Thursday, May 21, 2015

Authenticity


One of the biggest differences in my job this year and all of my previous teaching experiences is the integration of my community with my personal life. I go to church with many of my kids, I have taught them in Bible school, and I have colleagues and parents with whom I worship beside regularly and call friends. It's been a wake up call because there is indeed a challenge to separate 'Mrs. Wilson' from 'Briana' while not seeming as though two different people. It's not that I ever intentionally became one person at work or another at school and another at home, but the distance between these two worlds of mine made me not even consider it. There was no accountability. No one would notice or know the difference. So if I gossiped or uttered a sinful word under my breath at work, eh. Oops. Like I said, not that I really did that, but it was never something I needed to keep in my mind. This year, I have so much more awareness of this.
I had a kid recently say he did not post certain things on one social media over another because his youth minister followed him on that one. I couldn't help but ask why he was posting it in the first place? We talked briefly about the idea of being "fake" and being two people; one at school and one at church, or one at church and one elsewhere... and I thought about the dichotomy of being a Christian and a teacher, and how both of these identities make up who I am.

I had a kid ask me, "You're a Christian, right?" not too long ago, and I was floored because I thought surely they know this by now. He said "I thought so," so I didn't feel too bad, but it made me stop and think... Do I live a life that people will know I am Christian? But at the same time, I can't let my faith prevent my forming relationships with kids who are not Christian (and even in small town, southern America, there are lots... that whole "Bible Belt" idea is quickly becoming a thing of the past) who are in my classroom everyday. I never want to seem as though I am proselytizing or isolating or in anyway off-putting to non-Christian kids.

I want to be known for being real and honest and kind in all situations. I feel like one of the main ways I show my faith as a teacher is seeing the best in everyone.
Yes, So-and-So gossips, (TRUTH) but he/she is smart and knows a lot about such and such. (ALSO, TRUE)
Yes, So-and-So is slack, but he/she has a lot on his/her plate...
Yes, I know So-and-So is loud and rude, but he/she doesn't know better and just wants your attention.

These are thoughts that roll around in my head regularly. I know people (adults and children, alike) have flaws. I am flawed. They might do things I don't like personally or things that offend me as a Christian. They might get on my nerves. But with every parent, coworker, or child with whom I interact, or even my own family members, I can acknowledge what separates us, what bothers or annoys or offends me, but I HAVE to also acknowledge their strengths, experiences, and intentions and appreciate that part of them, too.

I feel like so many conflicts could be solved if I could convince more people to look at one another this way.

That kid that you can't stand, well, she's been through a lot and happens to act that way because no one has told her that's not acceptable...
That coworker you think is slack, well, he's dealing with family issues at home that you couldn't imagine.

I'm not perfect at this, by no means. I still yell angrily at the "idiot" that pulled out in front of me without thinking that he could have been absent-minded because he just lost his job or found out he has cancer, or on his way to the hospital to see a dying parent... I still have a lot of work to do in seeing the other side of people before making assumptions or decisions about them.

But I am trying each day at this. I feel like it's one way I can reconcile being a public school teacher and Christian. I can't really tell my kids about the love of Christ overtly, but I can show it by encouraging them to look at one another with forgiving, understanding eyes, and doing this myself.

And the idea of being two people, one at work and one at church? Well, I can't be judged by my sins or even the lack there of... I won't be able to live a sinless life, anywhere. If I for one second let myself think THAT is what determines my authenticity as a Christian, I missed the point. I sin at home, at school, and even at church. What shows my authenticity is my love for others.

Matthew 22:36-40
“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”


Monday, May 04, 2015

Time well spent and time to say goodbye.

Following Easter, my grandfather’s health (Daddy’s daddy) got progressively worse. He’s battled cancer now for numerous years- first prostate, then bone, then everywhere- and endured cancer treatment (sometimes as cruel as the cancer itself) and still remained sharp as a tack and talkative and excited to watch the deer and rabbits in his yard through it all.

My grandparents were/are loving yet not overtly affectionate, and I never quite felt as comfortable with them as I did my mom’s side- where grandparents were a place to snack and snuggle and explore together. So as I grew up, despite living mere miles away, I admittedly didn’t visit often enough. But as I got older, especially after I married Jake (who went fishing with my grandfather as a kid because they went to church together), it became easier to understand their ways of showing love, and talking to them, sharing stories, and relating to them became a lot easier. They mellowed, I matured, and my relationship with them fell into the right place. We played dominos some. We’d watch the Braves some. We’d eat dinner occasionally, and we’d talk about the state of the world and what we’d do to solve life’s issues.


Watching Pawpaw battle cancer was frustrating, because you just wanted him to to feel up to doing what he loved. Piddling. Visiting. Church. Hunting. Fishing. Story-telling. Sometime after the turn of the year, he was given 6 months, and though his children (my dad and his four sisters) didn’t share that with him, one night over pizza he made it clear to me he knew.
He loved me, that was for sure, and he adored my husband. He respected Jake. That in itself was more valuable to me than any of my childhood memories. That night was a good night. I wish I had more of those visits. I loved my grandfather's wisdom and stories. I love my grandmother's way of checking on everything we're working on, planning, and preparing for. With a glass of tea in hand, she's always wanting to know how we are, and seems pleased with each update.


Towards the end, we were over there a lot, and watching him decline so fast was heartbreaking. Watching the toll it took in the family was in someways even harder. Family members, including Jake, took turns caring for him as he lost his ability to feed, clean, and even relieve himself, and when he was finally in Hospice’s care, they continued to do whatever needed to be done until he was finally able to go to the Hospice House in town where he was given excellent care up until he died.

My dad's side of the family is a complicated, bull-headed, stubborn lot. They have big hearts, but big tempers and are often to quick to say how they feel. I struggle with it myself, and I see it often in the complex relationships between cousins, aunts, and uncles. This, plus the exhaustion of going to sit, wait, watch, and care for him over the last few weeks was physically and emotionally exhausting. So this weekend, we’ve cuddled. Watched a few movies. Spent time at home.


May is such a busy time of year, full of events and plans…  and I had high hopes of wearing a new Lilly dress, making new recipes like one for Kentucky derby pie, and running our church’s 5K this past weekend, I don’t feel bad about saying I didn’t even take a shower Saturday, or even put on makeup. I just spent time at home with my little family. And after the miscarriage, then Pawpaw’s decline and passing last Sunday afternoon, it was time well spent.


If I’ve learned anything from these past few weeks it’s this:

  1. Love covers a multitude of sins. Grace and mercy should aways prevail, and grudges only eat away at your own heart. Forgive.
  2. Take time with those you love. Memories together are priceless. Plant seeds. Invest in those people.
  3. Cancer sucks.
  4. Rest when you need it. You don't have to be anyone's superhero. 
    Losing Pawpaw was hard and I am going to miss him, but I have peace because I knew his heart belonged to Jesus, and I know where he's spending his eternity. I know he's not battling cancer anymore, and his sweet bald head, and soft hands were all just part of the "shell" we are left with. The time spent with my extended family has reminded me, too, (I'm one of them, after all and prone to some of the same familiar flaws) that I want to spend my life being known for forgiveness, for grace, for ministering to others, for honesty, for love.