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Exit 224. I need to be patient with myself.

It’s time for another hiatus.

Life is just overwhelming right now.  I’ve been really busy with the usual work responsibilities.  My schedule got disrupted a couple weeks ago, with two days of school canceled because of smoke blowing down from the recent fire in Butte County.  (Just so you know, I’m about 100 miles from any areas that were actively burning, so I was never in imminent danger.  But the fire was so big and the wind so strong that smoke spread all over Jefferson and northern and central California.)  Although those two days gave me plenty of time to relax and prepare for my trip to visit my family for Thanksgiving, it also gave me more work to do this last week to adjust for having missed those two days.  I also have a lot to do around the house.  Laundry and dishes pile up so quickly, and I have a few home repairs I need to address as soon as possible.  Life definitely isn’t all work; I’ve been making time for fun too.  It’s December, which means lots of fun holiday events with friends, in addition to the usual game night group and my Dungeons & Dragons game.  The UC Davis football team is also in the playoffs at their level (NCAA Division I-FCS) for the first time since the school’s athletic program moved up to that level in 2004.  We won, and going to that game was totally worth it, but it also took up half of my day.  (There are eight teams still alive in the FCS playoffs, and there won’t be any more home games for UC Davis, so I won’t have any more games to go to this year.)

I need to take time for myself sometimes.  I need to be patient with myself that I can’t get everything done.  And I need to realize that sometimes it’s okay to spend money to get something repaired, rather than trying to do half of the things myself, and not doing a good job of it, and letting the other half of the things go until they cause worse problems down the road.  That’s especially true now that money isn’t as tight since I’m not barely scraping by on a private school salary anymore.

So in the interest of not trying to do too much, I’m going to take a few weeks off from this blog.  Whatever holidays you might be celebrating during this time of year, I hope they go well, and I’ll see all of you in 2019.

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Exit 223. I can learn something from the way that they lived their lives.

Death.  Never an easy topic to discuss.

Comic book writer Stan Lee, the creator of Spider-Man, the X-Men, and many other superheroes, died a couple weeks ago.  I recently saw the movie Bohemian Rhapsody, based on the true story of Freddie Mercury and the band Queen.  Freddie was only 45 when he died, and yesterday was the anniversary of Freddie’s passing in 1991.  My pastor knows another pastor in the same denomination whose toddler granddaughter recently died unexpectedly and suddenly.  And, hitting closer to home, a friend from the church I went to when I first moved here lost his battle with cancer this weekend.  He was only 30; he was in the college group at church when I first started going there, and his older brother was one of my first friends when I moved here.

I feel especially bad because this guy and I had kind of grown apart.  We didn’t argue or have a falling-out or anything like that; we just grew apart from natural causes as life took us in different directions.  The same thing happened with me and his brother, who no longer lives in California.  I’ve grown apart from a lot of people over the course of my life, and I’ve always told myself that no one is in the wrong here, that growing apart is just a natural part of life.  But now I have to accept the fact that it had been well over a year since I had seen him face to face and now I won’t get to see him again.

Death also always makes me wish I had known people better in their lifetimes.  Like I said, my deceased friend and I didn’t really run in the same circles anymore.  Similarly, at the memorial service for another acquaintance who died unexpectedly in 2012, I learned all kinds of things about him that I never would have expected.  And, as I have written before, I didn’t really discover Queen’s music until the months just after Freddie Mercury’s death.  But I can still appreciate everything and everyone in my life now, because I never know what will happen in the future.

And I can learn something from those who pass away and the way that they lived their lives.  In the case of my friend who had cancer, he was one of the nicest people anyone would ever meet, being kind to all of those around him and committed to knowing God and living for him.  And that is something we can all learn from.

Exit 222. Celebrating what we have in common and working together.

