Ya’ll ain’t ever seen the Lykes of us

While I pay no mortgage, no utility bills, and don’t spend more than a few weeks time there, I feel part owner of 3150 North Otter Creek Road. David and Fontella Lyke may live at this address but I know myself and at least twenty other family members feel like it’s their home too. This house was destined to be more than just walls and a roof. From it’s beginning, it was waiting for the Lykes to take over. My Papaw recently told me the story of how they came to own this place. In 1990, he was traveling for work and he took out a half sheet of paper and wrote the following requirements: red brick, four bedrooms, central air, patch of land. He recalled how later he showed the list to my grandma and said that was the standard. He had no idea that at the time he was building his list, someone else was building his house on the other side of town. A couple years later, in 1992, they saw in ad in the paper for a home for sale by owner and the ad read “secluded.” It was, in fact, so secluded they passed the house entirely the first time they went to see it. After turning around, they slowly drove down the half -mile driveway until it curved and Papaw knew he was in trouble. In the clearing, there sat a red brick house with four bedrooms and central air located on 15 acres. He said it was divine intervention.

The house has been a place of rest and joy not only to our family but also to local ministries, friends, and other out of town guests. Walking throughout the house, any guest will find trinkets and treasures from missionary trips, more books than one could read in a lifetime, and, most prominently, pictures. There’s a wall in my grandparent’s home filled with portraits. Panning across the mismatched frames against the muted pea green wall, no face stands out amongst the crowd. Smiling faces of senior pictures and family cards blend together in this unofficial family tree. Guests can trace the developments of each branch as toddlers in Christmas pajamas change into college graduates displaying degrees. Every moment of joy frozen in time displayed at the center of our heart’s home. It’s those frames of nostalgia we revisit each holiday and weekend visit. The entire house is littered with images of the past. Each side table, armoire, and bookshelf contains hidden treasures of bath time, birthday giggles, and group naptime. Standing amongst the nineties pastel palette are dark brown sepia tones with burnt vignettes closing in on the portrait. These ancient relics recorded during the early days of photography mark our starting line.

My papaw spends most of his time learning about where he came from. His favorite thing to do is to show off old pictures of great-great-greats and tell stories about our messy hillbilly foundation. The importance of family history can be seen throughout their home. But it’s not evidence of people who can’t let go of the past. Honestly, between both of my grandparents, there are many stories I’m sure they would be happy to forget. Before most holiday meals, Papaw says, “If it weren’t for her (pointing to my grandma), and God in my life, none of this would be here. I could have been a drunk, very easily could have been my path, but look what we have now.” Then we join hands around the table, sometimes there are 12 of us and on lucky occasions there are over 30, and sing the Doxology.

Praise God from whom all blessings flow

Praise Him all creatures here below

Praise Him above, ye heavenly host;

Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost

Amen

As the final harmonies hold out the last syllable of “Amen”, it’s hard not to feel overwhelmed by the connected spirit in the room. The faces of who we were, younger versions of ourselves, watch as we capture new moments of joy. Walking through my grandparent’s home, you see a story unfold from a young couple starting a family in Michigan into a network that spans the country. Except those pictures are only moments out of the larger narrative. There may be joy, laughter, friendship and love inside the frame, but it’s what’s outside the frame that tells our true story.

The danger of a book

I’ve recently been on a reading rampage. One of my resolutions for this year was to watch less television, so with this free time I’ve been diving into books on my reading list. Most of it is young adult lit right now because that’s what my students talk about most and it’s the easiest to consume while balancing lunch duty, track practice, musical practice and you know…the whole teaching thing.

For the past two years I’ve heard so much about Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky. I even remember hearing about it when I was in high school. It was recently made into a film so I thought it was about time I understood what all the fuss was about. The letter format and simplistic writing style, as well as the mysterious main character, made this a 24hr adventure. I kept trying to view it from my students’ perspective to figure out what would make this dark and depressing story resonate so much with them.

And unfortunately the answer is because with every description of substance abuse, verbal assaults, and physical molestations, I realized my students were able to come to terms with some of their deepest fears and horrific memories in the comfort of a book. They could read their pain and know they were not alone. Hopefully, some could even bring themselves to seek help to mend the brokenness caused by the dark selfishness of human nature.

