A Practical Proverb

“Above all else, guard your heart, for it determines the course of your life.” –Proverbs 4:23

This verse was posted in a New Year’s message in which I was tagged. I know it’s a Bible verse, but I’m going to calligraphy it all nice and big and put it in my classroom somewhere visible. People need this advice at eighteen rather than forty-something.
I’ll explain to students it isn’t merely about romance–it’s barely about that at all. It’s about following our path, our passions…every moment of our lives.
We feel our passions, we ignore them. I’ll point out the many ways we’ve refused to be put into boxes this year–and how bringing that thought process into real life leads to victories…
Finally, I’ll remind them this truth is my story too–everyone’s story, really…we’re all traveling the same path…when we follow the heart in all things, the path goes much more easily. When we do not, we struggle through the brush without a machete until we come upon it once again.
It’s that simple–for all of us…I never know why we insist on making it difficult.
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Things Jesus Doesn’t Do

I am fixing my computer. I’ve issued a few “#$%$#%’s,” “GDs,” “F’s” and other words that color the rainbow. When I say “I’m” fixing my computer, I really mean someone I’m chatting with at Apple is so doing, as was the awesome guy with the Australian hat at the Genius Bar earlier today. He’s fixed my stuff before. I try to hide behind my long hair like Cousin It as the Genius does things like wipe the dust off my screen and do other things I should’ve done before going in.

I look at these Geniuses as if they’re demi-gods. I want to be like them, trying not to laugh at silly things people like me do. Right now, I’m being assured we’ll get this set today, but while we’re at it, lets just take a few hours to update my OS.

Screen Shot 2013-12-08 at 5.35.07 PMI should have prayed. I’m peaking at my social media feed between chat bubbles which indicate a couple of good football games passed while I was in the Land of I Don’t Care. Every post said “Jesus be praised” or “Thank you God!” Some were multi-line prayers of gratitude.

I never thought to ask God or Jesus about the password I forgot or to help set up my Gmail after several errors appeared on my restored system. I should’ve. He apparently sides with football teams. My mom gets him* to do amazing things–besides the real big things that people need, he takes time to find her parking spaces when she asks nicely.

I think that he’s busy. I’d like to establish a list of things God and Jesus do not do:

1. Jesus doesn’t play or fix football, baseball, or hockey. I know this because the Whalers didn’t get to stay in Hartford, now the only thing Hartford has going for it is some awesome Jamaican food on Albany Ave.

2. I’m not sure God finds parking spaces unless people aren’t feeling well and need to park close. He finds them for my mom, because she does a lot of extra good work for him. Parking closer gives her more time to help others and not run errands. God does, however, curse people who use other people’s handicapped plates or keep theirs too long just to get a space.

3. God does not help students who didn’t study for tests. You can’t go around being all faithful saying “Who needs to study for O-Chem? I have Jesus.” I think that gets him mad.

4. Jesus does not start cars. Especially if you don’t change your oil or follow the maintenance schedule.

5. God doesn’t create spontaneous sales in grocery stores unless you’re especially faithful, down on your luck, and share food with others. Then, he will give you all the pasta or eggs you want.

6. He doesn’t make kids behave. I know this, though my son knows the difference between the “good Jesus Christ,” as in when people pray, and the “bad Jesus Christ,” as in when someone (not me) says JESUS CHRIST!  I wish JC would take a moment, get rid of free will and make kids obey. Free will’s overrated. In any case, it shouldn’t be installed until kids turn 18. Or 21. Or when they move out of the house.

7. Jesus doesn’t get kids into college or get them financial aid. It’d be nice. Refer to #3.

Screen Shot 2013-12-08 at 5.38.33 PMIf you want to know what God and his associates really do, take a look outside first thing in the morning. You’ll see the sun peek over the horizon, hear the beauty of the birds singing a song, and feel the cool air on your face. You may even wish for the first flakes of winter snow. You’ll look into the face of your child or your other loved ones, and you’ll take a step or two toward beginning your day, which you can, because you’re alive, well, and graced by the power to live, impacting the world in an amazing and unforgettable way. God and the universe hope you do.

That’s what God does. Gives you the tools. The rest is all you. You’ll be great. Magic. A force to be reckoned with. Because that’s what you’re supposed to do.

Now, if I could only fix this Mac. Jesus?

