A Christmas Run: Hope, Peace, Joy, Love

This morning I woke up at 5:08 CST and couldn’t fall back to sleep. I decided to just get up, unlike yesterday when I stayed in bed for two hours trying to fall back to sleep. I went to the bathroom and weighed myself. Yep, still a fat and sassy 250 pounds.

I ambled downstairs in my running attire and found my shoes, hat, headlamp, and gloves right by the door where I left them on Sunday. Pudge, the grey cat, helped me as I laced up my shoes and visualized my run, which was going to be a very short one mile in the crisp 17º air. I love it when I walk out the door and can see my breath in the light of my headlamp. That’s the perfect way for me to start my day.

For some reason, I think I ran too close to the edge of the road; I couldn’t get good footing to go very fast, which turned out to be okay, because my lungs weren’t really happy to be doing what I asked them to do, and they immediately (this is a new thing) started spasming. Breathing got difficult really fast, when usually my asthmatic response doesn’t start until I stop running. “Well, this is a fun little adventure,” I thought to myself, so I slowed way down and took almost 17 minutes to finish that one mile.

It was a beautiful mile, so I am fine with the slowness of it, but I’d like to just be able to go out and knock out 6 or 7 miles with no problem, like I could a few years ago before I stopped running regularly, and before I let depression and Facebook control my life. This is why my one resolution is to get my life back. I want to be able to just go run. Run a trail, run the streets, or set the treadmill (gross) to a speed faster than most people walk.

On January 12, I will run my favorite race, and this year I was hoping to run the 13.1 distance instead of the 6.55, but it looks like my goal is shifting to simply completing the 6.55 in less time than it took me last year. I am still too slow to be allowed to enter the second lap of the 13.1 distance, but I will be there next year (so she has said for five years or so?). Running for me is about setting goals, and maybe achieving them, and not being too hard on myself if I don’t, because running is about joy for me.

But, let me return to the title of my post, a Christmas run.

My favorite days to run are on holidays. The town is quiet, no one is awake, and everything is darker for longer than usual. I love to run along and watch the town come alive in the morning. Since I prefer out and back routes, on the way out, every house is dark, but on the way back (on a longer than one mile route), I get to see people waking up and maybe one light is on in the house, or maybe a guy wearing a robe comes out to get the paper, or maybe I can see in the kitchen window (if it faces the road) where a woman is getting the coffee pot going.

But on holidays, especially Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day, I can run much later and everything is so still for so long, it’s almost as if I am the only person here, like that bad Twilight Zone episode “Where Is Everybody?”. During those quiet moments, I get to meditate, sending positive energy out into every house, and I get to pray silently for each person in each house, and I can feel the goodness and beauty of everyone, even if I don’t know them.

Running on Christmas is something I’ve done for probably close to 10 years, and it’s something I want to continue to do. I desire to bring hope, peace, joy, and love to each house, even silently, as I run past. And I want to experience those things for myself and be able to give myself grace as I reflect on last year and forecast into next year.

Yesterday was beautiful. Today was beautiful. Tomorrow will be beautiful.

Flip Phone: Kicking My Social Media Addiction

I just ordered my new Kyocera Cadence LTE.

I ordered a flip phone.

To replace my iPhone. 

I am not yet quite sure how I feel about it. I have turned off my iPad and my Apple Watch, and I will turn off my iPhone, once my new phone arrives in the mail. I have this weird, deep, nervous pit in my stomach, which sounds really stupid when I write it down, but it’s true. Moving from working at Apple for three years, where I had to know the newest of the newest technology to make my living, to turning off all of my Apple devices except my computer, which I need for work (I just can’t bring myself to use a Chromebook), seems like a giant leap, but I am looking forward to reclaiming my life from the depths of social media and screen addiction. 

I’ve read a couple of articles which indicate that screen addiction, particularly social media addiction, stimulates and grows similar neural pathways as opioid addiction. I believe that assessment to be true. I’ve watched people in my life struggle with other addictions, and the hold that social media and my smart devices have on me resembles the hold of various substances in their lives. I don’t say this to minimize their struggle, but simply to highlight my own struggle with the screen. 

Over the past four for five years, I have tried countless ways to kick my screen habit: setting a goal of a month without social media, just using one social medium, only checking in the morning or night, cutting usage to an hour, or even only using my computer for it. I have had zero success in beating this addiction. 

If I am honest, in the past couple of years, I’ve become even more addicted, spending sometimes three or four hours a day on my phone when I should be doing just about anything else. “I should go for a run,” or I could just edit a few more pictures. “I should sketch something,” or I could just post a couple more things here on Twitter. “I should go cook some awesome food to give to the neighbors,” or I could share a couple more articles here on Facebook. Writing? Church? Exercise? Reading? Art? Preparation for class? Spending time with friends and family? Cooking? In my mind, of late, have any of these things been as important as posting just this one more thing on social media?

