Talking her off the ledge

With my friend Amy, sophomore year of college

With my friend Amy, sophomore year of college

I remember the first semester of my freshman year of college. After a whirlwind week full of orientation activities, including dances, parties, receptions, matriculation, and workshops, I settled into my tiny dorm room with my roommate who had a real love for brewing beer and listening to opera music. I wanted to make friends, do well in my classes, work part-time to pay for necessities, and spend time with my boyfriend. But finding the time to do it all was difficult. Ultimately, I spent most of my first semester holed up in my dorm room or a study room on campus, cramming and memorizing and reading and writing. Having graduated from a less than stellar itsy bitsy high school, I knew I had a learning curve if I planned on maintaining a good GPA at the difficult, private, liberal arts college I’d selected to attend.

I couldn’t find the mean between extremes my first semester. I made all A’s, but I didn’t meet many new people. I didn’t have much time to relax. I don’t even recall going to many events on campus or watching a movie.

Second semester was a different story. The pendulum swung back toward the middle. I hung out with people on the weekends. I danced my heart out. I made friends with new people, sat around doing nothing in the quad but eating apples and watching grass grow, and skipped class a few times. I still kept my grades up, but I stopped obsessing about having a perfect GPA. I just lived my life as a college student and enjoyed it.

This morning I talked to my favorite college freshman. I heard my 18 year-old self in her desperate voice, trying to balance work, campus life, friends, family, and course work. I remembered the overwhelming feeling of having too much to do and never enough time to do it. I remembered the constant stress of feeling that my life could not possibly get busier.

This morning while my 9 month-old baby napped, I shared a little of what I have learned about balance, eating the elephant one bite at a time, making a budget and living below my means, learning to ask for help when it’s needed, prioritizing long-term educational success over short-term employment, lowering expectations, and making new friends.

But I tried to bite my tongue, too.

My experience has taught me that advice is ample. Ultimately, though, the lessons I have learned were learned by doing, not listening or talking. “Show, don’t tell” is not just a great writing tip I procured from Dr. Tebbetts in Advanced Composition. It’s a way of life.

Talking to someone who really listens is good. Praying with someone who loves you and lets you fall helplessly into the arms of a loving God is priceless.

Sometimes talking someone off the ledge doesn’t require many words.

Just outstretched hands.

Learning to teach

A wise woman named Mauzelle who managed the Arkansas Methodist Church archives at Hendrix University once told me, as she tried to share her lunch with me while I researched Methodist women in the Ozarks, that she loves history and wants to do everything she can to preserve it.

“It’s so important, you see, because we are who they were.”

Bethany the professor!

Bethany the professor!

That rings true in my life in many ways. Lately, as I prepare to teach two courses on the college level for the first time, I have caught myself reminiscing about the teachers I remember most, teachers who made a difference in my life, either because of their great teaching abilities or because of their huge capacity to serve and care for students.

I’m thankful for Ms. Prim. In kindergarten she spent what seemed like forever unbraiding my hair while I sobbed uncontrollably one morning after begging my mom to fix my hair like Princess Leia. When I got to school and realized that none of the other girls looked like Princess Leia, I was mortified. Ms. Prim didn’t ask any questions. She just soothed my insecurities and gave me chocolate milk in a carton and graham crackers.

I’m thankful for Mr. Ward who took the time and effort to gather worms and crickets so that in fifth grade, when all things gross are very cool, we had the chance to eat cricket pizza and worm cookies. He made science more fascinating, fun, and whimsical. And I’m thankful for Mr. Smith, one of my high school science teachers, who had a true gift for explaining the most intricate theories in dummy terms. From him, I learned that I will earn my students’ respect not by being their buddy but by being a good teacher.

I’m thankful for Ms. Walters who had an infinite amount of patience with me as I struggled to make an “A” in algebra in eighth grade. I still don’t love math, but I remember that in her class, it wasn’t so bad. She helped me to understand that I can’t infuse my passion for my field into the heart of every single student, but I can certainly equip them to be better writers.

Maggie, in 2012, with the book Mr. Tilley gave to me in 2004

Maggie, in 2012, with the book Mr. Tilley gave to me in 2004

I’m thankful for Mr. Tilley who tolerated my huge crush on him. He was nearing retirement when I had him in class in 7th grade, but I just loved that man. He was dignified, smart, had a Grizzly Adams beard, and collected antiques. What could be cooler than that? When I realized that the antique children’s book I’d chosen to use as a prop in Maggie’s newborn photos was the book he’d given me when I visited him several years after graduating from high school, I cried. Mr. Tilley helped me to understand that being a good person is even more important than being a good teacher. He’s the kind of person I’ll never forget.

And that’s not even half of them.

I could spend hours writing a gratitude list solely pertaining to the educators in my life.

Instead, I think I’ll go work on my own courses. I have some teaching to do.

The life I always wanted

So thankful for this life.

Just wheat

 

Tuesday didn’t seem extraordinary in any way.

