I don’t like to work out with friends, because I’m also kind of a loner and I’m also terribly wimpy. Once, I went to a weight training class with a friend and discovered she was a beast! She was upping the instructor’s suggested weights and lifting with ease! Meanwhile, I was struggling with half the weight and staring at the clock waiting for this torture to end. The next day she was gracefully ambling around while I moved with the ease of a ninety four year old woman. By attending the class, I learned to respect my friend’s physical prowess and gained new found respect for her. Did I go back? What am I crazy?! No. No, I did not. But I got a great story out of the experience. See? This whole paragraph would have been empty without that story. So many paragraphs of the story of my life would be empty without having endured painful experiences. Even though I don’t like something while I’m experiencing it, when it’s over I find a way to turn it into a good story. It’s made my life so much more enjoyable.
This turning-bad-experiences-into-a-great-story thing is not unique to me. It's pretty much the majority of what you will hear if you listen in on a gathering of Booths. The crazier the story the more we get excited to share it with our audience. These story telling gatherings were my first introduction into why experience collecting was so valuable. We didn't have to be rich in money or possessions. We took the experiences we encountered and used them to enrich our lives.
Collecting experiences isn’t as easy as collecting Starbucks mugs, t-shirts, or bumper stickers, but experiences are much more rewarding. They enrich my life as a reader, learner, and employee. Experiences have made me a more interesting person and they have made me a more interested person. I can hold my own at a dinner party with a story to share about one of my experiences and I am interested to hear about others experiences.
Collecting experiences has taken me down some rather unusual paths, but that’s the point, right? While in St. Louis with Logan, we were slowly wandering toward our dinner destination. During our walk we ended up splashing and laughing in a park fountain. By the time we were done we were both soaked and disheveled looking, but we had a lot of laughs and made some great memories. (This park seemed to allow this activity. I wouldn’t recommend splashing in random public fountains.)
I’ve seen a performance at the Kennedy Center for Performing Arts, walked on the Great Wall of China, and stood on the top of the Empire State Building. I've also snuggled a new born baby, cooked with my mom, and danced in the rain. Experiences can be big and grand, but they don't have to be.
Sometimes collecting experiences can be perceived as expensive because experiences seem better in exotic locations. But don’t believe that you have to spend big to begin your collection. All it takes is the actions I’ve mentioned previously. You need to be a learner and reader so you know why something is an experience worth collecting and you need to be willing to explore. Why is it worth it to eat a brownie at the Palmer House? Because it is where brownies were first invented. So after eating it you can say that you have tasted the original brownie. Being willing to explore will push you beyond your comfort zone. If your friends are going camping and have invited you, consider going even if you aren’t a camper. This doesn’t mean it has to be a regular thing, but you can say that you did it and create lasting friendships and community along the way.
Sometimes these experiences don’t go as you intended. That’s okay. Go with the flow. One time I took students and Logan down to the Museum of Science and Industry for a lecture about Project 120 and Jackson Park. It ended with me climbing in the koi pond to fish out Logan’s toy boat. I could have been really mad. I could have chastised Logan and lamented that the day was a disaster, but what a story. After the lecture we headed out and had a tour of the island given by the president of Project 120 and the director of Chicago’s parks and recreation department. Our group met the president and even took a few photos with him. We then toured the Wooded Island and visited the Japanese Garden. This was beautiful. The cherry blossom trees were blooming and the garden, which was not even open to the public yet, was peaceful and inviting. Our group wandered all over the garden until we heard Logan calling. He had sunk his toy boat in the koi pond. The same koi pond we had just heard about in the lecture. The same koi pond that had just recently been cleared of years’ worth of litter and debris. The same koi pond that the director of parks and recreation department, the president of Project 120, and other official-ish people were now standing around. I contemplated what to do. Logan wanted his boat back. Jason had purchased him that boat as a special present so he would have been disappointed at its loss. I knew wading in the pond probably wasn’t encouraged. I also knew that they had only recently completed the clean-up effort and wouldn’t be thrilled about seeing a sunken toy boat in the pond. The parks director and other officials were staring at me to see what I would do. Logan and my students were watching. I sat down on a bolder, removed my boots, pushed up my leggings, and climbed in the pond. After removing the toy boat and seeing the stricken faces of the officials I held up the boat and proclaimed, “I didn’t want to litter!” One of the representatives of the parks department came over and shook my hand and said it was the most valiant effort in litter removal that he had ever seen. What started as an intellectual outing with students turn into a debacle that included a teacher in the pond. Despite the cold and the embarrassment the day was ultimately a success because we all got a great story.
