Just Look...

Just Look...

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Dear Senior on the Last Night of the Last Spring Break

I know that you are hearing this from everyone, all the time... Enjoy these days. Make the most of your time. Carpe this Diem. Cherish the moments. Etc. Etc.

But tonight, this last night of Spring Break of your senior year, let me add to the chorus and say...

Enjoy these days. The next month and a half is going to pass so quickly it will take your breath away. I don't like it when people say "These are the best years of your life" because good grief, I surely hope they aren't! I hope I'm not in the best years of mine, either! What a sad future, to look ahead and think, "It's all downhill from here." While I don't think they are the best years of your life, I do think that your life will never be exactly as it is right now. Every passing year is going to bring more responsibility, more pressure, more obligations. Many of you have so many of those right now, far more than I had at your age, but they are only going to increase with time. So enjoy the next month and a half-- the events, the people, the activities, and yes, even the classes and lessons.

Make the most of your time. I hear so many say they can't wait to get out, don't want to go to prom, don't care about graduation. Don't be that person. This is your final opportunity to make the most of this thing we call high school. Don't miss out on all of the little things and big things just because you were too cool to be seen enjoying it. Dress up for prom. Go to the senior night event. Attend the senior party. And find the good in each of those events, don't just sit around and look for the flaws and aspects that don't suit you. So much of your experiences are based on your attitude. Take a good one.

Carpe this Diem. Have you skipped all sporting events throughout high school and you always wondered what the hype was about? Right now, get a group of friends together, find the baseball or softball or boys soccer or track or tennis schedules, Raider yourself up, and go. Trust me, it may even be more fun at these sports than football or basketball because guess who doesn't ever really expect a cheering crowd and who would appreciate it tremendously? A baseball player, softball player, soccer player, runner/thrower, or tennis player, that's who! Catch the spring play and Voices, go to the band concert or the choir concert. It is the absolute coolest experience to see your people doing what they do best-- do it NOW, while they are still your people!

Cherish the moments. On my wedding day, I remember trying to be incredibly conscious of every single breath. I did that because so many married people I knew had told me that they regretted the fact that their weddings felt like a blur. If you aren't careful, you are going to blink and it's going to be time to put on that ridiculous looking pointy hat and walk in to the notes of what I believe is the second most tear inducing songs on earth ("Star-Spangled Banner" comes in first for me). In what is going to feel like only seconds, you are going to look down the aisle at the boy who peed his pants in kindergarten and the girl who always saved you a spot on the swings in 4th grade.... you're going to watch as the boy you had that massive crush on in 7th grade walks across that stage and the girl who sat by you in every science class all the way through high school smiles at you as she takes her place in line... you're going to clasp hands with the girl you didn't really get to know until junior and senior year but suddenly aren't sure what you're going to do without her... you're going to join in the Alma Mater with people you've loved and people you've hated and people you've never really gotten to know but for the very first time, you're all going to have something in common because suddenly, that song means something because it's your Alma Mater... you're going to gaze at the stage and see misty-eyed teachers who are looking at you with such pride because you're ours and you did it...

{Yeah. Totally crying right now. I can't help it. I'm a sap and graduation breaks my heart every single year. I always think if I just didn't love so hard it wouldn't hurt nearly so much but then the next year comes and I just do it all over again. Oh well. Year 14 for me... why change now?} 

So right now, cherish this time and these people. Tell your friends how much they mean to you. Celebrate the talents of your classmates. Thank your parents for putting up with your smart mouth freshman self and your junior know it all stage. Resolve a long-standing conflict with a friend or classmate. Love on your teachers and coaches. Talk to someone with whom you've never really had a conversation before. Take a moment at prom to take snapshots with your mind. Look around at graduation and take note of the fact that the Class of 2015 will never again be all together again.

19 years ago right now, I was at the end of the same journey you are. And as much as I love the life I have now (and ohmygoodness, I so do), I wish I had done a better job of cherishing the moments of high school than I did. I wish I had one more day in Coach Miller's Contemporary Issues class, one more sleepover with Nicole and Kelly and Nikki and Holly, one more meaningful conversation with Sara and Melissa, one more marching band performance, one more laugh with Mrs. Wyche, one more argument with Paul, one more chance to show kindness to someone I didn't ever pay much attention to... I wish I had spent more time telling people what they meant to me and less time worrying over the future. I don't get any more chances. I don't have a month and a half to make things count... But you DO.

So close your eyes tonight and purpose in your heart to end this journey with the intention that it deserves.... that you deserve.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Oh, the Joy that Floods my Soul...

Last night (technically about 1:30 AM this morning), I posted the following status on Facebook:
I am up way too late again, but tonight it's not work. I'm just basking in God's goodness. There was this big thing that I wasn't certain I could do but I was pretty positive I was supposed to do. Then He made it abundantly clear that I HAD to do it. And now that I have finally given myself over to the doing of it (vague much?), the tension and anxiety and worry is just completely gone and in its place is growing an incomprehensible excitement. It's shocking to my human brain that I could so quickly go from such dread, fear, and indecisiveness to this level of anticipation in such a short time. But my human brain isn't calling the shots any more. I want to tell the whole long story in a blog post soon but I just wanted to post this tonight in case someone else is hanging on to the decision making control and getting eaten alive by the anxiety that comes with it... Turn it loose. Let your hands fall away from the reins and just relish the heavenly peace that floods your being when you finally turn off your brain and let Him do HIS job.

