Sunday, February 27, 2011

Porsches, Pearls, and Prejudices

A few years ago I showed up to a Rascal Flatts concert in a porsche. Surrounded by giant trucks and honky tonk tailgate parties, I distinctly remember blushing as I got out of the sports car, wishing that I had insisted on driving my car. My Nissan 240 FX would have been much more appropriate, would have earned us much fewer stares. But my dear friend had offered to drive and though she shares my love of country music, she also loves flashy cars. She later traded in her porsche for a prowler which, if you're like me and know nothing about fancy cars, is a tad bit nicer than my Nissan and earned us even more stares. I love this friend to death but I was always a bit embarrassed when she drove us places, especially when she drove us to country concerts. I felt smug and pretentious and was awkward and uncomfortable with all the stares and attention. I felt like an elitist showing up to mingle with the common folk, and I hated that. I knew that I was a "commoner" too, but couldn't convince anyone of that stepping out of a porsche at a country concert.

I thought about that awkward drive through the parking lot as I rode my bike to church today. This has become my new favorite thing to do. It's about a 35 minute ride and though I show up to church a bit winded and sweaty, it is well worth it.

My church is in Paramount which, if you're not familiar with the LA area, borders Compton. And the city of Compton, if you're not familiar with rap music, is not the nicest of areas. So on my ride the scenery is not what you'd call "picturesque." I pass by mostly run down houses or apartments with high fences and bars on the windows, and tiny barber shops, hole in the wall Zapatos stores, abandoned shopping carts, and lots and lots of liquor shops.

There are lots of pedestrians and lots of fellow bikers, but I stick out like a sore thumb. My fellow bikers are either homeless or Mexican and appear to be using their bike because they don't have a car- not because they left their Jetta parked at home so they could get some exercise. I'm not sure if it's the bright yellow paint, cute wicker basket, or my boots with the fur on them, but I saw lots of people do double-takes as I sped by this morning. And yes, though I was trying to pray, most of the way I was singing, "apple bottom jeans, boots with the fu-ur..." I know why they did a double take. It wasn't because of my stunning beauty because let's face it, a french braid and back sweat is never that cute. The double-takes were because I'm white, and I'm blonde, and I clearly don't belong in the neighborhood.

But I love riding in this neighborhood. When my car was in the shop, I rode my bike in this same area late at night to get to my life group and passed by some really seedy-looking folk. And I loved it. Sure, I thought they were maybe going to jump me and steal my cute beach-cruiser, but I loved being in the midst of them, rather than in my safe Jetta with the tinted windows. I waited at a light with a homeless, hunchbacked man and we talked about the weather. It was wonderful. I didn't lead him to the Lord or have a super meaningful conversation, but I had a conversation. And this conversation that was only made possible because I was not in my elitist car; I came to his neighborhood, to his world on a his level- on a bike.

I started riding my bike to church because I needed exercise and because it reminds me of the slow pace of life I used to live in Mozambique. However, I'll continue to ride my bike because of the people I pass along the way. They are wonderful mixed assortment. Mainly homeless or Mexican, as I pedal past them, I can't help but wonder about their stories. Because if I'm totally honest, I am a recovering racist with a tendency to make awful assumptions about people. I often see their race or their dirty rags and immediately put them in a box. I fail to see them as unique individuals, chosen and loved by our God. I don't see their stories; I see their stereotypes.

As I drive past them in my car, I fail to see their individuality because I fail to look. It's easier to assume these sad-looking folk all have similar, sad-sounding stories. It's neater inside my head that way. It's easier. But when I ride past them on my bike, it's harder to make assumptions. And it gets messier when I see them as real individuals because they surprise me and leap out of the neatly labeled boxes I had previously put them in.

When I make eye contact and sing "goo-ood morning", I am greeted by a variety of responses ranging from startled, surprised smiles to, "get it gu-rl" greetings. These people leading such drastically different lives than my own suddenly become real and are in the same boat as I am. There is an instant camaraderie between us solely because we aren't in cars. We exchange head nods and hellos and there is a strange sense of unity among us, us- the riding/walking community. This connection to this previously foreign world is why I'll continue to ride my bike to church. I can't be connected to them in my Jetta- I have to come to their world and meet them on their level.

Just as no true cowboy would have given me the time of day at the Rascal Flatts concert, these people won't give me their time or trust if I continue to parade around feeling superior to them. Sure, they see my pearl earrings and fancy scarves and know that I don't belong in their world, but they accept me because I've come on their level, because I come smiling and pedaling through their town on a bike.

Lately, Jesus has been moving around, stirring about in my heart in ways that are scary. Because He's been stirring in me convictions that have long laid dormant- convictions concerning these nameless faces I pass by on my bike.

The pastor today spoke about how transformation in the world comes through us; how we must be open to the sanctification process and allow the change to happen IN us, only so we then can allow change to take place in the world THROUGH us. He challenged us to consider our broken world and consider what irks us the most about it- what part of society or group in society we most ache for. And then he asked us to consider if that feeling of hurt we feel for them could be the Holy Spirit leading- if that could be Him guiding us to areas we are supposed to be serving in. He raised lots of convicting questions but the most convicting part of the sermon was actually not in the sermon at all. It was the scripture read beforehand.

A woman in the church read aloud the following passage from Luke 4:

16 He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:

18 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

20 Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. 21 He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

And when she read the part about Jesus saying he came to proclaim the good news to the poor, the woman started to cry. I know I am a sympathy crier but these were not sympathy tears I shed. These tears were rolling because the God I serve loves the poor a whole lot more than I do. And the girl sitting next to me turned to show her matching tear-filled eyes and said, "I love that the simple words of Jesus are so powerful that they make us cry."

Jesus came for the poor. He came for the hurting, hunchbacked, homeless man. He came for the dirt poor, new immigrant who can't speak a word of English. He didn't just come for the Jetta-driving, pearl-wearing white kids. Yes, He came for us too but His love is much bigger than I think I've ever imagined. And I think He's calling me to have a bigger love too- to love those nameless people I pass by. To build relationships, to interact, to serve in these communities of poor, hurting people. I think He's asking for more than a check to World Vision and a tithe. I think He wants me to get my hands dirty.

I've been reading Evolving in Monkey Town written by Rachel Held Evans, who wrestles with God about big questions and struggles with similar doubts I have faced. Yesterday I read a chapter about Jesus which, shocker, drew big fat tears down my cheeks. Here are some excerpts from the chapter entitled, Jesus, God in Sandals:

"I wanted an explanation from God, and according to John, the best place to start with Jesus. If Jesus was indeed God in sandals, then that means he cared about what God cared about, hated what God hated, and loved what God loved. The incarnation gave God a face....What the Spirit of God said and did while living among us in the person of Jesus must say a lot about what matters most to him.

...if Jesus is God, then God has not forgotten the downtrodden and oppressed of this world. In fact, Jesus had a special relationship with the most forgotten of first-century society: women, tax collectors, sick people, minorities, Samaritans, and sinners. Jesus welcomed children into his arms and washed his disciples' dirty feet. He took contagious lepers by the hand and surrounded himself with the poor and uneducated.