Do things that are unique, fun, and sometimes weird. Push yourself beyond your comfort zone. Sometimes these things scare will scare you, but that’s okay. Face your fears and proceed. Some things, like zip lining were terrifying at first, but then they become thrilling. My experiences also help me better know myself. How do you know if you don't like something if you've never tried it? I have tried to like fish. I really have, but I can say with confidence and authority that I don’t like fish or other sea food. When I say that people often tell me that I haven’t tried it in the right places, but I can respond, “I’ve tried it in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Portland, Maine, Boston, Massachusetts, and Monterey, California.” I don’t like camping and I know it because I’ve done it a few times. I did enjoy sleeping in the tent with my friends though so I’m glad my parents encouraged me to go. I have really tried to like roller coasters, but I don’t. I just don’t. Sorry, Cedar Point.
I hope to look back on my life and remember the things I have done and the places I have visited with fond memories, thankful for how each experience has enriched my life. Collect experiences to fill your life with interesting paragraphs that will fill in the boring mundane details of your chapters. Some chapters are duller than others so they need more interesting paragraphs as fillers. So let's get experiencing together!
A Few of My Favorite Experiences
1. Being at Stonehenge for the summer solstice sunrise.
2. Running a marathon. I'm really slow, but I love being able to say I've done it. I've done a total of 6 (thus far).
3. Goat Yoga. This one is just too odd not to love. There are some people who find goat yoga a beautiful expression of connecting with nature, but I found it difficult to fully relax with the possibility of getting pooped on being present.
4. Staying up late to watch a meteor shower. A few of my former students visited me last summer and we sat in the driveway wrapped in blankets to watch the Perseid meteor shower. The photo below isn't mine. That night we put the electronics away and just watched and talked. Also that's WAY more stars than we could see from our home in suburbia.
5. Visiting Platform 9 3/4. My niece and I thought the idea was original. Apparently we were wrong, but nevertheless we had a great time.
What are some of your favorite experiences?
Knitting Isn't for Everyone
This poem was written about 100 years ago. Poor young maid! I would probably endanger a loved one's life by knitting too.
By Our Office Boy
A youngish maid with beautiful map--
She knit her beau a beanie cap.
She waited till she found a chance,
Then sent it to her beau in France.
He put it on, out in the rain,
And soon his head began to pain.
It pained some more, alas, alack,
And then his head began to crack.
They found him there and thought him dead--
The beanie cap still on his head.
With chisels then they pried it loose;
The yarn she used, it had been punk;
The beanie cap, how it had shrunk.
The doctor says to tell his gal
That he can leave the hospit-al
Some time next fall, and well, perhaps,
But he must shun all beanie caps.
O maid, if you must do your bit,
Go drive a truck, but please don't knit.
Voices from the Past
My very dear Aunt Jane was a research librarian at University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth. With the help of a few other family members she compiled a family history that is full of stories and photos. In that history there is a woman named Jessie Dow. She married into the family September 14, 1890, but her husband Ernest Victor Booth died August 7, 1891, less than a year after they married. That was all we knew about her until a few months ago. After my great Aunt Inez passed away, the family found a packet of letters that was labeled "Aunt Jessie WWI". Apparently Aunt Jessie was part of a group that encouraged the men fighting "over there" by writing and sending packages to boost morale. I was allowed the privilege of looking at this packet and attempting to make sense of what I discovered. There were some poems typed on thin velum. One of the poems says, "By our office boy" which made me think that she was part of a letter writing USO type group. The which were letters addressed to "Mrs. Jessie Booth, Dear Teacher" told about the war and the men's experience in France. So she was a school teacher who loved her students. She wrote them letters because she was concerned about them. This all sounds so familiar. Instantly I felt a connection with Aunt Jessie. With the help of another history loving friend we are transposing the letters which are difficult to read. Below is one of the letters. I've copied the words down verbatim to accurately represent the author. I can't figure out his first name. Check out the close up of his signature and comment with what you think it is.
