cage in the shade. Even in the heat of the day, air will pass around and under her keeping her considerably cooler than in the nesting box. 
She was snatched out of her comfort zone and plunged into a shocking cold, where without good restraint, she could have quickly drowned. Then she was set up in a less comfortable place for all her friends to gawk at while her instinctive desire was only to go back to her warm, dark and safe place and sit on what she wanted to take ownership of that actually was the property of her keeper.
I think that my blog uses analogy quite often and it would be too easy now to point out what can happen in people’s lives sometimes. I certainly tend to get very comfortable in possessions (I love those boots. Some possessions or undeserved blessings are gifts from God and I sit on them like they're mine to keep and no-one else's. But I don’t know how much further the similarity goes with God removing us from our comfort zones and curing us of being broody.
I don’t know, but I think that if we become possessive and unproductive we might not be automatically rescued from it. We don’t have bird brains. We have free will. If our chicken sits on unfertilized eggs or a golf ball put into the nesting box to clue her in that little round things are okay to go there, she is eventually in for disappointment. If I become fixated on what I think are my remarkable accomplishments and want to sit on them in comfort, I will eventually be sitting on something worthless.
Eggs. Talents. Blessings and the broody urge to sit on them. With chickens, it’s nature’s way. With us, it’s human nature and we need to recognize it in ourselves or in each other. However the treatment comes about it may not be comfortable. It took Tater Tot two and a half days to cool off and be back to normal. But I think she feels much better now. The uncomfortable treatment seems to have been worth it for her. Does anyone not think it’s worth it for us?


Monday, August 6, 2012

Weak quotations and solid Lifelines

     The consoling quote, “God will never put you in a situation that you cannot handle" is about as comforting as: “Your pantry will always be stocked with fresh ambrosia apples and aciago cheese.”
     Neither quote is found in The Bible either. But someone, including me, may have at least once thought it came straight from God’s word. I even remember telling folks “The Lord would never put you in a situation you can’t handle” and seeing the reassurance dawn on them. I don’t think I was doing that much good if I wasn’t telling the truth.
     The truth? I’ve been in situations I can’t handle. I had a medical doctor take me into a little room and tell me my daughter had cancer. Think of jetlag so disorienting it feels like a bad dream. That’s kind of what it felt like. That was a situation we couldn’t handle. Whether or not God put us there is debatable. I still struggle a bit with everything that happens being a part of God’s master plan or not. But what happened after the bottom dropped out of our lives is we managed to get through it to press on.
     Over the past month or so our family has been able to help out other people who have been in crisis. Some opportunities were simply sharing blessings that had been shared with us. Other times it was just doing what we could. Sometimes it was just praying for others.
     It had been a little scary to see other people in crisis around us. And the reason it was scary I think was very selfish of me. I wondered if we were next. We’ve been pretty comfortable lately with no major crisis for awhile. We’re here in our comfortable home with chickens in the backyard and a steady paycheck for me. The worst thing for me right now is a broken down pickup truck. Around us, friends have been living through some tough times and we’ve joined others in helping them out. But when I prayed for friends I found myself wanting to say “please, God, help us not to have bad stuff happen to us?”
     That seems awfully selfish. I might as well ask God for a refrigerator full of my favorite kind of cheese and apples. (Of course I would share it all).
     Instead of hunkering down in fright I really wish I could trust God more. These “situations I cannot handle” that I’m afraid of shouldn’t be paralyzing me before they happen. And if and when they happen, well… where will I be? Where can anyone be when the walls of their life turn to dust?
     I have been in situations I couldn’t handle before. And each time I got through to see another day. Sometimes it took more than a day to get through. But I never made it on my own. Because each time I’ve been in overwhelming circumstances, in over my head, there has been a life line thrown to me.
     The day after Naomi was diagnosed with cancer a little girl and her parents visited our hospital room. The little girl had just relapsed and showed Naomi her access line that was standard for pediatric oncology. As the little girl stood on Naomi’s bed, the her mom reached over and brushed her hair out of her daughter's face and it came away in her fingers. Prajna started crying and I nearly lost it too. The little girl’s dad took me aside and told me something.
“It gets better,” he said.
I knew he wasn’t promising that Naomi would get better. He knew exactly what I was feeling and told me that the dizzying fear and confusing would subside. I believed him. I felt better right then. It was the first encouragement I got in that long turbulent chapter of our lives. And all it had to be was a few words of experience.
     Over the next years we were showered with blessings in all ways. People did what they could. Those were the life lines that we as His hands and feet throw to each other. One time all it took was a voice of experience, words I never forgot, to tell me that even though I was in a situation I couldn’t handle, I wasn’t alone.