This radical Jesus wanted to live not only in my heart and in my head but also in my hands, as I fed the hungry, reached out to my enemies, healed the sick, and comforted the lonely. Being a Christian, it seemed, isn't about agreeing to a certain way; it is about embodying a certain way. It is about living as an incarnation of Jesus, as Jesus lived as an incarnation of God. It is about being tennis shoes."

So now I can't help but picture Jesus in New Balance running shoes, or maybe Sauconys. And I love this picture of Jesus- not in running shoes- that's a little ridiculous, but the picture of him mingling with the downtrodden. I've known this to be true since the time I was still wetting the bed, but somehow it never clicked that I probably should be doing the same. Somehow I've managed to ignore my tendency to ignore the filthy, foul-smelling people asking me for money. In fact, I walked right past a mother begging at the post office yesterday. I even felt a little peeved with her- annoyed that she was making me feel guilty. Somehow I don't think Jesus would have given her the courtesy grin and wouldn't have walked quickly past her and her toddler without a second glance. But that's what I did. And this kills me.

If I truly love Jesus, I need to start obeying him. And to obey him, I need to copy him; I need to get my hands dirty and see the "dirty" in society as individuals. I need to love them, not be annoyed by them. I need to try to understand them, not stereotype them.

As my pastor said today, since the poor and hurting aren't typically wandering into churches where they fear they'll be met with judgment, we must bring the kingdom of God to them. We must meet them on their level, on their streets. I am ashamed that did not bring the kingdom of God to that poor, disheveled woman. I showed her none of God's mercy. I wish I could have do-over for that moment.

These were the thoughts swirling through my mind as I weaved between bus benches and telephone poles on my way home from church. (I only crashed into a wall once) I am called to serve; called to drop my prejudices and feelings of superiority. If I truly want to follow Christ, I can't keep ignoring the poor and hurting around me. If I truly want to live for Him, I must care more about His beloved children- especially when they don't look like me.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Butterfly Destruction

I've never liked butterflies. They've always kinda creeped me out but I've found that people think you're some kind of monster if you admit that you don't like them. It's like saying you don't like sunshine or rainbows. Sure, they're pretty and it's cool how they emerge from cocoons, but really they're just colorful moths masquerading themselves as if they weren't flying bugs. And I hate flying bugs. I cringe and do a little internal freak out when they flutter and fly too close to me, flashing their colorful wings way too near to my face. I sense your judgment but I'm being honest here: butterflies, moths, bees, wasps- they're all the same in my book. And even though I want to, society won't permit me to swat these obnoxiously beautiful butterflies away. Because everyone hates bees and wasps but I've found people have an exceptionally low tolerance for butterfly-haters. Truth be told, I feel the same way about lady bugs. The only thing I like about lady bugs is that 1992 soccer movie with Rodney Dangerfield. But I digress. Lady bugs, butterflies: I'm on to you. The world might admire your beauty and grace but I see you for what you really are: dirty, nasty, flying bugs with a little splash color. S0 please, stay away from me.

There's another reason I hate butterflies: I used to suffer from a gnarly case of performance anxiety. It was the worst when I ran track. When I think back to the year I did sprints, I mainly remember two things: 1) The first time I ran the 400, I stopped at the wrong finish line thinking I had won and 2) On the day of a meet, I felt like I was about to hurl from the moment I woke up until I was done running. Those insufferable, vomit-inducing butterflies are what made me quit track my senior year. I was a bit disappointed in myself because I felt like such a quitter because, well, I was one. But save your judgments for someone else; track was not my thing, and I really hate butterflies.

The butterflies also made their torturous appearance before basketball games, but the joy that came with playing and being on a team enabled me to conquer those pesky pesticides. I developed a bunch of routines, all designed to help me master my anxiety and kill those awful butterflies. Why all this butterfly talk?

On Wednesday we played one of the biggest games of the year and that fluttering feeling of anxiety returned to haunt me. After we won on Saturday night, I awoke Sunday morning with the butterflies- already anticipating Wednesday night's game. I realize that four days of feeling anxious about a basketball game is kinda silly but I really wanted to win. It was the CIF quarterfinal game against a team much taller and faster than we are and it was a home game which meant the gym would be packed. I awoke on Sunday already feeling that awful sensation of fluttering wings and I was forced to resort to my old methods of butterfly destruction:

1) Consider the "worst case scenario." This always used to work for me but when I tried it with my girls, I may have made them more nervous. Worst case scenario in this case: we play terribly in front of a packed gym and lose and lots of people think we're overrated and awful. In my head, that didn't sound so bad but in the heads of teenage girls, this thought terrified them. Great job, coach. It didn't terrify me as much because of method number 2:

2) Remember whose opinion matters. This is easy to say and very hard to believe and apply. I'd love to say that I don't care what others think of me as a coach, but it's not true. I do care. I want them to think that I'm a basketball genius (which I'm not) and I want them to think my team is incredible (which we are... in certain ways). I often remind my girls that God doesn't care if they miss a lay-up or turn the ball over; He cares about our effort and our attitudes and those are much easier to control than making tough shots. If we truly are only seeking His approval and are only concerned with His opinion, those butterflies don't stand a chance.

3) Remember that His opinion of me is not based on my performance. I wish I could say that my motives are always pure- that I teach and coach only for the glory of God. I try to. But it's a battle. A battle I must wage every day because every day I try to steal the glory for myself. It's a fine line because I should take pride in the areas God has gifted me. I should be thankful for those gifts and use them for His kingdom. But those gifts and abilities are sneaky. They often weasel their way in and try to convince me that they are the reason I am loved by the king; that they are the reason I am loved by anyone. I continually fall prey to their tricks and find myself trying to earn God's favor by my performance. Thus, I continually need to be reminded that His love is unconditional- that He can love me no more and He can love me no less than He already does. In my darkest moments, my heart refuses to accept this. In my brightest, this thought fills my heart with such joy and peace that there is no room for anxiety.

4) Remember whose I am and who I serve. I'm afraid I've often made God too small. I often forget the "big picture" of a big God and that is when my anxiety is at its worst. When I am reminded of God's character, butterflies flee. He knows my heart and knows all about my silly worries and about the silly butterflies that fluttered for four days. Looking back, I see how in those four days, He was constantly whispering to me, constantly reminding me of who He is, constantly killing butterflies.

In church three of my former students led worship and they were so incredible that I felt like I was in the throne room and was able to worship with total abandon. I've found it's impossible to worship and be anxious at the same time; it's like trying to frown and laugh simultaneously. As we sang Phil Wickham's "You're Beautiful," any butterflies that had accompanied me to church had fallen down dead.

I see Your face in every sunrise
The colors of the morning are inside Your eyes
The world awakens in the light of the day
I look up to the sky and say
You're beautiful

I see Your power in the moonlit night
Where planets are in motion and galaxies are bright
We are amazed in the light of the stars
It's all proclaiming who you are
You're beautiful

I see you there hanging on a tree
You bled and then you died and then you rose again for me
Now you are sitting on Your heavenly throne
Soon we will be coming home
You're beautiful

When we arrive at eternity's shore
Where death is just a memory and tears are no more
We'll enter in as the wedding bells ring
your bride will come together and we'll wing
You're beautiful

Then I was reminded again of God's kingdom and His beauty as I sat on my balcony and watched the moon climb above the shifting clouds, all hanging as the backdrop for the local church steeple:
Sunsets have a marvelous way of calming nerves and slaughtering butterflies.

