Monday, October 31, 2011

The Local Church

The local church raised me.  My parents are great people, and they were active and present in my life.  But they made a decision when I was young:  they would raise their children in church.  Part of that committment meant putting me and my two brothers in the capable hands of other congregants and knowing that those people were just as committed to directing us down the path of righteousness as my parents were.

Those people introduced me to the concept of salvation.  Children's Bible Quizzing gave me a venue to learn more about scripture.  At the time they may have been simple trivia questions, but down the road they were words I couldn't turn to the right or left without hearing.  More recently, Women's Bible Study and the high school Sunday school class changed the way I related to others through the Word.  And Tobie?  Tobie reminded me that it's possible to overflow and be loved unconditionally whether you deserve it or not.

The local church has been far from perfect.  There are disagreements and struggles.  Often, I have cultivated a bad attitude or opinion about something when I should've been minding my business.  I would get aggravated when opinions differed with my own.  But down deep, my desire wasn't really to make problems.  I wanted to know Christ more.  I wanted to know Him as best I could.  I needed to put Him in context with the ministry I was in or the situation I was facing.  But underneath it all, I loved my church for giving me a place to do those things.

So leaving my church was the hardest thing I have ever done.  Favorite and I felt it was the best decision we could've made at the time.  I was sad to learn that the relationships I valued didn't necessarily translate outside the doors of our local church. 

 My desires for the local church are still the same.  I hope people come to know Christ and serve Him deeply.  I hope attendees serve one another with genuine concern and hearts that are set on Christ alone.  I hope that my absence in the congregation means fewer roadblocks to truly loving one another.

But you should know I miss you.  I want my heart to break with the things that also break God's heart.  Right now, the fact that you're facing anything at all breaks my heart.  The fact that there are difficult decisions to make in the near future hurts.  The fact that other congregants may not make it out of this mess still a part of your congregation makes me cry.  Because whether you believe it or not, I didn't make my decision based on me.  I made it because my other members of my family may not have made it out with a relationship with Christ still in tact.  And I don't want to see that happen to anyone else, either.

I hope you do rebuild.  I hope you find your footing beside a Jesus who wholeheartedly believes in redemption and forgiveness.  I found it in Him.  I hope that you struggle with Him, but I hope He comes out on top.

Gone or not, my heart still breaks for you.

You were my church. 

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

More On Grad School

Feel free to skip this whole post if you don't want to read anything about grad school.

The whole process of grad school has really taught me something:

Being the only person in the room with something to learn sucks.

I'm not being metaphysical here.  Sure, we all have something to learn, but I'm talking about higher education--particularly classes that expect attendees to have a strong knowledge of a particular literary canon before beginning.  Unfortunately, my knowledge isn't exactly strong. 

Take Kafka's The Trial for example.  I read The Trial in my U of I days--circa 2000.  Since that's been eleven years ago, I think I deserve points for even remembering Kafka is the author.  But I can't tell you a blessed thing about the book this many years after the fact.

Therefore, I'm already behind in a game that expects precursory knowledge.  Not only do I have to read all the required literature for the class, in some instances, I actually have to reacquaint myself with things long since past in my memory.  And that doesn't even take into account the pieces I've never encountered.

There's another side to this coin, though.  My coworkers are encouraging just to switch to Curriculum and Instruction as opposed to English.  I always swore I would never go back to C & I because of the inane garbage I was fed during my undergrad.  But it goes so much further than that.  And it may be pride related.  I keep wondering:  how can I teach a subject I can't survive in graduate school?

I don't really care if I can ever add master's degree to my credentials.  I don't care if I move over on the pay scale.  Don't get me wrong.  Those things would be nice, but I'm not completely sold on any of them.  The thing is, if I do get a master's, I really wanted it to be in English.  Really.  Really.  And I can't explain that at all.

Suffice it to say I'm drowning and I have no knowledge that will pull me out of this particular rip tide.  Oh, and my presentation tonight?  Well, it wasn't good.  But sadly, it was the best I could do. 

I find that slightly depressing.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Hey, At Least It's a Post

Since English II is watching Hotel Rwanda, I spent several hours grading papers today.  And grading papers.  And grading papers.  And grading more papers.  I have a few stacks to go, but there's no shame in taking a break this evening when I spent so much time working earlier today?

You answer, and I'll pretend your answer counts.

Until then, it's 6pm and I'm contemplating laying in bed and reading until it's time to go to sleep.  And before you mention it, yes, I realize my life took a wrong turn somewhere. 

I came home and ate comfort food (even though I know better) for no better reason than I felt like it.  I probably should've screamed I do what I want while I was in the process of eating, but that would only give the dog and ulcer and he's about to go stark raving mad over the deer who insist on walking through my back yard.  Which reminds me:  it's the little things, isn't it?

