Ouch and My First Day

So yesterday I fell through our back porch. It’s not as bad as it sounds, but it hurts worse than it looks. I was climbing down from the roof and onto the railing of the porch when I lost my balance and dropped onto the porch. I landed on a board that was already a little loose and it flipped up and I fell through. I was lucky, though, as nothing is broken (except the board) and all it cost me was a trip to Urgent Care, some severe bruising and swelling around my knee, and occasional burning pain through the front of my knee.

Today was the first day with my students. So I hobbled to my office, hobbled to my classroom, and swallowed back groans of pain throughout the day so I could keep it positive with my new students. Without sharing too many details, I am already amazed at their wit, their mannerisms, and their sense of humor. At the risk of pre-judging, I can already tell that many of these students are exceptional in a variety of ways. I look forward to working with them.

The responsibilities are adding up, though, as I learn more about what is expected of me in the collaborative program. This is not a bad thing. I want to be challenged as a professional, but it is a little overwhelming. And the first day, the first week, is always chaos even in a traditional school setting. I can only imagine how exciting and exhilarating it will be next week when the college courses start. Several of my students have professors who worked at the university when I was a student, so I look forward to the chance to work with them to help my students be successful in their class.

In case you’re not aware of what the University Collaborative Program is, this comes from the website: “The mission of the University Collaborative Program is to provide challenging instruction to at-risk students in a collegiate setting. We serve as a liaison between Kanawha County Schools and West Virginia State University to prepare students for success in the 21st century.” [emphasis mine].

I look forward to being a part of every bit of that. I’ll just try not to injure myself anymore.

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Stranger Things Nostalgia

Every now and then something comes along that makes you feel like a kid again, that reminds you of the best parts of your past, and affirms some of the things you have loved for a long time and for good reason.

I am only one episode away from finishing the Netflix series Stranger Things. If you’re not familiar with it, let me give you a brief summary. No spoilers here, I promise. If you’ve seen it and you don’t need my opinion to sway you either way, you can skip to the final paragraph for a surprise if you’d like.

Imagine every really good 1980s science fiction movie in which a small town is terrorized by a dark force, a secret government agency may be to blame, and a group of nerdy kids band together to find their missing friend and save the day. It’s like a welcome blend of Steven Spielberg, Stephen King, and John Carpenter with plenty of references to classic horror, Dungeons and Dragons, science-trivia, and The Hobbit. It’s also pretty scary, and really, really good. I can not stress this enough.

Stranger Things is one of the best things to ever happen to television.

If you were a kid in the 80s, imagine many of the things you loved back then: walkie-talkies, your bike, role-playing with your friends, scary movies, music that didn’t suck, comic books, fantasy novels, and even girls. On more than one occasion, Stranger Things reminded me of snippets of my life I sometimes long for in dreams and memories. It also arouses memories of things you may have disliked about your 80s childhood: bullies, bad movies, music that did suck, overworked parents, divorce, peer pressure, and girls. Part of the draw of the show is not just the mystery of the frightening circumstances, but watching the characters struggle through what a lot of young people struggled through in that time.

Each episode is a nail-biter (to borrow a cliche) that pulls you to the next, but the show is also quite funny, especially if you understand the 80s culture references. They aren’t in-your-face-on-purpose references (such as in the first Muppets Movie), but they are there and they add to the story rather than hinder it.

Like every great Spielberg movie in which kids are the protagonists, the kids in Stranger Things are so endearing and full of life that you want them to succeed. You don’t just want them to save the day; you want their lives to be better. They’re nerdy kids who play Dungeons and Dragons, quote Star Wars, nickname the scary woods near their home “Mirkwood,” and often get picked on at school. I don’t remember rooting for a group of kids in a movie like that since Goonies.

The soundtrack is also filled with music that will take your mind back to the early 80s. From the eerie synth score to the decent playlist of late 70s/early 80s tunes many of us still listen to today, every sound in the show contributes to this time-travel sort of trip back to a time and place that I missed more than I knew. Stranger Things represents so many facets of my childhood that I can’t help but be overwhelmed by this feeling of sad longing and joyful nostalgia.

Of course the show has much to offer people who did not grow up in the 80s. Characters that are more compelling than most of what you see on TV anymore, a creepy edge-of-your-seat mystery (it is, of course, a horror show), and plenty of humor to offset the often dark undertones of the movie. Sometimes the show is cheer-worthy, and I mean out loud in your living-room cheer-worthy, and sometimes, like all good horror, you’re shaking your head, mumbling “Don’t do it.”

