Thursday, March 23, 2017

Work

Back in September, I started working a part-time job. I work ten hours a week in the office of an investment adviser in downtown Durham. Typically, I work two to three days a week during school hours. Though not in my field, the work is predictable and interesting, and I work with some really great people. It's an amazingly good fit for my life now: allows me to earn a little money and fits well with my family schedule.

Then in December, a local attorney, a friend of a friend of a friend, contacted me. He was interested in hiring someone to do research and writing. I work almost entirely remotely, usually on my off days during the week or evenings and weekends, billing by the hour for whatever project I'm working on. Again, it's been a great fit with everything else. I'm also incredibly grateful to have an entry point back into my chosen field, should I choose to pursue it.

The final piece of my "work" puzzle is volunteering for the kids' school. I'm on the PTA Board, and I also serve as co-chair of the School Improvement Team. That works out to at least two meetings a month, one of which I typically co-facilitate. In my PTA role, I help coordinate a monthly breakfast/lunch buffet for teachers. I'm at the school a lot, and when I'm not, I'm sending emails or meeting with parents, staff, or other community members to talk about issues affecting the school. It's been perhaps more time-consuming than I envisioned, but overwhelmingly a labor of love.

My life is a lot fuller with outside activities than it was a year ago. Though it's considerably less flexible and more scheduled, I remain very grateful for the flexibility that is still there. This week is a great example. I worked my office job on Monday, scheduling my hours so I could go straight to the kids' school for a 4:00 meeting. Monday night, Lauren was up most the night with bad congestion and coughing, so I ended up staying home with her Tuesday, a day I was scheduled to work four hours at my office job. My plan had been to work the office job on Tuesday and make some progress on a legal research project on Wednesday. I was able to switch that around and, since I was home with a recuperating Lauren on Tuesday, I sat with my laptop and researched and wrote while she rested and watched TV. Then, on Wednesday, I was back at the office.

Of course, all these moving parts work in coordination because of my other team members. The kids ride the bus home sometimes, and Matt helps give me space and time to work on the weekends when I need it. He is also spending the bulk of the time at the ballpark, while all three kids are practicing twice a week during the pre-season of spring baseball. I'm thankful for the ever-changing fullness of our lives and curious to see how things may change even more over the coming year.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Tributes

I love teaching my public speaking class for a few reasons. One is that it's an all-ages, all-abilities elective class. I get to work with students bound for competitive colleges next year and students struggling with their first semester in high school. Demographically, it's as close to a cross-section of the school that I get to see outside the cafeteria: English-language learners, immigrants, honors students, seniors, freshmen, athletes, musicians, and drop-out risks share space, speak, and listen to one another.

The other reason is because it's a class that reminds me how important it is to listen to and learn from young people. I have a couple of assignments I especially look forward to every year. One comes after an often-contentious debate unit during which feelings inevitably get hurt and students find themselves on opposite sides of issues like immigration, reproductive rights, separation of church and state, and criminal reform.

This week, for the last two days, I've listened to my students pay tribute to important people in their lives. I start the unit with an example speech about my Papa, Lee Yardley. I tell stories about him, contrast his life with mine, and try to emphasize the lasting impact he had on my life. Then I give the assignment: a simple one, but one that usually finds vulnerable places in student's hearts and minds: "Your next assignment is to pay tribute to someone important in your life. Introduce us to this person through anecdotes and stories. Explain to us why this person is important to you and deserves tribute."

Then I listen.

And this is what I hear: young people who are often unfairly stereotyped as lazy, selfish, and spoiled celebrate the people in their lives who work and sacrifice and love with abundant hearts. They celebrate parents who flee danger to find better lives for their children. They shout out teachers who rally them from dark places and times. They celebrate siblings who fail and work to reform themselves. They testify their gratitude for siblings who anchor their otherwise chaotic lives. They praise their friends who love them when they feared they were unlovable. They sing the living and mourn the dead. They memorialize, laugh, and sometimes cry. The values they explicitly and implicitly champion are the same ones we all remember to honor at our best: humility, hard work, unconditional love, faith, charity, self-sacrifice, humor, generosity, bravery, defiance, resilience, dedication, and many others.