After an immense amount of soul-searching and asking what would have to change for me to be content with the direction my life is taking, I recognized that I needed to kick my addiction to social media, specifically Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. I needed to stop measuring my life in likes, comments, and shares. As Theodore Roosevelt said, “Comparison is the thief of joy,” and I am tired of not being joyful, because I am continually comparing myself to others, some of whom I have never met. I have the perfect opportunity to reset my technological world this semester by buying a flip phone and leaving all of my other devices in Minnesota when I leave for Indiana here in a couple of weeks. 

What in my life will have to change as a part of this experiment?

First, I recognized pretty quickly that I will have to start paying attention to where I am going. I will not have immediate access to GPS. I will be forced to regrow the maps that used to be in my head, and to grow new ones for the new places I will go. I’ll be forced to pay attention when I go somewhere, so I can get there again. I will also need to purchase some paper maps for cities where I visit frequently, like Indianapolis. And I will need to print directions to get some places. This is a bit scary for some reason, though it never scared me when I drove to Mexico in my early twenties with no GPS and no Apple Maps. 

Second, there are many places I go every day that have mobile apps, instead of cards. I’m thinking about my daily coffee stop, where I usually show my phone instead of using cash or a card, or when I check into LA Fitness with my phone instead of the card they gave me when I first registered with them. I suppose I’ll have to figure out where to get new cards and start using more cash payments. Who knows? Maybe I’ll even save some money in this whole thing. 

Third, I rely on being able to look up everything on Google. Who is that actor? What else was she in? What is this song? What was that one painting called? Where is that building located? Who made that sculpture? What is the name of that one state park? What time does that store open? Should I go to that restaurant? What time is that movie showing? What disease do I have if I have these symptoms? How old is Ruth Bader Ginsburg? What about Betty White? I mean, I Google pretty much everything these days. You probably do too. The sad part is that I used to actually retain information, but now I just Google it. 

Fourth, and probably most important for me, I take MANY photos, and I mean many. I probably take 10-20 photos every day, but the phone I purchased has a really bad camera. And I did that on purpose. For one year, I want to be real and present in everything I do. I just want to live and experience things, and I don’t want to be the person with camera. Don’t get me wrong, taking photos brings me a great amount of joy, but when I am out with my friends and they ask me to take pictures, sometimes it’s a lot of pressure to get the right shot, to make it look good, to edit it well, to make sure everyone has the right look on their face (let’s be honest, that’s a real challenge when some of you all are involved!), to make sure you didn’t get some random person in the background, to make sure you got all of the background, to ensure the composition is pleasing to the eye, and to be the person people rely on to capture the group memories. For a year, I just want to see what I see with my eyes and keep the memories in my head. 

Lastly, group messages and T9 texting. I don’t really think I need to say anything else about this one. 

I am excited about the prospect of breaking this addiction, and I am finally in the right headspace to leave some things behind, because they aren’t serving their intended purpose in my life. As they say, I’ve hit rock bottom a few times with my mental health in regards to comparing myself with others, so I’m ready to move on.

Here’s to a beautiful 2019.

When You Shoved a Desk at Me as I Walked Past You . . .

I didn’t punch you, like any of the teachers in any of the viral videos punched their students.

I didn’t punch you, because . . .

I am an adult, and adults are here on this earth to nurture and mentor young people, to teach you who you should become as an adult, not to teach you who you shouldn’t become. If I had hit you, I wouldn’t be nurturing you or mentoring you. Most importantly, your decision-making skills will not be fully developed for another 10 years. I cannot expect you to make choices like a mentally-well adult, because you are a middle schooler.

I want, more than anything, for you to grow into a wonderful, smart, caring, kind, and loving man, not the sort of man I will read about in the headlines for doing something mean and heartless. I already had to read about a former student trying to murder his girlfriend, including some graphically sordid details that didn’t need to be in the newspaper. I don’t want to read something like that about you.

On most good days I actually enjoy my job, and I look forward to coming into a school where students, ready to learn or not, will get one little glimpse into the beauty of this world and into the theological concept of grace. My goal, each day, is to teach my students one thing that hadn’t ever thought about before.

I am a pacifist, and even if I wasn’t, I want for you to know that your first response shouldn’t be what can I do back to them, when they’ve done something wrong to you. I should model that a response can be forgiveness, love, and grace, not retribution.

I can control my initial reaction, and I can look you in the eye and tell you, “NEVER do that to me again, because a person’s first instinct is to hit back, or push back, and I don’t want you to get hurt.” I mean that. I really want you think through your actions, your words, your behavior, because I want for you to act with purpose, making good choices, not out of impulse, making poor choices.

You are a kid living with (probably significant) trauma in your life. You don’t need me to add onto that, and I probably didn’t think through this one hard enough when I got angry. Instead of talking through your actions with you and helping you to see how many other good and pure choices you could have made, I spoke harshly, punished you and your classmates who were laughing, and then made you work in silence.