Then God also whispered to me as I studied the book of Acts and I saw how fearlessly Paul lived his life. Paul admitted that he was able to live and serve without fear despite being flogged, stoned, imprisoned, and shipwrecked precisely because He knew whom he served. When he was on his way to stand trial before Nero, his ship faced a terrible storm and most thought they were all going to die. He stood before the crew and said, "Last night an angel of the God whose I am and whom I serve stood beside me and said, 'Do not be afraid, Paul. You must stand trial before Caesar; and God has graciously given you the lives of all who sail with you.' So keep up your courage, men, for I have faith in God that it will happen just as he told me." (Acts 27: 23-25) Because Paul so clearly knew whom he belonged to and whom He served, he boldly and fearlessly faced situations that would have made me crap my pants.

So with visions of clouds and Paul and a beautiful, mighty God floating in my head, I went into our locker room for our possible last "pre-game" speech. It was a bit unconventional. I didn't quote Rudy like I've always been meaning to but I did quote someone else. Before I talked about our opponent and went over the game plan again, I read Isaiah 40 aloud. I used to read this before every game in college. Well, that or the end of Job. Both passages speak of the wonder of this great big God we serve and I explained to my girls that I had to be reminded of this before every game to calm my nerves and to be reminded of where I find my identity. I especially love the last 10 verses because they speak to the reality that man is nothing compared to God- that our God controls the stars and also understands the hidden depths of our hearts- that our God is the one who gives us strength and power.

Isaiah 40:21-31

21 Do you not know?
Have you not heard?
Has it not been told you from the beginning?
Have you not understood since the earth was founded?
22 He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth,
and its people are like grasshoppers.
He stretches out the heavens like a canopy,
and spreads them out like a tent to live in.
23 He brings princes to naught
and reduces the rulers of this world to nothing.
24 No sooner are they planted,
no sooner are they sown,
no sooner do they take root in the ground,
than he blows on them and they wither,
and a whirlwind sweeps them away like chaff.

25 “To whom will you compare me?
Or who is my equal?” says the Holy One.
26 Lift up your eyes and look to the heavens:
Who created all these?
He who brings out the starry host one by one
and calls forth each of them by name.
Because of his great power and mighty strength,
not one of them is missing.

27 Why do you complain, Jacob?
Why do you say, Israel,
“My way is hidden from the LORD;
my cause is disregarded by my God”?
28 Do you not know?
Have you not heard?
The LORD is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary,
and his understanding no one can fathom.
29 He gives strength to the weary
and increases the power of the weak.
30 Even youths grow tired and weary,
and young men stumble and fall;
31 but those who hope in the LORD
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint.

When I force myself to remember who God is, any nervousness just seems silly.

Then, while my team was warming up, God sent me one more reminder of the "grand scheme" or the "big picture" to calm me down. Some fans from the other team sat directly behind me and two older gentlemen struck up a conversation with me. This is kinda weird. Typically, few people try to talk to the coach moments before the game but they didn't realize I was the coach. (They later told me I don't look like a coach, "in a good way.") They were super friendly though, so instead of sitting in a pile of nerves waiting for the game to start, I found myself telling two strangers all about Mozambique. I created a bit of an awkward moment when I realized too late that the men were not Christians but I rattled on and on about how I miss being forced to rely on God on a daily basis and am trying to figure out how to do that in America. Pictures of Andre and Lorenzo and Martina floated through my mind as I talked and a huge smile stretched across my face because the memory of these precious children will always remind me of how big my God is.

Maybe I should have been more focused. Maybe I should have been thinking about basketball moments before a huge game. But maybe thinking about the village of Shiparango was just what I needed. By the time the whistle blew, I was butterfly free and had a clear sense of whose I am and whom I serve.

If you're curious, we won the game. It was back and forth the entire game until the last 3 minutes when our star went unconscious. If you're not familiar with basketball slang, that's a good thing. When she touched the ball she could not miss. It was sick. It was nasty. Okay, now I'm just mocking modern slang adjectives for "really, really good." She made five three pointers in the fourth quarter alone which were all behind NBA range while being guarded by two people. Yeah. I know. Crazy. My assistant coach told us later that her dad literally was drawn to tears when she hit one of the shots at the buzzer of the 30 second shot clock because, as he said, "someone can only do that because of God's power." Her shots didn't make me cry, which is quite surprising considering my proclivity for tears in odd situations, but they did make me laugh. It was pretty nuts.

Kids have a wonderful way of reminding us of the big picture. During a tense moment in the game, two year old Hudson climbed down to sit right next to me and show me his money and try to steal my water. Vander caught my eye and made me promise I would play with him after the game. The gym was overflowing, the game was close, and all my nephews cared about was playing with their auntie. I love that. Then, after Kari went unconscious and won the game for us, the whole gym was embracing her; the opposing fans were shaking her hand; and Vander, a loyal fan of the APU Cougars, told her, "Kari, my Cougars could beat you."

Kids truly have a wonderful way of killing butterflies and bringing us back to reality.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Drinking Mold

I drank mold last night. A lot of mold. It still makes me gag when I think about it. I keep a 2 gallon jug of blue gatorade by my desk in my bedroom. Apparently it had been there for awhile. I burned my tongue on some scalding hot Easy Mac so I quickly unscrewed the top and chugged from the jug. I did this several times. I love blue gatorade. But when I was almost done with my gourmet meal, I was taking another swig and looked inside. There appeared to be seaweed floating around in my drink. An entire colony of mold had been growing in my blue gatorade jug that, now that I think about it, had probably been sitting by my desk since December. Maybe November. It wasn't just a few spots of mold. It was giant pieces of waving, green mold swimming around in the blue gatorade ocean. And I had been drinking it, completely unaware. I continued to gag as I poured it down the drain, but not before showing my roommate who also nearly puked.

This night of mold-drinking reminded me that I am not always very observant. In fact, I'm quite often laughably UNobservant. And I have to pay the price for my lack of awareness. I don't know how much I actually swallowed or if drinking mold can make you sick, but I guess we'll find out today. I've found that being unobservant brings an interesting load of consequences. Here were some recent consequences I have suffered for my lack of awareness:

* I was mocked for eating dry Eggo waffles. Note: never walk into a staff meeting eating Eggo waffles. I learned the hard way that people think this is weird and will draw attention to you and demand an explanation. I've actually found them to be a delicious "breakfast-on-the-go" but found this only because when I went to pour syrup on them, I realized there were ants swimming in the syrup, covering the bottle, and now covering my hand. Had I noticed the ants when I pulled out the syrup from the pantry I would not have been in the predicament: ants crawling up my arms and Eggo waffles fully cooked with nowhere to go.

* I accidentally read a Viagra ad. My dear friend Lori sent an e-mail to me with a few links. I should have noticed the lack of a subject line. Lori always includes a subject line. I should have noticed the e-mail was being sent to several people and only had links, no words from Lori. But I didn't. Not only did I click on the inappropriate ad, I thought to myself, "Why on earth is Lori sending me this? There must be an inside joke somewhere in here," and so I continued to look through the ad searching for a joke from Lori. The joke was on me and my lack of awareness.