The assignment almost always refocuses the class as a community, but it also refocuses me and helps me remember that my job isn't commas and semicolons, rhetoric and literature. The best people in my life have been the ones who encouraged, supported, and affirmed me, even when I might not have deserved their good grace. To be reminded of that by the young people to whom we're entrusting our future is humbling and encouraging.

Thursday, March 09, 2017

Tamrah

Batter up, Tamrah style!

Earlier this week, my sister and her husband traveled to Montana for an important court hearing. The court entered an order that is the next-to-last legal step to finalize their adoption of Tamrah. The final decree will be entered in six months.

I've been thinking a lot about Ashley, Donnie, and Tamrah and how grateful I am that they have each other. I know I've experienced only a tiny portion of the many emotions they've each gone through this week and the last few months. I will never understand why Ashley and Donnie have to endure the heartache of infertility. Nor why Tamrah, at the tender age of my own daughter, has to experience the sadness and anxiety that surely come with not knowing where you belong.

But I don't have to understand these things to be deeply grateful for the grace, mercy, and providence that allowed them to find each other. To be thankful that my sister and her husband can be the wonderful parents we all knew they were meant to be. And to be grateful for this brave little girl, who now will better understand where and to whom she belongs.

Cousins!

Friday, March 03, 2017

Little things

I've been stuck on some ideas I've had lately that take more time to implement than I feel I have to give them. I've felt frustrated that I haven't gotten writing projects or personal projects going, and I've felt frustrated about it. I've tried to use a little time each day over the last week or so to remember that life is made more of little moments than big ones. So I've tried to be more aware and thankful for small things. Just in the last week, I've enjoyed spending time with friends I don't usually see, listening to records I haven't listened to in a while, throwing backyard batting practice to all three of the kids, laughing in class at school, and even spending an hour in the quiet of the house by myself once this week. My week has been quiet and loud, busy and slow, productive and stagnant. I'm thankful for those opposites that, as Epictetus says, complement one another "for the harmony of the whole."

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Four years later

Mid-morning sky.

Last night, Matt made the kids’ sandwiches and cut their apples for today’s school lunches. This is a task I usually have each school morning in our tag-team routine to get the kids to school by 7:30. He graciously did this, without my asking, so that I could have some extra time to myself this morning. I think his idea was that I could sleep in a little. Alas, I was up early, coffee in hand, and enjoyed some quiet time, reading and writing. We haven’t spent much time talking about today, but I know we both saw it coming. I believe we each felt it coming, too. Today marks four years since I was diagnosed with breast cancer.

Today remains a marker in the road map of our life--a profound demarcation of before-and-after. I wonder if there will come a year when it doesn’t feel heavy, when it doesn’t feel huge. However, accepting it for what it is and how it feels, I will honor today with a few self-reflections.

Four years means I’ve traveled a significant, precious distance from my disease. Clinically speaking, each year I spend cancer-free increases the likelihood I will remain that way. I decided some time in the first year after my diagnosis that I didn’t want to live my life paralyzed by fear and anxiety. It’s one thing to have that realization; it’s another thing to try to live it out. Fear, anxiety, and sadness remain, and like I said last year, I accept them as traveling partners. I just try not to let them drive. My resolve every day has been to be calmer and stronger.

Invoking calmness or peace of mind involves a lot of intention and introspection. That’s often a struggle in our seemingly ever-changing, increasingly complex lives, raising three humans. Our kids are all reading, writing, and really thinking now, challenging and questioning us in ways that are both daunting and exciting. There’s certainly a lot to help them process these days, especially in school where so many of their friends are immigrants. In the midst of some anxiety, we have had opportunities to teach them about kindness. compassion, and empathy. I’m grateful for a public school that’s supportive and helpful in reinforcing these values. I’m thankful for a church where our kids studied this Bible verse in Sunday School earlier this month: “See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are!” I John 3:1. There’s a peace in my heart, because I know I am loved. I see my most important work right now as helping my kids understand that they are loved and worthy of love. And so is everyone else.