Daily, I interact with kids struggling to keep it together, to hide, to blend in. Some are better at hiding it than others who wear it right on their sleeve. I’m overwhelmed by my inability to help them. I’m so thankful for the power of literature and the power it has to step where no one else can. This is why I make it part of my mission in the classroom to expose students to literature that may not contain an unlikely teenage protagonist with the very specific talent that can undo the dystopian society no one else can seem to topple. I’m not hating on that- trust me, I eat that stuff up. I want them to read books that burst their bubble of self-centeredness. I want them to know so much more than what adults think they can handle.

Currently, there’s a popular video floating around on the Internet of an angry father being arrested at a school board meeting. I was obviously intrigued and watched it. The video was not at all interesting, the man said nothing profound and was not removed for what he was saying but merely that he had broken protocol. Not nearly as scandalous as the description made it seem. However, the reading passage in question is definitely a brow raiser. I’m not going to get into the debate about whether or not this material should be taught in schools. There is an appropriate way of going about handling inappropriate material in the classroom, and there is a way that doesn’t address it at all. I’m sure the teachers involved had no intention of creating parent outrage- trust me, we don’t try to poke the bears.

But for all of you aghast at this small passage in a much bigger book with a much bigger story, do you think this is the first time 9th graders have heard a description like this? Do you think they haven’t seen sex in a much more graphic nature on television or in a movie? Heck, that scene was detailed in a much better way than what their buddy in the locker room is explaining. Why not have them experience this in a safe setting where they can ask questions and even question the author’s choice to include it in the book? Why not allow them to take control of things like that as opposed to letting them be controlled by it? There is a great opportunity to learn through fiction invaluable lessons about the imperfections of life.

I want to teach them Junot Diaz, Margaret Atwood, Don DeLillo, Toni Morrison and Ian McEwan, along with many others.  These writers though are considered too mature for high school juniors and seniors.Young men and women struggling with identity. Trying desperately to find their place in the world with too many voices shouting too many directions at them. So instead they self medicate with drugs, alcohol, sex, shopping, gossip, self-harm, and isolation. Diaz writes about the realities of the urban latin american teenage experience in a mesmerizing way that could entrance students and open the narrow scope that white rural suburbia has to offer.  However, explicit language, drug use, and typical teenage sexuality outlaws the use of this incredible writer and his magical stories. DeLillo’s White Noise confronts the issue of how we obtain knowledge and how media affects our views on death. He questions how we know information and how the source of information skews the very material. He highlights the slow creeping influence of media and how we become mindless consumer machines.

I could easily get carried away with explaining the influence contemporary literature has had on me and what it could do for my students. I do what I can to point them in those directions but there are so many things I’m not allowed to say or can’t say for fear of retribution. But what I do tell them in as many ways as possible is this:

 

Knowledge is powerful.

 

Whoever controls the information and the distribution of information has the most power and so they must always beware of why they think what they think. I urge them to seek out information from many sources and not to believe everything they read online. I try to pull my seniors away from young adult lit and help them put their toes in the pool of award winning authors.This is usually where they look at me like I’m some crazy conspiracy theorist. But hopefully, in a place they won’t admit to because it’s not socially acceptable to agree with the teacher, they hold on to this warning and begin to look at the world around them differently. Hopefully, they begin to seek out challenging texts. Hopefully, they find themselves in the most unlikely of stories relating to the most unlikely of characters feeling at home.

Reading has the power to swaddle us in the comfort of relatable characters but it also has the ability to thrust us into uncomfortable and challenging situations. It teaches us about ourselves and the world around us. We must continually seek to learn more and read more or allows ourselves to be led like a donkey chasing after a carrot on a string, creating tunnel vision about only satisfying our self-indulgent nature. 
Grab a book and pass it on.

 

*Previously posted on Debunking Debacles on 5/9/2014

Fear of missing out

The social media world is full of abbreviations and acronyms. Most of them I don’t understand. I will scroll through my students’ Twitter feeds and sentences look something likes this, “TBH, IDC wat my parents said. SMH” or “HMU tonight.” It’s seriously a foreign language that should be taught to people like me who have to wade through teen lingo on a daily basis. I totes need a refresher in cool slang.

