I’m headed home from speaking in South Carolina. What a wonderful event centered on being at a grand table as we’re seated with Christ. The napkins were a silky gold if that tells you anything! Pictures forthcoming!
I love the honor of sharing my life with others. And I love the stories I hear while on the road. So many times, a woman will tuck a book into my purse, and I discover later it’s the book she wrote about her story. This time, in addition to a new book on a mother’s journey of trusting God through the illness and paralysis of her child, I accepted other gifts including the church’s Southern Recipes cookbook. I had the best conversation about missing all the southern delights, so a dear new friend made sure I had the only cookbook I needed. And I have a menu plan for “Sunday Supper” that includes pot roast, macaroni and cheese, greens made with fat back, and something called pineapple casserole. It’s good to add in a meal like this!
I’m traveling this weekend to speak in South Carolina. Please pray that Ephesians 2 would come alive to the listeners, and as a result, that they would embrace Christ more. Thank you! As I once again read Michael Reeve’s book Delighting in the Trinity, I underline this quote about his fear of how we read the Bible. He writes:
“I know, it’s a bit pedantic, but it comes from the fear that we’ll merely study the Scriptures as interesting texts instead of hearing them as God’s very words that hold out Christ and draw us to want him. For the Spirit breathed out those words, not that we might merely alter our behavior, not that we might merely know about Christ, but that, as John Calvin wrote, we might have a ‘sincere affection’ for him, that we might ‘cordially embrace him’.”
It’s easy for me to study the scriptures; after all, I have a PhD in literature. I know how to study, to dissect, to critique, and to analyze. But to approach the Bible as a book, not of texts to study but as words that lead to the Word, spurs us to love scripture and to allow the Holy Spirit to teach us this supreme affection for Jesus.
This year, I’ve enjoyed something so special about growing older. I realize that when I’m with my students, I know I bring to them a lifetime of accumulated resources, expertise, networking connections, and mentorship. This semester, more than any other time in my life, I’ve been able to look at students and say, “I can help you. I know exactly what you need. I know exactly the person you want to meet. I know what resources you need and how to get them.”
I joyfully spend more time writing strategic job and professional school recommendations, nominating students for key scholarships, editing professional materials, and sending emails to introduce students to the right professional people. I’m also the one promoting others on social media. (If you wonder why I’m always tweeting about Mike Watkins–our senior basketball player at Penn State–it’s because he was my student last year, and I want everyone to know how great he is!)
Outside of my teaching life, I spend more time than ever before helping readers who email me with writing questions. I know about agents, about proposals, about marketing, and about publishers.
It’s so wonderful to be this person.
What a change from my younger days! I used to need all the help and the attention. I used to crave the fame and the success. But now? Now I look at you, and I imagine your success, the attention you might have, and the ways I might help make your dreams comes true. Maybe it’s my age. Maybe it’s sanctification by the Holy Spirit. Maybe it’s because God sent me so many people who personally invested in my dreams–the teachers, speech coaches, the agents, the publishers, and the spiritual mentors–and I am inevitably following in their path.
I am. I really am. I’m now the person I once needed.
Last night, I marched down to the floor of the Penn State Basketball game right into the swarm of reporters, photographers, and videographers. (That was me if you saw it.) It’s because I once met the Big Ten Network announcer, Shon Morris (one of the absolute nicest people in the world) on a plane to Chicago. I have a student in broadcast journalism who will need an internship and then a career path. I had to make this connection for him. I tugged on Shon’s arm. “Do you remember me?” He did. “Will you do me a favor?” He would. “Will you let me connect you with my student?” He was thrilled. And I was so full of joy the rest of the night to help make someone else move a bit further down the road in the directions of their dream.
So my encouragement to you in this next phase of living with flair is to see who in your life needs more resources, more connections, more training, or more mentorship. You can be the person to make someone else succeed. What do you bring? What do you know? Whom do you know? How fun to go now and help the younger folks.