I love you, even when you don’t love yourself. Even when your sole mission is to entertain the other kids in the class with behavior that is the opposite of what you know is right and good, I love you, and I want the best for you. At this point, it feels like I love you more and care about you more, than you love or care about yourself.

Spirituality

I’d be lying if I said spirituality is easy for me, but I’d also be lying if I said it didn’t matter or was difficult. My spirituality is by far the most important and integral part of my life, but it’s also one of the most complicated facets.

On my way back to coffee shop I visited yesterday, on my way back to actually complete my lesson plans for next week, I went past Taylor University, a small very conservative Christian college in Upland, Indiana. I am not a fan of their theology or their ridiculous set of strict rules, but I do feel like many of my favorite people in this world have gone there and gotten out relatively unscathed. Some of them seem to have even learned a thing or along the way. Taylor is also a somewhat rivalry of my theological alma mater, Anderson University, an equally conservative and rule-ridiculous college about 45 minutes away.

Anyway, I bring up Taylor University because my spirituality these days is heavily influenced by Jesus and Buddha, but not by any official church or religion. I pray, I meditate, I try to be kind and compassionate. Some days are more successful than others, but I haven’t been to an actual church service, except for watching my grandchildren be baptized, for about two years, I’d say. This is not because I don’t find it valuable—the Episcopal Church has my organized religion heart—but I just find that I can practice my spiritual pretty much anywhere. If I am not careful, I am moved to spiritual tears by pretty much anything.

Back to this morning—all these asides make my head spin, but that’s just how my brain works—when I drove past Taylor Lake on my way to some of the most beautiful scenery in East Central Indiana, a road that, when I was in high school, people called Devil’s Backbone, ironic because of TU being right there, I had a feeling in my gut that was so familiar.

If you know my story, you know I was baptized at a very young age, maybe 6, after accepting Jesus into my heart in an old, brown recliner chair where I prayed the Sinner’s Prayer with my mom one night before bed time. If you know my story even better, you know that I by no means believe that is how a conversion experience works, or that we maybe don’t even need conversion, because we are all good and pure and beautiful on the inside anyway, but that is how it happened for me at 4, 5, or 6.

As I drove past TU this morning with a beautiful pink sunrise and the fall leaves reflecting on the smooth water of the lake, I was transported back to 40 years ago when I wore a little white sundress and waded into a cold, slightly mucky, and very weedy, Taylor Lake to make a public profession of the faith that was shaping me. I waded in to the water, said I confessed my sins, promised to live a good life, and then I was under the water, looking up through a blur into the sunlight above the water.

As I drove past that lake this morning, my heart moved, my spirit stirred, I began to cry, and I wondered when everything in this world got so unbeautiful and so difficult and so mean. I wished I could go back and see the world through the water into the sun, weeds wrapped around my little ankles, safe in a feeling that everything would be alright.

Situational Paralysis: Make a Good Plan

While I am visiting my parents this weekend, I came here to Gas City to a Starbucks, where I worked during graduate school which seems like ages ago now, to work on lesson plans for school next week. The school corporation where I work uses a system called PAR to evaluate all new teachers and also struggling teachers who have been teaching for a while.

I value this system, because every teacher should have other teachers observe them, and every teacher has room to grow and learn, which is facilitated well by conversations with a good, mentor teacher (I am lucky, mine is fabulous). Conversely I dislike this system, because it requires me to write formal lesson plans every weekend for every period for every class, and sometimes I just want my students to work on a project for a few days, but I don’t know how, in a formal lesson plan, to adequately express where I will be and what I will be doing for those days.

And sometimes, let’s be real, formal lesson plans seem like one more thing when you have a general trajectory for your students’ lessons, like they are taking time away from making the lesson happen, doing a bit of extra preparation for your students, grading their work and making meaningful comments, and all those things that really make a difference.

But, in American culture, what are we without a plan? We start planning our kids’ lives from before the time they are even conceived. We tracks students by their achievements from the time they are in preschool. We guide students forward on their trajectories all through elementary, leaving brown, black, female, financially poor, and queer kids at the margins (if you don’t believe me, a simple google search will prove my point; there are countless scholarly articles that speak to these issues as well). These groups spend far more time out of class, in the principal’s office, in the nurses office, and out of school for behavior or absences, and frequently they are left behind.

We start seriously asking students what are their plans for their futures in seventh grade (I’m 44 and I still don’t have a solid plan), but those same groups of kids (the marginalized) are largely at a loss for guidance as papers (lessons and punishments) are pushed their direction, sometimes in languages they and their parents cannot speak or read, sometimes for opportunities they and their parents do not understand, and sometimes with the lens of a cultural structure into which they do not fit. Twenty-first Century Scholars in Indiana, for example, must be applied for by the end of 8th grade, so students and their parents have to choose to go to college by the young age of 12-14. If they miss the 8th-grade deadline, there is no second chance.

So, yes, plans matter in the USA. And your plan had better be a good one, the right one. As a teacher, my plan had better be a good one, the right one. No pressure.