"Tell your story. Tell it on your bruised knees if you must, tell it at the risk of madness, scream it at the top of your lungs." –Andrew Lam

Category: Catholicism

Boxed Contentment

My husband asked me a loaded question. He asked me when I will be content. And happy.  I told him I was quite content in my job before I had to leave it. At my best. Kicking butt. But I wasn’t wholly content with life. And everyone knew it. The students. The teachers. My husband was away. I didn’t have him to come home to at the end of the day. Now, I’m content in my marriage. Hold it sacred. But I am not wholly content in life. And everyone knows it.

He always wants to know if teaching makes me so happy then why am I never happy to put the newest teaching resume and application in the mail? I told him I just put in the mail an awesome letter of interest and the most beautiful recommendation letter from my former colleague and one of my dearest friends. I told him I also sent along a copy of the stunning valedictorian speech that one of my favorite students will give this weekend (and will make you rise to your feet in ovation) because it was the best thing that could ever explain the special place I come from and what I’m all about and what that place is all about than anything else could.

Through the eyes of a student. I refuse to play politics. I refuse to play them in Edwards County and I refuse to play them up north. Why? Because what we do should be all for the students. And I want special. I do. I want a special place again.

At my church back home, a lady in Bible study never specifically mentioned her prayer request. She simply asked for the desire of her heart.

The desire of my heart? To speak to people. Full rooms. Auditoriums.  Classrooms. Singe souls. Face-to-face holding a coffee mug gulping cup after cup of grace and love. Or speaking to people through a book. My truth. In writing. Helping them find their own truths. THE truth. Dreams do not simply dissipate. If I feel I was created to do something big and I cannot let it go, please do not put me in a room and leave me to peel away at yellow wallpaper. Because if you’ve read that short story, then you know how it ends. For most people, “the little things” are what breed contentment. But I’m not most people.

“God is contentment. Learn to be content in all circumstances.” Well that’s just the easy answer, people. And the hard one.  And the real one. I know. I KNOW.

She had a baby.  In “The Yellow Wallpaper.”  And in the Great Gatsby, Daisy Buchanan was a silly little fool who had a silly little fool of a daughter too. And sadly, they weren’t content. But I’m no fool. I know babies fill a certain void of contentment nothing else can. My sixth sense Holy Spirit twitch tells me the women I love who most want to be mothers will be mothers. And my best friend since birth? She’ll birth another miracle this winter.

I see it more for them than I do for me. Always. A few Sundays ago I held my niece through church and I adored. Adored. She smiled. Touched my face. Danced to the worship songs. Fell asleep as I kissed-kissed the top of her head.  And my preteen nephews? Hugs. When they are eighteen and twenty, I will still get those same hugs. Because I’m Aunt Melissa. Because they were already mine at baby and two. Because there are no other two boys I could possibly love more.

I looked up our baby name—the name we agreed on years and years ago. I very well could have still been in high school. I love the meaning of names. I gasped when I read the name’s meaning: “bright and shining light.” I don’t have my shining light yet. Because we are not home. Because I am not healthy. Because I dropped fourteen lbs. and don’t know why. Because my meds are switched constantly. Because my body is screwed up. Because I can’t seem to handle anything. Because I have a Master’s degree to start and finish. Because I have higher-paying jobs to land. Because. Because I’ll screw it all up. Yet somehow, if God gives her to us? She’ll be true to her name. Light. What I’ve quested all along.

And maybe my contentment. Or my green light at the end of the dock. But I don’t want to put that kind of pressure on the girl. Her life is not merely for my contentment. It’s for hers. Are you listening, parents? I lived it. I saw that kind of hurt in the eyes of my students.

Once, I made my Themes class give speeches about their most important message. What did they most want the world to know? I think I assigned these speeches right after we read Fahrenheit 451, a book with an obvious message. Thank you, Mr. Bradbury, for your message. It’s a message that got stuck in our minds and never left. Why did I assign these speeches? Honestly, I was stalling. I hadn’t finished reading 1984 and didn’t know how to introduce another novel with such huge themes. Prophetic themes. Themes of life. The name of the class.