 

*I chose the pronoun “he” fully realizing God transcends gender.

[Image: Buddy Christ from Dogma and “Birds at Sunrise, Sam Stearman]

Irish Blessing for Teachers (God Help Us, Every One)

Screen Shot 2013-08-26 at 6.28.26 AMI need a prayer to inspire the first day of school–a prayer useful to the religious and secular alike. I took a philosophy course on a bet once, learning about the nature of prayer in the process. My friend, the future electrical engineer, said he was smarter than me–that engineers, moreover, were smarter than liberal arts majors.

My major was Russian–it was an amalgamation of history, bad economic forecasts, political upheaval, and really long depressing literature–it’s the reason I make people cry with my emails, having earned the nickname “Madame Tolstoy.” I’m improving–wouldn’t trade my academic path for all the engineering salaries in the world. The spirit of the Russian people taught me a lot about teaching–about creativity, making something from nothing, about getting the job done without a lot of resources. Russian philosophy is a little like zen, but with a despot lurking in the background.

For our bet, we chose a neutral class.  The academic DMZ. Philosophy 101. He skipped class. I learned about how to spend an inordinate time fixating on the smallest detail, the meaning of God, what constitutes a pile, and other useful things. For example, if you have one piece of hay, it’s not a stack. If you have two, it’s not a stack. If you have a stack and take a piece off, it’s still a stack. At what point does it become a stack or lack of a stack? You can use this in life. Just substitute manure. If you’ve got a bit of manure in your life, it’s not a pile. If you add a bit more, it may not be a pile, but at some point, it becomes a pile. You have to shovel it away. Farm wisdom that can help you transcend the day-to-day BS in any career and still smile.

The second thing I remember was about God. Many people believe in God and many do not. If God exists, and you messed up on earth, that’s an epic fail. You’re going into the inferno forever. If God doesn’t exist and you were good just in case–well, you don’t go anywhere for eternity but you make people smile in your time on the planet. Is that so bad? It’s a simple cost-benefit analysis.

My friend won the bet. He is smarter than me. He showed up for two classes–the midterm, and the final. He smoked me. I got to learn about the great Western philosophers, the nature and philosophy of prayer, and earn my first C-, my only low grade unless you count Calc, which I dropped twice before finally getting a “just go away” C, escaping higher-level mathematics forever.

Without further adieu, the prayer, “The Irish Blessing,” in its original form and it’s adaptation for education: The original is in italics.

May the road rise up to meet you. May you not get a flat tire on the way to work, and may the potholes not wreck your oil pan.

May the wind be always at your back. May you avoid hurricanes, storms, and floods that force you go to school until July.

May the sun shine warm upon your face; Likewise with snow days.

the rains fall soft upon your fields Don’t drink too much, because there’s no bathroom nearby. You’ll have to wait till 2:11 to pee.

and until we meet again, I won’t see you for 180 days.

may God hold you in the palm of His hand. May the school year not kill you. God help us all. 

May we have the best school year yet. May we do the greatest of things.

A Long Road to Enlightenment

We are at the farm.

“Mommy,” he says, “I have something to tell you.”

“What?” I reply, “And hold my hand before you get squashed by that tractor.”

“I know about God now.” I often get in trouble for not teaching my son well enough about the God of religion and conquest. He knows about kindness, love, the power of the universe, karma, the meaning of the magic in nature, helping, but balks at the gargoyles and medieval statuary bleeding sacred hearts on the ground. Once, he came upon a nativity scene–at Santa’s Village, of all places.

“MOMMY! LOOK!” he said with an urgency that stopped me in my tracks. “What?”

“Who is THAT?”

“It’s Jesus. Baby Jesus with his family.”

“It is NOT JESUS!” he said. He was angry. I felt like a negligent parent, who neglected teaching her then four-year old to even recognize the baby Jesus. Wasn’t it bad enough he confused his baseball, football, and basketball, shouting “touchdown” the rare time he saw a baseball game?

“Yes it is, that’s his mom.”

“THEY TURNED JESUS INTO A STATUE!” There would be no convincing him otherwise, and to some degree, he was right–the God of love is often pressed flat between the pages of books nobody bothers to read, especially his people.

But today, he has figured out about God.

“What do you know about God now?” I ask.