So, if you have a Netflix subscription, watch Stranger Things. If you don’t have a subscription, just keep in mind that Netflix is consistently putting out original content that has dominated the competition: House of Cards, Orange is the New Black, Daredevil, and now Stranger Things (the best, in my opinion). It is a show that is already makes waves on the web and will probably be talked about and re-watched for years to come.

Now for something special for those of you who have watched the show. The following link is to an article from The Verge that recommends 12 books that would be an excellent follow-up to the show. I have read a few of these and I can honestly say that I see the how fans of the show would also love these books; titles like Stephen King’s It and Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane. So if you loved the show, check out the link below.

Finished binging Netflix’s Stranger Things? Pick up these 12 books next

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Tomorrow

I probably won’t be able to sleep tonight. After all, tomorrow is a big day.

Tomorrow marks my official first day at my new teaching position. If you’ve known me for a few years, you know I’ve been all over the place since I started teaching. Two high schools, two middle schools, a career center, and now a university…sort of.

I will be teaching at a collaborative school, which is a partnership between West Virginia State University and Kanawha County Schools (my employer). High school students from across the county can apply and interview for the collaborative program. The expectations are high and they cannot accept more than 50 students. These students are allowed to take college courses on campus, while also completing their core classes: English/Language Arts (that’s me), Science, Math, and Social Studies.

While kids will be kids and I’m sure there will be obstacles, from what I have heard the collaborative students are hardworking, studious, and eager to learn. The collaborative school is an elite program, so it is likely the students will be among the best in the county. This is my optimistic view of what to expect this year.

I learned yesterday that we follow the university’s schedule rather than the county’s. So I will be working some holidays (Election Day, Veterans Day, etc.), my spring break is not the same, and my holiday breaks (Thanksgiving and Christmas) are longer. The spring break issue has already caused a bump in my plans.

 

 

Regardless, I am looking forward to this new experience. My office is on the university campus, and my classrooms will be, as well. I will be living like a professor, but with guaranteed tenure and public school teacher salary and benefits. I even get a college faculty ID, access to the university library, and a parking pass. For the past month or so, I have done my own sort of personal professional development by reading and annotating the heck out of Cheryl Miller Thurston’s Common Sense, perusing some stories in a book called Burned In: Fueling the Fire to Teach, and reviewing some of my highlights and annotations in my worn-out copy of Kelly Gallagher‘s Teaching Adolescent Writers, which may be the best book I have ever read about how to teach kids to write, and Gallagher is definitely one of the pioneers of the push for more authentic reading and writing in the classroom. Just read this:

“…Shouldn’t schools be the place where students interact with interesting books? [Tweet it!] Shouldn’t the faculty have an ongoing laser-like commitment to put good books in our students’ hands? Shouldn’t this be a front-burner issue at all times?” from Readicide.

I have long bemoaned the “etched-in-stone” curriculum in which every student reads the same book because it’s mandated by such-and-such or because county spent (wasted) thousands of dollars on classroom sets or the books are part of a partnership with the textbook company, which charged (wasted) thousands of dollars for their materials. But I digress.

I truly feel like my new job will enable me to unleash my inner scholar in a way I haven’t been able to before.

So, I probably won’t sleep well tonight, as visions of what to expect this school year dance around in my brain. It doesn’t matter that tomorrow is just a meeting and prep day. It doesn’t matter that I have the next day off. It doesn’t matter that I won’t see students until next week.

I won’t sleep well tonight, and I won’t sleep well then, either.

 

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For All the Classic Lit. Nerds

 

Before I begin, watch this video below. If it won’t play, don’t worry. I’ll do my best to describe it in my post:

The above video is an ad for the Infiniti Q60, a car I know nothing about other than that it looks nice in the video (don’t they all?). So obviously this is not an endorsement of Infiniti. What this ad is to me is a reminder that I am indeed a Classic Lit. Nerd.

For those who don’t know, I work part time at a movie theater. There are two wide-screen monitors mounted in our lobby that loop a series of ads, about fifteen minutes worth of commercials, music videos, movie trailers and trivia. Amid the mostly easily tuned out ads, there is this little gem. Now, if you are able to watch the video you might be prematurely anticipating my reaction the first time I saw it.

“Hey, that’s Jon Snow from Game of Thrones!”

Wrong.

