Essential Summer Reading for Christian-College-Bound Kids

Got this in my inbox:

“I’m looking at doing hopefully a bunch of reading this summer in preparation for college this fall. As an English teacher, do you have any good book suggestions to read? This could be any genre or style.”

Answered with pleasure! Today’s list happens to be for kids heading off to Christian colleges who have already taken high school lit classes that feature fewer authors of the white male variety than are listed here. (Note: were the student heading to a public uni or nonreligious private university, I’d majorly modify this list as well.) Nevertheless, below I’ve featured some canonical works that we just didn’t get to in my lit classes that I recommend as great summer reading.

Theology Nearly All Thinking Christians Have Read

N.T. Wright’s Surprised by Hope – You need to be reading N.T. Wright because he’s the C.S. Lewis of this century, not to mention a leading New Testament scholar. Most thinking Christians today are intimately familiar with his work. He gives a lot of insight into how the early church thought about the resurrection. Warning: worldview shift ahead.

Wright not so much as presents new topics but instead reminds us what we’ve always known according to the Bible but we sometimes let contemporary society drown out. What happens, for example, after you die? There is a bodily resurrection, and Wright explains why this is so important, and how that changes how we live here on earth. Wright writes his book because he has picked up on an oddity of Christians that even Harper Lee notices. In To Kill a Mockingbird, Lee’s Miss Maudie says, “There are just some kind of men who’re so busy worrying about the next world they’ve never learned to live in this one.” Wright notices the same. Perhaps he is perplexed by separatist Christians jamming fingers in their ears, determined they’re “not listening,” and seeking only to “endure” this life, until they get to the real one, heaven. Wright complicates this, determined to explore the mystery of “Why are we here?” and he does so by “rethinking heaven, the resurrection, and the mission of the church.”

Not a light read, but you may be fooled in the friendly, conversational introduction, which introduces the interesting landscape of British Christianity, which is in fact the viewpoint from which N. T. Wright is writing. Besides being one of the world’s top Bible scholars, he is also a Bishop for the Church of England. (I’ve blogged about Wright’s other writings here.)

C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity – A solid defense and introduction to the Christian faith, this book is an excellent example of Lewis’s direct and accessible style. Read this book if you want a taste for one of the most remarkable apologists of the 20th century.

G.K. Chesterton’s Orthodoxy – Chesterton, the Catholic predecessor to C.S Lewis (who indeed inspired many of Lewis’s writings) offers a defense of Christianity as an Anglican, before he converted to Catholicism 14 years later. Interesting reading, considering the amount of influence he ended up having on C.S. Lewis.

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn essays – You should probably know about this Russian critic of the Soviet Union and of anti-God communism. A lot of Christian high school students I know have studied his famous Harvard commencement address from 1978 called “A World Split Apart.” Another writer in the same vein, and of equal importance, is Malcolm Muggeridge, who Ravi Zacharias quotes extensively.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s The Cost of Discipleship – Read the theological writings of a German pastor caught in the middle of Nazi Germany. What is the responsibility of a Christian in a secular society? (You should know that Bonhoeffer was ultimately accused of an assassination attempt on Adolf Hitler and was executed in a concentration camp.) There is no room for hypothetical Hitler questions here; this man lived to tell about it. (Or did he?)

St. Augustine’s Confessions – an important autobiography (theological in nature), the first of its kind, from A.D. 400.

Classics That You Should Have Read in High School

John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress – The most classic of British classics, a must-read for every Christian.

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George Orwell’s 1984 – An English dystopian novel, published in 1949, that’s all about government surveillance and public manipulation. Nearly everyone in college has read it.

J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy – Read the books or watch the movies. Without question, you should have familiarity with Tolkien’s work.

Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglas* – a memoir from 1845 that was an exceedingly influential piece of abolitionist literature. Features uncomfortable truths about slave life and the “Christian” South.

Booker T. Washington’s Up from Slavery* – one of the most popular African American autobiographies

The Federalist Papers and/or Thomas Paine’s Common Sense – You should probably have some familiarity with these great American political classics. Both will probably be very slow reading, heh heh.

Fyodor Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov – A very long Russian novel about belief, doubt, mercy, and patricide.

Leo Tolstoy’s War & Peace – An even longer Russian novel about war and humans… broken, beautiful humans. (Be sure to read only the newest translations. I break them down here.)

William Faulkner’s Nobel Prize acceptance speech – The context in which Faulkner gave this speech illuminates its importance.

Shakespeare’s Hamlet – Read this Shakespeare play about a conflicted teenager, caught between doing the right thing and committing suicide. Or, if you can, find any Shakespeare play being performed in a local park this summer, read the Sparknotes ahead of time, invite a girl, and pack some popcorn.

Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations – a good classic to have under your belt, very Dickensian in style, and a little heart-warming. (Though it should be called Denied Expectations. Poor Pip.)

Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin* – the anti-slavery novel that Abraham Lincoln claimed basically started the Civil War

Books for the Lake – Reading That Your Professors Will Not Assign, but Are Nevertheless Helpful

Sheldon Vanauken’s A Severe Mercy – The perfect novel for the lake (or should I say, the cabin). Large glass of sweet tea optional. A true story about a pagan who finds his soul mate, rides an academic high, and becomes friends with C.S. Lewis. A cancer diagnosis means he ultimately must choose between his beloved wife and the Christian faith.

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Nabeel Qureshi’s Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus* – This riveting personal narrative on Qureshi’s journey out of Ahmadiyya Islam to Christianity includes a glimpse into the importance of inerrancy within Islam. (Christians think THEY’RE Biblicists?) Qureshi’s narrative is gripping, risky, and thought-provoking as he offers a beautiful picture of Islam yet reveals how his allegiance to scholarship and academia ultimately forced him to reject Islam and embrace Christianity and the solidness of its Scriptures. A truly moving testimony.

Charles C. Mann’s 1491 – While the jury’s still out on the academic credibility of Mann’s research, this nonfiction book is nevertheless fun reading. What happened in 1492? Columbus sailed the ocean blue! But what was America like in 1491 before Europeans arrived? Many of our American history books begin with the story of Spanish explorers, and very little space is devoted to the history of indigenous people. This book gives a fuller history of pre-Columbian America along with ground-breaking research that brings into question many of our assumptions about our land before colonization, including assumptions like:

“The New World was relatively unpopulated.”

“Native Americans lived in the wilderness and never touched it.”

“Native Americans were unsophisticated and lived in simple societies compared to Europeans at the time.”

“Cities didn’t exist.”

However, did you know that the Aztec capital Tenochtitlan was larger than any European city at the time and also had running water?! High school students of mine have done book reports on this book, giving it rave reviews.

Donald Miller’s Blue Like Jazz – Irreverent essays about the Christian bubble. Includes Don’s experiences at the secular-of-all-secular colleges, Reed College.

Sonia Nazario’s Enrique’s Journey* – A non-kosher exposé on the plight of illegal immigrants in the U.S. Journalist Nazario records the experiences of a Honduran boy who crosses the Mexican border to find his mother in North Carolina. Not recommended for Republicans.

Kelly Monroe Kullburg’s Finding God Beyond Harvard* – It may be because of the academic landscape described in this book that Sattler College was founded. I review the book here.

Finding God at Harvard* – Again, I briefly describe the book here.

Mary Poplin’s Finding Calcutta: What Mother Teresa Taught Me about Meaningful Work and Service* – The story of American educator Mary Poplin’s experiences volunteering with Mother Teresa in the 90s.

Chaim Potok’s The Chosen – This novel about a conservative Hasidic Jewish community in NYC during the 1930s is as comfortable and enjoyable as your favorite cousin.

Lee Strobel’s A Case for Christ or A Case for Faith – Vanilla and evangelical, but both very readable in style. Strobel comes to faith while working as an investigative journalist for theChicago Tribune.

Rosaria Butterfield’s Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert* – Because you ought to know how some in the homosexual community feel about Christians.

Selected Poetry, Because You’re Not a Caveman

John Milton’s Paradise Lost – You don’t have to read the whole thing (it’s over 10,000 lines long), but you should know that this epic poem exists. Just read a section or two.

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T. S. Eliot poetry, maybe “The Waste Land”– Famous modernist poet despairs after WWI. Finish up with Faulkner’s Nobel prize speech after.

Any poem or poet featured here: https://www.artofmanliness.com/articles/20-best-poems/

 

Online Resources (Including News Sites) for Thinking Young People

Veritas Forums on Youtube – The Veritas Forum was founded at Harvard in 1992, and it is an organization which now serves over 50 American and international universities. Veritas hosts forums and speakers on college campuses in order “to inspire the shapers of tomorrow’s culture to connect their hardest questions with the person and story of Jesus Christ.” On Youtube, you can find Veritas Forums featuring (1) TED-talk like content, (2) full debates, or even (3) congenial conversations related to most fields of study in the university. A great resource for skeptics and thinking Christians. In fact, it may have been a Veritas forum that pointed me to Poplin’s book on Mother Teresa.

Random speeches on Youtube (or podcasts) by N.T. Wright, John Lennox, and/or Tim Keller, all important authors and apologists with whom you should be familiar.

The New Yorker – a magazine of current events reporting. Snobby academic writing at its finest. Read one online article a week.

First Things – This publication calls itself “America’s Most Influential Journal of Religion & Public Life.” Noticeably Catholic, the online version offers thoughtful (and conservative) social critique. Read one article a week.

BBC app – Skim the headlines of the Top Stories every day. Compare them to the headlines of the Popular Stories.

New York Times app – Once a week, skim the headlines of the Most Popular stories. Read anything interesting. You get access to 10 free articles a month.