However, there is one acronym that I do understand. I hate it, but I understand it. FOMO:

fear of missing out.

This is most commonly applied to situations, like not being invited to a party where everyone else seems to be. It also reminds me of a How I Met Your Mother episode where there’s always that one person who, when they leave a room, misses the most exciting part of the evening. Mindy Kaling’s book Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? reflects this pervading trend of social paranoia. Social media increases this anxiety causing users to check their phones and modes of social media constantly- never wanting to miss a post, tweet, or piece of information that might keep them in the loop. I watch my students do this all day. I have to remind them that nothing exciting has happened in the last ten minutes they checked their phone. It’s a testament to how important we think we are. We seek to be omniscient and desire to have the luxury of deciding what we wish to be involved with, as opposed to accepting that the world spins on without our input.

My case of FOMO started in high school. I was a theater geek who did well in school, had a curfew, and my parents were the kind that needed to know where I was going and if other parents were going to be there (Something I’m very grateful for now). During my sophomore year of high school, my friend group started to change. I had been friends with the same girls since elementary school but now that we were getting older it was clear we weren’t on the same “social track.” Lunch became a time of sharing stories of good times over the weekend and when their eyes landed on me I felt ridiculous. They seemed oblivious to my desire to want to remain in on their plans.I thought, “If you were all together hanging out, what did you think I did all weekend?” It still stung sitting at the lunch table on Monday listening to these girls who I had grown up with talk about their weekend together and knowing I was the only one not invited.Fortunately, I started to make new friends who held similar interests and began to feel more included. However, I still felt the pain of that loss.

Once I got to college, I became more confident and was able to find a group of friends that respected my hermit like behavior, but also pushed me to have new experiences. However, there is a picture of what the college experience is supposed to look like and I began to fear I was missing that. I wasn’t looking to party my years away but I thought I would be doing more than studying and working. I was a part of one student club, but it was small. I didn’t join a sorority. I wasn’t active in a campus ministry. Actually, I began to realize I experience high levels of anxiety in large groups of people (some of you who know me might doubt this, but just because I’m loud doesn’t mean I’m social). I once went to the gym, didn’t understand how to sign up for a cardio machine, panicked in front of a large line of people (convinced they knew I was confused) and ran out. I’m very lucky that my education cohort was so close knit or I might have fallen forever into a textbook and never resurfaced. I feared I was missing what were supposed to be the greatest years of my life.

I graduated, found a job (thankfully), and began my “grown-up” life. So here I am in my twenties with a whole other host of expectations to lives up to. Things like New Girl, Girls, Friends, and the early seasons of Sex and the City create this idea that a young woman in her twenties is flitting from adventure to adventure. Every day is full of some crazy and spontaneous chain of events that teaches you a life lesson and might even land you a date. So according to those expecations: Of course I’m having all my other vagabond friends over for vegan-soy-slam poetry- Friendsgiving. Why yes, I do live in a loft over-looking the skyline of a major metropolis (and pay a reasonable rent). I frequently get in my car just to see where it takes me and wind up in a quaint little country town with the friendliest of people. I daily encounter some cutie in the grocery store who wants my number and then sets up an adorable picnic lunch date.

NOT.

 

I live a very routine life in the suburbs of a small midwestern city. I go to my job, come home, attempt to get more work done, ignore the housework, maybe read, and then go to sleep and do it all over again the next day. I get this constant nagging sense that I’m missing my life. Social media does not help this feeling. Every day there are more posts and pictures of people who are living this seemingly exciting, spontaneous, magical life and I think “How do I make that happen for me?”

This fear is only compounded when I begin to look at what God expects me to do. I have a healthy respect (*cough* fear *cough*) of authority figures and want to please those around me with high expectations. So, I constantly struggle with trying to figure out how I can please God, how I can achieve the honor of being called “good and faithful servant.” I know and understand that I should not be tethered to this world. I should not let what it deems important dictate what I deem important. I am to be in the world, not of it. I believe this and I do try to avoid putting too much stock in earthly materials and honors. It’s an enormous amount of pressure, because this is more than missing fun or spontaneous opportunities. It’s the weight and worth of my soul. It is the question of whether or not I’m fulfilling my God-given purpose in life.

