Sunday, May 25, 2014


Some days I think I've hit the sweet spot. I love my job, and I'm finally starting to get pretty good at it. Quinn's at an awesome age where he still thinks I'm cool and wants to hang out with me. Somehow projects get done, people get fed, and life happens. We laugh and make plans for the future. Life seems so manageable, even good.

Other days, something happens, often something so insignificant it's hardly worth retelling, and I become immediately aware of how vulnerable we are, just the two of us. Those days I'm reminded why widows and orphans are so dear to the Lord, why he takes care of them. I've had an unusual number of those days recently.

Quinn and I were walking in a parking lot today. I shooed him out of the way of an oncoming car, and his first response was, "Well, if it had hit us, at least it would have hit me first, so I wouldn't be an orphan." Wow. Sometimes I forget how constant his sense of loss is. He's been trying to get me to join the "watch dog" program at his school, but it's a program for dads and he doesn't seem to understand why I can't take him.

A couple days ago I passed by a mom in a wheelchair on the side of the road and her son, about Quinn's age. He was holding a sign that said she had recently been diagnosed with something. I couldn't read what, but by the time I pulled over to help them, someone else had already stopped. Talk about hitting a little too close to home. Considering I had already started bawling, it was probably a good thing someone else was helping them. I drove on home and cried for another hour, barely managing to pull myself together before Quinn got home.

Maybe it's because we're approaching three years, maybe it's because Quinn is older and so much more aware of his dad's absence, but this has been a really difficult season. I joke that one of my only parenting goals is to not become a Flannery O'Connor short story. She has lots of particularly disturbing stories about dysfunctional single moms and their sons. I've taken her off my reading list until Quinn grows up to be a normal functioning adult.

Still, I wonder why this season has been particularly marked by a profound awareness of loss, both for Quinn and me. The only thing I've come up with so far is longing. Rightly experienced grief cultivates a longing for truth, justice, hope, beauty - for life as we were created to live it, in perfect communion with God and each other. And that kind of longing is working changes in my affections that fifteen years of self-discipline and self-effort haven't been able to touch. For that at least, I am thankful.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014


I now know why teachers get a summer vacation: post traumatic stress disorder.

The flashbacks are giving me panic attacks, my shoulders have taken up permanent residence just below my earlobes, and on more than one occasion I found my whole class staring at me strangely because I'd been talking to myself in foreign accents while grading papers during a quiz.  It's a bad sign when you hear some address you as Mrs. Stallings and you immediately tighten your grip on the stapler, thinking, "If one more person hands me make up work, I just might throw this stapler at them." But then someone hands you a tea cup they made for you in pottery class for you and suddenly you can make it through one more review session where everyone pretends you never taught them anything.  When you get hired as a teacher, you should get a hard hat, combat boots, and a good therapist as a sign on bonus.

Earlier this year as I sat down with the headmaster in our annual meeting, I recalled a parent meeting ten years ago when I sat in awe of a veteran teacher who managed to perfectly balance holding a student accountable while maintaining a positive, encouraging professionalism. I thought I'd never be that good, and if I ever got there then my teaching life would be easy. Earlier this year as I sat in a parent conference and heard myself talk I realized I had become that teacher, but that my job, rather than being easier, has become harder.

Turns out the better you get at something, the more difficult it becomes. My pastor said something similar about faith in his sermon the other day. Faith, holiness, sanctification - it all gets harder rather than easier. The same could be said of grief.

It's been a dark, dark winter. Aside from being colder than Alaska here at times winter, the intensity of working full time and single parenting nearly drove me over the edge of crazy. But more than the outward intensity, the inward struggle for sanctification has left me tattered, body and soul. I have been warring greatly with what John Owen would call the "habitual disinclination towards obedience and communion with God." The power of sin has manifested itself not so much in great eruptions of sin, but by the persistence of a thousand relentless temptations incessantly gnawing away at my will to obey.

It is a great mystery of grace that I can feel so beaten down by the sinful nature and yet so clearly further along than I was even just a few years ago. One of the greatest tragedies of the sinful nature is how it draws us away from the mystery of grace, transforming mystery into nothing more than a supermarket transaction for our forgiveness. I come and exchange empty words for a candy bar with a golden ticket. But grace truly understood is the mystery of communion that requires a simultaneous emptying of all my self-endeavors to change and a diligent, constant pressing forward into the only one who can remove this fiery poison in my heart.

As I press forward into grace though, the attack of sin redoubles its efforts to distract me, and I find myself overwhelmed. Overwhelmed, but not disheartened. If anything I find myself more inclined to laugh and dance and throw myself on Christ. I am oh so good at failing, and even better at excusing my failures with pathetic complaints about the difficulty of obedience. Because sin must be killed daily. The same sins have to be put to death over and over and over. And nothing is more exhausting than saying no to the familiar comforting, sinful thought patterns that distract me from grief and pain and suffering.

But there is something even more deeply beautiful about running this race, about pressing on with the expectation of grace fulfilled, about waiting for new life in the midst of darkness and death. I just can't quite put it into words yet but I can almost touch it.  almost.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

cup of tea

If we're all taken up in singing, we can prevent the meeting... too many verbal prayers can hide that we really don't want to meet Jesus, we want to speak to him all the time. To meet him is another cup of tea... Jean Vanier

I'm still waiting for that other cup of tea...

And while I wait in quietness and faith, I laugh and cry and travel and sleep and dance and clean and work and live but somehow cannot write.

Psalm 131
My heart is not proud, Lord,
my eyes are not haughty;

I do not concern myself with great matters
or things too wonderful for me. 
But I have calmed and quieted myself,
I am like a weaned child with its mother;
like a weaned child I am content.
Israel, put your hope in the Lord
both now and forevermore.