Some of the speeches were dull. Eating right. Exercise. Being a good person. Blah. Snore. Some students rambled so much that I couldn’t even pinpoint the message. And that’s ok. Because I don’t remember if I gave them much direction and probably didn’t give them a rubric. So I’m sure I gave everyone a good grade.  But some of these students? Their props were meaningful. They spoke eloquently. They interacted with their peers. Made me gawk and gape and wonder what kind of presence was I in? These kids were geniuses.

And one speech I remembered in the middle of the night, four freaking years later because its truth literally woke me and ironically reminded me of how everything I want right now was everything he warned against.

After he spoke, I was so inspired (and he reminded me too much of the unconventional, caged-in high school-me) that I made the students (those who wanted to) run or gallop or skip back and forth down the basement hallway, loudly proclaiming the specific ways they wanted to express themselves and get out of their comfort zones. I’m also pretty sure I got in major trouble for that one. Ah, well. You remember it though, don’t you? Stepping out of your boxes.

This student is in some city right now. He’s a talented playwright, a director, an actor. He impressed me from the moment I met him, and he will be famous. Brilliant.

He began his speech with an analogy and drew a street map of Lincoln Avenue on my whiteboard. Basically, he told us what drove him bonkers, and he said it with a lot of passion:

“You can be born at St. Mary’s. You can go to elementary school at St. Ben’s. On the very same street, you can attend high school at Memorial. You can go to church on this street. You can hop a block over and get your college degree from the University of Evansville on the same street.  You can have a nice Catholic wedding ceremony on this street. You can rent or buy a house on this street. You can do something during the in-between, and then you can go retire at the little nunnery place down on the very same street. And then you can die. And have your funeral. A nice Catholic wake.  On the same street.”

And that is exactly what some people do. And other than becoming a nun because I am not Catholic, I would be perfectly content returning to Lincoln Avenue. I’d happily return to teach at Memorial and then become a professor at UE (some professors in my subject matter departments are getting up there in age, God bless them). I could have my coffee every day at Coffee Cottage. And Barnes and Noble is right at the end of that long street! I could do book signings. I could browse the titles until I went blind and my fingers bled. Bliss, I tell you. Bliss. And my biggest dream ever since Ms. Felling took our class to see Twelfth Night at the May Studio Theater. Magic. I felt magic. I felt home.

I was told that if I can’t talk about a place without crying, then I have issues. I’m constantly told that Memorial is not the pinnacle of success. I’m reminded of law suits that should have been filed and of everything that was unfair and how it sucked everything I had in me right out of me and the retirement is pitiful. I’m reminded UE parking sucks, that we’re still paying on the ungodly tuition, that it is not Ivy League.

The street? It smells like sewer and it floods.

Shit. I just put myself in a box. I would live in a box. I would live in a box on Lincoln Avenue. And I would maybe or maybe not be content.

English: A square open cardboard box. Based on...

For My Tigers

People snicker, ‘Those who can’t do, teach.’ But, oh, how right they are. I could never, ever do all I dream of doing…while having only been given one thin ticket in this lottery of life! In the recessional, as I watch them, mine, the ones I loved, I overflow with the joyous greed of a rich man counting coins. Wrongly I have thought teaching has lessened me at times, but now I experience a teacher’s greatest euphoria, the knowledge like a drug that will keep me…It’s an almost psychotic feeling, believing that part of their lives belong to me. Everything they become, I also become. And everything about me, they helped create –from Educating Esme

Dear Almost-Graduates,

I remember our very first home room class downstairs. And for those of you not in my homeroom—I remember our epic English classes. Every. Single. One. I remember you. Every. Single. One. I didn’t always know what I was doing, obviously, but we learned. And we had fun. And I thought it was so cool both those things could occur at the same time. I was happy you were mine. Blessed. We grew a lot together, didn’t we? You taught me. And I think, with the help of genuine friends and coaches and mentors and teachers, you found the courage to become yourselves. I hope so. I hope you at least started the process.

See, my first real class is graduating college now. I have a very special chunk in my heart that belongs to them, but you were my fresh start. My joy. You made me want to drive the fifty-seven miles. You were so purposeful to me.

Without you, I went crazy. Spent fifteen months just aching.  Doubted myself and God and His plan. Spent lots of time hurting myself. Haunted by you. I didn’t know who Mrs. Kiefer was without the teacher part. Didn’t know how to be just Melissa.  Had a major, terrible, unhealthy identity crisis. I never want you to have one of those when change and transition come. And change is coming. So please let me tell you who you are. You are a Tiger. Capital T. Forgive me for being a little cheesy and running with this metaphor.

