☕️ Semester New Year Reflections

A Saturday Caesura

February is like a second new year for some teachers: old semester done, new semester begun. Fresh starts, new students, and resolutions in the form of course outlines and long-range plans. Even as I anticipate Monday’s new classes, there is a lingering sadness with the realization that in spite of the connections I make, when students complete my courses (grade 12 in particular), they will move on. The hours with them — learning, laughing, struggling, growing — will be a small blip (if that) on the radar screen of their years. Memories will fade as life continues its pace. They leave; I stay.

Yes, I know that teaching is, for the most part, a short-term relationship gig, but I still feel a particular emptiness at semester-end and at graduation.

In many ways, life is comprised of these come-and-go relationships. There’s nothing particularly wrong with this, but sometimes I wonder if we abandon some relationships too easily. When the “things” that bring us together to begin with — school, church, work, family, activities, interests — are removed or fractured or worn out or burned out, what happens to us? Do we pretend we never knew each other? Exchange pleasantries when we meet in the grocery store aisle? Become Facebook friends and peek into each other’s lives from time-to-time? Maintain a manageable distance through friendly but guarded conversations? Or do we seek new connections that move us beyond that initial “thing”? Do we fight through the change, distance, absence, or inconvenience to live as if this relationship still matters?

Yes, I know that relationships take time and energy and most (all?) of us are parsimonious about how we allocate those resources. Yes, I know that some relationships need to end, and some are necessary but can only hold together because of a healthy distance. For most of us though, such situations aren’t the norm. Most of us, I suspect, just slide through our relationships on the path of least resistance. I know I often do.

But I also know that every relationship — fleeting or long-lasting, easy or hard — contributes to the larger story of our lives. And part of that larger story for me is that several young people I know and care about have transitioned from student to friend. I stayed, but they came back. We developed relationships built on something other than school: common interests, mutual encouragement, similar losses and griefs, a shared faith. And really, isn’t this what makes and sustains friendships and relationships at any level or age? It isn’t about convenience; it’s about forging connections through all the changes that inevitably come. It’s about saying that we matter to each other in ways that are worth preserving. It’s about living love.

So at this Semester New Year, I’m rethinking how I approach relationships, and not just those that arise from classroom connections. Maybe there’s a few that I haven’t fought hard enough to hold on to. Maybe there’s a few that I have fought for but need to keep doing so even when it is hard and I’m tempted to not bother anymore. Maybe I’ve written former friendships off without fully recognizing the ways that even these “short-string” friends still impact me (you’d have to have been in one of my classes to fully understand the string reference, but I’m sure you can figure it out). There’s no “maybe” about this though: the friendships I do have are a treasure and a gift, a grace and a joy.

☀️ Togetherness

A Sunday Doxology

How do I express gratitude enough

to You, the Joiner of two-into-one,

for the gift of a life-companion who

loves You,

loves Your word,

loves Your world,

and graciously loves me, too.

Thank you for shared laughter

and tears,

for iron-sharpening-iron

and peace-finding, problem-solving

commitment and forgiveness

and days and years

and months and minutes

of companionship,

of fellowship so precious.

Grace upon grace.

Woven Together: A Life

Lately I’ve begun imagining my life as a lengthening cord of woven strands. The cord is multi-coloured and lumpy with portions of the weave wide and thick while other sections are narrow and patchy.  Each strand represents a person who has been a part of my life – those who remain integral to the core weave are easily recognizable, and the ones whose strands only appear for small segments are just as easy to overlook.  

I’m not exactly sure what started me on this reflection – perhaps some recent conversations that reminded me of valued relationships, perhaps a continuing dissatisfaction with shallow representations of relationship enabled by social media, perhaps my age which continues to sag toward words like ‘old’ and ‘retired,’ perhaps just the need to see life on a larger scale than the narrow confines of the present. Whatever its origins, the reflection has turned out to be an exercise in humility and gratitude.

Part of me wishes I could speak to some of the people who only knew a much younger version of me.  I (mostly) am not that person anymore, but there is something very comforting in knowing that for all my immaturity, naivete, and awkwardness, I was still seen and known and loved.  

I wish I had been more at ease with myself back then.  I wish I had been more aware of others and their needs.  I wish I had put less energy into trying to find my place and more of it into living fully in the community where I already belonged.  

I am grateful for the people who bring such strength to the early strands of my life – you represent my history, something that few people in my present world know or understand.

Family members are firmly woven into my life-cord – some right from the beginning, others entering in their appointed places along the way through birth or adoption or marriage. The strands of these relationships have been shaped by many things, sometimes losing their luster in the give-and-take, taken-for-granted, yet shifting priorities of an expanding family unit. Sometimes strands frayed and needed mending. In a few places knots hold things together again. As unsightly as they may seem, these knots declare that there are relationships that must never be abandoned.

I wish I knew my family better. I wish they knew me better – not the me they knew from growing-up years or the newly in-lawed years, but the present day, still-flawed-but-growing-in-grace me.  

I am so very grateful for the ways the strands of family have both deeply blessed and challenged me – you represent a foundation necessary to understanding so much of myself.

The strands of friendship are of particularly varied lengths, textures, and colours. Some are long and strong, bridging weak areas, smoothing broken edges, providing continuity for things like hope and purpose.  Patterns woven from our shared memories are often delightfully refreshing and continue to inspire me. I’m equally saddened by the strands that end abruptly. If I look closely where they disappeared, I sometimes find dark threads of hurt and even anger, and I have to carefully pull them out. Again. Discard them. Again. Choose forgiveness. Again.

I wish I had been a better friend. I wish I had learned earlier what I am still learning now: how to just be with others without comparison, without judgement, without needing attention or questioning how to fit in. Sometimes I wish others had heard my heart when my words weren’t working very well.  I wish I had been a better listener.  

I am grateful for the many strands of friendship woven in from childhood to the present – you represent a dynamic and living community that has both shaped and sustained me.

One particular strand begins the day a certain young man suggested that we go on a Saturday hike and I said yes. Several ‘yeses’ and an exchange of ‘I do’s’ later, our separate strands became permanently intertwined as one.  I can’t imagine my life without this man who continues to know me and love me anyway.

I have many wishes and regrets about my adequacy as a wife, and certainly about my ‘success’ as a mother to our three children, but I am grateful beyond words for the strong, faithful strand of my husband – you represent an anchor keeping me moored to truth about myself, about God, about us.  

I am grateful that although there have been many times when I have felt alone, the woven strands of my life remind me that I have never ever been without family, friends, and community.  

Grace upon grace.