* I got a ridiculous sunburn. It's February. Who wears sunblock in February? Granted, it was over 70 degrees and my mom and I sat on a Santa Barbara beach for three straight hours, but really, no one wears sunblock in February. I was grading papers and sitting in a beach chair fully clothed, with a large necklace on. That stupid large necklace. I fried like a lobster and though I could hide the shoulder tan lines, I would have to wear turtle necks to hide the necklace line and I own no turtle necks. For about four days, I was shamefully reminded of my need to pay more attention to my surroundings.

* I created a very awkward moment in the chiropractor's office. I was reading a Newsweek article when a mom entered the office carrying a screaming kid. It was silent in the office and his vocal cords were shattering any chance at relaxing or understanding the article. But I continued to try because I never read the newspaper and was feeling very adult about my Newsweek reading. I glanced at the poor mom to offer a sympathy grin and then pretended not to notice her screaming kid. I was trying really hard not to be annoyed, but I was annoyed. And I shouldn't have been- I have nephews- I know how loud they can be- but I did not know this boy and I did not love him. So his screams were annoying. She rocked the screamer until he finally calmed down and then she decided to move to a more comfortable chair right next to me. No problem except her move awoke the sleeping giant who erupted into a fit of screams. She said, "I'm sorry" and without looking up, I replied sweetly, "Oh, no problem."

I thought I was being kind. I looked up to give a polite smile to communicate, "I don't care that your screaming kid is making my head pound" but when I looked up, I realized my mistake. She hadn't been apologizing to me. She was saying sorry to her boy for waking him up and making him uncomfortable. And then I had gone and stolen that apology for myself, making everyone uncomfortable. Come on, Katie, take notice of your surroundings before you speak.

Clearly, being unobservant gets me into trouble. It creates awkward moments and car accidents and earns me lots of mocking from friends. It's so easy to get caught up in my own little world, that I fail to notice what is going on around me. This also has some more serious consequences.

When I fail to notice a stranger or student or family member who is stressed or hurting because I'm caught up in myself, I miss out on a chance to encourage. I miss out on a chance to be used for the Kingdom, for His Kingdom, when I get so caught up ruling my own. I miss opportunities to bless others and this is much more painful than drinking mold.

So I'm trying to keep my eyes open a little wider. I'm praying for wisdom and awareness so I can be used by God. If I want to live a life of meaning and purpose, I must be more aware. If I say I want to glorify God and be His vessel, I'd better put down all the trinkets I'm carrying so I can carry whatever load He'd like me to transport. To be willing means I must be aware. So I'm trying to be more observant, for the sake of His kingdom, and so I won't drink more mold.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Crying in the Locker Room

Seven years ago I sat in a locker room bawling for a good hour. They were fat, painful tears that left my eyes puffy and body drained. My college team was playing in the NAIA National tournament and I had missed a shot at the buzzer which would have won us the game to advance to the elite eight. I wasn't crying about the shot, though. I was crying, sobbing rather, because I envisioned myself as a fourth grader, with a killer side pony, practicing my form with my dad in the backyard. I was replaying the hours and hours and hours I had spent on basketball courts from the time I first learned the game to that last shot as a senior in college. And I was realizing that it was all over. Basketball had consumed my time, my thoughts, my energy, my world for so long, and now it was over.

Never again would I play in a game that mattered. Never again would I feel the nerves and adrenaline rushing through my veins before a big game. Never again would I be part of a team of sisters creating hilarious memories and sharing hundreds of inside jokes. Never again. There were so many "never agains" and as they rolled through my mind, the tears flowed freely.

I wonder if Jesus was laughing at my little "Cry-fest 2004" as he peeked ahead in my future. I wonder because He knew that I would be a part of a team again and that I would love coaching as much as I loved playing. I hadn't always planned on coaching and by the end of my "basketball career", I was actually pretty sick of the game and ready to walk away from it forever. But God knew it wasn't going to be forever for me; He knew that those "never again's" I was mourning the loss of actually would be experienced again, just not as a player. I would be a part of games that mattered. I would get so nervous I would poop 7 times in one hour. And I would be a part of unified team of laughing sisters with inside jokes; I just would be their coach.

As I sat there, body wracked with sobs, I'm guessing God didn't actually laugh at me or the irony or me mourning something I wasn't actually losing. He understands my heart intimately and knew the depth of the loss I was feeling in that moment. He sympathizes with my hurts even when they are silly or illogical or unnecessary. But He also knew the joy that was just around the corner. He saw me as a fourth grader, college senior, and Valley coach all in one glimpse. And in that same glimpse, He also saw me in my forties, and fifties, and sixties (assuming I don't die).

My sister and I were talking about how comforting yet bizarre it is that He knows what will happen in our futures; our futures that we spend so much time worrying about. He already knows. He knows the pain I feel right now, in the present moment, but He also sees the restoration and healing that will come. It makes the uncertainty of the future feel suddenly, not so uncertain after all.

He saw me crying in that locker room at the end of my college career and He knew that in seven years time, I would be in my third year coaching at Valley and absolutely loving it. And He sees me now, as I fret about where I'll be in the next few years, and He already knows; He knows exactly where I'll be and who will be with me in 2018. It is strange, mind-boggling really, but also so very comforting. He knows my future and He goes before me. He is with me today and will still be there in 2018. I will change but He will not. It makes all my fretting seem just plain silly.

I've found there are lots of things about coaching that are even more fun than playing. I don't get to actually steal the ball or swish a shot but I get to show my girls how to and then scream, "get that ball!" or "hit it!" and rejoice when they do. As a coach, I still get to experience the thrill of a win without feeling the searing loss I used to feel as a player after my team would lose. I've learned to find my identity in Christ so losing is not nearly as painful as it used to be. In fact, we got smoked by 25 a few weeks ago and it didn't hurt at all. Granted, the other team was more talented than we- I mean, Duke was there recruiting a sophomore on their team. But as a player, I know that loss would have upset me. But not as a coach. I probably won't even remember that game.

No actually, I might. I might remember the moment before the game when a sketchy elderly man came up to my best player with a picture of her and asked for her autograph. Her teammate fell out of the bleachers laughing.

And I might remember how I waited around the corner to scare the girls before the game but ended up just making my assistant coach scream and nearly fall to the floor.

And I might remember how after the game we couldn't find the bus so we wandered the shady streets of downtown Long Beach yelling, "Move. That. Bus!"

But I know I won't remember all our turnovers and missed lay-ups and mistakes. Because I tend to block those memories out and remember only the funny or awkward or embarrassing. Here are some other recent memories that I'll probably remember from this season:

Coaching Confessions Part 3

* I'm not sympathetic when girls get hurt. I usually ask Kelsi to carry them off and comfort them while I continue on with the drill. I guess I'm not much of a nurturer. Early in the season on of my starters complained that her knee hurt and she didn't want to practice. I told her that was "bs" and she needed to play. We learned the next week she had a torn ACL. I was hoping the girls would have forgotten about my "bs" comment but they didn't and like to quote me when I'm being unsympathetic. When a girl got a black eye in practice, I told her I hoped it swelled so it would be impressive the next day. She was not amused.