It's getting cold outside.  I ordered a new winter coat.  I spent a long time debating whether or not I was going to buy the black coat.  Black is classy.  It's slimming.  It goes with almost everything so there's no worry about a fashion faux pas. (Unless you wear brown.  I don't.)

But then I realized I needed a little more red in my life.  I need a little bright and cheerful.  I need a little less black.  Forget matching everything.  How about a little spice?  So I did it.  I ordered a red coat.  And now I await its arrival.  Because life is a waiting game, ladies and gentlemen.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Budgeting with Dave Ramsey

Favorite and I are decent with money.  We plan well enough to pay our bills, including an overage on our mortgage, and put a fairly substantial amount in a savings account.  But we lack when it comes to what's left over.  We don't worry about how much we spend at the grocery store or how many times a week we go.  We eat out a lot.  A.  Lot.  We spent money on our favorite recreational activities without giving them a second thought and don't really stick to any sort of budget.  We also have a credit card, but have committed to paying it off every single month no matter what (which sometimes means dipping into that savings we should be using for other things).

Short story?  We're spoiled.  And we know it.

When we first got married, we had no money and bills that were difficult to pay on Chris' salary alone so I became a budgeting guru.

Fast forward five years and I'm realizing I really need to invest more time in considering my budget for a couple of reasons:
  1. Budgeting allows us to save a substantial amount of money comfortably.  We don't have to dip into savings and we can accrue an emergency fund (hopefully a hefty one).
  2. Budgeting will give us greater freedom to consider housing upgrades (hello patio!  And deck!  And hot tub!  You get the point!).
  3. Budgeting will allow us to add a third car so Favorite can quit trying to drive his gas guzzling farm truck back and forth to work.
  4. Budgeting will allow us to honestly consider the worth of purchases so we can hopefully pay cash for larget purchases in the future.
  5. Budgeting will allow us to give more freely to others.
I've considered Dave Ramsey's approach to budgeting for a while due to a weekly article I read (written by a local guy whose simple writing has really helped me to understand the concept of money).  But after reading this post from The Lumberjack's Wife, I committed to giving it a shot.  And before you ask, yes it is extremely shallow to start budgeting just to buy a new wallet.

But if you're interested in that sort of thing:

This is my cash envelope wallet from Melissa at A Time for Everything.  (A couple words on Melissa:  she was amazing.  UH-MAZE-ING.  She emailed me no less than three times to answer questions and even credited my account because I didn't read thoroughly and she didn't think it was fair to overcharge me.  I haven't gotten the wallet yet, but it shipped in record time--I should see it Tuesday--and she committed herself to customer service the whole way.)

Here's what I love about Ramsey's cash envelope system:  you create a zero-based budget (every dollar is allocated to something specific).  After creating your budget, you determine which categories are going to be cash categories.  For us, housing costs, utilities, savings and my school loan are paid online by using a debit card.  Also, medical bills are paid by check or debit card and I pay my car payment by check every month.  Those categories don't require me to keep cash on hand.

The categories we're focusing on regarding cash are these:
  • Groceries
  • Gas
  • Clothing
  • Personal
  • Recreation
Every time Favorite gets paid, we get a certain percentage of that money in cash for these categories.  When the money in that category is gone, we're done.  For example, if we've allotted $150 for groceries for that pay period, once we spent $150, we don't grocery shop anymore.  My hope is that it will keep us from spending unecessary amounts of money.  (I work our budget on Favorite's pay schedule because he gets paid on the 15th and the 30th.  It get paid every two weeks so it's easier to work on his schedule than mine as his is more predictable.)

Of course, this new budget is also encouraging me to consider other money saving ideas. 

  • Make a list.  I'm notorious for going the grocery store without a list.  That's going to stop, because I end up spending money on things I don't need.  Here's the deal:  I can't buy the cheapest item when it comes to certain things.  Favorite breaks out when we change detergent or soap so I don't play around with trying new ones.  We get what we get.  Therefore, it's necessary for me to consider how to save money on those items and in other areas.  A list is the best way to make that happen.

  • Coupons.  I have no intention of becoming an extreme couponer.  I don't have that kind of time.  But it wouldn't hurt me at all to save the money I can by cutting the coupons available to me.

  • Vinegar.  People probably wonder how I'm saving money with vinegar, but I have an amazing answer for you.  I no longer buy clorox wipes, rinse agents for the dishwasher, kitchen cleaners, etc.  In fact, that only cleaning products I purchase outside of vinegar are Windex (so great for cleaning hardwood floors) and bathroom cleaners (I haven't found an alternative to those yet).  Vinegar is a multipurpose product that costs under a dollor for a gallon; it's cost effective.  It is safer than bleach and does a better job of cleaning (particularly when it comes to mold--not even kidding...look it up).  It's completely non-toxic for anyone who is concerned about kids--no ventilation necessary.  It gets rid of weird smells, and when it dries leaves no after-odor.  It will leave your dishes spotless, up the ante on bleach in the washer by helping whiten clothes, and will even serve as a fabric softener.  When you calculate all the money I'm saving by avoiding the products I was buying previously, you might be willing to give vinegar a shot for a month.  (I mix it with baking soda to disinfect sinks, etc.)
I'll try to revisit this topic once a month or once every other month to let you know how it's going.  I truly believe the reason most people don't budget is because the process isn't simple enough.  My question is how much simpler does it get than alloting certain amounts of cash and spending until it's gone?