So if we are keeping a tab, I am trying to balance three different life experiences.

  1. The experience the world puts on me.
  2. The experience God puts on me.
  3. The experience I’m actually having.

 

I’m sure some of you have already caught on to the problem this anxiety causes me.

By focusing so much on the fear of missing out, I begin to miss out on what’s happening in my life. By paying so much attention to what others are doing, by putting so much weight on their accomplishments, I stop paying attention to what is going on right in front of my face. I miss out on the ways I’m already living and pursuing God. I focus on how the teacher next door is engaging her students and I miss the revelation happening with a student in my own room. I see friends on exciting weekend trips hiking through beautiful woods, and as I lust for the freedom and beauty they are experiencing, I forget that I hate camping and bugs. While I’m scrolling through Instagram, I miss experiencing the beauty that doesn’t need to be captured and filtered and hashtagged.
I have been blessed with many adventures in my life. Heck, my job is a daily adventure. Perfect example, I had to explain to some visitors yesterday why our senior boys were wearing dresses and skirts. This fear will only be conquered by daily choices to focus on what I have set before me. If any of this sounded familiar, let’s make the conscious effort to stop comparing our adventures to others. Let’s not let the fear of missing out shadow the moment we are experiencing right now.

*Previously posted on Debunking Debacles on 5/15/2014

What’s in a name?

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”

I’m reaching that stage in life when the frequent topic of conversation is about baby names. Particularly around my sister and her husband. It’s quite entertaining to hear the back and forth, debating the pitfalls of a name due to the possibility of an unfortunate nickname, and listing the merits of family history (the name “Oscar” has been at the center of both camps). It’s an important discussion to have for young married couples on the verge of starting a family. Your name defines so much of who you are. It’s the beginning of your life..and you don’t even get a say in it.

As you get older, more names are put on you and each shape your identity in a different way. We resist being labeled as much as possible. We are taught the warnings of name calling and stereotyping others but it happens all the same. If you’re the oldest child then you’re a leader. If you’re the youngest then you’re the baby. If you’re the middle then you’re self-sufficient. At school, you’re tracked into groups based on your ability. Scholarship, remedial, advanced placement, resource. You’re athletic, dramatic, geeky, popular, promiscuous, or alone. With each label we accept, we change.

Unfortunately, we start to believe these labels that are put on us. We change our behavior to fit whatever mold is being placed around us.

While at Miami, my cohort called me Hermione. This was based off my tendency to raise my hand to answer every question and generally be a book worm. However, my love of Harry Potter spurred the behavior. I felt it was expected that I start a class discussion. I had to have something to say in order to uphold my title of Hermione. I couldn’t let her down.

My family often reminds me that I can be sensitive when it comes to arguments or confrontation. It has been said so frequently that when I’m in arguments, I talk myself out of my feelings. I convince myself that I’m being overly sensitive and I don’t hold the other party accountable for their actions. Now, sometimes, I really am being overly sensitive and I need to be aware of this. However, other times my feelings are rightly hurt and I should be allowed to express that. But I don’t.

At my job, I’m the quirky new English teacher that sort of looks like a student. When students get their papers back, I’m the impossible to please college professor. When they need someone to talk to, I’m a counselor. When they need homework help, I’m an editor. On top of that, after school demands even more of me as I’m also a coach and a director. My work day requires me to be a chameleon withstanding the ebb and flow of the dynamic classroom.

When I’m feeling insecure, I believe the label, put on me by several destructive relationships, that says I’m not enough just the way I am. This sense of inadequacy can be overwhelming when I’m around someone I like and I begin to overcompensate. I laugh too hard, make inappropriate jokes, and try to present myself to be exactly what this other person might want. I act out in desperation and it’s ugly.

I add my own weight of labels with my desires and aspirations, including but not limited to: writer, professor, adventurer, and traveler. Anyone else starting to feel overwhelmed? Besides these labels created by myself and those I interact with, my surrounding culture adds a hefty list of names as well. As a young woman I should be: sexy, smart, independent, in need of a relationship, financially successful, athletic, fashionable, easy to approach, fun, and an excellent future wife and mother. Now lets take into consideration that I’m a Christian. Those labels include: chaste, pure, faithful, respectful, quiet, kind, courteous, submissive, graceful, helpful.

