Author: accidental devotional

I live and work and love in the city of Atlanta. I am trying hard to follow God as a mother, teacher, wife, speaker and writer. Sometimes, there are moments when I get it right. And when I don't God's grace is sufficient.

Learning to Swear: A Spiritual Discipline (A Guest Post)

I love this piece and I love this girl. It has been an honor to watch her learn to swear.

I learned to swear last summer.

I had tried for a long time, muttering Mumford and Sons under my breath to get used to the taste of the taste of the things I wasn’t supposed to say. I had toyed with four-letter words when I wanted to shock or when I thought them necessary for emphatic effect, but every time the words left my lips, they sputtered with hesitation, a pause that made it clear my words were not my own.

The dam broke when a woman I respected told me I had to learn to swear properly. She stood on a chair and told me to cuss, to rage, to shout at all the things that had stifled my words and stopped up my emotions. At that moment, I realized that, actually, I didn’t have to swear if I didn’t want to, because my words were mine. In realizing I didn’t have to swear, I suddenly could. It wasn’t the words themselves that were stopping me. It was my right to choose them.

It was my agency – my ability to choose my own path, verbally, physically, and emotionally – that had been taken from me.

Agency can be taken from us in a variety of ways. It can be taken by force. It can be taken by illness or addiction. Every subduing of another’s will – physically or emotionally – is a crime of power, and it is wrong.

But our freedom to choose, to speak, to act can also be stolen in much more subtle ways. It can be taken by cutting words that constrict our choices. By ideologies that make obedience, not wisdom, their cornerstone.

These kinds of thefts may not leave physical marks, but their conditioning can leave emotional imprints that reach to our very core. They teach us to own and identify with our powerlessness, our fear, our shame rather than our strength. They break our spirits while claiming to make us whole.

They warp our understanding of freedom, wholeness, health, and beauty until our consciences become our blindest guides.

Unlearning this takes hard work. I shut my eyes tight every time I act in ways that aren’t clearly spelled out in the rule books. I can only do it by holding tight to the arms of friends who won’t let me settle for a pre-scripted life anymore.

I do it by storing up images and items and phrases that make me strong, things that cannot be bent by the pressure of others. Mantras like “I am not wrong,” “that is not OK,” and “I am in charge of my own words” (and my own body, of course, because the two are intertwined) become my strongholds when someone walks over my boundaries or threatens my agency with shame or fear.

Sometimes, it takes a few foul words to begin the long, slow unraveling of a worldview that conforms us to an unhealthy ideal. Honesty and truth can’t always be expressed without allowing their rough edges to show.

But I know there is as much power in a single, honest cry of “fuck that shit” when times are hard as there is in the heartfelt prayers I said growing up.

There is as much holiness, too.

Elizabeth grew up on the more moderate fringes of conservative Christianity in the US, and then explored Europe for five years while she studied abroad. Now, she explores her past, present, and future on http://ellieava.tumblr.com/

I am Picking Through the Rubble Again

I am picking through the rubble again. This fall, it seems, has been a season of dying. And I am sifting through the rubble, trying to find the beautiful things, the pieces that still fit, the good in the middle of this mess. I am sifting through the rubble of a place I used to belong. I am sifting through the rubble of the place I used to call safe, I used to call home. I am sifting through the rubble of the way things were supposed to go. I am sifting through the rubble of the dreams I had built for six months, two years, ten years from now. I am ashamed of how much I was already living there.

I am sifting through the rubble, and that alone is painful. My soul feels cracked and bruised and worn, and sifting through the rubble rubs the wounds raw. But what else is there to do? I do not want to leave the good behind. I have already lost too much.

The first time, I had just begun to see the cracks in the foundation. I thought the patch work was going just fine. This can be fixed, this can be salvaged, I didn’t expect anyone to hit the button and watch the whole thing come down. I at least expected to be warned. But I wasn’t. The whole thing came crashing down, and I wasn’t the only one still inside. At least there were people to search through the rubble with. We have been searching, sifting, patching each other’s wounds, handing each other the good pieces. The work is slow, the wounds are deep, but I think we are all going to make it out alive. Limping, but alive.

