Well, it’s been a long time since I’ve posted anything here—and that’s for a couple of reasons.
1) I switched websites, and it’s still a little bit in shambles. The most frustrating part is that in the transfer, many of my old posts were lost. It sounds dramatic, but that’s been a bit painful because when I write, my words come from the heart. I pretty much fail all marketing guidelines which say to write short posts and publish them frequently so as to keep up a steady readership. I’ve always struggled with that, though, because I refuse to just write fluff in order to have published a post. So when I do post, it’s generally something that’s been on my heart for a while, something that comes from deep conviction and truth I’ve been learning. Losing those posts has gotten me a little disheartened and kept me away.
2) I present: The life of an English teacher at a small school. I mean, this year was crazy. I’m sure it sounds tame and easy to some, but this year, I had 4 different courses to teach, or as we say in education, 4 preps: English 8, English 9, American Literature (English 11), and Honors American Literature (English 11 Honors)—and the two 11th grade courses generally read different books. Over the course of the year, I taught 17 different novels, and that doesn’t begin to count the many short stories, excerpts, poems, and nonfiction pieces I taught. Reading those works alone consumed many (unpaid) overtime hours, much less writing 4 different lesson plans and teaching them, on top of which, this year, I was in charge of high school chapel (a weekly event), I ran a monthly spiritual formation curriculum with the faculty of our school based on my Master’s thesis project, and I was the advisor for Key Club, which I bumbled through as well as I could. In short: I am exhausted. Furthermore, I’m not returning to teaching at that school next year, so wrapping everything up, cleaning out my classroom, (hopefully) leaving things better than when I found them, applying to new jobs, and trying to find space in the midst of all of that to listen for God’s voice and guidance didn’t leave a ton of free time in which to write.
Having established why I’ve been effectively M.I.A. from writing, from my website, and from life in general over the past year or more, I’m back. Metaphorically speaking, I feel like I’ve emerged from the crucible and as if my own personal Granger is saying to me, “Welcome back from the dead.” (Because what kind of a former literature teacher would I be if I didn’t include allusions to two great works of American literature?!?) I digress.
I’m back. And I’m 30. (yikes!)
On that note, I turned 30 a couple of weeks ago, and I’ll be honest: I wasn’t looking forward to it. It’s been staring me down, and since time is inevitable, it won. I’d like to think my reasons aren’t rooted in vanity—coworkers of mine told me it’s not that old and I’m not aging that visibly, but I don’t even care about that. My semi-dread of 30 stemmed more from feeling like my life has stalled in some ways. Yes, “age is just a number,” and “30 is the new 20,” but most of those who encouraged me with such platitudes don’t seem to be stalled out in quite the same way, so those words aren’t necessarily helpful. However, my best friend Melissa called me on my birthday, and as I was reflecting with her, she named it perfectly: 30 represents unmet expectations.
If that’s the case, and I think I am feeling that, I have many “unmet expectations:” I’m now unemployed, and though I feel confident in my decision not to return next year for various reasons and have felt God affirm that decision to step out in faith recently, the undeniable truth is still that I’m 30 and without a job or much in my bank account, courtesy of private school teaching salaries. I’m also perennially single, and while I’m okay with that most of the time and have had so many adventures because of that, when most of my friends are married and on to at least their second (or fourth, in some cases) child, sometimes I feel like I’m about 10 steps behind and can everyone else just calm down and pause for a moment so that I can catch up?!? I also feel a bit like I’ve been giving my life in service to others and to the Kingdom—and I don’t say that pridefully or resentfully—but the reality is that in trying to follow obediently wherever God leads—and that has meant to 4 different states in my 20s—I don’t feel like I’ve had a ton of time to get “caught up,” whatever I imagine that looks like. I wasn’t 100% dreading 30, I guess I should say; I was more ambivalent about it in the end.
In the midst of all of that, I traveled to Rome over spring break with my little sister (shoutout to American Airlines for the lowest AAdvantage mile rewards being to Italia), and on our third morning there, we toured the Colosseum. It was pretty empty when it first opened, so as we walked around, I found a spot that actually means a lot to me, and I had Madelyn take a picture of me there so as to better remember it. Pre-social media days of living our lives through pictures, I’ve always been the “historian” of my family and friends, documenting high school and college in pictures and framing many of them around all of the different rooms I’ve lived in for years. I love pictures and love visual reminders of places which mean something to me.
