Sunday, August 21, 2016


Back when our husbands worked at the same plant, I knew her better. We'd get together occasionally; I thought her to be loud and a bit brassy. She wasn't someone I would really choose to be friends with.

God can bring change to people, though. She and her husband met Lord Jesus one day. They joined a faith community and found that God--rather than money--could provide for their every need. And it wasn't always easy. Jack lost a couple of jobs and they weren't able to go through with an adoption for a child they wanted. They moved down South, hit hard times, moved back North. Their daughter had a difficult marriage and divorced. They took on the task of raising grandchildren.

Still, she wasn't someone I would choose to be friends with. Except for both being teachers, we had little in common. She and Jack would still stop by the house occasionally, usually at inopportune moments--like the time the ceiling in the hallway had fallen down!--and we'd go back to our own lives. After Ron had the car accident, Cheryl sent a card and a meal. We visited their church once or twice. But ours was a fragile relationship; we were pleasant to each other, nothing more.
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God, however, can use all sorts of people in our lives. We never know where encouragement or inspiration may come from. We never know who is watching us. If we are godly people, we need to remember who it is we represent.

I was on my way through Walmart yesterday, picking up a few items for a family party. I wasn't feeling particularly well. The heat had kicked up my asthma and I'd developed a cough. But we only manage one cook-out a summer, so I was still gathering supplies and determinedly plowing ahead. That's when I saw Cheryl outside the restrooms and while I was tempted to just nod and move on, I stopped. And talked.

It's been a year since I talked to Cheryl for more than a second or two. We quickly filled each other in. She'd lost her job a few months ago and was unemployed, trying to find another job. She'd had an interview at a Christian school, but she said the salary offered was pitiable. She was still looking. I told her I was going to a new school as a Title 1 teacher, not thrilled that it was further away then I'd hoped. I wanted to teach four more years, I said, until I could get full retirement.
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She sighed. "God is good. All the time."

I nodded. People were always saying that. After Ron's car accident, I heard it ad nauseum.

"I really mean it" she said. "I wanted to stay three more years and get full retirement. Now I can't find a job and we're probably going to have to move. But I still believe it. God is good. All the time. Even when it seems like He's NOT being good, He is. All the time."

Her words gave me pause. I told her about my eye problems and the likelihood of a cornea transplant. I told her I was worried about driving into the city again. I told her I had left the school placement up to God, and this is what He had given me.

"God is good," she said again. "All the time. If He sent you there, He has a reason. Just trust Him." We exchanged a few more words until her grandchildren and my husband expressed some impatience and we moved on.

But Cheryl's words stayed with me. God is good. All the time. Even when it doesn't seem as if He is good. I wondered if one of the reasons I was having trouble finishing writing my latest novel in progress--Doodle Cat--was because the main character, a woman minister, seemed to be struggling with her own lot in life. God knew that while I tried to handle it all  with grace, I often struggled with my load. Why couldn't I, for example, have a husband who was healthy and worked? Why couldn't I have a school 5 minutes away? Why did I have to have a stupid eye disease?

Because God is good. All the time. I may not know why the things in my life have transpired as they have, but I have to believe in the goodness of God. My plans are not His. His are better.

So even as I struggle to reconcile all  the pieces of  my life and try valiantly to write faith into my woman preacher character, I need to let Cheryl's word echo in my heart.

God is good. All the time. I do not have to understand it. I just have to believe it.

Friday, August 19, 2016

READY! (Well, almost)

I've been doing it for more than twenty years now: going back to school. As Labor Day looms ahead, I generally mourn the time I lost over the summer by not finishing the Great American Novel or cleaning out all my closets. Then I pull my shoulders back, put my chin up, and resolutely march
back into the school year. Many times in the past years, summer has been a disaster and I welcome the structure of school.

But it's been a good summer. Probably the best summer we've had since 1998, when bipolar disorder began to rule our lives and the kids and I learned to live on an emotional roller coaster. Unlike, say the summer of 2014, I did not spend every other week at Hahnemann Hospital while Ron had ketamine infusions that ultimately damaged his heart. Or the summer of 1999 when Ron's battles with clinical depression sent him to Friends' Hospital in Philadelphia for six weeks. Or even last summer when Ron was just home from a six week stay at Eagleville Hospital and a bladder infection demanded I take him for a shot every day for two weeks and Allen had  just been diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome. Oh, and I'd lost my job and had the added stress of trying to find a new teaching position in a still-fragile economy.

This summer has been full of trips to the beach, of lunches out with friends, of times spent working on my knitting or blogging. I've read books and watched movies and have not once ventured anywhere near a hospital except for seeing ophthalmologists about the failing vision in my right eye. Allen and I have painted the living room and installed a new sink and even though I haven't gotten the patio I've wanted for the last three years or finished up my own great American novel, I have a sense of satisfaction. I'm still here, still kicking, still hoping that someday I will  be a full time writer.

And I'm ready to head back to school. Well, almost. I've got more than a week left of my summer vacation and I intend to enjoy what remains of it. But I'm also excited by the new classes I will teach this year and the chance to make a difference in the lives of all of my students, from the little ones all the way up to the adults.

As a career, teaching is unique in that we get a chance, every year or every term, to begin anew. We greet new students or teach new classes or, as I am doing again, embrace new schools. Our job is to help our students--whoever they are--be the best they can be. While every teacher I know needs some time over the summer to recharge for the task ahead, most of us recognize that teaching is not just a paycheck. It's a higher calling. Remember Christa McAuliffe, the First Teacher in Space, who died in the Challenger explosion in 1986? She knew teaching was a high calling.  As she headed off on that fatal mission, she told the world, "I touch the future, I teach."

And it's not always easy. State standards and common core have made teaching harder than it used to be. We do a lot of things that, strictly speaking, are not teaching. And we spend hours outside of school preparing our lessons and scouring Pinterest for great ideas and lurking in the aisles of teacher stores, coupons in hand because we frequently reach into our own pockets for items we need for our kids. It's easy, amid all the spreadsheets and prep for high stakes testing and keeping up our own Act 48 credits, to lose sight of just why we teach.

I know why. I touch the future. But more than just touching the future,   I shape the future. I have the opportunity--the privilege--to change the life of a child. Or an adult. Not only can I teach them to read and critically think, I can teach them to believe in themselves. While I may often drag into school weary from caring for my disabled husband and coping with my vision issues, I  make it a point at the door to slap on my smile and my positive attitude. Sometimes, I may be the first smile my student sees.

So, I go back. Again. Not because I need the money (and I do). Not because I am not quite old enough to retire (and I'm not). But because after twenty years and more educational pendulum swings than I can recall, after years spent in undergrad school and grad school and post grad school, I still believe that our best chance for changing the future is education. After all this time, I've finally figured it all out

It begins with building relationships. One student at a time.