This time there are less gaping wounds. Just a hollow emptiness. Where there once were warmth and walls there is now a cold cement floor and the sound of the wind. The cracks had turned to holes long ago, and I had even stopped trying to patch anything long ago. But it finally came down, the roof over my head, and I am left standing in the rubble.

Sometimes, while searching through the rubble, I dream of setting whole thing aflame. I’ve lit a match more than once, only to snuff it out just before I let it drop to the ground. It turns out I am not someone who burns things to the ground, just someone who thinks about it.

I’ve learned just a tiny bit about burning. I burned my hand on a hot handle last week. I learned at Urgent Care that the amount of pain I was in was a good sign. A third degree burn seers the nerves bad enough that they stop feeling. At the time, I sort of wished I had clung to that handle a little longer. At least then I wouldn’t be in pain.

Not feeling the pain comes with its own costs. You just plain stop feeling. I have just enough hope left to want to avoid that. I have just enough left to believe that my capacity to feel should remain in tact, that it won’t always hurt this bad. I have learned just enough about restoration and redemption, to put the matches away.

Instead, I am sifting through the rubble. I am feeling the grit along my open wounds. I am searching for the pieces that are beautiful.

When Saving the World is Exhausting

I see it scroll through my Twitter feed more often than a post about what someone is eating.

“Change the world!” “Make a difference!” “You were born to be a catalyst!” “Leave your mark on this planet!” “Live so that people will be sad that you die!” “What are you doing today that will affect change tomorrow?” and I am trying. I am trying to leave the mark and change the world and make a difference. But I am just so tired.

Our second grading period has ended and I am unhappy with the number of failures that I have. (Spoiler: more than zero failures, and I am not a happy camper.) I beg, I plead, I assign, I check up, I have already provided a week in class and three days in the computer lab. My student’s tell me they will do it. They will turn in the assignment, they will make up that grade. Every day I ask, they tell me it is coming. But we have six weeks left, just two weeks before Thanksgiving (after Thanksgiving the time flies by) and they are still failing my class. I don’t know what else to do.

So I give them a mandatory extra credit assignment, an in class writing to make up for some of the points that they missed on the far easier group project simply because they did not feel like doing the original project at the time it was due. I get a lot of eye rolls. What is the big deal?

The big deal is your future. That is the big deal. But how do you explain that to a 15-year-old who simply made the choice to play on his phone when he should have been writing his paper? I understand the desire. I have had to ban myself from my phone during work hours and I am an adult. I understand. I do. A couple of missing papers doesn’t seem like a big deal to someone who is just trying to get their driver’s licence.

But I also understand the school to prison pipe line. I understand it because I have watched so many of my first students follow it. I write-up as few as kids as possible and still watch many of my students get suspended. I invent make up assignment after make up assignment and yell when they aren’t turned in. I need you to pass so that you will graduate. I need you to graduate so that you won’t go to jail. It sounds dramatic, but it is the truth. An eleventh grader with all of their credits will follow the path of least resistance. For an eleventh grader with all of their credits, the path of least resistance ends in a cap and gown.

Someone who failed ninth and tenth grade English has to fight like hell just to get out of High school. Bad choices at 14 can have permanent consequences, especially for students who are also fighting poverty. It seems unfair that anything we do at 14 should affect us at 30 but it is true.

It is also true that 30 feels a million miles away to a 14-year-old. I know. A 30 something in a sea of 14-year-olds may as well be 120. Surely they will never be that old. It is just one paper Ms. Norman, what is the big deal?

The big deal is entrance into college, walking at the graduation ceremony, your mother not having to scrape together the 250 dollars she does not have to send you to summer school she cannot afford. The big deal is whether or not you are going to spend the next two years climbing up a hill you created for yourself, or coasting to the finish line.

I take deep breaths and try to remember that I am being the change I hope to see in this world.

I guess I just wish that someone would tweet about how tired it makes you.