Why does this spot mean something to me? In a post from a few years ago—now lost to Internet oblivion (it’s gonna take a while to get over that…)—I wrote about turning 27 during Wheaton in the Holy Lands. As I was sitting in this same spot at the Colosseum in June of 2014, one of the professors was lecturing on the life and customs of people in ancient times, and she said that the average lifespan was something like 21 back then. As the only grad student on the trip and thus around 7 years older than most of the undergrad students, I thought, “Wow, there’s a good chance if I’d lived back then, I wouldn’t have made it to 27.” That was an interesting thought when I was around so many bright-eyed, bleeding heart undergrads, many of whom celebrated their 19th or 20th birthdays on the trip.
But then, I realized something more profound, and a truth which has endeared that spot in the Colosseum and at the same time reconciled the idea of aging to me: because of the lack of modern medicine and modern technology, if I’d lived in any other era, I wouldn’t have made it much past 21. Without chemotherapy, PET/CT scans, and doctors’ understanding of Hodgkin’s lymphoma, even 50 years ago, I most likely would have died around 22 or 23, depending on the growth rate of my cancer.
I realize we don’t do time travel and that God, in His sovereignty, orders all things at just the right time, so I understand how hypothetical and unrealistic it is for me to imagine living in any other era in the first place. Yet, I also know that God, in His sovereignty, has me living now, in this era, and that because of that, I am alive and well and able to turn 27 then and 30 now.
With that framework of understanding, it is truly a gift to be able to age, and I don’t say that with a Pollyanna mindset, putting a positive spin on reality or making lemonade out of lemons. I say that with the personal conviction that my very life is a gift and that, sans God’s healing, I shouldn’t have turned 30 two weeks ago. Knowing that, I’ve reconciled myself to 30—yes, even with still feeling like my life has stalled a bit and like I don’t know where I’m going and am 10 steps “behind.”
In my American Literature courses, I taught a poem by Csezlaw Milosz, one that my favorite professor at Wheaton, Dr. Roger Lundin, introduced me to and to whom I am so indebted in so many ways. I wish I could talk with him today and tell him just how much he influenced my teaching, how he challenged me to think critically, and how (hopefully) his memory lived on in my teaching. Milosz’s poem is called “Temptation,” and I taught it at the end of the school year in order to provide students with a less bleak offering from Postmodernism, one that’s devotional in nature and hopeful for the “already-but-not-yet” world in which believers find ourselves in the 21st century. I’ve included it below:
Under a starry sky I was taking a walk,
On a ridge overlooking neon cities,
With my companion, the spirit of desolation,
Who was running around and sermonizing,
Saying that I was not necessary, for if not I, then someone else
Would be walking here, trying to understand his age.
Had I died long ago nothing would have changed.
The same stars, cities, and countries
Would have been seen with other eyes.
The world and its labors would go on as they do.
For Christ’s sake, get away from me.
You’ve tormented me enough, I said.
It’s not up to me to judge the calling of men.
And my merits, if any, I wouldn’t know anyway.
I love this poem because I’ve felt these sentiments on many occasions. I have heard the proverbial “spirit of desolation” tempt me to say that I’m obsolete or that my life—my work, specifically—is making no difference to anyone, whether with my book, my teaching and pouring my life out while pouring into students, or with a new dream that I have. In reality, I know that the world doesn’t revolve around me and that my life is but a vapor. And yet, with the Holy Spirit’s help and by God’s grace, He has spoken enough times to me, reminding me that it’s not up to me to judge my calling and that, somehow in God’s great Story, my small chapter—or footnote, really—is made sense of and integrated.
So, armed with the poignant truth that 30 is truly a gift God has given me and the reminder that God’s calling isn’t up for me to judge or even understand (see “Secretaries,” also by Milosz, for another great image of our role in God’s plan), I can better accept feeling like life has stalled a little bit. It’s true: it has, and yet, each day is a gift I shouldn’t have, an opportunity to show up and be faithful one more time, even though I know I will fall short of His calling and live in need of His grace on a daily basis. It doesn’t make 30 less scary or less a reminder of unmet expectations, but it makes 30 just one more day I probably shouldn’t have and helps me remind myself, much to the spirit of desolation’s chagrin, that I’m just along for the ride, unmet expectations, stalls along the way, and all.
I’m excited to share one of the new “chapters” that I think God’s writing, one of the things I believe He’s called me to, in the next month, so stay tuned, even if I don’t write short, frequent posts (yeah, I see you, Marketers). Until then, be blessed, feel free to comment, and may you, too, ignore the spirit of desolation, trusting in Him who has given you another day and given you a calling you very well may never be able to judge or fully understand.