It’s a gorgeous day in Pennsylvania. It’s finally time to bring out my solar-powered fountain! I read in my E. Stanley Jones devotional this morning about a college girl who finally made Jesus the center of her life and felt as though she had “swallowed sunshine.” It’s a day that feels like this, and the internal joy matches the beautiful of the outside world.
My youngest daughter and I take a long walk through the neighborhood. In the springtime, it’s easy to take hour-long walks, not only for fitness and mental health, but also for having a great relationship with family members. It’s nearly impossible not to have a warm conversation when you’re out in nature for an hour or so. Later today, my oldest daughter and I will go out in search of the rare lady slipper orchids that bloom right around this time of year. Meanwhile, we bask in the sunshine. We swallow it down!
I taught my last two classes of the semester today. Next week I’ll grade final papers and then begin my wonderful transition to summer work. In the summer, I work on novels, cultivate the garden, revise my advanced writing course, and start my 90-day Bible reading plan. I start weeding and preparing the beds for my pumpkin and watermelon plants. I cannot wait!
For our last day of class, I ask students to bring in a paragraph to read aloud the writing they feel most proud of from our whole semester together. It’s fun to hear their choices and why.
I’m learning the power of ending things well. When something ends (a semester, a project, an event, a trip, or anything that has a clear ending), providing a question for a sense of meaningful closure offers some joy and reflection.
Over the years, I learn what makes a student proud: she overcame burnout or a lack of motivation; she took a courageous risk; she grew emotionally; she adopted a new point of view; she learned and applied something somewhere else; she stayed organized. I’m excited to hear what students will say tomorrow.
As my own semester ends, I’m most proud of staying peaceful during department controversy, of gaining confidence to teach my graduate / faculty seminar, and of writing my book on having better conversations. I’m proud of growing as a good friend, a better mom, and good companion to my husband as we enter a new season of life with grown children.
This semester, I’ve learned how to change my classroom and office hours to accommodate students with various registered disabilities. I’m also learning never to assume students have equal access to laptops, phones, printers, or even food. How have my classroom and office hours changed?
I’m learning, for example, about always providing text and captions for videos to help students with hearing, processing, or language issues. I’m learning how to keep the lights less bright for photosensitive students with migraine triggers. I’m learning how to offer options for how students can engage in class so I’m not just rewarding extroverted and talkative students. I’m providing various kinds of assessments to check for understanding in multiple ways (and not just in a high-stakes exam or final paper). A disability advocate in my class even suggested providing a survey before the semester begins to ask students about what helps or hinders their learning. Sometimes playing music in class isn’t good for certain kinds of students, for example. Sometimes my attendance questions need some advance warning. Sometimes I need to prepare myself for having a classroom with service dogs sitting at a student’s feet. Sometimes students want to talk about their disabilities, and sometimes students want you to ignore it. It’s important to ask for preferences. I’ve had students with Tourette Syndrome tell the class, “I’m going to sometimes shout out random words. That’s OK! Don’t freak out!” A student with autism wanted us to ask about her service dog, and she invited the dog’s trainer to visit class to explain what the dog is trained to do and how we might interact best with both the student and dog. I learned the difference between a service animal (they have public access rights) and a therapy animal.
In my office, I’ve learned to keep beverages and protein bars for students who might be hungry. Over the years, I’ve learned about food insecurity in college students. They won’t tell you, and you’ll never know. But you’ll find students popping in to grab some food because it’s there for them.
I’m learning more and more about making a joyful and productive classroom environment for all students.
Sometimes life comes at you so quickly that you don’t have time to think. You find yourself in a position to answer “yes” or “no” all throughout the day. How many times have you had to make a choice already today? New opportunities. Requests for input. Decisions about work. Invitations. Social media posts. Emails. Conversations.
I’m learning to stop and check in with God more and more. After all my years of living, I know how quickly I can take a wrong path, make an unwise decision, or live without making the best use of time.
What if, instead, we were thoughtful, slow, wise, and responsive to the Holy Spirit at all times? What if we checked in with God before we answered, before we went somewhere, bought something, made a choice, or moved in any direction of our dreams?
How do you check in with God? You consciously think about God’s perspective through what you’ve read in the Bible, and you listen for the “Shepherd’s voice” (John 10) through prayer. You ask the Holy Spirit for wisdom and direction (John 14). You ask questions like, “Does this honor God? Does this help me grow in my faith? Does this harm anyone else? Does this align with what I know of God’s calling on my life?”
I follow the paths of peace. I follow the voice of the Shepherd. But I have to listen and look carefully into God’s word to become better and better at discerning what is best (Phil 1:10).
I move my potted seedlings (which are now rather large and leafy) out to the patio to harden them. I won’t plant them in the ground for a few more weeks. To “harden” a plant means you’re preparing it to transition from a safe, mild indoor environment (my window sill) to the outdoors (my garden). Plants you start indoors need to spend a few hours outside in the bright, hot sun, the wind, and the cooler air. The hours of stress prepare them for the transition to the outdoor garden bed.
Every year, I think of the work of hardening or strengthening that signals a transitional state to a season of growth and fruitfulness. You might feel like you’re in a stressful spot, but when you see it as your “hardening” for the bountiful times ahead, it helps give you joy and perspective.
I remember the first time we took our girls to New York City. We still laugh about how, of all the fun experiences that cost so much money, what they most loved were the pigeons that landed all around them on the city sidewalk. Birds! The experience cost nothing.
Recently when traveling, my daughter and I took so much delight in a little stray cat that followed us around on the beach. All around us stood luxurious homes and experiences we could have that would cost us a fortune. But what caught our attention was a silly little cat.
I like to remember the simplicity of joyful experiences we treasure as a family. Our favorite memories are often the ones that cost us nothing.
I hear a Christian speaker—Dr. Tim Muelhoff—talk about why difficult things happen to us. He declares that God loves us too much to “allow us to fall in love with a fallen world.” I consider the ways God draws us ever so gently—but sometimes strongly—away from earth towards heaven.
As I’m reading the gospel of John again, I realize the power of Jesus as “the light.” John tells us: “In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” Jesus tells us: “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”
I love looking at the bright sun bursting through dark clouds. I love how the tiniest night-light or candle can scatter all the darkness in a room.
Whatever the darkness, we invite the Light of the World to overcome it now.
My neighbor, who just returned from Paris, laughed with us about how every frequent traveler knows to expect “the travel test.” He said his family has learned that every trip will involve at least one difficult situation to test their character.
It’s not a surprise. They expect it. And ever since that conversation, I expect difficulty with a sort of joy knowing it’s a test to build character. The mindset shift to anticipate the test has even changed my definition of difficulty. Is a delayed flight enough of a test? Is a headache or an inconvenience enough? I’ve learned to raise my standards for what counts as my travel test.
Now, nothing seems quite as hard when you see a coming difficulty as a way to grow character.