Friday, December 31, 2010

Going There: Hovering & Germ-a-phobes

I've decided to start a new little mini-series on my blog, called "Going There". I have a lot of opinions in my little brain and some of them aren't necessarily the most lady-like or tactful, but you know... sometimes you just have to get in the trenches, speak your mind and throw the social graces out of the window.

Today's post - on hovering and germ-a-phobes - comes after spending a fair amount of time in public restrooms (particularly the bathroom at the TUSCALOOSA TARGET - SO stinking gross!) through the holidays and as Blake and I traveled back and forth to Muscle Shoals, Alabama. For many many many years, I have been around women who "hover." For you gents, "hovering" is a term used when a woman oh-so-carefully "squats" over the toilet. (See, I just went THERE.) Many women do this because they are afraid to put their booty on the toilet seat in fear of contracting some sort of toilet disease. This is also where the germ-a-phobe rant comes in, but I'll give my logical explanation for why I am NOT afraid of germs in just a moment.

The MAIN problem I have with "hovering" is that some women don't do it properly and leave a bigger mess than they started with! (Yes, I just went THERE, too!) If you can't hover properly, then you shouldn't hover at all OR you should learn to look behind you and WIPE THE SEAT! The reason bathrooms get so nasty is because OTHER WOMEN who HOVER and do it improperly! If we would all just put our tooshies on the seat and go to the restroom like a normal person, the bathrooms would be CLEAN! Drives me wild.

So, on to the germ-a-phobes... I have lots of friends who are finicky about germs and I love you all dearly and mean no harm by this post. Except to say that germ-a-phobic tendencies may be the reason I don't spend much time with you... :) Kidding. But on a serious note, I am no enemy to germs, within reason. My theory is this: Germs are everywhere. You cannot escape them. Ever. There are germs in your eyelashes... and in your nostrils... not all germs are good ones, but some germs can help build up your immune system.

I like to pride myself in being a relatively healthy person and I attribute my good health to the fact that I don't sanitize every single little thing. There are some things I am cautious about - food-borne bacteria and dust, for instance. I AM very cautious about food contamination (food poisoning is no joke!) and I just generally hate dust. And, if someone in my house is ACTUALLY sick, I do what I can to avoid their germs and I am not afraid to bust out the Lysol. But do I get the paper towel in the restroom ready before I wash my hands so that I can use it a barrier between me and the faucet and the bathroom door post-washing? No. Do I use hand sanitizer after I touch a restaurant menu? No. Do I use hand sanitizer after I wipe a kid's boogers? Yes. Definitely yes to that. Do I hover when I go to a public restroom? Absolutely not. Never have... and as much as I have traveled and use public restrooms, I surely should have gotten SOME sort of booty disease by now.... :)

So, to all you hover-ers and germ-a-phobes out there, I love you and your extreme need to be free of germs... but I hate to break it to you, you have germs in your eyelashes and in your bed just like everybody else. You will never escape them. :)

Oh, and Happy New Year. I guess I should've written a New Year's post instead..... oops! :)

Sunday, December 26, 2010

With love, the Financial Aid Department

Upon arriving home from a week in Muscle Shoals with Blake's family, I saw a stack of mail waiting for me on the kitchen counter. Expecting Christmas cards, magazines, and junk mail, I was surprised to see a letter from the University of Alabama sitting in the pile. I was immediately nervous... but also felt a hint of excitement, as I wondered if maybe - just maybe - the College of Education sent an early notice of my upcoming internship placement.


The letter was from the Financial Aid department. I have a love/hate relationship with Financial Aid, for many reasons. The government has been good to me as an "adult" student, providing me with loans, grants, and scholarships to help pay my way through school. That's the "love" part. The "hate" part is the way I found out about changes way too late. And this most recent change is no good. No good at all.