I blame this lack of sympathy on my father. I get it from him. He ran over my foot with the Jeep in high school and when I said, "Da-ad, you ran over my foot!" he replied, "You're walking fine." Then in college, I was riding my mom's bike and got hit by a car. I rolled onto the guy's hood and hit my head on the windshield. I was fine, just super embarrassed. I'm not a huge fan of Dane Cook, but this clip about people getting hit by cars, is oddly accurate although I didn't have blood coming out of my ears. When I finally convinced the terrified driver that I did not have a concussion and was just really embarrassed and wanted to leave, I quickly pedaled myself home. And when I told my parents about this traumatic experience, my dad's response was, "So you ruined your mom's bike?" This is why I have no sympathy when girls tell me they're sick. Speaking of, my first year at Valley my best player had mono. She told me she felt like a turtle with its legs cut off but I still made her play. In my defense, no one knew she had mono at the time.

* I've been a bit ridiculous when angry. My new students had no idea that I morf into a bit of a beast when I coach. One boy even came up to me moments before our game to show me a picture on his phone of his dog. The next day in class he said, "Ummm, Miss Hardeman, you were kinda scary last night when you were yelling at the refs." For the record, I have not gotten a technical for any of my rants. One player told me, "I think if you were an old man, the refs would T you up." I think she might be right- I know I must seem sweet and soft-spoken before the game and refs are always a little shocked when I tell them, or scream at them, that they're terrible. One ref even said to me before a game, "You're a woman...." to which I thought, "Oh no, where is this going?" But he finished, "so if you need to grab me to get my attention, go ahead." I gave him a courtesy laugh but thought, "Oh buddy, you have no idea what you're in for if you make a bad call. I will have your attention and will not need to grab you. In a few minutes you might be fearful that I actually will grab you."

When I was angry at our best player, I called time-out and pointed at her very aggressively. It doesn't sound scary but combined with my "white witch of Narnia" face, I'm sure it was slightly terrifying. She wasn't laughing then but now she loves to imitate that moment. She knows that if she gets in foul trouble, I will be furious and I've made many threats of future punishments if she ever fouls out including: me telling the boy she has a crush on about it or her having to warm up before a game with her hair down, or wear a giant bow in her hair for an entire game. We'll lose if she ever fouls out but I really want to see her with the bow.

When I was angry at the 5 players on the floor, I snapped at the poor girl who had torn her ACL. She was cheering wildly from the bench while I was trying to instruct and I turned and said, "Excuse me, I'm talking." When I tell the story, my tone of voice is quiet and kind. When she tells the story, which she does quite often, I sound like I'm about to kill her. When I saw her after the game, I just said her name and she said, "I know, coach. You're sorry. It's cool." These girls know me too well and thankfully are very forgiving.

* I asked a Whittier Christian cheerleader to take this picture:
They are our rivals and we had just beat them at their place. It wasn't a pretty game. We played horribly and only won because our shooter made a three at the buzzer. But a win's a win so while the poor Whittier girls cried in the locker room, we celebrated by taking a picture by this rock they had painted by the gym.

* I made the girls look at birds doing it. I'm still embarrassed about this one. We were in the backyard of one of the players eating lunch when I saw some birds that looked to be fighting. They were poking each other with their beaks and it looked bizarre. Right as I told the whole team to look, the birds began to "do it."

"Gross, coach!"

"Sick! Why did you make us see that?"

"No!" I yelled. "They were NOT just doing that a second ago."

Apparently beak-poking is bird for "foreplay."

* I don't always have words of wisdom during time-outs. I always have something to say but not always 60 seconds worth and it creates awkwardness. I'll say my piece about what we need to do better and then the girls will continue to sit and stare at me. I know the crowd is watching us and I don't want the girls to just sit and chat so sometimes I say, "Okay, I'm done. But pretend I'm saying something really inspirational right now." Luckily, they play along.

* I tried to embarrass the seniors on senior night. The announcer typically reads about each player's high school career and what they'll remember. I added a paragraph for him to read about what I'll miss about each girl including random facts like how one of the girls can do a really creepy walk like a dinosaur. The non-seniors made posters for them and I provided the pictures. They are so used to me saying, "be ugly" that they were actually proud of these pictures rather than embarrassed.
Speaking of "being ugly", these girls make me so proud:
Last weekend I saw my old college coach when I went to watch my dad's team play against Westmont. We reminisced about the 2000-2004 seasons and laughed a lot. I really did love being a player and had the sort of ideal experience few will ever get to experience. I felt like I was back in college while talking to him until I saw one of my former Valley students across the gym. I had written him a recommendation and was so proud to see him flourishing at this school I love. His presence reminded me that no, I am not a college student any more. I am not a player. But I am a teacher and a coach and I love it.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011


Growing up near the beach, I spent hours in the Pacific Ocean. I played the games most California kids played: dove under waves, or through them, or over them. I boogie boarded them and body surfed them. And just when I thought I'd mastered them, they'd slap me in the face or rip off my bathing suit bottoms or mess me up so badly underwater I didn't know which way was up. But I still loved this unpredictable body of water and spent my time flipping, floating, and floundering, doing handstands, peeing, having mud fights; you know, the typical ocean shenanigans of a child. But even as a kid, I've always cherished my alone time and one of my favorite things to do at the beach was to sneak into the water by myself to simply float. Because floating in the ocean is kinda magical.
(not in the ocean but a floating polaroid of me, nonetheless)

The last time I floated was this past summer. I was training by the beach for a race and had done one of the longer runs. Afterwards, I was sweating and salty and so very hot that I decided to take a dip to cool off. I didn't have my suit so I went in fully clothed. Yes, I was that girl. I was sure people were raising their eyebrows at the sweaty blonde swimming in her clothes, but I didn't care because I couldn't see them. Because I was floating.

When you float, all you see is the big blue sky; you can't see the weird stares from strangers or the massive waves building in the distance so there is no fear. When you float, all you feel is the salty sea breeze and the rolling rhythm of the current; you don't feel the aches and pains previously wracking your body so there is no hurt. When you float, all you hear is the muffled underwater world; you can't hear the screams or cries or drama on the shore so there is no worry. I really love to float in the ocean.

When I float, I am light. I am buoyant. I am free. I know there is a possibility of an incoming wave crashing on my face, destroying my moment of tranquility. But for this one, fragile, floating moment I am completely free. Freed from worries about "incoming waves." Free to breath deeply, to simply look up and "be". To look up and wonder. Wonder about the beauty and vastness of the ocean and the beauty and vastness of God.

I know it's February and kinda weird to be dreaming about floating in the frigid Pacific Ocean, but I felt like I was floating during 4th period today. I don't teach during that period so I had driven through Chick-Fil-a and was eating my kids' meal in the staff parking lot. Yes, I am also that girl who orders a kids' meal. (I had brought a lunch as well so this was my "first" lunch) While I sat in the parking lot, I listened to Bebo Norman's newest cd and noticed a line of trees I had never seen before. They are huge and majestic. I don't know how I've never noticed them.

Today was a rainy, windy day and those trees refused to go unnoticed any longer. Today they all seemed to be swaying in rhythm and almost floating in the air. They didn't care about the turbulence around them, about the imminent storm and ominous rain clouds, they just swayed. As I was observing them, the song "Ocean" began to play and I began to cry. It takes very little to turn on my tears but I was struck by the power of the words and envisioned myself floating in the ocean as I watched the dancing trees.