Of course I knew it was Jon Snow (Kit Harington), but that’s not what sparked my enthusiasm, although his performance in the commercial is commendable. No, what captured my heart was the immediate recognition of William Blake’s poem “The Tyger” (minus the final stanza). You can read the entire poem here.

So, out loud, I said, “Hey, William Blake!”

My wife, who is not a Game of Thrones fan, does not read classic literature, and has never been interested in owning an Infiniti, just said, “What?”

“That poem,” I said, “it’s by William Blake.” She mouthed an Oh, obviously not sharing my enthusiasm for classic poetry (or, like most people, understanding that it’s just a car commercial). Which prompts me to question:

How many other Classic Lit. Nerds out there would have felt the same as I? I was excited not only to hear a classic poem featured in a mainstream car commercial, but to recognize it as one of my favorites.

Has anyone else ever seen a bookshelf in a TV show or movie and wondered what was on the shelf?

I do this all the time.

A few weeks ago I read a book, and it’s greatest influence was Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass. Until now, I had only read individual poems from Whitman. But this new book sparked my interest in Whitman’s classic collection of poems. It…is…phenomenal.

“Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes).”

Within the pages of Leaves of Grass, I have found lines and words and phrases that have almost made me shout out loud. Even though most of it was written over a century ago, it’s full of meditations and musings on human conditions that seem timeless and universal: Whitman’s need for and struggles with human connection, his passion for nature, and his talent for finding the divine in the everyday.

Reading it, though, makes me wonder how many other people would share my enthusiasm, or even how many people would give the book a chance? Who else takes the time to read classic works of literature that are over a hundred years old? Who else reads them and identifies with them in the same way I do?

Last year I hung a copy of Rudyard Kipling’s “If-” on my classroom wall. I shared it with my students, all boys, expecting at least a few of them to nod, smile, show some spark of “getting it.” No luck. I even showed them this excellent short film: “What If.” They understood the poem, sure. That wasn’t the problem. But they just didn’t “get” it. Some of them didn’t even like it.

So where are the like-minded Classic Lit. Nerds? Where are my friends who get excited about Shakespeare and Thoreau and Dickinson and London and Hemingway and Woolf and Vonnegut and Bradbury and Chaucer and Plath? Where are my friends who recognize references to classic literature? Where are my friends who love the smell of old books and new books?

Literature connects all of us by navigating and revealing universal truths about what it means to be human. [Tweet this!]

That is where my enthusiasm comes from, reading something like “Song of the Open Road” or “If” or “The Tyger” or watching Hamlet or Oedipus or Antigone and realizing that these authors seemed to understand something many of us forget:

“that life exists and identity,
That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.” — Walt Whitman, “O Me! O Life!”
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Far Too Long

What am I doing here?

I was embarrassed to realize my last post was over a year ago. A lot has happened, enough that I don’t know where to begin. I’ve changed schools twice, from a Career Center to a collaborative program between Kanawha County Schools and the University. I’m going to be living like a professor, but on a public school teacher salary. My office is on campus and my classrooms will be on campus. Just a few steps away from becoming Dr. Lilly.

Our family has grown. We adopted our foster daughter, Gracelynn Brooke-Ariel Lilly. After 743 days in foster care, she legally became our daughter. She is a very special little girl with a sweet smile, and it is inspiring to watch her grow in so many ways. We also adopted a kitten, a spry little fella, so full of energy and life. We named him Ashes because of his sooty colored fur.

So why have I returned? Certainly it isn’t just so I can give you a play-by-play of my life since my last post. It isn’t just to give you an update on my life and all its changes in the past 18 months. No.

I’m here because I need to be.

I’ve read a few blog posts from the experts about what blogging really is and what blogging should be. Many of the blogs hail the medium as a way to “market” something to a broad audience. Some blogs bemoan the use of blogging as a way to just babble on in order to get attention, gain followers, and “be heard.” And still others demonstrate the opportunities for blogs to offer some real value to readers, something that could actually change perspective, make readers think, and maybe even have some sort of impact on the world.

And then there are the blogs like mine that are more for the writer than the reader. It’s not that I don’t appreciate readers. Of course I do. But as I look back on past posts, especially the personal ones, I realize I need to be writing this blog again, to remember why writing has captivated me since I was a child.

A few of those blogs I read mentioned how bloggers should offer something to readers they can’t get anywhere else. I’m afraid I only have one thing to offer:

Myself.