I finished the first season and so appreciated how the hosts both articulate so much of what’s happening in the culture while also providing hope as they fortify listeners in how to engage a post-Christian cultural moment.
As I went about my lecture in class, I mentioned something about keeping a journal in college and how I reread those pages even now as a 44 year old. I noticed that a student had brought in his own journal to record insights or special memories. I made a joke about how I cannot believe I made it this far based on how foolish I was freshman year of college. I made so many mistakes! I made so many poor decisions! On and on I went. I concluded by telling them that it all worked out in the end. I read those journals now through the lens of someone who has been married 20 years and who has raised two daughters. I did survive college. They will, too.
The class stared at me in shock. Their faces looked both horrified and confused. What did I say? Was I bleeding out of my head or something? What was happening?
Then one student raised his hand. “What a minute,” he said. “Wait. Are you seriously saying you’ve been married 20 years?” He paused. “That means you got married when you were 25 years old. That’s insane. I’m almost 25.”
The class erupted in agreement. Marriage at 25? To one person, forever! This is crazy! That’s too young. Why did you marry at 25!? Why?
I told them that, at least in the south, some of my friends were engaged right out of college. They couldn’t believe it. I told them that I thought 25 was a little late. I was getting old. They laughed. I asked them when they thought a good time to get married was, and they again looked confused. Maybe never. At least in the late 30’s.
It’s a different world. I spoke for a moment about not regretting marrying “so young” because we grew up together and experienced life together. A student said, “But it’s the same person. Forever.”
I smiled and said, “Yes. The same person. Forever.”
I love teaching on the college campus. If you’re wondering what a typical Monday looks like, I’ll tell you. The day always begins with coffee, Bible reading, my prayer journal–a must to survive! After getting my children situated for school, I’ll drive to campus. I’m currently listening to the podcast called “This Cultural Moment.” It’s excellent!
The day began with a special treat: I ran into another faculty member. We chatted on a campus bench before her 9:00 AM class. Students streamed passed us and busses exhaled at their stops as we talked. Talking to other professors means we’ll inevitably swap teaching stories, but we also talk about our families, what we’re learning, and any new ideas we’ve had lately. I love being around creative and intelligent people. I always learn something new!
Then, I rushed off to my office to return several emails to provide feedback on student writing, write recommendations, or advise students. I share an office with two colleagues, so I love catching up with their life and work.
I met with three different students: one readying herself for medical school applications who needed help with her personal statement, one seeking personal, career, and class advice, and one wanting to talk through the sequence of his next essay. If you’re thinking about a career in teaching, let me prepare you: you’ll interact with many people in a day, and each conversation matters deeply. This is why you keep alert with snacks and coffee in your office!
Then, I walked through the sunshine to my teach my advanced writing classes in a building across campus. Each class is 50 minutes long and involves lecture, discussion, and writing. Of course, I always plan a “Name Game.” Today we talked about the highlights of our weekend and then worked on advanced grammar skills to hold the attention of the reader. When I leave class, I love it when students follow me out to talk about whatever is on their mind.
Then, it’s back home to greet my children and prepare dinner. I normally just have a few minutes to transition home. During the week a paper is due, students will email more frequently, so I devote more time in the evening to helping students improve their writing. Often, former students will email with writing questions or help with their resumes, and if I have the energy, I’ll answer a few of these before bedtime. So that’s my Monday! If you’re wondering when I blog, it’s whenever I have a free moment! I’m writing now before I clean the dinner dishes.
On Tuesday, I’m home writing, and I schedule ministry meetings in the afternoon. And that’s a day in the life.
I experienced the oddest but most powerful memory yesterday. I sat in our church’s sanctuary for the orientation for a food-packing event with Feed My Starving Children, a Christian non-profit that packs meals to send to starving children all over the world. I learned about how to pack at my station to make a meal to save a child’s life: the vitamins, the dried vegetables, the protein powder, and finally, the rice. I learned about where the food would go and the number of children it might feed.