If there is a light left in my eyes
It must be Your reflection from the sky
'Cause all I know is this:
You are the wonder of my world

You are an ocean that I can get lost in
The first wind on my shore
You are the sunrise to open my eyes
and the dark night is no more
You are an ocean

And every time I turn around
There's so much more left to be found
And every glimpse steals my breath away

So open up these eyes to see
More of You and less of me
And all my fear is turning into faith
You are the wonder of my world

I'm drowning in Your love
I'm drowning in Your love
Not coming up, I'm not coming up
'Cause You're all I'll ever want

You are an ocean.
You are an ocean.

I sat in my car, with Chick-Fil-a sauce now smudged on my slacks, and cried. Cried because the future was beginning to taunt and tease me because it is so unknown. Cried because fear had sneaked in and snaked its way around my heart without my noticing. Cried because despite the fears of an unknown and uncertain future, God was reminding me of His power to turn fears into faith. Cried because He truly is the wonder of my world who makes trees dance and calls me to float in His ocean. And that makes the future a lot less scary.

So now I'm floating. Floating in His ocean, refusing to worry about the waves in the distance. Floating because He continues to give me glimpses of Himself that steal my breath away.

Floating because He is all I want, or rather, all I want to want.

Floating because I'm drowning in His love.

And floating in the ocean, His ocean, is kinda magical.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

10 Tips for Eye Contact

Eye contact is a funny thing. Too much of it and you're probably being too intense. Too little, and you're aloof or socially awkward. You need to have just the right amount but different circumstances call for different amounts. Plus, there are other times when you'll want to avoid eye contact altogether and at all costs. Though I missed "10 on the 10th" this month due to forgetfulness, I thought I'd make up for it now.

10 Tips for Avoiding Awkward Eye Contact

1) When being weird in the car, NEVER look around. Singing in the car? Gettin jiggy behind the wheel? Great. But don't glance at your neighboring cars. Making eye contact in the middle of hitting that high note or bustin that great car-dancing move, is just awful. Ruins the entire song. Picking your nose in the car? Have no shame. We all do it. Just remember to keep your eyes straight ahead (do NOT inspect your findings). If you look to the side, you will be met with a disgusted and disapproving stare from a stranger who will quickly glance away. If this happens, do NOT glance back a second time. They are destined to do it as well and then the situation is doubly awkward.

2) If you're a kid in class trying not to get called on, make occasional eye contact with the teacher when he/she is not looking for participation. I know your logic and I'm on to your tricks. If you are refusing to look my way, I will call on you every time just to teach you a lesson. But if I know you're listening because you gave me an affirming head nod a few minutes before, I probably won't call on you to answer the question no one seems to be able to answer. (Note: do not overuse the head nod. At some point, I will realize you are just zoning out and nodding at me so I think you're listening.)

3) Under no circumstances should you EVER make eye contact with a worker at a kiosk in a mall. Eye contact in this scenario can never lead to good things. I don't need a new phone. I don't want my hair curled or straightened or crimped. And I don't want to try your lotion or your neck massager or whatever crap you're peddling. I was speed-walking through the mall recently, not for exercise, specifically so people would see that I was in a hurry and not try to talk to me. I felt a kiosk worker lock her eyes on me from far away. There was no dodging her. I quickened my pace to a near jog but then I just couldn't do it. I didn't have my phone with me to do the fake call (my typical go-to in situations like these) so I gave in and gave her a quick glance, trying to communicate: "I'm not so rude as to pretend you have the plague but please, oh please don't talk to me." She smiled and said, "I really like your dress." I felt like a jerk. For the record, this is atypical. They don't typically want to compliment you on your dress. They want to badger you until you give in and buy that manicure set you never will use, so come prepared. Have out your phone or be sure to be in the middle of an engaging conversation with whomever you're with whenever you near a kiosk.

4) Make eye contact with babies and toddlers but not their moms. I love to make ugly faces at kids. They usually love them. I love making them laugh and always try to get them to make faces back at me. However, when doing this, you must be very aware of where the parents are. Because the parents will inevitably look to see what their child is laughing at and if they catch you with a triple-chin and crossed-eyes, there will be an awkward moment. If this happens, do NOT try to explain that you were just trying to scare their kid. Simply walk away. Also, make sure the child is too young to speak. If you make faces at a nine year old, they will for sure tell their parents about the creepy person sticking their tongue out. You also should probably learn from another mistake I made a few years ago. I saw a cute kid in a stroller I was walking behind so I did my normal ugly face routine. He laughed. The dad turned. I turned away quickly. But then his dad said, "Katie?" Crap. It was a colleague I didn't know that well. Make sure you don't actually know the parents before you start scaring their kids.

5) Give your pastor some eye contact but not too much. Why not too much? If you give too much, they will keep looking back at you and you'll never have a free pass to zone out or doodle for a moment and you'll feel like a jerk if a yawn slips out. (happened to me yesterday- I felt awful) As a teacher, I recognize this tendency to look at the kids who I know are looking at me and paying attention. Yesterday I made a quite a bit of eye contact with the pastor during the sermon. Possibly too much. I'm a note-taker and this sermon was awesome so I was scribbling away and kept looking up when I wasn't writing and I kept catching the pastor's eye. I thought that perhaps I was imagining it until after the service he said, "you were really paying close attention." I considered pulling out my journal to show him my thorough notes that had zero doodled stars or stussy signs or fancy block lettering (all my go to's in doodling), but thought better of it. Also, you should give the affirmative head nod when you agree with a major point but try to keep the audible, pensive "hmmmmmm's" to a limit as they can be distracting.

6) Don't avoid eye contact with everyone when a fart slips out. There are a few ways you can handle this situation but one sure fire way to ensure your guilt is to refuse to look anyone in the eye. Also, don't glance around quickly to see who noticed. Choose one person to calmly look at and make no sudden movements. Your face must be stone. Or, another tactic is to covertly glance at your neighbor with a slightly appalled and disgusted expression. My brother prefers to go with the shocked, "what was that?" expression as he glances behind him. This works only for him. If there is a dog or small child in the room, make sure you glance their way at least once with a slightly accusatory look.

7) When your teeth are being worked on, don't try to catch your dentist's eye. He's got a drill in your mouth. Do not distract him. Conversation courtesy rules are thrown out the window when you're having dental work done. You're already destined to have a bizarre conversation since your jaw is locked open so don't try to catch their eye and add your two cents to their story. I always feel a bit rude when I stare at the ceiling while my dentist talks, but the one time I did catch his eye, I quickly glanced away and was then stuck in an awkward moment for the next 30 minutes as he finished filling my cavity.

8) When your hair is being done, make occasional eye contact. This is a tricky one. Like the dentist scenario, you don't want to distract them and end up with an extra short hair cut. (perhaps this is what led to my 2004 debacle. No, I'm still not ready to talk about it) However, since you're not laying down but rather are staring in the mirror directly in front of you, be ready to make eye contact through the mirror when they initiate it. I always struggle with knowing where to look because it feels awfully vain of me to stare at myself for 45 minutes and typically will try to find something else to watch in the mirror other than the girl doing my hair. I think it might creep her out if every time she looks up, I'm staring at her.