I have to be honest. This blog is full of me. It’s the story of me. It contains other characters, of course, most that are a lot more interesting than me: heroes and villains, saints and sinners, who come and go and come back again. But ultimately it’s my story. This blog contains some of my best and worst writing, but I’ve left it just as it is because it’s still me.

And so, dear reader, if you’re still with me I invite you to continue this adventure with me. As the description says, I’m an optimistic, ADHD, outdoorsy Jesus follower, husband, father, and high school teacher. I get very passionate about issues that matter to me, and I share other posts and articles about issues that matter to me. I need this blog because it is the perfect place for me to be me…in writing.

If you’re new to my blog and you don’t have time to sink back into every past post, I encourage you to read my Jesus Wept posts. Just search “Jesus Wept” in the search bar on the right of this page.

It’s great to be back.

 

 

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Coincidences and Blessings

This originally appeared as my first feature as a guest post on Christian blogger Jennifer J. Kelly‘s excellent blog. Be sure to follow her. I guarantee you will be changed by her optimism and her honesty.

You can find the original post here: Coincidences and Blessings.

“If our circumstances find us in God, we shall find God in all our circumstances”
-D.L. Moody

God is so good.

I know that sounds like a Christian cliche, but hear me out.

Have you ever asked someone for something, only to find out they were already working on making that happen before you even requested it?

Coincidence or blessing?

The church I attend honors the Lord’s Supper every Sunday. It is set at the center of our service and considered to be the most important part. Each week, church members who volunteer have the opportunity to present a short communion meditation. These devotions range from powerful orations to profound prayers, all intended to focus attention on Jesus, to honor his command to “do this in remembrance of me.”

For a few years now I have volunteered. About once every two months my name pops up in the rotation. This week, I am up again. My meditation is about deep faith, about how some people choose the pool over the ocean. My plan was to ask our worship team to sing “Oceans” by Hillsong United.

You know where this is going don’t you?

Our worship team had already scheduled that song.
Right before communion.

And this is not the first time this has happened.
Without exaggeration, every time I have thought of a good pre-meditation song, the worship team already had it planned as part of the schedule.

Every time.
That’s not coincidence. That’s God.

I feel so blessed that when life seems so unpredictable and chaotic, if I truly pay attention, I see that if I have plans that glorify God, it’s really not that chaotic at all. I see that God knows when I have plans that glorify Him and suddenly Romans 8:28 is manifested in ways that make me want to shout in praise.

The more I read the Bible, the more I see the plans of man failing – until those plans align with God’s and everything changes. Lives change.

Even better, those who align their plans with God often find His plans were what they had in mind to begin with…

Only better.

This has been on my mind:

“We have everything we need to live a life that pleases God. It was all given to us by God’s own power, when we learned he had invited us to share in his wonderful goodness. God made great and marvelous promises, so his nature would become part of us. Then we could escape our evil desires and the corrupt influences of this world. Do your best to improve your faith by adding goodness, understanding, self-control, patience, devotion to God, concern for others, and love. If you keep growing in this way, it will show that what you know about our Lord Jesus Christ has made your lives useful and meaningful…
My friends, you must do all you can to show God has really chosen and selected you. If you keep on doing this, you won’t stumble and fall.” (‭2 Peter‬ ‭1‬:‭3-8, 10‬ CEV)

Did you see that?
We have EVERYTHING we need to live a life that pleases God. [Tweet that!]

And God has invited us to share in His goodness.

So that situation that worked out for you, that favor that came before you even asked for it, that thing you didn’t expect to work out but it did?
Coincidence or blessing from God?
Coincidence or has God provided what you need to please Him?

Just some things to think about as we start a new year.

May God open your eyes to His blessings as you seek to please Him in all you do.

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Just As You Are

I warn you, I am one of those liberal, open-minded Christians who thinks church is just as much for the sinner as for the saint. Maybe more.

I remember as a teenager, struggling with what I had been taught in church set against the backdrop of junior high life. When a friend confessed to being gay, I immediately wondered if I should end that friendship, remembering a verse I learned in Sunday School about not associating with sinners. When several other friends picked up a marijuana habit, I saw my social life falling apart all around me as I worried I would have to cut all ties with my former friends turned sinners.

When I read the gospels, I notice something.

If Jesus had cut ties with sinners, he would have been a very lonely man. Jesus thrived among sinners. Even better, they thrived and grew in His presence. The sinners who were drawn to Jesus found themselves changed and challenged by his loving and convicting (not judgmental) demeanor. They wanted to be better simply because they wanted to be with him.