“Well, one time, I was thinking about God and I had to poop.  I didn’t want to wipe myself. So I asked God if he could make it a hard poop, so I wouldn’t have to wipe,” the look of intense concentration and reflection on the importance of this detail cannot be mistaken. I follow along, with a face matching his in focus and intensity. I angle my head just a bit to show I am seriously listening.

“So” he continued. “That day, I had a hard poop. I didn’t wipe at all!  And that’s how I know that God is real. And that he listens to us all the time and that he cares about us. And that he is my friend.”

Pretty good logic. We’re often reminded to ask God for our needs, no matter what they might be. Sometimes, our prayers are answered, and other times–for good reasons unbeknownst to us, the answer is no. At those times, we should remember not to hold it against Him. There’s something in the scope of universe being set in motion–we just have to wait.

Today, I heard Declan in the bathroom reciting his prayer out loud. Soon after, there was a shout of disappointment, “Oh! It didn’t WORK, I have to wipe!”  I tried to explain that sometimes the Almighty has bigger fish to fry and loaves to bake. And that humans must be understanding.

“Fine!” he said. “If God’s busy, I’ll just go watch Scooby Doo. But I’m asking Santa for a kitty for Christmas.”  I’m afraid we have a long, long road to enlightenment.

Carrying People Through The Sand

There is a story that runs over and over again in many different forms called “Footprints.” It’s about a person walking in the sand with God. You see the footprints. Two sets of footprints, and then, at times, just one.

Are you carrying others or being carried? Both are important.

Are you carrying others or being carried? Both are important.

The person laments to God, “God…these are the times in my life when things were most difficult. Why, ” he asks, “did you abandon me?”

God smiles. I imagine God smiling that sort of smile of love and amusement when someone has said something naive, bordering on stupid. “I didn’t,” God replies. “Those are the times in your life when you struggled. I carried you.”

We walk along the path of life, and we meet people. We connect. There is that moment of excitement–that period where we realize that our new friend is just the friend we needed. We exchange stories, plan activities, say, “Hey, me too!” a hundred times in deep conversation. We realize that through this connection, our world has changed in some way–sometimes radical, sometimes slight, but it has, indeed, changed. It’s “friend Christmas.”

We connect constantly–but we keep few. We gather an inner circle of people who together make, “the perfect friend.” We go to them for “their” things. We’d be fortunate enough to have one or two of these friends at any time. I look around. I realize I am lucky. In addition to my family, I have a compendium of others…my childhood friend, my sensitive friend, my friend of two decades who just sent me a photo, the friend who tells me I’m overqualified every time I discuss a career change, my girl-power friend, my “I can call you at 4AM” friend, my nothing-like-me friend from college, and some recent additions. Friend Christmas. I am blessed.

Once in a while, someone comes along that transforms the entire scope and sequence of our lives. I’ve had a couple of these, too. People who snuck up on me when I didn’t know I needed them. When I looked back, radical changes had taken place. Nothing would ever be the same.

We all have one or two of these people if we listen very closely. A mentor, a professor, a boss, a student. Someone who makes us see life very differently, through another lens–someone who changes our paradigm forever. I would like to think that maybe, if I live a good life, I have not only been the beneficiary of this magic, but I create this magic too.

I think “Wow, I’m glad I met this person. I am inspired. I have vision!” Sometimes I fail to see that on their road, and the roads of others, I serve the exact same purpose. I fill the holes, inspire, serve a need. And occasionally, I change a life that radically myself. It’s never all about me. I am this person, too. We are all this person. It is a blessing and a responsibility.

And so, I must say, “How has my life touched the lives of others?” Have I made a difference, even to those who my life has touched in the slightest measure?

We connect. And we fly.

We connect. And we fly.

In the geometry of life–in those paths that cross and intersect, those concentric circles enclosing those we touch–our acquaintances, our innermost friends, our families, and eventually ourselves–to whom we owe the most and rarely indulge–am I making a difference?

Today, I will do better by those who my life touches in the slightest measure, because I am grateful for those who have blessed mine. I want to be a better person, to have vision, to be the person I should be.

Touching lives is what teachers do every single day.

We smile, we give a kind word, and often we carry someone through the sand without them ever being aware. And a mediocre life becomes great. The challenge is this. I must always being aware, because I never know the moment when we change someone’s life forever. Sometimes, I never even find out.

[Images: eldersabin.blogspot.com and marymoxongardens.com]