Tuesday, December 23, 2014

The Only Plan that Matters

Things rarely work out the way you plan.   Usually when I hear this cliché, I think of a lesson plan, a family dinner, an event at church, perhaps.  Yes, there are always kinks, always bumps in the road.  It’s always a good idea to come with Plan A as well as Plan B and C, and usually, one way or the other, things work out.  But what about when the kinks and the bumps sum up not just an hour, an evening, or a day, but your entire life, and you’ve exhausted plan A, B, and C? 

We, especially we women, love to be in control.  So when life flies off the tracks, it drives us nuts.  We spend our whole lives planning our lives, sometimes at the expense of actually living.  This is especially true at the holidays.  The photo on the Christmas card has to look just right, all the perfect presents must be bought, wrapped, and arranged under the carefully decorated tree, every party must be attended (and sometimes planned) with a smile, and there better be delicious baked goods sitting out on the kitchen counter at all times. 

I resolved to have a better attitude about Christmas this year and I did until about two days ago when I hit a wall- now, if I make one more trip to Target, bake one more batch of cookies, or have to address one more card to someone I almost forgot, I may scream.  I soaked up December and all that entails for the first three weeks, even enjoying the aroma of my fresh cut tree.  But now, just at the time when I should be able to enjoy things most, I just feel done, spent, exhausted...and I can’t wait to take down that tree.

“What’s the point?” I ask myself.  It’s easier to muster up some enthusiasm at school or church for those excited little faces at my class party or in the Christmas play, but here in my living room, this sleeping dog at my feet has no idea what happens two days from now.  But as soon as I ask myself why I should even bother, I glance at my mantel and see the nativity scene and remind myself THAT’S the point.  I also remind myself that this “nativity scene” that has become so commonplace to us was anything but common.  It couldn’t have been Mary’s Plan A, B, or C for that Christmas, but as always, God’s plan was best of all. 

We read the first couple of chapters of Luke in the Bible this time of year and we picture this nativity scene and smile at its familiarity.  However, to Mary, the position she had found herself in was anything but familiar.  She had to have felt many of the emotions so many of us experience this time of year to a much larger degree: overwhelmed, doubtful, afraid, maybe even disappointed that her own plans didn’t work out.  However, above all, she felt awe for God’s love for both her and the generations to come, love that was manifested through that precious baby boy. 

It seems simple to us now, but to Mary that night, it had to have seemed anything but simple.  Such is true for our own for own lives when we hit those kinks, those bumps in the road.  The question is: how will we handle it?  Will we kick, scream, and fight God’s plan every step of the way because, above all else, we want to be in control?  Or will we handle challenges with dignity, as Mary did, and embark bravely on the journey God has planned for us?

Luke 2:19 reads, “But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.” (NIV)  I like The Message version even better; it reads like this: “Mary kept all these things to herself, holding them dear, deep within herself.”  It’s okay to make plans, to have dreams, to hold them in our hearts.  That’s part of what makes us human; God created us so He understands.  But may we remember, as Mary did, that the only plan that matters in the end is the one that glorifies God.  And may we hold that deep within our hearts, this Christmas, and always.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Be All There

Four out of five days of “indoor recess” (a.k.a. supervised pandemonium) didn’t exactly kick off my holiday season with a smile this week.  Well, that isn’t exactly true- the smile was still there.  And luckily no one else could see the gritted teeth behind the smile, feel the deep breath being inhaled slowly deep down inside or hear me counting to ten in my mind.  Repeatedly.       

Don’t get me wrong.  I love my kids.  But some days they just don’t let up.  I imagine parents feel a more intense version of this constancy, as my chaos at least sticks to a schedule that ends at 3:00.  But these days, the minutes seem to tick a little more slowly as the couple of weeks before winter break loom before us.  This year, I had kids bouncing in the classroom BEFORE Thanksgiving all excited about how they’d already put up their Christmas trees.  Any teacher who is being honest would admit that sometimes you wonder if we’ll all make it to December 20th with our sanity intact. 

With that said, it is hard not to feel a little guilty at the end of the day this time of year.  I often ask myself if I was too snippy with a particular child, if I was prepared enough for a particular lesson after spending the night before working on the church Christmas play instead of lesson plans, or if the kids noticed I was making a Target shopping list during the aforementioned “indoor recess...”  It’s always been very important to me to “be all there” with my students, but this time of year it’s particularly challenging.  Some days, a fake smile, a thrown together lesson, and a “I’ll help you with that another day,” is all I’ve got.

So that’s why a casual afternoon conversation with one of my students today struck me as particularly sweet.  A lot of the kids had already left for the day, but about half a dozen remained, including one of my more mature, quiet girls.  Out of the blue, she asked, “Mrs. Jones, do you like being here?” and as I turned my head and looked to her for clarification she continued, “I mean, teaching, at this school.  Do you like your job?” Immediately I answered, “Yes, I truly do.  I love my job.” She then said, “I can tell.  You’re one of the nicest teachers I’ve ever had.” 

In August or June, this comment might not have struck me as extraordinarily special.  But on a dreary Friday afternoon the first week of December, it brought a genuine smile to my face.  It showed me that (hopefully) despite the snippy comments, unprepared moments, and distracted responses, they get it.  They know I like being there, they know I love my job, they know I love THEM.  Even in December, when they’re a little louder, a little rowdier, and a little harder to rein in…  I DO like being there.

This holiday season, I hope I don’t forget this little lesson.  Despite the chaos, I don’t want to forget where I am and that I LIKE being there, that the people around me and the moments that we’re sharing matter.  My prayer for you this holiday season is that you’ll remember the same.