Recently, I was invited to a large worship and prayer event at a church about 40 miles from me.  I found myself a little nervous walking in.  I had no idea what to expect.  I had never been to this church before, I didn’t know how big of a crowd there would be at this thing, and most importantly, I didn’t know where to go off the top of my head.  The person who invited me described where she would be, and I found her pretty easily, and the rest of the night was great.  But this got me thinking, trying to figure out why I was so nervous in that situation.

I think I was mostly just afraid of the possibility that I was going to wander into the wrong room and find myself horribly out of place.  I’ve seen that happen from both ends, wandering into the wrong room myself and having to excuse myself and go find where I’m supposed to be, or being in some sort of group, meeting, or class, and seeing someone else wander in thinking that they are in a different group from the one I am actually in, and discovering it much later.

I specifically remember one such experience along these lines, although technically I was in the right place that time.  It was 2005, during my four months on the road.  I was in a rural area in the Ozarks in southern Missouri for several days. I was visiting two people in the area who lived about 10 miles apart but didn’t know each other.  Let’s see, I should give these people names… “Pherkad” is a friend from college, and “Rho Serpentis” is someone I knew online and had not met in person before this trip.  (We lost touch a year or two later.  I don’t remember exactly why… I think she met a guy and stopped being online all the time.)  For much of the time I was in the area, I went back and forth, spending some of the time with Pherkad and her husband, some of the time with Rho Serpentis, and some of the time alone, depending on who wasn’t working or in class (Rho was a college student at the time).

One of the more interesting experiences of my travels of 2005 was getting to experience so many different kinds of churches.  If I was staying with friends who went to church on a Sunday, or on a Wednesday if their church had a mid-week service (which apparently is very common in the South and Midwest but rare among the churches I’ve been to in California), then I would go to church with them.  Otherwise, I’d just kind of randomly pick one.  But that’s not part of this story.  I was going to go to church with Pherkad and her husband on Wednesday night, and Rho was going to come with me.  But Pherkad and her husband weren’t going to be in the service, because they were going to be volunteering with children’s church.

So we got there, Pherkad and her husband went off to go work with the children, and Rho and I sat down.  A couple minutes later, I knew something was not normal.  Apparently this week wasn’t a regular service, it was the church’s annual business meeting.  And being that I was just visiting, I had never been to that church before, most likely never would again, I felt very out of place.  The meeting dragged on and on and on for an hour and a half, and when Pherkad and her husband finally got back, they apologized profusely for making us sit through all of that when we didn’t really know much about what was going on with their church.  I probably should have said something, or left, but I didn’t want to make a scene or look any more out of place than I already was.

I did learn something from that experience, though.  One of the major issues being debated by that church at that time was whether or not to use Awana as their children’s curriculum.  I hadn’t had a lot of experience up close with Awana specifically, but I had heard of it, and I knew that a lot of churches used it for their children’s programs.  I didn’t see why anyone would have a problem with it.  But a number of people in this church’s business meeting kept bringing up the fact that Awana was a separate organization not specifically affiliated with their denomination.

This all made me kind of sad.  My experiences with Christianity up to that point mostly had not included such toxic nitpicking over the minor differences between denominations.  The different branches of Christianity have so many important things in common, but Christianity as a whole is torn apart by people who argue over the things that aren’t really worth arguing about.  And many people tend to treat any little disagreement as a line separating those who are real Christians from those who will burn in hell.  They don’t realize that all of this does more harm than good and turns people away from Christianity as a whole.  And the situation hasn’t really changed… in the 13-plus years since this happened, I have seen many other times where Christians disagree over issues that do not affect how they respond to Jesus’ message of salvation, and mistreat each other because of it.

So all of that didn’t really have anything to do with the event I attended last night.  I didn’t end up in the wrong room, and it didn’t end up being a church business meeting.  And appropriately enough, this was an event that had people from many churches all over the area.  But all of that just got me thinking about denominations and different branches of Christianity… and how maybe we need to spend more time celebrating what we have in common and working together, rather than calling each other names.

 

Exit 221. The best I can with the life I’ve been given.