Apparently, to keep my financial aid (or portions of it, the letter does not make it clear), I must graduate within 180 attempted hours. Normally, this wouldn't be a problem... unless you are me and spent the first 2 1/2 years of college meandering through random classes in hopes of finding "the one" - you know... the right major. Then I took a year and a half off, went back to Montevallo.... long story short, I have taken a lot of classes not necessary for my degree.

To be exact, I have attempted 179 hours of college courses as of December 2010. This semester, I have to register for twelve more hours.

I am absolutely terrified of contacting the Financial Aid office when they reopen next week. My aid package pays not only for my tuition, but for my car payment and other living expenses. Normally, I'd just go get a job... I worked all the way through college until this past semester. But, this semester holds a full-time teaching internship and I am not sure I could hold down a job on top of having an internship. Finishing my internship and passing a final education course would mean I would graduate May 7, 2011. I really, really want to graduate May 7, 2011.

God has always provided and has never left me desolate, and I do not feel that He has brought me THIS CLOSE to graduation just to leave me with no way to finish paying! I am praying for my own faith and to see God's resolution to this financial problem. And, if you're reading this, I hope you will pray, too.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

High School Drop Out Part II

A couple of months ago, I wrote a post about my experience with the stress of high school and overwhelming nature of teenager-dom. I said I'd post the second portion the following day, but.... you know how life is. :)

My inability as a teenager to cope with life led to a decision to leave behind the halls of Tuscaloosa County High School. I'll pick up where we left off.

Sitting in the psychologist's chair that afternoon, I was angry and frustrated, but also relieved that the worst part was over. I'd had enough with school and was tired of crying all day and leaving school offered the chance for me to finally breathe a sigh of relief. What I did not know, however, was that my time to breathe was about to be cut very, very short.

After talking with me for a while, the psychologist turned her attention to my parents. She suggested that I needed to go back to school. I remember feeling instantly betrayed and this feeling would last for months. She was supposed to be helping me, but she wanted to send me back to the source of all of my stress and frustration! But, she didn't want to send me back alone. Her idea was for me to return to high school and continue therapy with her and for me to see a psychiatrist to get medication that would go with me everywhere... medication that was to make my life "more bearable."

My parents did not immediately take her advice. But just six days after I withdrew from school, my parents forced me to go back to get reinstated. I was 100% absolutely positively not on board with this plan whatsoever. I was so angry with my parents and remember saying some wretchedly horrid things to them that I will not repeat here. What I know now is that my parents' hearts were broken for me and the words I said hurt them deeply. But, no matter how many ugly things I said or how hard I cried, my parents fully believed that going back to school would be best for me. So, they pressed on and put me back in school.

Now, at 25 years old, I can say that I am incredibly thankful that they did this. I have, of course, apologized a thousand times for the harsh words I used and they, of course, have forgiven me. I was terrified of going back to school and, in my fright, I tried everything I could to get them to change their minds. When I have children of my own, I hope God brings this reminder to me when my children begin to defy my authority: Parents must stand their ground when they know they are doing what is best for their child... and any anger, animosity, or hurt will be extinguished by the grace of God over time.

My first day back at school was difficult, needless to say. But, I was also surprised with the reaction I received upon my return. As I was in the counselor's office, my tenth grade psychology teacher walked by and stopped in, saying how happy he was to see me back at school. Going back into my first period class was nerve-wracking. I thought I was going to be bombarded with stares and questions, but instead, I was greeted by an unexpected group of students who I ended up sitting with for the rest of the semester (and became good friends with!). To answer everyone's anticipated "why?", I decided just to say that I had been "very, very sick" but that I was now well enough to return to school. Very few of them actually knew that I had withdrawn from school. Most of them just thought I had been absent.