All the Vulnerable Things and Declaring it Napvember What I am into October 2013

October always seems to be a whirlwind for me and my family, but it was especially blustery this year. I did a bunch that I am proud of, but all of it made me feel raw and vulnerable, you know?

I started off the month not blogging at all to prepare for my TEDx Peachtree talk. Thanks so much for all of the emotional support! It went swimmingly and as soon as they put it on YouTube I will be sure to put it on Twitter and my Facebook Page. Until then, this is apparently what my face does while I am speaking to a large audience.

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(My students tell me this is what my face does all the time, and thank you Marvia Davidson for capturing these hilarious screen shots.)

To go along with my talk I also put these T-shirts back on sale, and added a kids T-shirt. I am not sure either of these are going to make, so buy one if you want one! I was hoping the Ted talk would be up and that would help, but no dice.

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Oh! And I wrote an ebook I am really proud of that is only 3 dollars and takes about 45 minutes to read. I don’t know everything about parenting, but I am sure I know this. 2.99. That is a steal and you should buy it.

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I dropped a YouTube video I love. 77 seconds on consent.

I made the school newspaper!

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After that was my birthday weekend!

We had a bonfire and all the people over because pretty much those are my two favorite things. My husband got me a full length mirror so I no longer have to stand on the toilet to see my whole outfit, and my friend gifted me her old curtains! I love the light it brings into my room.

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I made this sangria for the party. It is delicious! And I rolled pimento cheese into crescent rolls like this. (But I just buy the pimento cheese.) Both were a huge hit and I will be repeating them.

We went to the Pumpkin patch. I convinced my girls not to carve pumpkins but make these adorable and easy kitty pumpkins instead and I don’t feel one bit bad about it.

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We had scarf week!

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We went trick-or-treating. I was Wonder woman (sort of, I had the t-shirt) my husband was a professional wrestler, and my girls were two adorable fairies.

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I wrote some things I am really proud of this month, about my mom, privilege, and practicing my shut ups.

And while I was not blogging for half the month, a bunch of my friends were kicking booty with their 31 days

In the Kitchen

About CS Lewis

Shooting like a Girl

On gentleness (Emily and I are both SERIOUS extroverts so I loved this)

On Stability

On Church in the Woods (Esther BROUGHT IT y’all)

On Authentic Living

Days of Movement

Love Faith and Creativity

Walking Brave

All of these were great and I was thoroughly impressed. I am sure I missed some.

Looking forward, while some are diving into NaNoWriMo and NaBloPoMo I am declaring it Napvember. It is easy for me to get wrapped up in all the things I am not doing, but what I really need to be doing is resting, aggressively resting. So I will be doing that. The crockpot and I have started out strong this Napvember and I am going to try to say NO as often as possible. You got a casserole recipe you love, I am all ears. I am tired. My family is tired. It is time to rest. Anyone care to join me? We could start a hashtag if we aren’t too tired. If it is too much work, we skip that part. I am ready to rest well.

I am linking up with Leigh Kramer. It is fun and you should join her! 

The Long Weekend, Guest Post by Cara Strickland

Last week I wrote about practicing my shut ups. I got to thinking about what that would really look like, in my life, on my blog. Right as I was thinking about that Cara approached me about writing on singleness for my blog. YES! That is how I practice my shut ups, by letting other people have a turn. Cara writes honestly about things other people don’t want to talk about (but need to) at her place. 

By Cara Strickland

 

From elementary, through high school, my mom taught my brother and I at home. I never walked through a cafeteria line, or raised my hand to ask if I could use the bathroom. My knowledge about school (at least, school before college) comes from movies, Saturday morning cartoons, and the wealth of stories from friends, many of whom, like my lovely host Abby, are teachers.

 

There aren’t a lot of movies about home schooling. It’s not a sexy topic. As a result, not a lot of people had any idea what it was like to be home schooled. They asked me if I liked it (I had nothing to compare it to), they asked me why my parents had made the choice they did, and they told me that they couldn’t ever be homeschooled (or, they told me that they were jealous of all my time at home).

