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.
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.
I stood in the cafeteria entrance with a permagrin on my face. “Welcome to lunch!” I crowed , pointing dazed Moms and Nikon-laden Dads towards the shredded beef sandwiches, and jittery students towards the pizza counter. I was one of the “lunch greeters”, welcoming new students to their first official meal on Cornerstone’s campus after a morning of moving boxes into dorm rooms.
It took me back…way back to 1995, when my parents dropped me off at school. I missed out on new student arrival day, because I came early with the other fall athletes. It was a bit rough for a girl eight long hours from home. I remember passing out in my dorm’s loft in between grueling two-a-days, feeling desperately homesick, and shedding more than a few tears. When the rest of the students arrived, things didn’t get much better. I was still one of the “new kids”, so I clearly recognized that mixture of dread, excitement, and uncertainty in the eyes of some of the students heading towards the trays of brownies.
Thankfully, my memories didn’t stop there; I also remembered what happened over the next few weeks and months. Time passed. I quit volleyball and started playing soccer. I figured out what meals were worth eating. I adapted to college life. I thrived.
They will too.
I’m a “new kid” again this fall, right back on the campus where it all started. And while my mid-thirties sensibilities might keep me from crying into my pillow like I did as a freshman, I can’t ignore the uncomfortable feeling in the pit of my stomach. I have been trying to ignore it, pretend that it isn’t a big deal, but as I watched the new students file past me, I realized that I needed to accept it to be able to move forward. Accept that I’m going to be jittery and distracted while I figure it all out. Realize that I might wake up with a sore jaw for a while as I grind my teeth through the night. Tell the people that I love how I’m feeling instead of just barreling through it on my own.
Change may come easier now that I’m older, but it is still a change. It is uncomfortable and challenging, but time will pass, and we will all adapt…the students…and me. It might take a few big plates of pizza and lemon bars, but we will figure it out.
We’re back on campus…ready or not.
If I had been able to afford Houghton College, I would have never attended Cornerstone College, eight hours from my family.
If I had lost the election for student body secretary, I would have never gotten to know Ben, my future husband.
If I had skipped the trip to the job fair in Lansing, I would have never gotten an interview at Old Kent Bank.
If my boss had not taken a chance on me as an untested corporate trainer, I would have never found out how much I enjoy teaching.
If I had not taken the severance package from Old Kent, I would have never finished my masters degree so quickly.
If I had lost contact with my Cornerstone professors, I would have never known about an adjunct position when I wanted to work part-time.
If I had not taken a few years off from adjunct teaching, I would have never worked at Ben’s firm and started Mom Colored Glasses.
If I had not decided to teach again last fall, I would have never known about the faculty opening in the business department.
If I had lost my nerve to apply, I would have never gotten the job at Cornerstone.
I look at these moments, and the difficult stands out just as much as the good. I remember the loneliness of being far from home, the disquieting feeling of being laid off, the extra school loan payment every month, the last minute calls to teach a course, the pain of leaving a job I loved, the fear of the unknown, the restlessness of the “in-between”, the wait for a phone call…they all ring in my ears in a chaotic disharmony.
But then, somehow, the notes start to sort themselves out, and a melody emerges, strong and true. It’s my melody, one that sings of learning to trust God when things seem bleak and of finding the sweet spot where my experience and gifts collide. I love my melody, both the stanzas that trip all over themselves with excitement, and the rumbling passages that repeat over and over with frustration and fatigue. It is in the contrast that makes life interesting. It is in the contrast that we find out who we truly are.
This next movement? I’m not sure what it is going to sound like, except it is going to be very different. I haven’t worked full time in nine years, and I have never worked as a full time professor before. Add to that the prospect of starting my doctorate in the next year, and it is very clear to me that the beat of our family life is going to change in very real ways. I’m thrilled…and terrified at the same time. Change is never easy, and I just hope that I have dug out enough of the dirt beneath my feet to stay grounded in what my family needs and that I can keep trusting God to take care of the long view…the completed symphony…while I focus on the next stanza.
I have spent almost every waking moment this week buried in the books and materials for the J-Term class I am in the middle of teaching. One of the textbooks is a book by John C. Maxwell called Many Communicate, Few Connect, and I’m really digging it…as a communicator, as a parent, and as a Christian. However, being in the thick of teaching right now, I find myself applying what he says to how I communicate in the classroom, and there was a passage that I had to underline…twice. Here are my thoughts…
The past month or so has blown by in a blur of holiday gatherings, final exams, cookie making, and plenty of “nose to the grindstone” stuff”. As I barrel through my days, I find myself ticking things off my list and striding forward with barely a backward glance, which always gives me a distinct sense of satisfaction. Check…check…and double check.
It’s the journey, and frequently I find myself somewhere in the thick of it, traveling along and grinding it out. In theory, this sense of immediacy is a good thing, but it can also hinder my view of the past or future. Focus? Yes. Perspective? Not always.