Recently, one of my friends shared on Facebook that her daughter was pregnant, and that she was going to be a grandmother for the first time. This announcement was significant to me because of how I know this grandmother-to-be: she was in my high school graduating class.

I’ve known for years that this moment would be coming soon, and I’ve been dreading it. Having children was never on my radar, I’ve always felt like I was missing out on something special because of that, and now I’m old enough to be theoretically having grandchildren. It’s quite likely that she isn’t even the first grandparent in our graduating class. Quite a few of my classmates already have adult children (we’re in our early 40s currently), and at least three-fourths of my classmates I have heard nothing from since we graduated. I know of people my age and younger who have older spouses and step-grandchildren, and I know of someone in the class a year older than us who was a grandmother at age 39. But it hits home a little more when it’s someone whom I’m actually in social media contact with.

I’ve been dreading this because it is just a reminder of the fact that having children has never been something to consider for me, which in turn is a reminder of my failure to form or have a romantic relationship. I am constantly surrounded by reminders of this, and it makes me feel like there is something wrong with me.

But it doesn’t have to be like this. I can just keep doing the best I can with the life I’ve been given. And I have plenty of reminders of experiences I’ve had, and continue to have, that wouldn’t be possible had I had children. This isn’t what I naturally think about first when this happens, but I need to learn to change my thinking.

And besides, most of the greatest human beings who ever lived weren’t like everyone else.

Exit 220. No memory of this kid.

Every year, on the first day of school, I give my students an assignment where they answer some questions about themselves.  It gives me a chance to do some necessary paperwork while they are writing, but it also gives me a chance to learn a little bit about who is in my class that year.

One of the questions I ask is who lives at your house.  That way, I can see if a student has a large family, or if they live with both parents, or if a relative other than Mom or Dad is raising them.  I added to that question two years ago: “If anyone in your house has had me as a teacher, circle their name.”  I looked at my class list that year and saw a few familiar last names, most likely younger siblings of students I had had before, and by that point I had been at the school long enough that I was probably going to be getting younger siblings of students I knew every year until I retired (unless I end up at a different school for whatever reason).  So I added this, just in case there were any students whose siblings I knew but I didn’t notice that they were related.

Students aren’t good at following directions, of course.  I’ve had a few students just see the words “circle their name” underlined, and they circle the names of everyone in their family.  And the reverse happens too; I had one this year name her older sister on that paper and not circle her name even though her sister was in fact in my class.  Whether this was due to not circling the name or just not knowing whether her sister had been in my class and being too lazy to ask, I don’t know.  With this student, it could have gone either way.

Sometimes I can tell right away when a student has an older sibling whom I know.  This year, there is one boy in my class who very much resembles a girl from three years earlier with the same last name, except that he’s a dude and not built like a gymnast.  On the first day of school, I told him a funny story involving his sister and a protractor, which he said he remembered hearing about back when it happened.

One girl this year circled her older brother’s name.  I just assumed it was a mistake.  The name didn’t seem familiar, and it’s a fairly distinct last name that I would have remembered.  I never asked her whether it was a mistake or not.  But about a week ago, a student sitting next to this girl mentioned that she had heard stories about me from an older friend who was in my class last year.  I just kind of chuckled.  The girl who had circled her brother’s name then said, “My brother told me he liked having you as a teacher.”

I made some noncommittal remark, something like “That’s good, I’m glad.”  But that really got me thinking.  Apparently this girl did in fact have a brother who was in my class, and I had no memory of this kid.  I thought maybe he never actually had my class.  Maybe his friends were in my class, so he knew who I was.  Maybe he was a student who liked to hang out in my room after school and do homework, because I’ve had students do that sometimes some years.  Or maybe he came to the club that I sponsor once a week after school.  But surely I would have remembered him if he had actually been in my class.

I got curious a few days ago.  I clicked on the archives of previous years of the student information system and started checking class lists, going back to the first year I was at that school.  And eventually I found him.  The girl was right, and I was wrong.  He was in my class, in 2015-16, my second year at this school.