I woke up to the sound of my baby calling for Daddy. I chugged coffee while feeding her in an effort to re-energize. I read Maggie her “good morning” book and then sat on the porch with her before nap time, thanking God for the birds, the sky, the grass, and all the other components of creation sprawled out before us in our beautiful middle-of-nowhere spot. I checked email, scheduled appointments, and worked on my course syllabus during Maggie’s nap time. I reluctantly removed my pajamas in favor of real clothing since I had appointments to make and errands to run. I visited with the eye doctor and learned that I didn’t need to see a specialist after all. And I ended the day by sharing experience, strength, and hope with some friends.

As I pulled into the driveway that evening, I…

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One teacher makes a difference

*Big thanks to my friend Henry Petty for sharing his gratitude for his sixth grade teacher with us–and thanks to all educators who make a difference in the lives of students today. Stay tuned for other “back to school” posts.*

Henry with Mrs. and Mr. Elumbaugh

Henry with Mrs. and Mr. Elumbaugh

I can count on one hand the number of teachers who really inspired me and left an impact, and this spans from high school through college. Let me tell you about Mrs. Margaret Elumbaugh.

She was Mrs. Beard when school started. I can remember she had this poster up of a drawing of somebody wearing a beard, and that was her. She was the kindest person to me at a time when I was so very vulnerable. I was wearing tattered clothes in a scholastic melting pot of characters: the rich kids mixed with 2 oz. of po-po kids (poor). She and Mrs. Bently were the ultimate tag team of teachers. They genuinely cared about their students, and you could tell.

I can remember being a very unpopular kid in school; I never got my haircut because my grandma cut it for me, and it hurt really bad. And she cut it holding a bowl over my head, hence the “bowl cut.” People spat on me, called me “wet back” because the naïve students thought I was Hispanic (I’m Filipino, dummy), and made fun of me for my hand-me-down-from-a-yardsale clothes. My life was a nightmare. And that was during recess.

But she treated me just like the other students. She didn’t care; she had love in her heart. She would have this giant bag of Jolly Ranchers to give the good kids for doing..well.. good :). I always enjoyed Mondays because she recounted the weekend excursion to Little Rock which she and “Bubby,” her husband at the time, would take. Or she would tell us about some movie they went out to see. I was too poor to see a movie, much less make the scary trip all the way to Little Rock from Batesville, so this was like storytime and show-and-tell for me. I now live five minutes away from the very mall she talked about going to, and when I’m walking around, she comes to mind.

She inspired me to do more with my life. She convinced me that I was special just like any other kid, that I was a good-hearted person with lots to give to the world. When I tried to be someone I wasn’t, she called me out on it. I started walking down the hallway with a “limp” because I saw somebody do it on Arsenio Hall, and she looked at me and said,”Don’t do that.”

I was arguably the poorest kid in her class, very shy, and as unpopular as orange juice after brushing your teeth. I was bullied often, made fun of on a daily basis either for my clothes or darker skin. On the day of our Christmas presentation, I completely forgot my line and was feeling crummy about it. I got back to my desk and found a giant artbook with color pencils and magic markers. She had gotten those for me as a gift because she always saw me drawing. She nurtured that gift which eventually led to my love of entertaining and doing YouTube videos. Thank you, Mrs. Elumbaugh. I never forgot.

The cart before the horse

Raised in the Southern Baptist church, I can sing the lyrics to “Trust and Obey” by John H. Sammis by heart with the best of ’em. I have hummed the hymn for years, summing up the meaning in a juvenile way–I just need to listen to God and do what He says because it’s the right thing to do.

Well, yes. But…

I lived all of my adult life under the premise of “I believe in God, but I don’t quite trust Him to handle everything.” I served as my own God. I was the manager of my life. I was driving the bus, and God was relegated to the seat WAAAAY in the back. I prayed, but my prayers were simply orders. “Dear God, you say to ‘ask and ye shall receive,’ so I’m asking that you would do X, Y, and Z.” My requests weren’t founded in faith. They were based on my near-sighted needs and wants and my sheer brilliance in knowing what was right for everybody else, too. Surely God appreciated my assistance.
cart horseTurns out, as I discovered while going through a real soul-searching process, I didn’t really believe God. If I did, I would have been able to trust Him all along. I wouldn’t have placed orders with Him. I would have focused more on our relationship than on my own worries, expectations, fears, and failures.
Thankfully, I have learned (the hard way, I guess) that “trusting and obeying,” as the hymn goes, does not work for me. In this case, putting the cart before the horse is the only way I get it done.
What works is to take action in spite of my feelings—to obey even when I don’t feel sure that I can trust God at all. If I obey Him, in spite of my own worries, fears, and doubts, He comes through for me. I feel more grounded in my faith when I obey Him. I gain confidence in Who He Is because He does what He says He will do.
This builds my trust.
Then I’m more likely to obey the next time I’m faced with a sticky situation.
And then I build more trust in Him.
For those of us who are stubborn-hearted and Doubting Thomases, obedience always precedes trust.
And that’s not such a bad thing.
Whatever it takes to get me on the right path is what I’m willing to do. For me, that means taking action even if I don’t feel like it. It means doing the next right thing when I’d really rather sit and feel sorry for myself or stress about things, my mind like a gerbil on crack, spinning its wheels relentlessly. It means obeying God. And then He comes through for me, showing up like Gandalf at sunrise, defeating gandalfeverything dark. He shines through, and I trust Him.
Now I can sing that beautiful song the way it’s written and really mean it.