I truly hate when people post vague things like that, but I really wanted to hopefully encourage someone who might be facing a similar situation. However, I didn't want to leave it vague for TOOOO awfully long, so here is the whole story. 

Last spring, on the day that the "LIVE! with Kelly and Michael" show was going to be announcing the winner of the Top Teacher contest (a contest in which I made the Top Five and got to go to New York and appear on the show, and also in which I won a trip to Israel and a cart of computers for my school), my cell phone vibrated with an unfamiliar number. I had sort of figured at that point that I hadn't won, so I honestly thought it might be the producer who did my segment, calling to offer condolences. I said hello and heard these words, "Hi, Athena? This is ____ _____ calling you from Israel." I was a little baffled and thought for a second it was someone already calling to set up my prize trip, which seemed kind of quick. He continued on, telling me that he was calling from Yad Vashem and that they had watched my segment on the Kelly and Michael show on youtube. He said they were very impressed by my class and my teaching and knew that I had won a trip there. He asked if I had scheduled it yet and I told him we were planning to take it in the fall. 

{As I was talking to him, I was frantically mouthing to a teacher friend of mine (I was in her room when my phone went off), "IT'S ISRAEL!" She could gather what was going on from my end of the conversation and she quickly scrawled something on a notepad and held it up so that I could read it. The note said, "THIS IS YOUR CAR." :) (The winner of the contest won a new Ford Fusion.)}

He then told me that they wanted to offer me a spot, free of charge, in their 3 week intensive summer seminar for educators. You can imagine how my heart dropped when he said the dates, which fell exactly during my trip to Cambodia. Imagine again how my heart LEAPT when, upon finding out that I would be in SE Asia at that time, he said, "No problem. Same offer, next summer." I was absolutely on Cloud One Hundred and Sixty-Seven. And I knew that, win or lose that contest, I had won something so much bigger.

We corresponded a time or two over the summer and weren't able to make contact during my family's October trip to Israel. Even though I knew it was something I both wanted and needed to do, I could not feel a peace about committing to it. I delayed as long as I could until, one day in November or December, I sent a text to about 12 close friends and family members and asked each of them to both pray diligently with me for the answer to be made clear and also to offer me most logical and objective advice that they could. And then I waited. And prayed. The overwhelming sentiment from most of my people was that I should go. But still, I was so uneasy in my spirit. Or my flesh.

I decided to write a grant to hopefully get a portion of my travel expenses covered. As I started to write it, I had to do a budget sheet and knew that I needed exact amounts in order to do it. I emailed him again, both to get confirmation that he was going to cover the tuition costs ($1200), as well as to ensure that the offer still stood. I didn't hear back from him that week. In a strange way, I was almost relieved, like that settled it. Even then, though, I wasn't at peace. I decided to try one more time and emailed him at the last possible moment before I had to either complete and submit the grant or stop the process. That time, he wrote me back with an answer that I can only say was one step shy of a burning bush or an audible voice from heaven: he confirmed the tuition payment and also said that he wanted to cover my hotel expenses (an additional $1400). I was in shock. 

You see, I am what some might call a "fleece person". I am a professional at giving God all sorts of tests and ways to easily leave me signs about what He wants from me. What I am NOT good at is relinquishing control of the situation, making the decision He is clearly leading me to, and letting His spirit call the shots instead of my flesh. I view that moment I opened that email as God basically saying, "Enough fleeces, already! HERE IS YOUR ANSWER. NOW TAKE IT." I remember sitting at my desk in my empty classroom, tears welling up in my eyes, and physically feeling the tension and anxiety over the decision start to ebb out of my body. I sent several excited texts to my praying partners in this situation and I still have a screenshot of three replies that came right in a row that started the exact same way: "I didn't want to pressure you, but I felt like you would always regret it if you didn't do it." My mom's reply was even more interesting. She said that she honestly believed that the entire experience with being on the show was all working toward this as its end purpose, that the almost month in Israel and at Yad Vashem is what God had for me all along and the show is just the vehicle He used to get me there. I have actually looked at that program before, but never for a second realistically would have considered leaving my family and going across the world for a month of summer without this push. 

The miracle, though, is what has happened since. Just in the month since I confirmed my decision, an excitement has been birthed and growing in me that is incomprehensible. I know the moment of leaving will still be very hard and I know that I will miss my family terribly, but all of those fears and apprehension and dread that I felt about being away are just GONE. I think about this experience many times a day and I cannot WAIT for it to be reality. It's a strange sort of ... almost homesickness... for a place I have only visited once. I CRAVE another chance to see those ancient white walls against that brilliant blue sky, to again float the waters of the Dead Sea, to walk one more time across the stone and sand of God's days as Flesh. I ache to feel the waters of the Sea of Galilee run through my fingers and to pray once more at the Western Wall. And the hours upon hours I will spend at Yad Vashem, learning from the world's leading Holocaust experts and hearing the stories of survival from the mouths of those who lived to tell... I don't even have the words to express my deep anticipation. I cannot believe that this is happening to ME. But I am so tremendously grateful that it is...