We all came to be Tigers somehow. We were meant to be. And every experience you have had in the past and will have in the future has a purpose. The purpose is so that you can help others or help yourself. God intends so.

As Tigers, we are fierce and humble. A hunter of dreams. Noble, for we are fearfully and wonderfully made. We might travel the country and the world, yet we are territorial of Evansville, of MHS, of home, of our tiger pack. I’m still working hard in therapy and praying hard and loving hard and learning…and slowly remembering and accepting that I am still a tiger. And you taught me how to be a fighter for all the good and right things. Ferociously, we fight.

Maybe I was too young to teach. Maybe I found too deep of friendships with you. Too many things in common. I’ve always felt a little too connected to you. So maybe it’s no accident that you are beginning something new at the same time I am starting a journey new. We can compare notes if you want. Discuss literature. Share ideas. Buy backpacks and notebooks and those nice flow-y pens. Be nerds together.

I’m starting a new school in a new place, too. I feel many of your same emotions. Excited. Anxious. Thrilled. Afraid. Are we enough? Yes. Yes, we are enough just as we are. And we have more to learn. I’m thrilled to create projects instead of assign them. I get to write instead of grade. I never have to use my mean voice!

Through the Kiefer Café’s, the quotes on the board and the door, our talks on the floor, the way I watched you struggle and overcome—you inspired me. Your drive. Your passion. Your determination. Your wisdom. You depth. Your blank slate. Your unfolding and brilliant future. Your hope. I want to write about you. And I want you to someday be able to say you are as proud of me as I am of you.

You are prepared. So light-filed, so strong, so intelligent, so passionately curious. Life might not end up the way you planned. It’s ok. God is so good and knows what He’s doing. I’m proud of you. What beautiful human beings you are.

“What you spend years building, someone could destroy overnight;
Build anyway.

The good you do today, people will often forget tomorrow;
Do good anyway.

Give the world the best you have, and it may never be enough;
Give the world the best you’ve got anyway.

You see, in the final analysis, it is between you and your God;
It was never between you and them anyway.”

Just wanted to end with some wisdom above from Mama T.

Love, Your Mama K ❤

Kicking at the Sides of Life

Special intentions—such a sweet Catholic Memorial High School phrase that I gladly sprinkled into my vocabulary.

Today all of my special intentions are saved for Boston. Peace. Peace be with you.

Since we moved north, Josh’s dinner prayers have been filled with special intentions for our loved ones back home. Because we painfully miss them. Adore them. Ask for their protection.

And he prays special intentions for me. Sitting right there beside him. Because he sees this assortment of pain, too, in me.

“Please help Melissa find something fulfilling to do up here—a chance to live her calling”

And my private prayers went something like, “Ok God, let’s You and me do something big and special and important. I know I’m meant for it. So let’s go. Get movin’ Time’s a wastin’.”

In fact even before we moved, we believed God would bless me for choosing to follow my husband and for leaving all the rest behind. For what we thought must be a special, purposeful, bigger and better and new Plan. I look back now at how foolish the expected blessings sounded. The blessing was in the following. The together.

We spent some time together with dear home-friends recently. They brought The South to me. They brought me homemade chicken and noodles (to warm my bones, E said, because she knows I’m always cold) and homemade cinnamon rolls and four wildly precious children who chased puppies and colored pictures and wrestled and snuggled and lifted hands up to be held. Jesus, someday give me a little one whose arms reach up to be held.

E and her family marched joy into my house. Anointed it with hugs and laughter and washed it pure with good tears. As I held tightly to my coffee mug, she told me to hold tightly to Christ and loosely to everything else in the world. I love how she naturally convicts me to check priorities.

“How like a mirror, too, her face. Impossible; for how many people did you know who reflected your own light to you?”

The priorities that really matter? Loving. Agape loving. Carpe Kairos-ing. Blessing. Inspiring. Truth-telling. Mask-unveiling. Helping others feel secure in who they are. Those goals hit the deepest part of me.

I feel change coming. And I’m seriously thinking about alerting my doctors at the behavioral health clinic today that I have a sixth sense. Or maybe just that I can feel change in the wind and in my heart and in my bones.