9) Rarely should you make eye contact with other drivers. If you've cut someone off on the road or made an aggressive move, do NOT glance at them if they end up passing you later. Nothing good can come of this. There could be hand gestures involved, mouthed words, very dirty looks; it could get very ugly. Or they might be feeling smug and victorious and you don't need to see them gloat. If you honk at someone, look away. Look away fast. If you don't, no matter how well-intentioned your honk was, they will not be pleased and might even give you the bird as my own sweet mother received two days ago. If cars are trying to merge into your lane, you'd better not glance over their way or you will have to give in and let them in. Once you acknowledge their humanity, you're just a jerk to deny them access to the lane. If you, however, are the one trying to merge, by all means, try to get some eye contact. In California that is sometimes your only hope when switching lanes in traffic.

10) Avoid eye contact in MOST bathroom situations. Chatting about shoes while you're washing your hands? That's fine. Laughing about the lack of hand towels or the power of the hand dryer? Fine time for eye contact. But if you're waiting in line, hear the flush, and then see the person emerge, let them have their last moment of privacy as their goods swirl down the toilet. Don't make eye contact here. Pretend they didn't just stink up the place and give them a tiny bit of dignity by ignoring their presence. If they are a "flush and dash" type of person, wait a second so you don't catch a glimpse of their poo circling. This is for your own protection and for their dignity as well. (However, you really should wait until your business is out of site before you dash) I mentioned it once before here, but if you ever walk in on someone going to the bathroom, eye contact in this situation is worse than eye contact with anyone else in the world. When you open a door, look for shoes first, not eyes. Never the eyes.

If you disagree with any of my tips or have another to offer, please share your thoughts in the comment section.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Long Walks

I've been on some painfully long walks. And I'm not necessarily talking about the distance or the time. These walks are painful because of the obstacles along the way or the monster of a problem waiting at the end. There was the time in 2008 when I was hiking in the Alps with my brother and was furious with him; smoke was spewing from my nose for a solid hour. There was the time in middle school when I walked our old golden retriever, Odie, and he decided he was tired and kept sitting down; this was especially hard when he sat in the middle of a busy intersection. There was the time a few weeks ago when I ran out of gas and had no shoes and a pinched nerve.

Then there was the time in seventh grade when I was called into the Principal's office. I had been secretly carving letters into the desk at the very moment my math teacher told me to go to see the Principal. She didn't say why. I assumed it was because she had seen me carving letters in the desk. I assumed this was so criminal a crime that only the Principal could deal with such an offensive offense. I gulped and bit back tears and trudged to the office, head down, knees trembling. I had been caught and the guilt was eating me up inside. What would I say? How could I explain myself? I don't remember what I had been writing but I'm sure it was something along the lines of "I love Leonardo." What would my punishment be? Would my parents be called? What would they do to me? Am I too old for a spank? Would this go on my permanent record? Would I still get into college some day?

These were the thoughts plaguing me as I walked to the office. It was a very long walk. It was a "green mile" type of walk for a 13-year old perfectionist. I still see myself shaking and timidly entering his office. Turns out I was receiving some nerd award but what I remember more than the award was that awful walk.

I had another long walk last week. I had scheduled a meeting before school with parents wanting to talk about their son. Hostile parents wanting to talk about their son. I had met with them last semester and it had not gone well. Then their son did not do well in my class. There were issues of honesty and ucky, unfun topics I knew that had to be discussed; there was no avoiding it.

There are some times in life when I have avoided these walks- times when I've bypassed confrontation and wriggled out of a situation- ignored it and prayed it would go away, rather than walking straight towards it. I didn't want to face my problems; I didn't want to journey on those painful walks where pending doom and destruction/an awkward confrontation were waiting at the end; so I chose not to.

And it is ironically those walks that I didn't take, that are now the most painful because they are untaken walks speckled with regret. Those are the walks that continue to hurt only because I wimped out and didn't take them; didn't follow the Spirit's leading; didn't listen to my conscience; ignored that voice in my head or explained it away. And I can't get those walks back.

I recently read a hilarious and insightful post where the author, a hilarious and insightful missionary in Costa Rica, explains this issue of facing confrontation. As a warning, her post involves a dead cat so if you are a cat person, be prepared to be a tiny bit sad. If you are not a cat person, be prepared to laugh wholeheartedly.

But the walk I took last week could not be avoided because it wasn't up to me. I had to journey on it. It was the walk from my car to my classroom. It's probably about 47 steps. 47 very long steps on this particular Tuesday morning. My hair was not cooperating that morning so I was a few minutes late and the hostile parents were already waiting outside my classroom, arms crossed, looking peeved. I gulped and began the green mile.

However, I experienced something pretty sweet while I was walking; something almost magical. I felt a voice in my head say, "you should pray." But I didn't know what to pray. So I prayed, "help." But then I heard something that I can only explain as the Holy Spirit's voice. It was a thought that threaded through my mind and I knew was not from myself. I've read the verse about the Holy Spirit helping us know what to pray when we need Him to:

In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. (Romans 8:26)

but I had never actually experienced it; until Tuesday. Because one line came to my mind and was so powerful, so transforming, that it changed everything- the meeting and my day.

"Make me like you."

I know it's simple but here's the thing. I knew if I showed up to this meeting, it was not going to go well. I was going to get defensive and feel attacked and not respond well. I needed Jesus to be in that meeting instead. And He was. Because when I prayed "make me like you" it felt like a weight tumbled from my shoulders. I had dropped my pride and it was a heavy load. I had dropped my selfishness and it had been quite cumbersome. In return, I had been filled with a peace and a perspective that was clearly not my own.

I was able to see these parents as hurting, rather than hostile. I was able to see them through Jesus' eyes and I hurt for them. I wanted to embrace them (which you know isn't from me since I hate hugging) and comfort them and encourage them. So we met and discussed the ucky, unfun issues and a funny thing happened; an incredible thing happened. When I dropped my pride, so did they. And we were sitting there, hearts open, being honest with each other and suddenly not concerned about who was right. At one point, the mother began to cry. So of course I cried too. And as we sat there, cheeks wet with tears, I knew this is how it was supposed to be. This was a conversation without pride weaseling in, without sin getting in the way.

They left encouraged and hopeful for their son but I think I was even more encouraged and more hopeful than they. Because I got to witness something amazing that morning. I got to see the Spirit inspire a prayer. I got to see God answer it. I got to see Jesus in me. And it was wonderful. It was a wonderfully, long walk.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

First Impression Rose

I've never been great at making a good first impression. I'm either dull and boring and forgettable or I'm terribly awkward and weird and unforgettable in a terrible way. I'm guessing this is why blind dates have not worked out for me. I would most certainly NOT get the first impression rose on The Bachelor if anyone ever decides to pay me $ 10,000 dollars to go on the show. I'll accept nothing less. Just thinking about getting out of the limo and trying to make a good first impression on a guy in front of millions of viewers makes me cringe. I think I'd rather be in Christina's shoes. No, I take that back. That was worse. But you get the idea; I am awful at first impressions.