And I had no memory of this kid.

That was a pretty memorable class, too.  Some of the students I remember the best were in the same class as him, the same period in the same year.  Like Protractor Girl.  And the student who sat a few rows behind me at a Kings game once.  And one of the handful of students who have been consistently in touch with me since they left the school.  And the daughter of a coworker who had a hilarious quote about one lesson that I’ve shared with every class since.  But I don’t remember this kid at all.

I feel bad when I realize that there are former students who I don’t remember.  A few years ago, I wrote (warning: there are a few of you with whom I’ve discussed some of my fiction writing other than what has appeared on this site, and clicking the following link may contain spoilers about the events that inspired that writing) about a particularly memorable experience about forgetting a former student.  But in that case, eleven years had passed in the time since I had had that student, and I had moved.  This time, it was not nearly as long, and I’m still at the same school, with his sister in my class right now.

I just got out the yearbook from his year to see what this kid looked like.  And he wasn’t there.  That made this whole thing look even more creepy at first… but probably not, he was probably just absent on picture day.  I found his picture in the yearbook for a different year, though.  And he still doesn’t really look familiar, except for the fact that I can see the resemblance to his sister who is in my class right now.  While I was looking through the yearbook, though, I saw so many other names and faces whom I hadn’t thought about in years.

I’m sure I’m not the only teacher who goes through this.  I’m sure it’s perfectly normal, after having 140-150 students every year, that I’m not going to remember every single one.  It just makes me feel bad.

I don’t spend a whole lot of time reading those papers about my students.  Maybe I should get them back out every few months as I get to know the students.  And in the meantime, I’m glad that this student thought I was a good teacher, even though I don’t feel like one since I don’t remember him.

Exit 219. I don’t know how to let go.

I’m not well.  Not mentally and emotionally, at least.

I don’t want to talk about it.  But I realized yesterday, as everything was falling apart, that there is something deeper going on that what appeared to be happening on the surface.

I don’t know how to let go.  I don’t know how to forgive.  I don’t know how to move on.  I’ve been carrying around decades of burdens and rejection and hurt, and I just don’t know how to move on.

I think about things that I was successfully able to move on from, to try to figure out what to do about this.  And it turns out that it might not have been so successful after all.  Sometimes forgiveness happens because whoever or whatever I’m mad at apologizes or makes an effort to make things right.  But I can’t control that.  I can’t control other people.  And sometimes it looks like I’m able to forgive someone on the surface, but then their true colors show again later, and years pass and I’m still angry and carrying it around.  Or sometimes I just manage to distract and numb myself for long enough that the anger I’m carrying around doesn’t affect my ability to be a functioning adult… most of the time, until something happens like the last few days, and something that is truly insignificant in the long run triggers an avalanche of anger.

I just don’t know what to do with this.  I can stay away from certain people or places where I am likely to get upset, but that’s just a Band-Aid.  I’m scared.  I hope I haven’t done any permanent damage to myself, my friendships, or my career.  Fortunately, I see my therapist this week.  That’s a start, I guess.

Exit 218. Everything will be all right.

I’m ok.

Everything is going to be all right.

Sometimes it feels like the world is falling apart, like everything is hopeless.  But it’ll be all right.

Things might not turn out the way I would want.  Things might end up completely different.  I might have to make some major changes.  I might have major changes forced on me.  I might stay here for the rest of my life, or I might have to flee with nothing but the clothes on my back.

But everything will be all right.

And I’m fine.  I just needed to remind myself of that.

Exit 217. The story, and our place in it, doesn’t end there.

I missed a week… sorry.