My person, my K, the teacher who taught across the hall from me, assigned her students creative essays about what animal or season or element they were. Not which one of those things they liked the best, but instead which one they actually embodied, encompassed. I freaking love out-of-the-box assignments that push students to think in different ways, so obviously K was meant to be one of my very best friends. We always argued, though, about my element. I always insisted I was fire. Now, ironically, I have fire-scars to prove the burning.

It was a pleasure to burn.” To feel warm and tingling and in control and to concentrate the chaos. It’s like that old saying about how pinching your arm will make you forget about the pain in your leg. And a great reminder. Of punishment. For being me.

K is stubborn, though. She knew her element was water and she persisted long ago that my element was not fire but wind. I think she said I was a refreshing wind in a desert. The wind that makes you alive again. And changed. And stirred up in your soul and in your ideas and words and emotions.

I experienced such sweet-breezes these past four days.  We do need people. We do belong to each other. North. South. East. West.

When I felt as a friend and a tutor and a woman that I am not doing enough or helping enough or seeing expected results or being enough, I needed my northern mother-spiritual- mentor-truth-teller-guide to tell me with so much firmness and authority that I am not allowed to entertain that thought. Those thoughts are lies.

I don’t think I’ve ever been told such remarkable words. Or ever really heard them. Or believed them.

 I needed her to tell me she prayed me here. That kingdom purposes and plans look different from world successes and look different from what I thought purposes and plans and bigger and better would look like. And I realized I’m a little bit blind.

And now, wind shakes the branches and clouds darken and I wonder about rain splashes and flashes of electric light. Part of me wants to hide. Part of me wants to run outside. Naked and warrior-like with arms outstretched and looking at the exquisite sky.

I’m still crazy. The rain feels good. I love to walk in it.”

I live in this peculiar dichotomy between passionately wanting to feel and not feel.

And maybe this is manic-me. The one who wants to run outside with hair blowing in her face to feel the change and the refresh and the alive and the renew. And scream, “I’m still here with my bruised knees kicking at the sides of life!”

Or maybe I’m just the romantic proposed to during a thunderstorm. Or a little too much like Clarisse from Fahrenheit 451.

And in the rain and darkness, I thought about how favorite college friends are having babies and buying houses. I’m so happy for them. So waiting for something important to happen to me.

I heard the voice that said I’m dumb and not worthy and instead of making people feel inspired and secure in who they are, I make prom corsages and casket sprays and make sure a flower is the exact-whatever shade some city bride demands.

Then E’s voice came back to me and said, “Oh honey, that’s just your day job. Don’t let yourself be defined.” And my northern mother-spiritual-mentor-truth-teller-guide echoed, “You are enough. I prayed you here. You are not allowed to entertain those other thoughts. Those thoughts are lies.”

Josh and I went on a date to expand the good weekend, the good vibes. He tries to get me out of the house but not push me too hard so that it actually seems like my idea when I poke my head out of my scared little hermit-hole. We sat in the movie theater and the preview for the new Gatsby flickered on that larger-than-life screen. I whispered in his ear, “I taught the hell out of that book, husband. I’d never read it and didn’t have a clue what I was doing, and I still taught the hell out of it. And Fahrenheit. And most of the others.” And he said, “I know, baby. I know you did. Even that Shakespeare crap.”

And when he was embarrassed that I did a happy dance upon finding Carry On, Warrior by Glennon Doyle Melton in a bookstore, he also smiled and told me one day that would be me on a book tour. And I replied that on that book tour, I want to help take the hell out of peoples’ life. And replace it with water and wind and good light. And tie the book up in a rope and lower it down all the hermit-holes. And put it in the classrooms. And the behavioral health clinics.

My sixth sense Holy Spirit twitch tells me change is coming, but I don’t know what the change is. Maybe returning home? I don’t know for sure, but I know there will always be a fish-hook in my heart for home. As soon as I’m comfortable in a place, as soon as something has healed in me and been surrendered, life shakes up again. It’s what I’ve always known. It’s how I’ve always grown.

“But every time he burnt himself up he sprang out of the ashes, he got himself born all over again.”  

What happens to a dream deferred?