The longing for home and the misery he expresses is clear and connects me with this solider from 100 years ago. I don't know if he ever made it home to his "Dearest Little Mother," but I know that so many like him didn't. As you read I hope you connect with this brave solider who was not so different from you and me.
On Active Service
American Expeditionary Force
May 20, 1918
Mrs. Jessie Booth
I received your most welcome letter to day. And was sure surprised to hear from you but it was a glad surprise to me. Well I can never forget the hours that I spent in school a long time ago. I wish that I knew then what I do now. I think that my life would been different. I am glad that I am doing my bit over hear. You sure did have me guessing on the writing all right. Well Mrs. Booth I have one of the Dearest Little Mother living and I hope to come back to her but if I don’t well all I can do is to meet her up above where they don’t have war. We have been on the go since February 5 and the Lord only knows how much longer we will be on the road and we have seen and been through a lot more than I ever expected to or thought that I would go through. But I am alive and well and feeling fine and am looking for a nother chance to get at the [Book] a gain. We made a good record the last time all though some of the boys fell to the Huns paid [iofer] one of ours. We are just getting nice summer weather hear for we have been up to knees in Mud the most of the time since coming over hear and the change is good for us. I hope your garden will come out fine for any one likes to see tho first one in good shape. Yes I am in the Infantry or as we are called Mud splashers. This the branch of the service that gets all the hard work and plenty of scrape to. I have a lot of friends in the service and I run in to them not and then. I meet Sgt Pirley Wells of the old Leo H last night and and a few more of the Montpelier boys. They are all looking fine and feeling good and longing to get at the Huns and get it over with. That little boy you used to know is some boy 5 ft 11 in and weighs 155 lbs and is brown and hard as a rock with a small bush up on the upper lip. All most a man. And only 30 years old. Some boy. I often look back to my school days and wish that I could go back to them but they are passed forever. How I wished that I had learned to play the organ when you tried to learn me. I will close for this time. I remain one of your Old scholars and will always respect and love you as one that tried to learn me the many things I had ought to know. So will say goodbye with Love to my Teacher,
Know Your Purpose
Last week I posted about my struggle and failure to find an area that I could be an expert in. After reading the comments and hearing the encouragements, I realized that I am not at all alone in this struggle. Hooray for the Reninansence Men and Women out there who aren't defined by any one area of interest. I have now embraced my lack of expertise, but that doesn’t mean I don’t know my purpose.
What is purpose? Purpose provides direction – a path to guide. Before taking action in something I try to think, why? Why am I doing this? Why skip cleaning the bathroom and go to the zoo? Why cancel the zoo trip and clean the bathroom? What I am seeking is intentional living. A life filled with things by design rather than default. Sometimes after a stressful week we need to relax and go see something extraordinary. Sometimes after a busy week, especially if that week included sickness, we need to stay home and disinfect to prevent becoming even more worn down.
Living with intention and focusing on purpose is not always an easy process. I have reminders of the need for purpose all over my office and embedded in my thoughts throughout the day. A sign made by a dear friend. A piece from a long forgotten bulletin board set. A hand lettered note. These focus my attention, and believe me friends, I need all the help I can get when it comes to focusing my attention. I’m a long way from perfecting this purpose thing. Often I have the best of intentions, but those fall aside as I see a birds outside and remember to fill the bird feeder then see that I need to clean the window then see I need to clean all the glass in the house but first I’ll do the dishes . . . argh! There goes my focus and at the end of the day I feel like I’ve just bounced around rather than doing anything meaningful. I read If You Give a Mouse a Cookie by Laura Numeroff as an autobiographical sketch of my life. Do you have days like that too?