The following weeks were interesting... school was finally getting better, as my friends slowly began to better understand what I was facing. I was taking Celexa, an anti-depressant, and rapidly lost weight. My moods were becoming more stable, but it seemed like I was constantly in a very mellow, nonchalant mood. I was having lots of fun and acting like a teenager should (bubbly and happy), but I remember feeling exhausted after being around people for too long. It took energy for me to act "normal". But, things were really getting better at school. Friends (who knew the full extent of the situation) came out of the woodworks to support me and to spend time with me. It mean the world to me to know that my friends really did care about me and were taking the extra step to show how much they cared.

Around mid-March of that year, I remember that I was feeling much better. I was doing well in my classes, except for one... and that teacher practically passed me as long as I attempted the work. It was morally wrong, but it was what I needed at the time (it was Algebra II... and guess what, now I am a math whiz, so all things work out in time!). I started feeling confident again - something I hadn't felt in a very long time.

My friends dared me to ask out a guy I'd had a crush on since the first day of 10th grade... and we ended up dating and going to prom! It was AWESOME. I thought I was living in a dream! Towards the end of the semester, my new friends in English class convinced me to run for Senior Class Treasurer and told all their friends to vote for me... it was hysterical! I decided at the LAST minute to run and actually did win. Winning wasn't the best part. The best part was those five kids in English who I'd never really been friends with who kept me laughing all semester and showed me that I wasn't as alone as I thought.

While school was getting better, therapy was getting worse. I stopped taking the Celexa without "permission" from the doctor because of how awful it made me feel. And my therapy sessions were going nowhere. The psychologist was trying everything she could to find out what made me "snap" that day, but we never really got to the bottom of anything. It was nice to have someone to open up to and tell everything to, but I think she - well, everyone - missed the bigger point.

The point was that high school was (and still is) stressful! I was overwhelmed and confused and stressed and didn't know how to handle it all. I think I eventually found ways to deal with the stress, mainly by flaking out on classes and not working as hard as I could. :) Oops. Kinda went in the wrong direction there! But, the rest of my junior year and my senior year were incredible! I had so much fun and am so glad that my parents took me back to school, despite my desperate attempts to keep them from doing so. They were right and they are the reason that I made it through that scary time.

Over the years, I have taken away lots of different bits of wisdom from this experience... I could probably write another blog post on what I learned. But, I'll just end with this: There is nothing too big or small for our God. Every time I think about what happened to me in high school, I see how God put together all the pieces so that He would be glorified in the end. From little conversations with friends to having incredible parents... even to silly things like going to prom with my crush. He designed everything to bring me full circle so that I would see just how amazing He is and so that I could tell my story and show how He provided EVERY thing!

John 15:5, "I am the vine, you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing."

A Wedding in the Making

Now that Christmas break is finally here, it's time to start working on the wedding again. After school started in August, it was hard to get anything wedding-related done since we were so busy with everything else. But, now that we have a month off, the wedding to-do's seem endless. The more we do, the more excited I get... I know it's going to be a beautiful day and a great start to what I know will be an incredible marriage!

When we first got engaged, we knew we wanted our wedding to be beautiful, memorable, and affordable. I like to be thrifty anyway, and a wedding seemed like the ultimate challenge. Doing things ourselves was going to be the best way to save money, so I started making a list of the things we could actually do ourselves (preparing brunch for 300 people wasn't on that list... and thankfully, God led us to an amazingly affordable caterer!). From cupcake toppers to wreaths to centerpieces to center aisle ceremony decor... our list has grown to be pretty long. But, now that we are getting started, I'm beginning to see that not only can we do this, but we can do this really well (well... in my opinion, at least!)

So... I bring you a sneak peak of some of the things we are working on for the wedding...

Above & below: My dear friend (and bridesmaid), Beth Lambert, gave us a Martha Stewart Wedding magazine as an engagement gift. Little did she know that one of the projects in the magazine would become the inspiration for our entire wedding! The simple project was to stretch different colored and textured fabrics across various sizes of embroidery hoops.