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When a woman cooks in a kitchen full of mice and on a stove with only one consistently working burner and she looks at floors that stubbornly refuse to come clean, she no longer wants to cook. She starts believing she doesn’t deserve food. She starts believing she deserves nothing shiny, nothing working, nothing clean, and nothing new. She starts feeling like the women characters from A Raisin in the Sun. Her dreams sag like a heavy load, fester and run.

I had a “hope” plant, too, just as Mama did in the windowsill of Ruth and Walter’s hovel. But even my hope plant died. My plant was a condolence gift from my grandma’s funeral. I have my grandma’s best qualities and her worst. I am gentle. I love Psalms and Proverbs. I see beauty. I can beat you at Chinese checkers.  I also don’t listen to my body. I don’t feel like I am enough. I don’t (verbally) complain. I don’t ask. I don’t speak. I pretend my grandma in heaven is sitting at the right hand of God as an ambassador for the rights of earthly women. In her new kingdom she not only received a new body she can dance in, she also earned a loud and sassy tell-it-like-it-is voice. She points out to God and Jesus that they are men, and sometimes it takes a woman to understand what another woman needs.
My grandma told God and Jesus that I needed to get the fuck out of that house. (I pretend she cusses occasionally now because this was the prim and proper woman who couldn’t even laugh when someone farted). She also told them that it was about damn time her granddaughter had some new kitchen appliances — ones that work and hadn’t belonged to someone else first. I now live in a lovely home worthy of keeping clean, worthy of hanging up our wedding pictures on its walls, worthy of art and photography, candle altars, and anything I find useful or beautiful. Now I have a home worthy of relaxing, of enjoying, of “tonight, let’s stay in.” And my grandma understands that my bright white Whirlpool oven and refrigerator are more than tools used for keeping the milk cold and baking cinnamon rolls. They are symbols of hope and confidence and contentedness.
I am not obsessed with all things new. The house is as old as it is beautiful.  My bathroom is retro mint green and black tile. I like to pretend I’m a pin-up girl wearing fish net stockings and pink sponge curlers and red lipstick while I’m getting ready.  The bathtub is old-fashioned and deep–perfect for my half-mermaid self. As bubbles tickle my chin, I appreciate daily the fact that my cold butt, boobs, feet, and knees can all stay warm under the water at the same time without squirming and adjusting positions. I’m trying not to water-stain the binding at the bottom of all my books. I take time for more books and baths now.
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I take time for pie at Stella’s Café. I take the time to subscribe to Glamour magazine and Poets and Writers because I’ve always wanted to and it is fun to get mail in a new place. I take time to talk to people, to say “I’m new,” to explain that my accent is not from Tennessee or Georgia, and to realize that “God’s country” is everywhere and good people are everywhere, too. I go on dates with my husband. In our future, I see fishing lines and sly crooked boyish grins and “wanna make out?” and “let’s take a drive.” And I think, “Yes. Let’s go. Let’s take these years while we are here to become these hills, to splash in Apple Canyon River, to drink in peace and the view and one another.” I take time to slather on chamomile-lavender lotion and massage my feet, do yoga stretches, wander into the library and antique shops and the Ink and Paper. I simply take the time to be good to myself and love this stranger-me.

Still, I feel in between lives. I wake from dreams in which I stand in the middle of bridges with faces and careers and expectations on both sides. They wave at me; my dear ones wave at me. This darling house has a randomly placed old-fashioned pencil sharpener mounted on the wall in my closet reminding me of the broken one in my old classroom. Each time I pull the cord to light up my closet and grab my warmest coat, I see the pencil sharpener, and I am flooded with overwhelming love and goodbyes and gifts and words and “celebrate good times.” I am filled with the emotion of my final mass, the grandest moment in my life. I experienced the applause, the gratitude and shock of kindness, the floating feeling of Proverbs 31. They clothed me in strength and dignity, laughed and cried with me, taught me wisdom; I watched my children {my students} rise up—the whole auditorium—rise up and call me blessed, and I finally felt like I had done enough. And God and Jesus and Grandma thought so too.      
                As I joyfully clean and organize my home and smell the hearty aroma of dinner, I realize that I am once again trying to prove to myself I am enough. I realize that I can be a “good” wife, though I know Josh loves me anyway, I have nothing to prove to him, and he in no way has ever measured my worth by the fact that laundry is put away, supper’s on the table, and dishes are in the cupboards and out of the sink. I needed to know for myself that I could do something well in an area in which I felt like I was failing. “But honey, you’re not meant to be a housewife,” Josh says, and I know he is right. I feel a heartbeat in my ears constantly, and I know it is more than my Meniere’s, more than my inner ear adjusting to a new atmosphere. The rhythm says, “Hear this? You have a wildly passionate heart. I designed it to love people, to pump passion and energy into others.” “No,” I mutter back, sick at the idea of teaching again, beginning again, and loving different students. But my heart continues to pump reviving blood and faith and balance and slowly brings me back to life. And I am brought back to life in order to do…what? In order to again somehow inspire others to live.  