After a many years and a great deal of self reflection I've discovered my purpose – to praise God and to follow his commands. He commands me to love Him. He commands me to love others. This doesn't put me on any particular career path, but it does guide my daily steps. I know God is there guiding and directing as I follow Him. This week I read Psalm 119 and found that provides direction for the heart of the believer. “Joyful are people of integrity, who follow the instructions of the Lord. Joyful are those who obey his laws and search for him with all their hearts. Oh, that my actions would consistently reflect your decrees! I will obey your decrees. Please don’t give up on me!” (NLT vs 1-2, 5, 8) I know that God wouldn't give up on me, or forsake me as other versions say, but I think the psalmist is expressing that he knows that he is a work in progress. He intends to follow God's decrees but know that failures will come. He is admitting to his future failures after stating the intention of his heart.
This is my purpose – to love God and to share His love with others. I write letters, meet friends for coffee, and invite people into our home because I know my purpose. Sometimes purpose gets in the way of productivity. Time spent writing letters could be spent cleaning and organizing my house. The four hour coffee date with the friend who is struggling takes up a good portion of the day. Having people over includes preparing before and cleaning up after. In each of these cases though I spent my time doing what I believed was God's plan for me in that moment. Sometimes I have to clean the house. Sometimes I have to invest in my own personal development. But even those have purpose.
At the end of my life I want to see that it was filled with intention. It didn't just get away from me leaving me sad that the time is gone. I hope my life will be a life of love and praise for God. On Sunday we sang "All I Have Is Christ" by Jordan Kauflin and this verse resonated with my hearts desire.
O Father, use my ransomed life
In any way You choose
And let my song forever be
My only boast is You
Hallelujah! All I have is Christ
Hallelujah! Jesus is my life
My purpose for this blog is to share my heart with you. Many of you I know personally. If you know me well, you know I am super awkward and embrace my inner eccentric self wholly. I shy away from big parties, but adore intimate gatherings and going out for coffee with friends. If you don't know me well, then let's meet. We can talk. I love to talk. If you are far away write me. I don't want to be aloof and distant, although I have often been accused of being so. Usually if that is the case I am just worn down or battling depression or something else. Its not you. Its me.
As I head off for work this morning, my prayer is that I will follow my purpose and that you will find yours! Run with purpose, my friends, run with purpose.
Master of None
I've never been able to focus on one subject for very long. When I was younger, this sometimes bothered me. There was this kid in our class who was a World War II expert. He read books about many different aspects of it and whenever we discussed the war he was the fact checker. (At least that's how I remember it.) I remember thinking, "I could be an expert in something. I like studying WWII, but he's already got that. Maybe I'll study the Civil War. I could be an expert about that. (It was the 90s and all things Civil War were in vogue.) So I tried to study only the Civil War, but I quickly bored with the topic and couldn't stop myself from being curious about other things. So I gave up on the Civil War and my dreams of being an expert. Shelby Foote and David McCullough were doing a great job in the historical study and writing departments as well as winning the narration game.
As a teen I loved to watch The Pretender (NBC), which was about this genius who could fill any position he needed to that episode. Doctor, race car driver, lawyer, whatever, he was just smart enough to know all the stuff. In college I heard a song about a woman the singer describes as "So New York and then L.A. and every town along the way . . . " She's so many different things. I loved that song. One of my all time favorite movies is Catch Me If You Can the story of Frank Abagnale Jr. who posed as an airline pilot, teacher, doctor, and lawyer until he was captured and imprisoned. If you're unfamiliar with this movie you must go watch it. As an adult I heard "Everything at Once" by Lenka and once again I was captivated. "All I want to be is everything at once." One of my favorite passages from the Bible is Ecclesiastes 3:1 "To everything there is a season and a time to every purpose under heaven."
If you're picking up a pattern in my thinking you're way ahead of me. You see, I'm currently in a transition point in my life. For a total of 15 years I've taught kids K3 through high school seniors. All my experiences have been in private schools that did not require certification, but we have moved back to Michigan and to teach I need to get certified. Then came the big scary question -- Certified in WHAT? For me, certification would require almost enough credits to earn a masters degree so I read up on masters programs, but failed to find one that struck me as my life's work. I like so many different things. How can I commit to just one? I feel like that little girl trying to pick an area of expertise and coming up unsuccessful once again.
