As I was preparing to teach Project Management this semester, I kept getting stuck on the “team project”. I had a very elaborate hypothetical project that had been used for the class in the past, with handouts and presentations and outcome descriptions, but I just couldn’t bring myself to use it. It was “perfect” in a boring sort of way, and I knew that if it didn’t thrill me, it sure wasn’t going to inspire my students.
Then I got an email from Carrie Hill, who runs Shaddai Ministries here in the States and has a long standing relationship with Light Africa Academy in Uganda. She is working on bringing over the Amani Children’s Choir, a group of 20 Ugandan students, who were planning to tour for six months starting in May, and we started to talk about some of the ways we could create projects to help them with some of the tour planning tasks. Designing a website, setting up social media sites, compiling marketing and sponsorship materials, creating host church informational packets, tracking down backpacks full of clothes and goodies for the kids, coordinating craft sales at the concerts….the list was full of tasks that we could do as part of this semester.
It was the perfect fit. We were going to be able to do “real work” and help Carrie and these kids with their very tangible needs. Yes, it was going to be a lot of work…we were all going to have to step it up and get the work done, both from an educational and project standpoint, amidst changes and issues and other competing priorities. But that’s what the real world is all about, right?
The tour’s goal is to raise money to fund a few projects in Uganda. A water pump for a village that currently has to carry their daily water up the hill by hand…a girls dorm for the Light Africa Academy so the girls don’t have to walk four miles home through the slums of Kampala…and more space for a Christian preschool that has 500+ kids ages 2 – 4.
It is an amazing opportunity for all of us. The kids, my students, myself…we all get a chance to use our skills to serve. We are a few weeks into our semester and it has been really cool to see how my students are jumping into the project. They are creative, innovative, and energetic….and these kids? Well, they are simply inspirational.
I started the year, as I do every year, with great intentions. Usually this plan germinates during Christmas break, when I find myself out of my routine with extra time on my hands. If I was smart (and obviously, I am not), I would use Christmas break to get a head start on everything I want to do in January, but usually, I am so drop-dead exhausted from the frantic pace of December that I just veg out and eat piles of cookies. This year, I think I ate at least two dozen gingerbread cookies over the span of five days.
Back to my good intentions.
My plan all revolved around one word – “Focus”. I started a YouVersion plan to read through the Bible in one year, I bought a book called “Focus” (it was the obvious choice), and I started contemplating what else I could do to demonstrate my ability to focus…like watching television without my laptop open.
Ben was skeptical. In fact, when I told him my “word”, he looked at me and said that focus is probably the last word he would use to describe me.
Ouch. Was I really that obviously scattered and distracted?
But then J-term started, my Focus book got buried under a pile of mail, and the decongestant I was on for my sinus infection made me too drowsy to even look at my YouVersion app, let alone stay awake long enough to read it. I began to think that Ben was right, and that I chose too lofty a goal for myself. Why didn’t I choose the word “multi-task” for the year or maybe “overcommit”? I’m already good at those things!
I decided to look up the definition, something I should have done at the beginning of the year. There were plenty of definitions, but the one I liked the best was, “To direct toward a particular point or purpose”. Hmmm….
Maybe I was going about it all wrong. I thought that I needed to pick tasks that demanded focus, but perhaps it was more about choosing activities that point me towards my “particular point or purpose” and getting rid of what doesn’t fit? It sounds great, until I try and narrow down my purpose down to just one point. I really just want to keep doing everything and be everything to everybody, just be better at it. It’s my kryptonite.
What I really need is to narrow my vision, sharpen my focus, and head in one direction, not 75. I’ll be honest; I don’t know how to do that very well. Ben’s right. It’s just not my thing.
I guess I have 11 more months to figure it out.
I trudged into Meijer, head down against the wind, holding tightly to the plastic bag full of mail in my hand. With all of the snow and wind, I was probably only one of a dozen people in the store at 7:30 a.m., so I was able to walk right up to the service desk and plop my envelopes on the counter. Survey for Parker’s neurologist, belated thank you notes, tax consent forms for MCG, bills, and a large white envelope addressed to the DBA program director at Anderson University.
Swallowing hard, I filled out the Priority mailing label, slid my application inside, and “pressed firmly to close” before handing it to the cashier. I guess I was applying to graduate school after all, with just a few days to spare before the deadline.
It was odd. I felt strangely calm, in contrast to the hot mess I was a week ago, when I completely melted down, sobbing to Ben that this was obviously a very bad idea for our family, my peace of mind, and my ability to participate in anything fun for the next five years of my life. I may also have been hormonally crazy-wacked-out and on a strong decongestant/antibiotic cocktail, so that may have had something to do with my mental instability, but I was not feeling confident…AT ALL. Ben was oh-so-practical and calm, telling me to snap out of it. (Okay, he didn’t say that exactly, he was much more encouraging, but in my crazed mind, it sounded like that.)
