Sunday, June 26, 2011

The Crossing

"And thou hast not shut me up into the hand of the enemy; Thou hast set my feet in a large place." Psalm 31:8

HALFWAY THROUGH last semester, I was swept over by wave after wave of startling, cold revelations. The academic path I had chosen to take for so many years disappeared with each ensuing crash, revealing only more shifting sand. "All Thy billows and Thy waves have gone over me." Whereas I had thought to finish my course, the Lord had other inscrutable plans. As I wrote to a circle of faithful, praying friends - almost exactly three months ago today:

"I'm standing at the edge of the Red Sea with the Egyptians closing in. I am standing by to see the salvation of the Lord. This morning, I prayed that when dry ground appears, that I would have the discernment to recognize it."

When you have lived in Egypt for most of your life, you get used to believing that maybe that's all there is. Head down, making bricks, sun in your face, press on. You live with the rhythm of the Nile tides, the rainy and dry seasons. Eating cucumbers, leeks, and garlic. Yum. But surrounded by an endless pantheon of foreign gods, you grow used to the daily sacrifices, the ones that that stink in the nostrils of the Most High. Sometimes it takes a sign and a wonder to pull you out and make you see how very unfree you are.

For me, it took a few harrowing months of stormy sea until the swirling eddies collected at my feet, and I could see well enough again to walk forward. Meanwhile, the landscape had completely changed. Before, the path through and toward academia had seemed to stretch on obstructed (and forever), but now the way was firmly blocked. My committee did not think that the path I had been forging was best finished in this department, at this particular juncture. Explanations abounded, though the matter was entirely, breathtakingly...inexplicable. I exercised the ingenuity and strength that the Lord gave me to effect a solution. What could I change that would not compromise my main priorities - department, program, advisor, school, campus? Nothing. Lord, what are You doing? The hearts of those in authority are "like water in His hand...He turns them whichever way He chooses."

Confusion, anger, sadness...these all took their turn with me, as it is the way in times of unknowing. Our hearts. He made them to feel, and it is good. (But not to stay there.) After a time, He picked me up. I brushed the gravel off my knees, and the seawater out of my eyes. That dream was buried and grieved, at least till a future time. Now I began to get really curious. What had He cleared my mind and heart (and schedule) to do next? Like many aching souls in this time, I began the laborious process of presenting my credentials to the slumping job market. Rework the CV for each, can I learn the corporate jargon fast enough, interviews with a disembodied voice several states away, face-to-face and fearful (did I do all right?), will you take someone part-time? Meanwhile, the daunting hurdle of preliminary PhD exams, endless meetings with faculty, and still having something left to give my students at the U.

My students.

It took a good many years for me to realize that while I value research, my heart is on full-throttle in the classroom, tutoring, office hours, casual conversations - with my students. So, I applied for several teaching positions. In the end, it was an off-handed suggestion from my mom and a facebook message dashed off to an old friend that sparked the chain of events which (paraphrasing the Irene Hixon Whitney Bridge), "picked me up and placed me where I always wanted to be." It so happened that a community of high-school learners in Eagan called Trinity needed a full-time faculty member to teach French, as well as other fascinating humanities courses. As I met people and saw the culture of the school in action, my jaw dropped. I had the distinct sense that I had come home. All that remained was to wait and see if the search committee agreed with my hunch. Thanks be to God, they did. I begin this fall.

The Israelites traversed the dry ground with miraculous curls and crests held back by the Lord's mighty power...only to fall into a humbling wilderness. I am no stronger than they, so Lord preserve my thankful heart and keep me from grumbling when it gets hard again. For the moment, though, I'll spend the summer whooping and singing at the top of my lungs: He has triumphed gloriously!

Sunday, June 05, 2011

What I did for my summer vacation (so far)

Warm-breath summer evenings. Limpid light over Loring pond. Falling asleep on a park bench in the sweet-hot sun with a book on my chest. When I dozed off, Jane Eyre was almost finally reconciled to her dear old Mr. Rochester. Another day,I bask with mom in the earthy smell and light of the plant nursery, pick out healthy green shoots and plunge them into the dirt before the evening sun slips away in the yard. There was spotted light through honeysuckle blooms when I went to check the status of the mulberries this year. When all is dark, my brother and I read Twelfth Night aloud and guffaw at all the crazy jokes. I split a cigar with dad around the campfire. Another night, Karl's away gigging, and I spend it with Bob Dylan (happy 70th birthday), window open to the smell of rain; figs, red wine, and a good book for dinner. The next weekend, ducking in through the back door of the Fine Line Music Café with the musicians - that feels fantastic. We haul the keyboards downtown two nights in a row, and I get to dance all weekend. Yet another evening, we smile straight through the new Woody Allen movie with dear friends. Midnight in Paris, it's like home movies for us. Afterwards, we traipse through the book store, end up around a bottle of French wine at Lucia's. But why let it stop there? Another Woody Allen movie and ice cream to boot? Yes. 2 A.M. is the new midnight. Another day, afternoon tea party in a tornado, and I get to catch up with old friends, newly-found. "You really should read some Willa Cather." The next morning, her prose grabs me and thrusts me into the fields of Nebraska, and it's all I can do to tear myself away to cook dinner - everything else is on hold to find out how Àntonia fares in the end. I think I would have made a good pioneer woman. I like hard work...when I'm not devouring books. A knock on the door surprises us several evenings later. "Grab some shoes, we're goin' to the park to play fourquare and shoot hoops." We still have neighbor "kids", even though I'm 32. The next night is spent chasing three little pink T-shirts of various sizes all over the playground, discovering and giggling till exhausted. I biked, ran, and babysat that day. That's like 7th grade. Most days, I bike all over, and I cannot do so on a summer day without a silly grin affixed to my face. Everywhere smells like flowers - first the lilies, then the lilacs, and ever more. I spend a late afternoon with yarn wound 'round my fingers in the coffeeshop down the street, and the Knitting Club finds me there. "You have a thing for yarn, too?" Wednesday nights are booked, hereafter. Another day, drove Karl to work in Northeast, and spotted flowers in the dumpster in my rearview mirror - who would throw away blooms like that? Oh, my path is strewn with flowers. And music. I jog laps to the strains of a Saturday afternoon mariachi band and cheers from the horseshoe court. Homemade coffee ice cream to cool down. Grilling down by the river with our tackle-box bbq from Grampa Walt, followed by a stroll under a yellowed fairy-tale moon aside the mighty Mississippi and dam. We try to pinch our eyes awake for an all-nighter arts fest, but end up sacked out on the couch. Avant-garde is only so engaging after a certain hour.

A time to be thankful. To write letters. To pray. To scrub my kitchen floor. To invent. To play. To work, quietly. What a gift, this summer vacation! He makes me lie down green pastures and leads me beside the still waters, restoring my soul. A recurring thought over the past few days: I don't remember the last time I was this happy. It's not that I have been unhappy as of late. But this feels like fulness of life. More about that soon.