Currently, I am mid-story. I haven't decided what I want to do with my life. I know I love schools and the "ah ha" moment when a child learns something. For the past two years I have been a substitute teacher and although there are drawbacks, I like it. I like being a science teacher one day, English teacher the next, and so on. I don't really know where I'm going to be in 5 years, but I plan on taking the opportunities God brings my way and running with them.
This blog is about my journey. I will write about physical journeys, mental journeys, and literary journeys. I invite you to join in adventures with me because I love this life and I want you to see how beautiful it is too.
We Need Heroes
After many years of teaching and parenting I have discovered something. Attempting to teach something as a negative is extremely difficult. Human nature and our amazing brains can come up with a million other things to do when told “don’t.” Tell a classroom full of most any age students, “Don’t talk,” and soon you will hear whispering, humming, singing, the scribbling of note writing, singing, and using every form of communication other than talking. I’ve asked a classroom full of preschoolers about what our rules should be and they came up with, “No hitting,” but that wasn’t enough because as a little person pointed out, “kicking isn’t nice either.” So we ended up with “no hitting, no kicking, no spitting, no slapping, no hair pulling, no poking, no punching,” and the list goes on and on. After doing this for a minute or so I would stop the class and say, “Yes, those things aren’t nice. Let’s make our rule ‘Be kind and help each other.’” What I was trying to do was to change the negative to a positive. “Don’t run,” is better worded as, “Walk carefully.” I’ve heard people criticize positive wording as being overly sensitive and espousing the idea that kids these days are too soft to hear the word “no”. I disagree and would argue that telling children what we expect from them and what kind of behavior they should exhibit will allow them to succeed.
I think we need to apply this to the people we are exposing our children too. I am tired of weak, stupid characters in TV and movies who do what is best for themselves. I am tired of celebrities who speak with apparent passion and authority about social issues then go back to living the lives of the rich and famous. I am tired of video games and apps that mindlessly entertain without instructing our children about anything useful. We tell our girls to be women who are powerful and strong then let them keep up with the Kardashians. We tell our boys to look for girls who are confident and followers of Christ, but we let them lose on social media where the goal of being “liked” by other people reigns supreme. We tell our kids to grow up, be successful, serve God, but then cling to news of celebrities whose version of those things are very different from our own. This must change.
Heroes. In our present political and social climate we have lost the love of heroes. We are quick to point out the failures of people and note where they failed. We use the fact that George Washington was a slaveholder to shadow all his other accomplishments. This can be dangerous because when we are done picking everyone apart what are we left with but a bunch of failures? Why should anyone bother trying to be successful. Now, I am not saying that we should blindly worship other humans and never notice their moral failures. Slavery is abhorrent so when we study George Washington we should note his failure in this area but look with admiration toward men like William Wilberforce who fought tirelessly to eliminate slavery, Then we can evaluate Washington's character, acknowledging that flaw, but learning from his other positive character traits.
We need to stop telling our kids what not to do and let them find heroes. Heroes who have changed the world and can inspire our children. We are not lacking for heroes. Brave men and women who have stopped diseases, stood up to tyranny, lead countries, boldly lived out the gospel, or pushed their bodies in physical and mental exertion.
The following is a list of individuals I’ve found inspiring. I 'm not an expert in their personal lives and you may find they did something objectionable in their life. But, uh, if I could be so bold . . . you probably have too. I'm not thrilled with the idea of my life story being front and center, because just like you I am imperfect. They are human there will be negatives along with the positives. But these are people who have been brave, courageous, and have done something for which they should be remembered. Perhaps their story will inspire you or your child to greatness. I don’t have gender specific lists and here’s why: I want my son to hear stories of brave women who stood for what was right. I want the girls I know to read stories of men who did what was right and loved the world because God loved them. Boys need to learn to respect strong women. Girls need to look at men who possess qualities they can cultivate in their own lives.
Here are few of my heroes in no particular order:
Corrie Ten Boom
The Wright Brothers
"A jack of all trades is a master of none, but oftentimes better than a master of one."
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