But as I look at my rumpled to-do list, it gives me pause. Each one of those scribbled-out tasks left an distinct mark on me this last few months, and it is good to stop and pay attention. Tasks like…
Submit Final Grades. I stood in front of my class at the end of the semester, and could barely choke back the tears as I thanked them for the opportunity to spend time with them for 14 weeks. When I agreed to teach the class, I wasn’t at all sure about my decision. I honestly didn’t think I would ever find myself back at Cornerstone, and here I was, trying to shake off the lingering feelings of burnout that had followed me since I took a break from teaching a few years ago. But I decided that I was going to pay attention to the “reason”, and I did. My “break” had freed me from the stress of perfectionism and had given me a renewed focus to paying attention to what my students needed…right then. They learned a few things from me, but I think I learned much more from them. Complete survey for The New Testament Challenge. I finished reading the New Testament from start to finish for the very first time this fall, thanks to an eight week program through our church. It was definitely “challenging”, but the impact of being in the Word every day was more powerful than I could have imagined. I usually read or study the Bible in small chunks, so I loved being able to see in broad strokes what it looks like to be a Christ-follower. Loving extravagantly, speaking Truth, giving generously, and using my gifts to serve the community of believers…all things that popped off the pages in very real ways this fall. I can only pray that I continue to water and weed the transformational change that began to take root in my heart this fall and allow it to produce life-affirming fruit. I want to be like Christ, and being in the Word is a big part of that. Buy beef tenderloin. After a personal cooking lesson in early December (which deserves its very own post), I found myself buying groceries to host the firm Christmas party at our home last weekend. I was trying to be nonchalant about it, but I was honestly pretty terrified. One of the “mantras” my instructor kept telling me was “Don’t be afraid, Rachel”, and I needed that tattooed on the inside of my eyelids it as I picked out meat, prepped dishes that were way out of my wheelhouse, and cooked up a huge pot of risotto while our dinner guests lounged around the kitchen. Just a tad bit intimidating, don’t you think? The party was a success, even with my slightly undercooked risotto (yes, it’s true), and as Ben and I cleaned up the kitchen, I was so thankful for all of the entertaining we have been able to do since we moved in. I love having our home full of laughter and conversation, and it felt good to share with others. Pre-register for the winter Hello Mornings Challenge: Earlier this summer, I jumped into an online accountability group that checks in on Facebook in the mornings to share what they are learning in their devotions. Honestly, I did it on a whim, but 12 weeks later, I felt such a kinship with these girls that live all over the Eastern Time Zone…from Panama to Alabama to Canada. When it ended, and we had to decide whether to continue, it was hardly a question. We were all in. Recently, one of the girls went through an incredibly difficult situation, and I sat in front of my computer crying for her, this girl I felt such a kinship with, even though we had never met. You can say what you want about technology, but there are so many amazing ways that it can be used for good…and this has been a Spirit-led movement in my life. Make sheep costume. Madi was asked to be a sheep in her Christmas program, which meant that I had to construct some semblance of a costume. I don’t sew…I’m not an especially astute crafter…which meant that we ended up wandering around Hobby Lobby with an image of a costume pulled up on my cell phone trying to find felt, polyfill, and fluffy pipe cleaners. Did it turn out? We managed. She did leave a trail of polyfill in her wake, and her ears were a bit precarious. But if anything, it certainly humbled me. I really didn’t know if her costume was going to stay together, and that was hard. Lesson learned…next time, I need to outsource. Train for a 10k. Notice it doesn’t say “run a 10k”. I trained with my neighbor, because she was planning on running a 10k at Thanksgiving. I, on the other hand, didn’t have a race lined up. Still don’t, in fact. But strangely enough, I still had a tremendous sense of accomplishment when we hit our six mile run length, and didn’t pass out afterwards. It helps to have a good running partner, one that will always get out of bed to run at 5:45 and will say, “Let’s run the four mile route this morning”, even when it’s raining. That’s the kind of running partner you need. Better than that, though, is the friendship that that has been forged during the miles running up and down the streets of our neighborhood. Talking about everything and nothing…kids and family and jobs and history…it’s something that I don’t want to give up, even though the mornings are getting a bit colder. Finish writing today’s post. This seems to make it on my list almost every day, to be either starting or finishing a post for Mom Colored Glasses or here. I love doing it, but there never seems to be enough time to write…keep up with emails…get our name to the right PR people…build our audience…all squeezed in-between the rest of my life. Some days it feels overwhelming, but then there are other days, when we are able to send a $100 gift card to someone that really needs it or write about something that is close to my heart or have a conversation with a friend about something I wrote…those moments continue to make it worth it. Writing is the quiet that centers me…the perspective that so often eludes me…and the connection that I so desperately need.
The last couple of months have been good for me. Not simple and not easy, but definitely a time of growth, discipline, and rediscovery. And truthfully, it is only as I look back that I can see how my path wove and intersected in just the perfect way.
I can’t wait to see what the next few months have in store.