My Word is Peace

My family fakes it. This fake feeling is usually what drives me into hiding during holidays. I’d rather read than think of what to say and the tone in which to say it.  I flinch at too-tight hugs from my mom. I smile awkwardly because I don’t know what else to do while my sister confidently assumes her hand-on-hip, head cocked a little too far to the right signature camera pose.  My parents’ home is picturesque, so damn inviting though it rarely invites anyone inside. I blame the fireplace for luring me in.  And the garland of twinkle lights on the mantle. I even blame the tables and the cupboards full of food. And I blame myself for my own hunger and the emptiness of knowing I’ll be seven hours instead of seven minutes away from my mom with her too-tight hugs and foot rubs and the way she covers me with an extra blanket, seven hours from my dad rolling his fists to the music and sliding in his socks while unloading the dishwasher.  I’ll be seven hours away from my beautiful sister, her fieriness, her laughter, her “let me paint your nails”, her ironic little-sister ways of sticking up for me. So this Christmas I pretended that the other kind of distance hadn’t seeped in years ago, and I gorged myself on mashed potatoes and memories and moments. I will miss my family. I will miss my church. I will miss my Memorial. I will miss my friends.
 My favorite moments during mass are when the priest says “Peace be with you” and when the choir gets a wild hair to sing the bluesy version of “Alleluia, Give the Glory” and I close my eyes and pretend I’m a member of a Baptist church in the Deep South.  In all seriousness, I savor the blessing of peace. I love the way “peace” finds its way into my Catholic friends’ salutations whether the occasion is happy or sad. Not every day was peaceful at Memorial High School, but ultimately, I am taking peace with me. I’ve chosen peace as my word for 2012 in hopes that I don’t unpack Depression as I unpack boxes labeled Melissa’s Books and Winter Coats and Kitchen Supplies.  
                I did not pray without ceasing in 2011. I did not find peace in all circumstances. I held grudges.  I hated. I sobbed. But somewhere in between getting handed an enormous glass of my favorite moscato while dancing in the kitchen and snuggling into old quilts in the cabin, I realized I had people. Real people.  And these people who have always celebrated with me in the form of Taco Tuesdays, two-year-olds’ birthdays, fishing trips, autumn, or first days of summer are friends who transcend time and distance and who will find more reasons to celebrate. So I woke up. I woke up to 2012 and lingered over love and breakfast and three cups of coffee and decided peace.

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                I knew God provided this house for us. We wrote a check for the deposit and decided to eat at Longhorn, our favorite, though our bank account was practically drained.  We were celebrating.  And with my mouth full of salad, I looked up at Josh and said, “We have got to pray.” And he looked back at me, put down his fork, put his hands in my hands and his forehead on my forehead, and we thanked the Lord until our steaks were cold. The house is beautiful, sturdy, warm, and so clean. While I’m not fond of the retro mint green and black bathroom, I adore the finished attic. When we walked upstairs, my eyes lit up as brightly as when I had seen the beautiful shops, cafes, and cathedrals of Galena which is merely twenty minutes away.    
                Virginia Woolf insisted that in order to write, a woman needs money and a room of her own.  I agree with her. The problem is that if I stop teaching, I don’t have money. I don’t feel excited about interviewing for a new teaching job. I feel excited about a room of my own, the one God knew I needed for writing, for worship, for dreaming, for refuge. I offer my blank-canvas future to Him, waiting for the divine and inspired splashes of color as I fill my attic with art and listen to the whisper, “Peace be with you.”  