So the start of the second semester is always an interesting time because I'm forced to make first impressions all over again on the new students, while half the class already knows how truly odd and oddly competitive I am. I feel their scrutinizing eyes sizing me up, judging me by my shoes and my penmanship and my tone of voice. And I fear that I am making similar judgments about them based on hairstyles and hoodies and handwriting. It seems so natural, so easy to go around internally making judgments and assumptions, but in my seven years of teaching, I've learned that though some impressions are accurate, students will ALWAYS surprise you. The sweet ones sometimes have a devilish side. The mean ones often have a brilliant side, though they may try to hide it.

So I've spent these first few weeks mentally labeling kids and then quickly tearing off those labels and discarding of them, only to do the same thing the next day. I've also spent these weeks giving kids a glimpse of who I am as a teacher and a person. I've only had them a few days in class and they already know quite a bit about me. Unfortunately, these impressions I've made, these glimpses they've received, can be categorized as confessions.

Classroom Confessions Part 4

* I forgot how to read. I needed to establish myself as a professional on Day One, as a "no-nonsense" kinda gal who knows her stuff. I wanted them to shake in their boots just a tiny bit. But then I went and forgot how to read. Yes, the irony is glaring. While taking role on the first day I said, "Kim?"

No response.

"Kim? Where is Kim?"

"Ummmm...there isn't a Kim in this class."

I looked down at the role sheet again, confused. And then I saw my mistake. When I read "Kim", I actually had been seeing, "King, Erin" and jumbled the letters.

I wish I had had a smooth recovery. I kinda wish I had lied. But I didn't. I laughed awkwardly at myself and said, "I mean Erin. Where is Erin?" and explained why I thought it said Kim. She raised her eyebrows questioningly and I'm sure was thinking, "Great. This is my new English teacher?"

* My first day introduction was very brief but quite telling. I said something along the lines of, "I love Africa and God and my nephews are the best. I love writing and basketball and my lucky number is 47. Also, I wear invisalign so I have a bit of a lisp on occasion and I tend to inadvertently spit when I speak every so often. So if I spit on you, I'm sorry. I might not acknowledge that it happened because it happens so regularly, but please know that I know that I spit on you and am slightly embarrassed about it."

My returning students just shook their heads at me while the newbies looked slightly appalled. But they learned that I wasn't lying when spit landed all over their desks and I said nothing about it.

* I made a kid cry. Wanting to set the tone that you just don't mess with Hardeman, you do your homework in this class or else, I apparently went a bit overboard and made a boy break down into tears. I called together all the students who hadn't turned in the first assignment and gave them a stern lecture about the importance of doing their work and starting the semester out strong. Maybe my "stern" is sterner than others, and when I noticed the quivering lip of one poor freshman boy, I lightened up.

* My study hall class learned that I can be quite competitive. On the first day, I made them play the country game on my giant world map. You know, the game where one person says a country and the first person to find it on the map wins and gets to pick the next country? I'll be honest. I dominated. And I may have gloated a tiny bit. Sure, I'm technically qualified to teach Geography but my college roommates know that geography has always been my Achilles' heel. But apparently I know more than high schoolers, so I was feeling pretty proud of myself. Oh the things I do to build my self-esteem...

* I accidentally wore farting shoes- the kind that on occasion make a fart sound but only do it once so when people look at you accusingly and you say, "it was my shoe", you can never repeat the sound and just look guilty and gassy. It was silent in class when it happened so I kept repeatedly making the same motion with my foot to make the same sound. When the class looked up, I explained, "I just wanted you all to see that I wasn't farting. It's my shoe." This was met by stifled giggles. They still haven't quite figured me out.

* One boy gave me a courtesy laugh so I called him out on it. If you don't know what the courtesy laugh is, you're probably receiving them often. I confess that I am often the recipient of the courtesy laugh because I tell corny jokes. I think they're hilarious and will typically laugh at my own jokes. I'm one of them. And people who don't appreciate "corny" will give either the scoff and "you're lame" look, or a polite chuckle with a slight grin, to be courteous. I'm well acquainted with this laugh so when I heard it in response to a joke that of course I found quite funny, I said, "Hey you, I don't need your courtesy laughs. If you don't think it's funny, you don't have to laugh in here." He tried to deny it. He tried to say it was a sincere laugh. But his buddies sold him out and he learned a valuable lesson that day in class.

* I have become one of the Orchestra's greatest supporters. I haven't actually been to one of their concerts. Ever. But the members are presently selling chocolate bars to fund their Spring Break trip and they have found in me a very reliable customer. My eyes light up when they walk in carrying those magic cardboard boxes filled with magic, chocolatey goodness. "Do you have the crispy ones today?" If the answer is yes, they typically hear some sort of cheer. But if the answer is, "No, I only have almond", I may have boo-ed them and walked into the hall to flag down another flute-playing lad who can feed my chocolate need. I say that I'm supporting them, that I'm stockpiling for later. But really I've eaten somewhere in the double-digits already and have none leftover.

* I'm making judgments based on their first impressions. I know it isn't right but just as my new students are figuring me out based on initial impressions, I'm internally labeling them based on our first few encounters.

"He'll do well in here."

"She'll be a handful."

"He'll probably make inappropriate comments."

"She'll be one of my favorites."

"He's probably received a swirly or two in his day."

"She will struggle to problem-solve."


"Wow. He's a total weird-o!"

I'm trying not to make these assumptions but it's like fighting against human nature. Instinctively, I want to label these kids. Slap a name tag on them quickly like "A + student" or "ADD kid" and have them figured out. But I know I shouldn't. I know I can't. As a teacher and follower of Christ, I have to believe in these kids. I want to believe in these kids. I have to see their potential which means I actually have to search for their potential, have to see past the first impressions, past the annoying tendencies, and past the walls they so neatly construct, the masks they so faithfully wear.

I will often have to pray, "Lord, help me to see this snotty-nosed brat as You do" and I am confident that He will answer. He has already answered that prayer in numerous cases. And the more I pray for my kids, the more I love them. The more I pray this prayer, the easier it is to see past all their pretenses and see their lonely, hurting, hopeful selves. And one of the best parts about this job is that I get to affirm them. I get to let them know that I see more in them than they show to the world. I get to say things like, "Hey, this was really good. Keep it up."

I said that yesterday as I passed back graded work and heard the girl laugh and mockingly say to a friend, "That's a first- a teacher telling me to keep it up." I knew she was saying it to look cool, to appear as if she didn't care and was reminding them that she's actually not a diligent student. When she handed in the very first assignment she said, "Just so you know, this is not typical for me."

I was a bit taken aback and told her, "I don't know that yet. Let me assume you do all your work."

And so far, she has done every assignment. I don't know why. Maybe they've been too easy. Maybe it's too early and she's still planning on failing eventually. Or maybe she's planning on trying, planning on caring this semester. I really don't know. She could fail like she did last semester, but maybe not. The joy of second semester is that she gets a clean slate with me. No pre-judgments or assumptions. She could be an A+ student for all I know.

And all I know is that I get to play a tiny role in this girl's life for the next 4 months. I get to see her every day and pray for her and encourage her and point her on the way her Maker would have her go. I can't make her go. I can't make her try. But I can look for greatness in her. I can try to see her as God does and let her know what I see.

And although she wanted me to have the impression that she is a lazy, "too-cool-for-school" kind of kid, she's sent me a very different message. She's given the impression that she doesn't always want to fail; that she loves hearing "good work" and wants to succeed but is terrified that she can't.