But somehow, I did snap out of it and and re-wrote my essays over the past week, paper clipping the final draft to my application. In my essays, I talk about how my career path has brought me to this place to pursue my doctorate degree, and how I can and will bring a unique perspective to the program. It sounds pretty good on paper, and as I wrote, it reminded me of all the crazy pit stops and detours in my career that uniquely prepared me to be at this place at this time in my life.
Deciding to take a chance and post for a Training Consultant position at Old Kent Mortgage Company.
Getting the job and realizing that I really liked this teaching thing.
Losing my job right in the middle of my Masters program, which meant I didn’t have to repay a huge portion of my tuition or stay for extra years after I finished.
Staying connected to my professors at Cornerstone that got me into adjunct teaching.
Expanding my perspective and skill set with blogging…and marketing.
Taking a chance and applying for a professor job at Cornerstone.
And now I am here…a true example of a jungle gym career path, looking ahead at a blind corner, and not knowing what’s around the bend. I still think it’s going to resemble a knock-down, drag-out version of Survivor around here if I actually get accepted. Free time is overrated, right?
I guess we will figure that out when (and if) the time comes. And if I don’t get in this year…we will figure that out too. That’s what we do, right? We move forward, try new things, succeed sometimes, fail sometimes, melt down, pull ourselves together, and move forward again.
And then we buy ourselves a donut….which is what I did after leaving the service counter. Hard things are always tempered by sweet, empty calories, so it seemed like the right thing to do at the time.
At lunch today, a friend and I were talking about this and that, about my abysmal math abilities and how we divvy up household chores with our husbands, when the topic of bedtimes came up. Her kids are older – 9 and 11 – and her husband is in charge of making sure they get to bed without any technology and before 10:30 pm.
“I don’t know how I am going to deal with later bedtimes”, I said, “because I really look forward to a little quiet before the end of the night.”
And I do. The kids go to bed, we pick up the rest of the mess, and settle in to read or watch tv or do some work. I feel like I am “off the clock”, without anyone clamoring for snacks or attention.
But then she went on to say that since they are older, they spend their time mostly in their rooms, working on homework or reading, and many times they want to be alone, not hang out with their parents.
We laughed about how kids change and moved on to another topic, but it stuck in my head all day. I know intellectually that as the kids get older, our relationship is going to change, but when I start to think about it practically, I get a little sick to my stomach. Will they really want to hide away? Will they start thinking of me as their “out of touch mother who doesn’t understand”?
I am not ready for that. I don’t know if I will ever be ready for that. How can you?
So instead of rushing the kids to bed tonight so I could collapse on the couch, I listened to Madi’s plans for her compound machine made out of foam and Popsicle sticks. I let Parker and Fiona jump on Ben, tickling and giggling, for a few extra minutes before calling it a night. I read Curious George Makes Pancakes to Fiona even though it was late, and snuggled up with her and her four blankies until she fell asleep.
This time is so short – where they want my help and they let me give them piles of kisses (as long as I’m not wearing lip gloss).
I need to remember that. Every day and twice on Thursdays.
We all sat in the cramped examining room, waiting for the pediatric neurologist to rap on the door. Madi was reading, Fiona was bouncing between Ben and I, and Parker lay in a fetal position in the elevated examining chair, cupping his right eye. He had come down with a migraine in the elevator and it was getting worse by the minute.
The doctor came in, a young guy, and ran us through the typical list of questions. Allergies, surgeries, sicknesses, asthma, frequency, symptoms, possible triggers, and we answered the best we could. He tried to ask Parker questions too, but he had started to shut down from the pain, and his answers were groggy at best. He aced his neurologic exam though, and avoided puking in the pink bedpan they brought in “just in case”.
By the end of the appointment, the doctor agreed with our pediatrician that they were almost certainly “just” migraines. We have the family history, he has all four of the symptoms that identify them as migraines, and everything else from a neurological standpoint checked out okay. It was good, a confirmation that nothing is seriously awry, and we left with concrete steps for helping him manage the frequency and the severity.
But as I held his limp body over a snowbank on the way home so he could puke up his dinner, I couldn’t help but feel frustrated. There’s no “solution”, no “cure all” for migraines. I’ve seen more than my share of “fixes”, growing up with a mom who still suffers from debilitating migraines. I know full well how to tuck comforters over the curtains to black out the room, fill trash cans with extra plastic bag liners, and set glasses of cool water on the nightstand. I recognize that helpless feeling when all you can do is gently brush their hair off their forehead and put another blanket on the bed.
It is incredibly difficult when it is your mom; it is gut-wrenching when it is your six year old son.
We made it home and I tucked him in with a trash can and a water bottle by his bed. I smoothed back his hair, and whispered that I loved him. He mumbled something back, and started to drift off to sleep. I sat there for a moment, wishing that I could rip the pain right out of his head and stuff it into mine. You try so hard as a parent to smooth the path in front of your kids, like an Olympian curler furiously sweeping the ice in front of the puck, but you can’t get rid of all the bumps in their way. They still might be bullied on the playground or struggle with reading or get dumped by their girlfriend or not make the team or get in an accident or suffer with chronic pain. You can’t protect them from everything, no matter how hard you try, and I have a hard time reconciling that as truth.