Worth It

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I lost myself in teaching just as I lost myself in the miles of Highway 64 and Highway 41. At one point I could not differentiate between Illinois and Indiana, between sanity and insanity. I’d pull into my driveway and stop, confused. What am I if not in constant motion? Who am I if not Mrs. Kiefer, teacher? What good am I doing if I’m not in a classroom from seven until at least seven? Why do I have conversations with myself before I fall asleep?  I’m a woman with fire in my veins. I’m cursed with too much adrenaline, too much momentum. I have tunnel vision, both on the road and in the classroom. When I slam on the brakes, no seatbelt can restrain my heart from catapulting and crashing into the next group of students, the next project, the next novel, the next speech meet, the next batch of essays, the next pile of journals waiting to be read. I continue to gulp that Memorial Kool-Aid so fast that it dribbles down my chin. I am punch-drunk and reckless.  I don’t know how to keep my heart still. I don’t know how not to be passionate. The price is significant. The body exhausts itself. The mind spirals dangerously. I am highly sensitive, nervous and restless, a hater of conflict, an introvert with social anxiety who must sometimes deal with conflict and must always deal with people. I care too much. I chose a profession that requires a much thicker shell than my translucent baby skin. Was it worth the wear on the body and the heart and the nerves?  Was it worth the money in fuel, three destroyed tires and a dent from a deer?    
Was it worth the fights with my husband? He has either worked third shift or been in the Illinois State Police Academy since we have been married. But work is always with me even when he is not. Work has always needed me. Work has always given me something to do and an excuse not to come home to an empty house. Work was my lover, my idol, my excitement, my comfort, my addictive cycle of love and hate. I got to be a teacher five days a week. I only got the chance to be a weekend wife. I gave work my attention and expected it to love me back. And it hurt so good. But the accusations from my husband that I’m always grading and don’t get paid enough for it just hurt.
“Why can’t you leave work at work? Why did you have to go to your expensive private college which put us in a great deal of debt if all you got at the end of hard work was a teaching degree that does not pay the bills? Why can’t you work at a place with a better retirement?” Sometimes the twisted encouragement felt like ultimatums: “Wouldn’t you get the same joy out of teaching at a public school? Don’t you think you can make an even bigger difference in average or struggling kids’ lives? An education is an education.”  So I’d scream, “of course you have that opinion. If the only high school you’ve ever been inside is Edwards County High School, then you have no damn idea what else is in this world.”  And so my obsession with private schools and my belief that they are better therefore makes me conceited and selfish and high maintenance.  Was it worth fearing that after a decade together, he doesn’t understand me? Was it worth defending my Memorial?
Would I choose it again if I knew I would spend the first three years under an unappreciative principal who wickedly played the education game, who shrugged off my soul-teaching, who merely checked boxes on a form and picked at desk arrangements and my messy binder of lesson plans and missed the lesson in my lesson? Was it worth the handful of rich and powerful parents with their egos and emails who raise dishonest, manipulative children with that same expectation of entitlement? 
Was it worth the Class X Felony I should have filed? Was it worth feeling helpless and violated? Was it worth having no voice, being abruptly hushed so that no bad press could possibly leak out and taint our spotless Memorial. For at M-E-M-O-R-I-A-L, the students wore oxfords and ties and had “the look” and attended silent masses and went back to classes where they sometimes cheated and gave scripted answers and offered scripted foreign prayers. Was it worth facing my classes of students who’d seen everything under my skirt thanks to a boy who snapped the infamous shot and sent picture messages to his buddies who knew more buddies while I obliviously (with my tunnel vision) helped a group of students understand T. S Elliott and passionately explained why they, too, should dare disturb the universe.
They disturbed my universe. Shook me. Took a big chunk out of me and scraped the core of me.  But so did the good ones, the ones who wrote me notes I tacked on my “I Will Not Quit” board, the faces that flood my memory with light.  They are the students who have long forgotten me, who don’t need me anymore which is painful proof that I did something right. They are the chosen ones who humbled me and taught me more than I taught them. Jeanine, Mitch, Morgan, Nick, Ben, Lelia, Laura, Ryan, Rachel, Danielle, Hadley, Eric, Kevin, MJ, Megan, Aaron, Sam, Elle, Bailey, Nicci, Brenna, Cynthia, Marcus, William, Joshua, Emily– my spring sunshine air-dried laundry list of students who understood that dreaming and creating and becoming were more important than grades. They shook me and they steadied me. They hauntingly reached back in time and healed my high school girl self and proved that I was not the only one who felt the way I felt at sixteen. Their words of affirmation filled up all of the cracks in my heart. And helping them embrace the ways they are different healed so many of my ancient wounds.