 

The high school students who longed to be able to wear their pajamas to school (like I did) had no idea how hard it was to try to make plans with people “after school” only to find them too tired to connect after spending time with their friends all day. There was no glamour in that life. But, honestly, where is the glamour, anyway?

 

I tried, as I got older, to tell my story in such a way that it let people in. As I grew to know their stories, I began to spot differences, and try to point them out. I cultivated empathy for the struggles they faced, and the experiences that had shaped them, and tried to ask for the same.

 

In so many ways, this process prepared me to be single longer than I expected.

 

I am used to being the one who doesn’t quite fit. It is less pointed now, and I am better at coping with it. But even at my lovely new church, the one where the passing of the peace is always long because everyone wants to greet each other with a smile and a hand squeeze, I still panic a little bit, wondering where I will sit, and who I will sit near.

 

I have parties and invite my friends. They come, mostly in couples, and I sit at the head of the table, presiding. Even though I know that there is no correlation between coupling and adulthood, it is still hard to feel quite grown up when surrounded by those who have joined a club I can’t seem to get into.

 

It is possible that my invitation has been lost in the mail.

 

I don’t mean to bemoan the single life. Like all other states, it is sometimes full to the brim with joy, and other times drained dry. These extremes occasionally happen in the same day.

 

I don’t presume to speak for single people everywhere. There are those who are longing for marriage, and those who would prefer to stay as they are. I am only one single voice, so I’ll tell you my story.

 

I am frank about my hope for marriage. As soon as I utter these words in the presence of a happily coupled person, I am usually met with a comment from one of these families: “Have you tried online dating?” (yes) “I’m so glad I’m not dating anymore. How do you meet people?” (let me know if you find out) or “You’ll meet somebody.”

 

Sometimes, they almost whisper: “You are so lucky.”

None of this helps, honestly. I know that these words are well intentioned (as are “what’s a wonderful girl like you doing still single?”), but they don’t help. What I’d really like, is to be heard out, and then held, in hearts, and prayers, and arms.

 

I have learned that most people have something that hasn’t come easy in their lives. Maybe children don’t come when they are expected, work is hard to find, or education is earned with tears and three jobs, if at all. For me, this great hope that I’m always giving back to God, is marriage.

 

I have a lot of friends who have walked through the pain of infertility and miscarriage. These have been dark, desperate times, and I have cried out to God in my car, with tears, for these friends. But I have been there to hear about the positive pregnancy test, I have held little fingers and heard whirring heartbeats fill the room. I have rejoiced first, always, and then, occasionally I have looked to Heaven and wondered what about me?

 

I am sociable by nature. I live with roommates now (and secretly hope that they will remain single while I do, so that I won’t be left alone). Just before three day weekends, a feeling of dread begins to overtake me. Around here, people go away for three day weekends. The city starts to feel hollow. I try to make sure I have plans for regular weekends, to ease the time alone. But three day weekends are harder. I usually find myself telling my life story to the produce guy by the second day, and flat on my floor by the third.

 

It isn’t that I don’t have plenty to do. My life is full to bursting with interesting events, people, books and projects. In fact, sometimes when I’m packing my weekends full, I long to stay at home and read a book. It may be surprising, but very few people want to come read a book in silence together in a room. I often sacrifice what I’d like to be doing, so that I am not alone.

 

I have a wonderful community. I know that I am loved, and that there are people who are holding me close in prayer. I know that there are those who are keeping their eyes out for someone whom I might like to meet. But at the end of the day, they go home to their families. Their kids and husband come first. They spend weekends and holidays and vacations together. They operate with a built-in friend, a partner, a companion.

 

When I was young, I was lonely. I spent time with books. Nancy Drew and Anne of Green Gables (among others) became my companions. I knew what I wanted, then, but I didn’t know how to ask for it. Now, I know, I ask, and yet, I have not yet received. Like that little girl I have been, I’m trying to tell my story, to give a peek into what my everyday is, to trade empathy for empathy. I can only assume that my hunger is not in vain, and keep walking.