Simple and darling... I was nervous about whether or not they would look the way Martha said they would, but after I got started on them yesterday, I have to say - they're adorable!! The picture below really doesn't do them justice - but you get the idea. Our wedding colors are white with shades of purple, peach, and pink (much more "girly" than I ever imagined!). The fabrics range from shimmery satin to light organza and matched the colors of our wedding perfectly.

The use of embroidery hoops may seem a little quirky to you, but they are also an homage to my grandmother and great-grandmother, who were fabulous with all-things sewing. And these simple circles are going to be the theme that we carry throughout our entire wedding to tie everything together.

Above: Centerpieces were a bit of a concern to me. I am allergic to flowers, so I really don't care to have floral centerpieces at the reception. So, I'd like to thank my flower allergy for helping keep our budget down!! :) In lieu of flowers, we are going to have these neat little lanterns on several of the tables in the reception hall. We'll probably just put 'em in the middle and scatter some rose petals around... simple AND we got them on sale for just $12 a piece... and they will double as a thank-you gift... and a few of them can eventually decorate our patio. :)

Blake & I are not big cake-eaters, so we are not having a cake at our wedding (plus the reception is at 11am.... who REALLY wants cake at 11am??).... instead, we are having cupcakes!! I am SO stinking excited about the cupcakes because they are DRASTICALLY cheaper than a cake and they're a modern spin on the traditional cake. Plus, we are going to use the above papers (as well as many others not in the picture!) to make our very own cupcake toppers.

Okay, this really has nothing to do with our wedding, but you gotta admit.... it's pretty cute! Elaine has made the Christmas tree her home... we can't put any gifts in front of the tree because she moves them out of the way so she can lay in this particular spot!! Blake was trying to annoy her to get her to move, but she was determined to stay!

I hope I haven't given too much away... I have just been so excited that these projects are working out so beautifully. As I have posted before, we know that weddings can turn into some serious madness including some seriously large bills. Blake and I certainly don't want to start out our marriage in debt because of any big spending, but we still want our wedding to be beautiful and lovely. Thanks to our encouraging (and crafty!) friends and family, I believe that our "dream" wedding is really coming together... one homemade project at a time. :)

Thursday, December 9, 2010

An Non-Intrusive Christmas

On yesterday's news, a pastor described his church's popular Christmas "attraction" (my words, not his) as being a "non-intrusive presentation of the Gospel." He said his church's program would be a great place to bring non-believers.

I'm sorry, but that just seems wrong.

I am probably being overly critical of this pastor's words and I don't think that he quite realized what he was saying, so my prayer for him is that he just made an innocent mistake in his choice of words. However, these days there is so much emphasis in churches to be "seeker-friendly," which to some degree is a great way to be. But, when we start watering down the Gospel so that people will accept it, we are doing them and the Kingdom a major disservice!! I don't know if you have ever read some of the Bible, but its words are often radical and harsh!

To my readers, please know that I am not in the habit of attacking pastors. I am sure this pastor was well-intentioned, though maybe slightly misguided. However, I am in the habit of pointing out "false advertising" and bringing the Truth to light. The words he chose were totally false... there is no "non-intrusive" way to present the Gospel. The Gospel - from the prophets of God who proclaimed a coming King to the dying Lamb of Heaven who bled and died on the cross and rose again - is the most intrusive story ever told.

God's workmanship is so intricately designed that He knows and sees everything. In one of the most famous Psalms, we read that God's knowledge of us is intimately invasive. "For you created my inmost being... When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body." (Psalm 129:13, 15) I don't know about you, but I don't think anyone has ever seen my "inmost being." In fact, I'm not even sure I know what that is! But, God knows... because not only has He seen it, but He also created it.

God's love is powerful and compelling. To describe His greatest act of love - sacrificing His son to pay for the weight of the world's sin - as "non-intrusive" is like a slap in the face. The miracle of Jesus' birth is nothing to scoff at, either - what an incredible plan! And Jesus' birth wasn't just an afterthought... like God said, "Hmph. These people have been suffering since the creation of earth. Oh! Hey, I know... I'll send town a teeny tiny little baby to be the Savior of the world. That'll work." NO! God's plan was practically an ancient one by the time Jesus was born!! For hundreds of years, prophets were foretelling the birth and life of Jesus with specific, God-breathed details.