Strength is also rooted in intentionality: a decision to grow--to move beyond a comfort zone. For me this past year that has meant entering the paid workforce. Back in September, through a fortuitous set of conversations, I landed a part-time job working for an investment advisor. Most of my work there is very simple, straight-forward administrative work, but still, I’ve been grateful for the opportunity to meet and work with some kind, thoughtful people in a very pleasant environment. While this job is only ten hours a week, and I can confine my work hours mostly to the kids’ school schedules, it has been an adjustment to have less time for myself--particularly in a year when I’ve taken on more time-consuming volunteer roles at the kids’ school. Additionally, I’ve acquired a part-time, project-based gig: my first legal writing work in eight years. I think we’ve all been stretched a little by this change in our family life. The kids have adjusted to riding the bus home most afternoons. Matt has covered a few more dinner and bath times solo for me to attend evening meetings. And I’m adjusting to a more rigid schedule for grocery shopping, meal planning, and other household logistics--and learning to let some things slide. While I lament the passing of a simpler time in our lives, I know it’s necessary to give way to something new for us. I’m grateful for what I’m remembering and learning about myself--and a measure of courage and confidence--as I reenter “professional” life.

As life moves and changes, I'm very grateful to be right where I am. I don’t appreciate every single moment, but I hope my heart and mind remain open to the everyday grace and love in my life--like a husband who does me a favor I didn’t even think to ask for.

Friday night. #durm #bullcitybabies

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Love

After-school smooch.

This past week has me reflecting on the love in my life. Last Friday, marked 21 years dating for Matt and me. Our love has been central to my life for more than half of it now. Like he said, it's the source of so many wonderful things--memories, friendships, and especially our kids.

On Monday evening, I helped our kids put together their Valentines for their school friends. They were silly and sweet as they discussed "crushes" (Lauren's is Mace, Evan's is Ruby, and Tobin prefers to keep his a secret) and then picked out which store-bought card would be best for each friend. They came home on Tuesday, with smiles and bags filled with treats and notes. Tobin had a particularly special note from a long-time friend, who thanked him for being his best friend and drew him a comic book character. I'm thankful my kids' time away from me each day is filled with the love of friendship.

Tonight, I went out with a group of neighbors to celebrate two of their birthdays. I felt grateful for the companionship and the opportunity to hear what's going in our increasingly lives. Our favorite spot was closed in honor of the nation-wide protest A Day Without Immigrants. We happily found a different place to go. I felt really moved that a small, local restaurant would give up a day of business to honor immigrants in our community. Once again, I encountered love.

When I got home, I checked my email to read messages from the kids' school with plans for teachers and parents to welcome back the nearly one-third of immigrant students who stayed home today. Our message will be simple: we love you, we missed you, and welcome back. Teachers are ready and willing to help kids in their class process the meaning of today. Earlier this evening, we talked with our kids about what it felt like to miss their friends, why they weren't at school, and why we love them and our country.

Next week, I will focus on a harder love as I mark four years from my cancer diagnosis. I feel deep gratitude to be where I am. I love my life. I also remember that in the wake of my diagnosis and the disorientation I felt, I knew one thing: I am loved.

There's a lot of fear these days, but my hope is that I can keep love in front of me--always first. I've read these verses from the Bible for as long as I can remember, but they are especially poignant at this moment in time:
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. I Corinthians 13:4-7

Thursday, February 09, 2017

21

As I've tried to think and live more deliberately over the last few years, I've been abundantly cognizant of where my center for gratitude lies most of the time. I've written about Allison more during this 12:34 project than anyone else, and I texted her the other day "It's 12:34, and you're the first person I think of. Like most days, tbh."

Tomorrow marks 21 years to the day since Allison and I started dating. Our friendship, relationship, and partnership is the blessing for which I am most grateful, in part because it has been the foundation of so many others--parenthood especially.

So today, I'm thankful for a windy day trip to the beach in 1996, and the excitement of beginning a road trip that still hasn't stopped.