It’s a lot just for one girl to juggle.

It’s so much that sometimes I forget the only name that matters.

Child of God. Beloved. Cherished by He who created the universe.
The world will call you a lot of things. It will try to change who you are to fit its own needs and expectations. But remember your true name and let that shape your actions. Believe you are carefully looked after and loved by the God who sacrificed His son so that you could be with Him. You might walk just a little taller.

*Previously posted on Debunking Debacles on 4/10/2014

Compartment Confidence

The other day at lunch I was recapping my latest dating tragedy to some friends I work with. We were trying to get to the bottom of my disastrous encounters. My friend Julie was asking why I am so uncomfortable and awkward. She was baffled when I said I lack confidence around guys. This is usually because when I meet someone who I think is worth dating, I have a hard time believing they would be interested in me. It’s a truly vicious cycle. I make a bad joke, laugh too loudly, realize I made the bad joke and see that he knows it was a bad joke, then I begin to doubt myself and try to overcompensate and the whole thing spirals horribly out of control.

I leave the night feeling like this:

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Then my two friends said the most amazing things about me. They couldn’t believe that I would ever be anything but confident. They reminded me that I have a lot to offer. That I’m a strong woman who has her life together and is accomplishing her goals. Julie even said she couldn’t imagine what I would lack confidence about.

I was totally flattered and encouraged by their kind words. I was also totally confused. How can I feel this out of control insecure and yet have others perceive me as confident? Then I considered my environment. I was at work, talking with two women who see me in what I like to think of as my natural habitat. I compartmentalize my confidence, relegating it to areas where authority and control are more clearly defined in my favor and separating it from areas where vulnerability is key.

Since I decided I wanted to be a teacher (which was in 5th grade) I have never once doubted my choice. As a high school senior answering the never ending stream of “What do you want to with your life?” I proudly said, “Be an English teacher.” I was then looked at sadly and was reminded that I would never make any money. As if that mattered. My junior year of college, teacher bashing was the popular thing to do. With laws like Senate Bill 5 jumping from state to state, I was encouraged by other teachers to get out. From my friends majoring in zoology and political science, I was looked at by someone who was less than, someone who was looking for an easy ride (HA). Even now, I hear a cycle of jokes from my friends with “real” jobs about how they would like to not work for three months and get paid all year. On a recent holiday when school was closed, someone legitimately asked what it was that I actually did. Mind you this was while I was having brunch with my distance athletes after coming from working with another student on a personal project of hers, on my “day off.” (Oh and for those of you interested, this is what I do). In the face of all this opposition, I smile politely and continue to read my books, write my lesson plans, and understand better ways to connect students to literature.

I know that teaching is exactly what I should be doing and what I want to be doing. These women see me as confident because in a classroom talking about literature, discussing best writing practice, I am. I love my job and I feel completely comfortable in a classroom- even when I spell something wrong on the board (happens all the time, thanks a lot autocorrect). I love school and I love learning. Unfortunately, there is no real class on how not to be awkward around men. This is one thing I can’t study and study and then ace the final exam. Each time is an experiment, a process of trial and error. The best way I know how to enter into a new dating situation is based on my past experience. However, a lot of my past experience isn’t great. In high school, I was easily manipulated by guys as I followed them around like a pathetic puppy dog, waiting for them to treat me right. In my first ever long term relationship, I was clouded by my feelings of love and let my better judgment be swayed and again manipulated. If I’m looking at past experiences, I’ve learned that in a dating situation I am not often true to myself. I know this is due to insecurity. My logical side allows me to see very clearly where my behaviors are breaking down and creating unhealthy relationships. However, my insecurity usually overrides my logic. I make decisions or choices based on the emotional temperature of others, not what is necessarily in my best interest.

In this dating experiment, I am not comfortable with so many unpredictable variables. Which is ironic since every day at work is unpredictable. Just last Friday, I had three girls coming into my room crying for various reasons. During a production, there is no way for me to predict what will happen on stage (no matter how many times we practice). For as confident as I am in a classroom, directing, or coaching setting, I go back to feeling 16 and helpless when a guy I like gives me attention.