The Gospel, at its core, is personal and uncomfortable. To think that the God of the universe had such an audacious plan for His creation and to know that part of that plan included me and you - that's mesmerizing. Not that we should be screaming the Gospel in people's faces from the street-corners, but we also shouldn't seek to hide the harsh reality of the Gospel and only present the flowery details. The Gospel is full of grace and compassion, but it is also full of Truth - and as we all know, sometimes... the Truth hurts.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

James and the Giant Christmas

"Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work in you so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything." - James 1:2-3

James is one of those books of the Bible that, at times, I wish didn't exist. It almost hurts to read the book of James, especially when I know I am wrong, I know I am unholy, and I know I am sinful. But I turn back to this book more than any other, because its words are True and its message is compelling.

Our pastor, as a part of a Christmas series, read the above verses from James today. What a weird passage for a Christmas message, right? I laughed when he started to read the verses, closed my eyes and whispered the words in Blake's ear. It's a passage I've memorized, for the most part, because it is such a hard thing to comprehend. "Consider it pure joy..." to suffer. What a conundrum.

It is a joy to be tested, a joy to be taught, a joy to face trials, a joy to learn, a joy to be refined, a joy to be stretched.

Philippians 3:10 says, "I want to know Christ and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in His sufferings, becoming like Him, even in His death."

To know Christ is to suffer. To know Christ is to be tested. To know Christ is to be like Him, battling the works of Satan and pouring compassion on the lost.

This Christmas, I want to know Christ.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Days Go By

Today is the penultimate day of my internship for this semester. (Penultimate means 'next to last'... it is my favorite word in the English language and I rarely get to use it!) Tomorrow, I will say farewell to the nineteen fourth-graders I have been working with for the past twelve weeks. My experience this semester has not at all been what I expected... some good, some bad... but, in the end, I totally afraid that I will cry tomorrow when I leave!!

About four weeks ago, you probably could have caught me saying that I didn't feel connected to these students. I wasn't sure if it was their age or just that I wasn't their normal teacher, but I didn't bond with them immediately the way I bonded with my last class. I think part of it just has to do with their community and their families. It's hard to explain without stereotyping, so... just trust me. I know what I am talking about! The past couple weeks have shown a drastic change... I am seeing that I bonded with these students early into my time with them, but it showed itself in a different way.

Instead of all the hugs and "I love you's" and sweet notes and pictures I received from my students last semester, my fourth-graders have bonded with me by letting me into their little lives. I don't know how to explain it, but it just hit me yesterday - I am so attached to these students and most of them are attached to me. Not that I've done anything special... they would probably be attached to any student teacher. But, this year, I am their student teacher and they are mine for two more days. :) I feel like these students trust me not because they have to, but because they have seen over the course of the semester that I care about them and want the best for them. Second-graders will most likely love you no matter what... fourth-graders are a little harder to impress.

Last year, I felt 100% confident that I knew exactly what I wanted to do with my career. I wanted tot each upper-grades... possibly only as a math teacher. Now, I am not so sure. Teaching fourth-grade has really been an eye-opening experience, as this was my first semester to see what it is really like to prep students for the spring semester's standardized tests. I won't complain here, but I know we are headed for change after 2014 when the government realizes that the majority of schools won't and never will have 100% of students reading on grade level or considered proficient in math. But that's another story for another day. :)

So, at the end of this semester, I am unsure. Unsure of what's ahead... unsure if I will actually get a job in May (I better stop griping about education so I can get a job!! I really DO love teaching, don't get me wrong!)... unsure what I will be doing long-term. But, one thing I do know for now is that I am really going to miss my fourth-graders at Buhl... more than I thought I would.