As I’ve said before, I seem to have missed out on quite a few of the iconic movies of my generation.  Prominent among these movies I didn’t see as a kid were the Indiana Jones movies.  I really can’t say why either; it’s not that I had any specific dislike for the movies or anyone in them.  I have seen the original Indiana Jones trilogy a total of twice in adulthood, once in my late 20s and once in my early 30s.  It has been long enough that there are a lot of details I don’t remember.  And just yesterday, while dealing with a case of writer’s block and uncertainty about what to write on this blog, I watched Raiders of the Lost Ark, for the first time in several years and only the third time total.  And that got me thinking.

(Warning: spoilers ahead.  If you haven’t seen the movie, and don’t want the ending given away, stop reading now.  And if you’re wondering who would really need a spoiler warning for a 37-year-old movie that was the highest-grossing movie of its year and spawned numerous sequels and has been watched by millions, then you need to realize that not everyone grew up with the same experiences as you, and you can go butt out and mind your own business.)

A few years ago, back when the TV show The Big Bang Theory was still funny sometimes, there was an episode where Amy reveals to Sheldon that she has never seen the Indiana Jones movies.  After he shows her Raiders of the Lost Ark, he excitedly waits for her reaction, and she points out a major plot hole: Indiana Jones himself was ultimately unnecessary to the plot.  Had he not been there, the Nazis still would have found the Ark of the Covenant, and they still would have been killed by the angels of death when they opened it.  Sheldon is unable to come up with a rebuttal, because Amy is basically correct.

In a movie with a plot revolving around a Biblical artifact, it is appropriate that I found a spiritual illustration in this.  In one sense, we are just as unnecessary in the ultimate fate of the world.  Jesus will come back, Satan will be defeated, and nothing we can do will change that.

But the story, and our place in it, doesn’t end there.  Back to Indiana Jones for a minute.  Even if Indiana ultimately played no role in the fate of the Nazis who were seeking the Ark of the Covenant, his presence did affect the story in other ways.  Most notably, when the Nazis showed up at Marion’s bar trying to get the medallion that they needed to find the location of the Ark, they were clearly not above using whatever means necessary to get what they wanted.  Had Indiana not been there to fight back, Marion would probably have been killed in that encounter, but instead, she survives.

And, even though Jesus will come back and Satan will be defeated no matter what we do, we as followers of Christ have a similar role to play here on Earth.  The world is full of millions of people who do not know Jesus or the way of salvation.  Satan and the spiritual forces of darkness know that they are doomed in the end, and they are out there trying to deceive as many human beings as possible, leading them away from the one true God and the path to salvation, found in following Jesus and in nothing else.  Our role is to love others in the name of Jesus and tell them the message of salvation, so that some of them might escape spiritual death, just as Marion escaped physical death because of Indiana Jones being there.

Exit 216. Knowing that I haven’t been forgotten.

I’ve been away from this site for a few weeks. Sorry. Life just got in the way.

I’m ready to hide from the world for a long time. The world is quickly descending into madness.

Yesterday I got something completely unexpected in the mail. I have a friend on Facebook who observes National Handwriting Day. She asked for anyone who wanted her to send a handwritten card in the mail. I said sure, as I had in a previous year as well. National Handwriting Day is in January; she got behind this year, but the card still came in the mail, finally yesterday. I had completely forgotten about this until I saw who it was from. She isn’t someone I see on a regular basis anymore. Life just changes, and I haven’t seen her in person since she made the post about National Handwriting Day in January.

Even in this mad, chaotic world, little things like knowing that I haven’t been forgotten can really make my day sometimes.

Exit 215. Time to tear it down.

Something came up this morning at church that I had never noticed before, something very relevant to my life currently.

Moses delivered the nation of Israel from slavery under Pharaoh, but because of their unfaithfulness, God did not let them enter and conquer their rightful home for 40 years, until all the unfaithful have died. They don’t learn their lesson, and at one point, they complain to Moses about the living conditions in their nomadic state.  God punished the unfaithful by making some of them die of snake bites.  The survivors asked and prayed for forgiveness, and God told Moses to make a bronze statue of a snake and put it somewhere for people to look at it, to remember God’s faithfulness to them.  Anyone who was bitten by a snake could look at the bronze snake and live (Numbers 21:4-9).