How do I transfer my confidence? How can I be strong and not condescending? How do I learn to carry myself as the strong woman I know I am in every setting (and not scare away a potential date)? Am I the only one who seems to have this “split personality” issue?

*Previously posted on Debunking Debacles on 5/1/2014

In Repair

I’m at a point in my life where it would be embarrassing and silly to post lyrics as a Facebook status or Tweet. If I can’t directly name my feelings then maybe I shouldn’t be blasting them on social media to the annoyance of my few followers. But there are many times when lyrics just seem to perfectly capture what I’m feeling. It’s part of why we connect to music so much. If we couldn’t attach ourselves to some part of the song, it’s unlikely we would continue to listen. It’s the same theory of falling in love with a book- some part of it resonates deep within you. Whether you relate to an experience or see yourself as one of the characters- reflection of our hearts, minds, and souls is what makes us connect to art in any form.

Over the past year, I have ventured out into the scary world of dating. “Scary” being used not only in the horror movie sense of the word (ever had a date invite himself to run errands with the host of the party – a person he met merely 30 minutes ago and then uncomfortably REFUSE to leave?) but also in sense that fear can be combined with excitement and adventure (saying yes to a date with a person you didn’t know existed until a week ago).

I’ve learned many lessons in this year but one has especially hit close in the recent months. The time for healing after a heartbreak is essential and difficult.

After my first major break up, I jumped right into the dating pool. I went out with my girlfriends on the weekends, experimented with Tinder, and became involved in my church. I was trying to make myself open to meeting new people. And I did! I had several dates that didn’t go past date one but that was okay! I was having fun and that was great.

Then I met someone who I started talking to on a regular basis and went on several datetype things with. I was totally lost on how to be myself and still capture this person’s attention. Even more so, I was still clearly rattled by some qualities of my last relationship because, when I couldn’t find my footing in this no-clear-definition dating landscape, I completely lost my cool in a most embarrassing way. It was clear my insecurity and confidence had been hit harder in my previous relationship than I thought.

After several more casual dates, I thought I had a better handle on things. Until I met someone else and I immediately gave away too much of my heart too quickly. I was so guarded with the guy earlier in the year, apparently my strategy was to behave in the exact opposite way. Surprise ending: It didn’t last long.

Both instances left me more upset than the ending of my serious relationship. How was that? I barely knew these people. Then one day, while crying out my heartbreak in the car like any sane person does, John Mayer’s “In Repair” came up on shuffle. And it dawned on me that I hadn’t take the time or care to repair the broken pieces of my heart. I let it get tossed around, trampled, and dragged through the mud only to pick it up and say “Toughen up and get back out there!”

There’s so much pressure to be together all the time. My own stubborn pride of not wanting to accept help coupled with people trying to figure out why I’m single or who to hook me up with helped me mask the real root of my problem.

As Mr. Mayer put it: “Oh it’s taking too long, I could be wrong- I could be ready. Oh but if I take my heart’s advice, I should assume it’s still unsteady. I am in repair.”

I was ready to post that to every social media venue I could think of (why? because apparently that’s what my generation does). It was what my heart was saying all along I just wasn’t listening.

I wanted to be unaffected by these men. No one wants to be the friend who can’t get past a heart break. I certainly didn’t want to be the girl crying on people’s shoulders. But it’s what I needed most. Anne Marie Miller’s book Lean on Me came at the perfect point in my life. I was very much pulling an Elsa (“conceal don’t feel- don’t let them knowww!”) when I needed to be more like Anna (“wanna build a snowman?!”). Going through this book- twice actually- broke through my prideful broken heart and opened me back up to the possibility that I have best friends for a reason. It helped me see that I need to rely and trust on those around me.

So, one night at dinner, I confessed to two of my dearest friends that I was not well. That I was heart broken and couldn’t figure out how to move past it. I sat there nervous, waiting for looks of pity, and was relieved to find love and listening ears. Just the simple act of falling into their open arms made the days better and I quickly climbed out of the funk that held me captive for months.

I’m still taking the advice of the song though. I’m in repair and that’s okay. I don’t want to rush my heart into another relationship without the proper protection and healing. It’s not a weakness. It’s not a flaw of character. It is simply where I am right now. I’m thankful for those around me for their prayers, love, and patience and now I just need to bestow some of that same grace to myself.