Saturday, October 22, 2011

A Bit of a Restart

I don't know how I moved from posting something every day to posting something once every two weeks or so.  I guess time has gotten away from me, but, oddly enough, I've felt every second tick by.  These last few weeks have been full weeks--not in a hectic-I'm-complaining-because-I-don't-have-enough-time way.  I've just had a few events a more considerations on my plate.

  • First of all, my brother married Sheena...then they moved.  And while I have lots of fantastic things to say about their wedding (meaning I may post pictures sometime before I die), I was terribly sorry to see them leave.  It's possible to love people and be so grateful for what will very well become an epoch in their live together while mourning what will no longer be.  And that's where I am.  I miss them.  I'm so grateful for what is, and I would never want to rewind for multiple reasons, but I can't lie about the fact that I miss the way things were 5 years ago.  It's a new stage--one that's going to require me to get out of my house from time to time, because Kate is still here, and I can't see her if I hole up in my living room every night.

  • My professor told me I wasn't stupid.  Ok...that's not exactly how it went down, but I did preview the information for my presentation on Tuesday and he told me he was pleased.  I'll take it.  I'm no genius, and I'm well aware of my deficiencies in this class.  So if he's pleased, I'm ecstatic.

  • I'm so far behind on grading, I may never see the light of day again.  How do I forget every year how hectic fall semester is?  Why did I believe adding a grad class would be a good idea?  How am I SO far behind?!  Despite those questions, I'm loving this school year.  LOVING.  IT.  My students are open, honest and fun.  They are a reminder of everything that is great about education.  Sure, they occasionally forget things or blow off work.  I'm just speaking from an overall point of view.
And that's all I have for an update.  I'm not sure if I'll get better at this whole blogging things in the next week, but I'm going to make an honest effort to try.  In the meantime, pray for me.  Favorite and I are still looking for a church home, and we'd appreciate all of the encouragement you could give us.  I'm ready to put this particular journey to rest.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Letter Series: To The Parents of my Students

A former student stopped by my classroom today and I had the opportunity to laugh with him over his current college experience.  When he left, and I went to sit at my desk, I smiled to myself and thought about what my role in his life is...or was.

I've never really taken the opportunity to thank the parents of my students, but I probably should. 

Dear Parents and Guardians,

Because of you, my job is a privilege.

I don't mean that tongue in cheek at all.  My job really is a privilege.

I have the opportunity to witness some of the best parts of your teenagers' lives.  I get to giggle during homecoming, dance at prom and blink a little faster at graduation.  But those are really only the highlights.

On a daily basis, I laugh with these students.  We laugh over dating mishaps, discussions about pornography (strictly educational, I promise) and weird football nicknames.  We laugh over my inability to be graceful and their inability to filter conversation.  (Wait.  I can't filter conversation either.)  We laugh because of successes, and we manage to laugh over stupid trivia contests that never quite end the way I imagined.

I've been challenged by their views.  You may not believe it, but these students are precocious bunch.  They are concerned about your unemployment and the cost of electricity.  They know that it's necessary to clip coupons and watch the grocery bill.  They get that the current state of the economy doesn't just affect someone somewhere--it affects their families and this community.  They may not be voting or passing laws, but they are certainly interested in war and the United States' involvement in those wars.  They worry about loved ones who are deployed and whether those same loved ones will make it home. 

They are great conversationalists.  We've discussed everything from grammar issues to cancer; rhetorical devices to loss.  They are masters at navigating the classroom requirements and still manage to approach my class with a serious demeanor that leaves space for humor.  And speaking of humor?  They know how to use it.  Mostly appropriately.  And more often than not, defuse tense situations with it. 

They are conscientious, and I love them for it.
They are funny, and I love them for it.
They are attentive and interesting and honest and open to learning.  You are so privileged to have the opportunity to raise them.  I'm just grateful I get to be a player in the game, because those students change who I am and the way I approach others.  I learned to accept, push, discipline, praise and instruct because of your kid.

During a conversation with another grad student, I was faced with this question: "With all of the new requirements for high school students, will you eventually think about leaving your job to avoid the stress?"

I thought for a few seconds and then gave the response that popped into my head the moment the question was out of his mouth.

No.  I can't.  I'm all in.  I expect that from them.  And they should expect it from me. 

But mostly, I feel privileged to enjoy what is likely the best part of you.  I truly hope you recognize the perspicacious group of human beings you have on your hands.  Thanks for sharing them.