I defended my Memorial when it treated me well. I defended it when it treated me poorly and unfairly. Why?  Because I pulled up to the beautiful edifice every morning in my dented car with its empty fuel tank and felt lucky. Because I stepped into those pep assemblies and saw pride on the students’ faces. And I was a part of that spirit, that unity.  Working there for four years was worth moving to three different classrooms.  Two of those rooms had no windows and no temperature control and one had a crumbling ceiling every time it rained.  They became three classrooms I made into worlds, homes, and sanctuaries for learning, for magic, for after school chats on the floor. They were imperfect, a reflection of me. My worlds were colorful, beautiful, joyful, messy, gritty, holy, wholly mine.
I love my husband and am thankful he gets the chance to do what makes him feel alive. He asked me. He said he wouldn’t pursue this job that would take us away if I didn’t want him to. But my whole purpose is to inspire journeys, expand and encourage dreams. I will go where he goes. His people will be my people. I will move and I will grow, but oh, the growing pains! I fear I will hate the person who replaces me, and I know my attitude is jealous and immature. I never asked another teacher to come into my world.  Though I look younger than most of my students, I am the fierce and crazy biological mama of hundreds of kids about to get a new mother or father who might not understand them or love them as well as I do, who might win their affection by allowing them to slack or remain safe in their desks of candy comfort and ordinary. What if she is a worksheet-giver? I cannot leave them with a worksheet-giver. I cannot leave them in the hands of someone who won’t feel the material and make it her art. I can’t leave them with someone whose job is an afterthought of her other life. How dare she allow herself to even have a life?  
What if she doesn’t keep up with our prayer journals and proof of God’s faithfulness? What if she throws out the spiral notebook with their requests of comfort for sick grandpas and fighting parents and loved ones with cancer—precious pages of prayers for broken legs and broken hearts and birthday blessings and praises for roses and healing from thorns. What if she thinks daily inspiration is stupid? What if she only scratches the surface of Lord of the Flies and Antigone and Fahrenheit? What if a story is just a story and not the opportunity to embrace life or change?
What if she’s more organized and enjoys primly checking off standards? What if she looks good and wears heels like I used to before I realized I’d rather play vocabulary games that required racing across the room and spin cartwheels to demonstrate action verbs?  What if she easily and instantly fits in when it took me four years to push my way into this league made up of both pitiful and extraordinary educators? Or what if she is simply a better teacher with more experience who is strong in all of the places I am weak, someone who reaches more or different students, or someone who is smarter. I’ll hate her if she’s smarter.
                She’ll probably be Catholic. She’ll probably call the bread “the Host” instead of communion like she’s supposed to. She’ll probably agree with penance and confession. She’ll know the Lord’s Prayer ends with “deliver us from evil” instead of “for thine is the kingdom…” She’ll know that offering each other the sign of peace does not mean flashing the peace sign/ throwing up deuces. She’ll probably know not to have homeroom parties during Lent, know never to lift her hands in worship during mass because she’ll look like a fool, and never, ever use the Advent candles as pretend swords when acting out the stabbing scene of “Julius Caesar.”

This year, perhaps because they knew I was leaving or perhaps because my teacher-friend put the idea in their heads, they remembered my birthday. They made me feel so honored, so celebrated. Complete with princess crown and birthday sash, I was queen of the school—me, the girl who couldn’t even get on the homecoming court of her own high school. I opened my classroom door to find hundreds of handwritten messages, dozens of balloons, streamers, and gifts piled high on my desk. I was living the Norman Rockwell painting, “Happy Birthday, Miss Jones,” except in his painting the poised teacher smiles with gratitude whereas this Mama K squealed with delight and then immediately cried delicious tears. Yes, it was worth it. Yes, I would choose it again. I would make my same mistakes. I would lose myself again because they helped me find myself. I would lift my hands in joy and praise and thanksgiving. Why? Because they created me, and a small part of their lives are forever holy, wholly mine.    
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credit: (via pinterest) inspiredbycharm.com