A great example of this is Zacchaeus. Zacchaeus had become “very rich” as a tax collector, cheating those he had collected from by lying about the amount and keeping the extra for himself. One chance to see Jesus and Zacchaeus, “too short to see over the crowd,” climbed a tree just to get a look at Jesus. As Jesus walked by the tree, he looked up and called Zacchaeus by name.

What would it be like to have Jesus call you by name?

I like to imagine that for a second, Zacchaeus’ heart stopped at the sound. He might have even done a double-take, using whatever free arm that wasn’t gripping a tree branch to point at his chest and whisper, “Me?”

“Zacchaeus!” he said. “Quick, come down! I must be a guest in your home today.”

Wait… What?

So, a notorious tax collector/con man climbs a tree to see Jesus. It’s hard to miss the real-life symbolism of this kind of guy trying to get above everybody else to get the best view of Jesus. He’s not even really interested in meeting Jesus. He just wants to get a good look at him.

In a crowd of probably hundreds, Jesus stops, calls Zacchaeus out by name, and insists the he be a guest in his home that very same day.

According to Jewish tradition, eating a meal meant entering into friendship. It didn’t mean let’s grab a quick bite, chat for a bit, and if we hit it off then great. If not, oh well. No, to share a meal with someone meant you were expecting to begin a worthwhile and wholehearted friendship with someone, a friendship to last, not just some convenient passing acquaintance that ended as soon as you got what you needed. Jesus meant to start a friendship with this known swindler and he meant to start it now.

Right now, Jesus wants to start a friendship with you.

It doesn’t matter who you are, what you’ve done, where you’ve been, or how terrible of a person the rest of the world thinks you are.

Jesus is saying, right now, “Quick! Come down! I must be a guest in your home today.”

Jesus didn’t ask Zacchaeus to pray a prayer first. He didn’t ask him to get right with God first. He didn’t tell him to pay back all the money he stole. He simply invited himself into Zacchaeus’ life with compassion and urgency. “Quick!” “I must…!”

There’s more to the story. Amid the grumbles of the people who were “displeased” that Jesus had befriended a “notorious sinner,” Zacchaeus took Jesus to his house with “great excitement and joy.” As Zacchaeus spent time with Jesus, something happened.

“Meanwhile, Zacchaeus stood before the Lord and said, ‘I will give half my wealth to the poor, Lord, and if I have cheated people on their taxes, I will give them back four times as much!'”

It was only after spending time with Jesus, entering into friendship with Jesus, that Zacchaeus’ heart was changed.

“Jesus responded, ‘Salvation has come to this home today, for this man has shown himself to be a true son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and save those who are lost.”

The lost.

That’s me. That’s you. We’re all floundering about, looking for something more to life. Wondering what our purpose really is in this world. Acting out in ridiculous, selfish, and harmful ways just to get some sense of placement, just to be noticed. But when the dust from the rubble settles, we still feel…

Lost.

Jesus wants to start a friendship with you. He doesn’t want to demand you change your ways. But he does want you to be changed. And that only happens after you spend some time with him. Jesus said, ” Remain in me, and I will remain in you.”

Like the old hymn, ” Just as I am” Jesus just wants you to show up, just as you are, full of sin and fury. Start with prayer. It might feel weird at first, but just talk to Jesus. Tell him why you haven’t believed all this time. Tell him why you’ve doubted or hated or questioned. Tell him why you’re hurting, who hurt you, and why you’re struggling to get over that hurt. Tell him whatever you want. Cry if you need to (although you probably will anyway.)

If you want to get to know Jesus better, a good place to start is the gospel of John. If Bible reading isn’t your thing, I recommend watching a very accurate portrayal of “The Gospel of John” available on Netflix.

As best you can, surround yourself with other believers. Try a local church or call a friend who goes to church and invite yourself. I guarantee they’ll be thrilled.

I’m not going to sugar coat it. Jesus will wreck your life by compelling you and convicting you to change your ways and walk instead in the ways of mercy and grace. You’ll start thinking more about others than yourself. You’ll realize that life isn’t about you, that you do not exist on this earth to bring success and glory to yourself. You will feel the battle waging inside between your old self and who God truly intended you to be. That is the real identity crisis and it is raging inside even the most devout believers.

Don’t get discouraged if you don’t feel it right away. Just trust that Jesus will change your heart. You know the old expression that says you are who/what you spend time with? It is especially true of Jesus.

Just be quick. Jesus wants to be a guest in your house today.

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