So we will document and we will try medications and we will track down triggers and I will hold his head over the toilet when he throws up…and I will be thankful that it isn’t any of the big, scary things that many kids have to suffer through…
But for tonight, all I could do was hold his hand until he fell asleep….and pray that tomorrow would be better.
My teeth hurt from my sinus infection, my ear is pulsing, and I can’t stay awake without the television on and a laptop in front of me.
I yell at my kids when I’m frustrated, and then get frustrated when they yell at each other, even though they are probably just copying me.
I have friends that I have all but ignored for months, e-mails that have been buried by junk mail, thank you notes that sit unwritten, even a sympathy card that is addressed, stamped, and sits un-mailed on the counter.
I have piles of outgrown clothes in the basement that needs to be sorted, salt-covered snowpants that need to be washed, and vegetable drawers in my fridge that need to be cleaned.
I started a read through the Bible plan on January 1st, and I’m already behind at least six days, my wallet is jammed full of ragged Christmas present receipts and I am entirely unprepared for the semester to start next week.
My treadmill sits lonely in the basement, my running partner and I disbanded because I couldn’t get my butt out of bed to run, and I’m not even sure if I could run around the cul-de-sac.
We learned the wrong words for the spelling bee, so Madi was completely unprepared, Parker forgot show-and-tell for yet another week, I think I lost half of Parker’s decodables that he was supposed to read…and the quarter ended today.
I feel guilty for putting the kids in after school care, so I end up taking the kids to Burger King for milkshakes at least once a week…sometimes twice….and then we get home, and I let them watch way more television than they should instead of doing chores around the house to help me out.
My word for the year was going to be “focus” (even bought a book about it), but I can’t seem to focus on anything. I’m distracted by the undone tasks and the mind-numbing television, and the urgent…always the urgent.
I was about two days ahead of myself, and then I got sick, and now I’m about two days behind, and I’m not quite sure how I will ever catch up.
How can I fit a doctorate program into this life that is ripping at the seams already? It seems laughable to believe that my life could get any more messy, and it seems selfish that I would ask my family to suffer the consequences.
I didn’t realize how much I relied on the interactions with friends and at Bible study during the day to help me cope, and now life is so different. I’m still finding my way at work – trying to build relationships – trying to figure out where I fit – trying to keep up with the workload – and it’s been hard. Relationships take so long. Too long.
I’m not normally a glass half empty kind of person, and even now, I find myself trying to find the counterpoint. The hope. The blessings. But for today, and maybe just for today, it’s being swallowed whole.
I’m tired, and sick, and my urgent list is too long.
I’m crying mercy. I give.
Over the last couple of years, I have been tracking along with the (in)courage community, both because of the beautiful God-centered writing and the amazing projects that they have participated in. One of the connections they have developed is with the Mercy House in Kenya. Formed in 2010 by Kristen Welch, the blogger who writes at We Are THAT Family, and Maureen, a Compassion International graduate, the Mercy House facility helps support teen moms and their babies by giving them the education, nutrition, housing, prenatal care, Bible study, counseling and job skills they need for sustainable living.
So, the (in)courage community is banding together to give these girls five special gifts for Christmas this year, including a new van, generator, computer lab, additional classroom space, and another living space. I’m going to be specifically advocating for Phase 4, a computer lab for Mercy House, and will be back in November to talk more about it, but until then, you can visit the website for the (in)mercy project, and track the project’s funding progress in the sidebar!
I love the idea of equipping this ministry to do their work by giving them very tangible gifts. Don’t you?
Check out (in)mercy here!
I palmed my phone and tried to stifle a grin as I walked into chapel for my first university convocation as a faculty member. I had promised Ben that I would take a picture, so I tried to be inconspicuous as I snuck a few.
It was a new perspective on this annual ritual, from my view from the fourth row. Surrounded by who are now my peers, I sang and intoned and applauded as we followed the program notes. Prayer. Hymn. Stand. Sit. Listen.
And then, at the very end, we stood and read aloud the Cornerstone Covenant, an affirmation designed to unite us as a community. A room of voices raised to show our commitment to common actions and attitudes. Maturity. Peace. Joy. Wisdom.
There is a reason why we say things out loud. Marriage vows. Child dedication services. The Pledge of Allegiance. Corporate worship. It transforms a private belief into a public proclamation, adding weight to important words by giving them shape and sound. It is why I cried on my wedding day and why I often find myself teary-eyed when I pay attention to the words I sing on Sunday mornings. But on this Wednesday, a document was transformed from words on a screen to a living promise as it was spoken by the students, faculty, and staff. I found myself standing a bit straighter as I read the Faculty Affirmation:
“As faculty we will advance the presence of Christ in our community by honoring those with whom we serve.
We will seek the best for our students by modeling Christ before them, challenging them to excel and treating
them with respect. In our disciplines we will continually grow in knowledge and wisdom, and seek to nurture
those qualities in our students.”
Yes. I affirm.