Hundreds of years later, Israel is an established nation with a king… well, briefly. They plunge into civil war and divide into two nations. The northern kingdom did not follow the commandments of God, and the southern kingdom mostly did not either, although there were a few southern kings who did bring the people back to following God during their nonconsecutive reigns.  One of those was Hezekiah, who lived about 700 years before the coming of Jesus.  The Second Book of Kings says that “He [Hezekiah] did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, just as his [ancestor] David had done.  He removed the high places, smashed the sacred stones, and cut down the Asherah poles.  He broke into pieces the bronze snake Moses had made, for up to that time the Israelites had been burning incense to it.”  (2 Kings 18:3-4)

The bronze snake that Moses made was still there, over half of a millennium after Moses’ time. But its original purpose had long since passed. All of the people who looked at it to heal their snake bites had been dead for a long time. For the new generation, it was not helping them to look to God and worship him, or to remember what God had done for them and their ancestors; instead, it was doing the opposite, serving as a focal point for the worship of other gods.  God himself had completely disappeared from the worship that was happening at the snake.  So Hezekiah finally realized it was time to tear it down.

God does not always work among us in the same way.  God’s work in one place at one time might not work in another place and time, and God might have not intended it for that place or time.  At first, this didn’t really seem right to me.  Isn’t God constant and unchanging?  Well, yes, he is, but these two statements are not necessarily in conflict with each other.  God can still be constant and unchanging while working in different ways specific to certain times and situations.  God worked through the reformers of the 16th century to bring knowledge of the Scriptures to the common people and work against corruption in the church.  But in the USA in the 21st century, most people know how to read and have access to the Bible, and taking down the kind of corruption that churches today may see will require God working in a different way, even though the ultimate principle of turning people back to him and away from corrupt and fallen earthly institutions remains constant and unchanging.

Another example just came to me now as I was writing this.  Many people who have not studied Christianity in detail tend to think that God was so different in the Old Testament compared to what he is like in the New Testament or now.  In the Old Testament, God often told his people to make war with and destroy and kill neighboring countries.  And, as we just saw, once he sent snakes to bite those who questioned him.  How does one reconcile this with all of his commandments about love, or with Jesus’ self-sacrificial love?  The short answer is because in the time of the Old Testament, the time had not come yet for God to send his Son to Earth.  First, he had to prepare a nation through which Jesus would be born, and in order to this, he had to remove all the corrupting sinful influences from this nation… hence, the making war with neighboring countries.  God no longer tells us to make war with countries that have different beliefs, because this is a different time.  Jesus came to bring the message of salvation to all, and we can send missionaries to teach other cultures about Jesus, and we can lead by example.  God is no longer preparing a nation to give birth to the Messiah; that happened already.

This concept extends beyond the idea of Christianity, and it makes me think a lot of my struggles in trying to figure out life and adulthood.  Twenty years ago, I made friends by being involved with two college-age Christian student groups.  That was good.  Some of my closest friends over the years have come from doing that.  But that does not work anymore.  I now live in an area where most churches are geared toward families, not college students, because that is who lives here.  And very few churches have youth groups for 42-year-olds.  So I have had to look for other ways to make friends.  Nothing has changed, and I don’t have to change any of my core beliefs.  But what worked in one place at one time doesn’t always work for other places and times.

Sometimes I feel like the last one standing for God, like I am desperately hanging on to God’s truth while the world descends into chaos around me.  But maybe it’s not that black and white.  Maybe some of what I hold on to is ways that God isn’t moving in my life anymore, and maybe it is okay to let go of some of these ways without having to compromise my core beliefs.  Maybe this is what is getting in the way, why I feel like my life isn’t exactly progressing in the right direction.  But how do I know what to hold on to and what to let go of?  As always I will only know with prayer, and listening to the Holy Spirit, and knowing God’s Word.