But while we watched a video showing starving children, and then pictures of them months or years later after surviving on the meal packs from Feed My Starving Children, a vivid memory flashed through my mind. I was four years old, and I was watching television with a babysitter while my parents were out to dinner. A commercial came on–the first of its kind I’ve ever seen. It was, of course, Sally Struthers in her plea to save the Ethiopian children. As a four year old, watching other children starving to death on the television impacted me so deeply I remember feeling sick inside. I couldn’t stop crying about those dying children. When my parents returned home from their evening out, I remember my mother comforting me, but I just kept saying something like, “Can’t we just send them a pear?” I thought of the fruit I enjoyed every day. I thought of those children as I went to bed and as I moved on into a regular kindergarten day. But I never sent a pear, or anything else. I felt powerless and overwhelmed.
Although as time went on my husband and I supported children through various ministries, I never became involved with direct hunger relief as an adult. But as I sat in the sanctuary with my hair net on, ready to pack meals, I remembered that feeling I stored away as a little girl. I could now do something. I could now use my grown-up resources and wisdom to do something and choose organizations that knew how to actually get nutritious food to children. How far we’ve come in studies of nutrition! How far we’ve come in resourcing the right people on the ground to avoid corruption to get food to children. I especially noted the way Feed My Starving Children customizes their mobile food packs to feed children suffering from intestinal diseases when they can only digest certain foods or for babies ready to transition to solid foods.
I praised God that He directed me here at such a time. It felt like a fulfillment of a forty-year old ache that I hid away all this time. And now, onward! Onward to donate, to pack food, and to do what I now know I can do.
When you have teens, you might feel like you did when your children were toddlers. You lose sleep! You stay up to make sure they’re OK. And if you host sleepover parties for all the friends, you may not really sleep at all. It made me laugh to think that these two seasons of life feel so similar. Both require a little extra grace for all.
My oldest daughter loves the public library. She likes to roam and find books, and this I love about her. She finds a Ray Bradbury book to read again since it’s been so long, and while she plucks Fahrenheit 451 from the shelf, I pick a collection of his short stories. I love what he writes in the introduction:
“Every story here was written because I had to write it. Writing stories is like breathing for me. I watch: I get an idea, fall in love with it, and try not to think too much about it. I then write: I let the story pour forth onto the paper as soon as possible.”
I think some of us hide stories within that we must write and we must pour forth as soon as possible, but for some reason, we don’t give ourselves the time and permission to do so. Well, I hope you will.
Maybe, like Ray Bradbury, we should try not to think too much about this idea we have. Maybe, like him, we should just write.
It’s been such a busy past few weeks, so I’ve found myself so thankful for some very easy dinners (three invented by my husband). If you have limited time, try some of these:
Buy a bag of cooked and frozen grilled chicken strips. Or cook all your chicken on the weekend, and slice and freeze until ready to use. This same bag of cooked chicken can make the following: 1). Chicken Caesar Salad (use bagged salad from Trader Joe’s–my favorite!–and add in some peas and sliced onion. This will take you 5 minutes). 2). Chicken Tacos. Heat your chicken strips, heat soft taco shells, heat up black beans, and serve with salsa, cheese, and lettuce. 3). Chicken Parmesan. Cook pasta, heat chicken. Place chicken under the broiler with fresh parmesan and mozzarella. Serve with heated marinara sauce.
#4. Soup and Sandwich / Salad: When you’re tired of variations of the chicken theme, don’t forget the delicious boxed soups from Trader Joes (we love the roasted red pepper). Serve bowls of soup alongside grilled cheese sandwiches that take only a few minutes to make. For healthier folks, you can eat your soup alongside a tossed salad full of veggies.
So you have four nights of easy meals. For the other nights, try fish (so fast under the broiler–either salmon or cod) with some steamed broccoli and rice, the ever-popular Breakfast for Dinner (omelets or pancakes), or pita pizzas (use pita bread for crust!). So there you go! I hope this helps your meal planning for next week.