It’s unusual, I know. When the thought hit me as I drove away from work today I thought, thankfulness in January? What does a long week, snow, cold, and grading have to do with being thankful? And that’s when I met my latest epiphany; going through tough times makes me realize how bad it actually could be and isn’t and it highlights the things that have gone well.
Even though it’s only been a four-day week (thank you MLK day!) it seemed to go by slowly. It’s probably due to the many events that occurred throughout the week that really prolonged the emotional drain. It started off with finding out some news about work. Strangely, while my first reaction was more annoyed than anything else (thanks in whole to the method of delivering said news), I told myself to stop and pray, something I’ve been trying to do more often. You see, as a teacher, I’ve found that prayer is what gets me through the day. Seriously. From the first year teacher praying to know what to do with 30 freshmen for 90 minutes to the third year teacher praying for encouragement that he’s adequately challenging and scaffolding his students it’s been a work in progress, but I’m thankful that it’s a habit that has grown. As I’ve matured, personally and professionally, I’m learning to pray not just for the big moments or the moments of need. I’m learning to pray as a sort of conversation that really doesn’t end with amen. Prayer has turned into a dialogue with a friend or counselor. So when I received the news, my first reaction: raw emotion. But logic quickly pushed his way forward and stopped the whole shebang and said, PRAY! So I did. It was just a quick, heartfelt prayer but it brought clarity to the situation. It caused me to stop and analyze the news and the reaction. As I tell my students, you can only be in control of yourself and how you react to others. You can’t control others’ actions or reactions. I then made myself not just analyze the negative, which I’m prone to d0 with almost anything, but to look at the positive. Strangely enough, the positives weren’t found wanting. It didn’t make up for my trepidations, but it brought me to a place of ambivalence where I told myself that I’m okay with the news. God has a plan for me and his plan has worked so far. Who am I to decide what’s going to change the plan?
Luckily this news happened early in the week which gave me time to adjust and think things over. It also gave God time to speak to me through the second item that I’m thankful for: Literature. Literature was something I came to late in life. I always liked to read, but I didn’t read Literature until high school. And then I liked it. In college I didn’t declare a minor in English but basically that’s what I was doing. In Grad school, English is what saved me from an M.A.T (no offense, but Literature is just more interesting!) Through these three phases I learned that I had a knack for drawing ideas out of books that wasn’t far off from the “real” English majors or M.A’s. Sometimes, because I wasn’t a rank and file “English” person, I found things that others hadn’t. Ask my wife, it’s what first put me on her radar. Yes, brains, you won. Sorry, brawns. After becoming a teacher of Literature, I’ve questioned my ability to guide my students through the amazing compendium of literature. Oddly enough, it was while being a tour guide through Milton’s sonnets that I felt divinely encouraged. We were studying Milton’s Sonnet XIX where he is pondering why God was making him blind, if God wants him to be a writer and serve him through writing. Ultimately, Milton comes to the conclusion that God doesn’t want or need the product we have to offer; He wants the process. He just wants to see that we are willing, faithful, devoted. He doesn’t care that my final product may be flawed or out right wrong. He just wants to see me try. As a teacher, I always struggle with confidence. Confidence that my students are getting the education they deserve and that I’m truly doing all that I can. But this idea of process over product alleviated all of that. I suddenly realized that God gave me the talents to be a teacher, He wants me to be the best that I can with those talents, and He’ll take care of the rest. I’m thankful for a God that speaks subtly with power and who gives lovingly and asks only for love in return.
Oh, it doesn’t end there, dear reader! After reading the selection of Milton’s sonnets, we then began to read a portion of Paradise Lost. It’s an epic I haven’t read, and am only familiar with because I teach it. In my introduction I always warn the students to not misinterpret Milton’s purpose. He’s not making Satan hero, he’s only making him the protagonist and looking at the war in heaven through his eyes. Apparently this was enough to whet the students’ (a class of Seniors, 10 boys and 2 girls) appetite. Who knew? The period ended before we were 75 lines in but after class one of the boys asked if he could read the epic in its entirety. Of course! During our sustained reading time today, he brought the book out and read for 3o minutes straight. I was amazed. He’s a bright student, but one that finds himself in the middle of mischief. To see him reading for 30 minutes straight, and Milton at that, I was shocked. And thankful. I immediately shot God a prayer of thanksgiving for showing me that what little I do goes a long way and that students often surprise us more than I might have expected. I don’t know how far the fellow will get in the book, but even if he only reads what little he did today, I’m thankful that God used me to inspire someone to try something challenging and who, I hope, will get a blessing out of it!
And now I’m thankful for my wife and her epicurian skills because she just put homemade chimichangas in the oven and it’s time to help out in the kitchen! Have a good weekend and be thankful!