Cara Strickland is a writer, editor, and food critic in Spokane, Washington. She writes about singleness, food, feminism, and the way faith intersects life (among other things) on her blog Little Did She Know. Come say hi to her on Twitter. She likes making new friends.

cara profile

I think singles are often over looked and I have been thinking a lot about how to remedy that, especially as the holiday season approaches. Anyone have any really good ideas for me?

 

Confession of a Bad Teacher

Today Time Magazine put out a cover with an apple on it. Hovering above the apple is a hammer, and on the side there is a lament that it is nearly impossible to fire a bad teacher. The good news, (according to the graphic on the cover of said magazine) is that tech millionaires may have figured out a way to fire these “rotten apples.”

And I suppose that sounds nice, but less nice, when you know were one of those rotten apples, maybe still are.

I spent the first three years of my career being a bad teacher. I was doing the best I could, but I can tell you unequivocally that I was a massive failure. I was expected to be. I was told the first week that the year would be considered a success if I cam back the next year. Not quit. That was the bar that was put in front of me, and it took about everything I had to jump over it.

I was a rotten apple. There were days when my students didn’t learn anything. Days I put the assignment on the board and walked silently to my desk in utter defeat. This was after I asked for help, literally crying for help in my principal’s office. I was promised help that week and no one came.

I was a bad teacher. There were days I could not control my students. This was after I wrote a student up for mooning me and I was called in for a conference instead. Surely a child would not have shown me his bare butt if my lesson plans were better. I needed to have more innovative plans, I needed to stop blaming the kids. Let me re-iterate a kid mooned me and I was punished.

I was a bad teacher. I kicked a kid out of my room for an entire month. It was the last month of school and I had been pinned up against a wall by this kid who weighed more than I did. But the principals didn’t want to do anything about it, so my write up was thrown away and the child was told he didn’t have to go to my class. When he decided he wanted to, I wouldn’t let him in.

I was a rotten apple. I sometimes put a video on when I was just too overwhelmed to do anything else. I did this maybe five times. Most of the time we had read the book, or the videos were about poetry. But when I went to a funeral for my grandmother, the time I would have spent lesson planning was instead spent working on the paper work for the girl who swung on me. I couldn’t lesson plan and make my flight, so I gave them a movie. It wasn’t standards based.

I was a bad teacher. I yelled. I threatened, I used practices that weren’t the greatest because it was all I knew how to do. I did what I could with no copy paper and not enough books, tenth grade students who were reading at a third grade level. I gave the best I had, it was just pretty bad and there was no safety net to catch me.

I was a bad teacher. I didn’t always have a plan that worked. I wasted minutes. I often had no control of my classroom. And that was simply the best I could do.

All to many bad teachers are trying desperately to get better. But they are underfunded, under supported, overwhelmed. Maybe the teachers are bad, but that is mostly because they are a product of a broken system. Bad situations lead to bad teachers.

And last semester? At the better school with the better resources and the kids who are generally better behaved? I was still a rotten apple.At least by Time Magazine’s standards. Because one kid got mad at the way we were legally obligated to give the test. So he put his head down and refused to take it. He slept through almost all of it, and then marked random letters for the last five minutes. I begged and pleaded. I told him it was worth 20 percent of his grade. Nothing. He didn’t want to. So my numbers were lower than anyone else. One failure was all it took. That’s my fault, apparently.

This is the point when people always stop me to say that the tests shouldn’t be employed like that. Well should is a fairly tale because currently they are. I am right now, this school year, preparing kids for a test that has not been created yet, that was just named a month ago. I don’t know how to prepare them for the test, because I don’t yet know the kinds of questions that are going to be on it. And really tests like this should be phased in slowly, phased out the same. But they aren’t. The laws demand now and the tests need to be made NOW and I’m expected to prepare kids for a test even though my best guess as to what is on it is a wild shot in the dark.

But the teacher, she is the rotten apple. I’m the bad teacher failing the kids. Not the principals, the systems, the laws, the tests that aren’t invented yet. It’s me. I’m the one to get rid of. That’s what the cover of Time magazine says, so it simply must be true.