NPR, especially the program “the 1A” – A co-worker recently told me that it’s dangerous to listen to NPR because they find that then you have a knowledge base that not everyone else has. In other words, it’s informative.

*books that aren’t written by white males

 

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How to Know Your a Grammar Stickler

Calling all grammar sticklers! How good is your grammar? If you meet at least 13 of the following 16 qualifications, you’re well on your way to being a licensed, registered grammarian!

1. The title of this article makes you want to stick pins in your eyes.

2. You’ve read Lynn Truss’s Eats, Shoots and Leaves for fun on vacation and have memorized her hilarious soliloquy on the its versus it’s debacle.*

3. There are three kinds of torture: water boarding, forced nudity, and someone pronouncing the word especially as expecially.

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4. You refuse to succumb to societal pressures to use text as a verb, as in the doltish statement, “I texted him last night.” You prefer instead to say, “I sent him a text message last night.”

5. You notice that people who use text as a verb are more commonly disposed to use objective case pronouns in the subjective case, as in, “Me and him texted last night.” Inwardly, you correct this nitwit: “He and I were sending each other text messages last night.”

6. You know the difference between prescriptivism and descriptivism (you weren’t born in a proverbial linguistic Dark Age), but you still prefer to have a little class.

7. This little class meets every day at 10 a.m., and it’s called Language and Composition.

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8. To you, the grandest anomaly of the misused possessive apostrophe has to be the inimitable possessive I’s, as in, “You can come to Jordan and I’s house.” You know that there is no English textbook under heaven in which that word appears.

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9. You rarely tout your grammarian philosophies in public lest you start appearing a sexless prude. Instead, you privately (but voraciously) read articles like this one online, and if you’re feeling especially brave, you click, “Like.” (Though, when you’ve simply had enough, you muster up the courage and click, “Share,” later mentioning to Mom that she can say goodbye to the idea of grandchildren.)

10. You would like to introduce a few of your acquaintances to a new vocabulary word: doesn’t. As in, “He doesn’t know that it is incorrect to say ‘He don’t know.’”

11. At the same time, you would like to remove a certain four-letter word from the mouths of your acquaintances; the word is seen. As in, “I saw that she does not know how to use the word seen correctly.”

12. You need to use both hands to count how many times Calvary has been misspelled cavalry on those church praise and worship PowerPoints.

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13. In fact, there are a couple of words that come to mind regarding the grammar and spelling on church praise and worship PowerPoints: extreme discomfort, embarrassment, anxiety, bodily aches, high blood pressure, nervous twitching, and general foaming at the mouth.

14. Despite the fact that society labels you a disagreeable prig, you do enjoy the occasional social mixer. In fact, you find that the two most attractive traits in the opposite gender are (1) eyes like pools in the ocean, and (2) the ability to use the pronoun each as a singular subject. As in, “Each of us is weak at the knees for blue eyes and verbs that agree in number.”

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15. You’ve given up on foreign words like espresso and en pointe, which people can’t pronounce or spell, respectively, to save their lives. It strikes you that their dignity ceases to be in shreds; it is now burnt ashes.

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16. You know that someone with bad grammar is going to read this article, feel bad about themselves, and then curl up into a ball to whimper ceaselessly. Ironically, you find that this is the exact reaction that you have to most instances mentioned in #1-13…

I Cooked Rice at 10:00 p.m. and Other Confessions

Hi friends. You’ve been so much on my mind, and I finally have a chance to catch up with you.

Here’s the deal: Nicaragua / camera stopped working / phone crashed / deleted all my photos / got new phone/ realized old phone was just backing up my photos to Google drive just for funsies (while also dying and deleting 15% of my best photos) / Google is evil / phones are evil+expensive / so backing up all old photos because #fear / external hard drive from Amazon stops working / Amazon=evil / garbage disposal stops working / license expires / must re-test in state / must change car registration / must change car insurance / must now pay annual car inspection fees / first time for everything / aaaaand Monday is my first ROOT CANAL / literally all my dirty laundry

Now, let me tell you what’s going RIGHT in my life.

  1. I just spent a WEEK in sunny Nicaragua. It’s dry season, and the sun shone every day. I wore flowers in my hair, took pictures of adorable little girls playing with chickens, climbed a volcano, and spoke all the Spanish.

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But really. It was all about these kids. Pretty find humans right here.
  1. Even though I haven’t properly blogged my Nica experiences, timing was pretty tricky this year because I got off the plane from Managua, walked into a Lancaster County snowstorm, turned on the heat in my 50-degree apartment and began doing laundry to leave the very next day for Oasis Chorale rehearsal! I am honestly one of the lucky ones to sing with such talented friends every year. Talk about luxury to spend an entire spring weekend basking in chords! (In case you didn’t know, my choir makes videooooos.)

 

  1. I played with this lil buddy all Easter long.

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  1. I cooked rice at 10 p.m.

I am honestly so sick of excuses. (You too. Stop it. Stop making excuses.) Get up early. Be polite. Be kind. Read your Bible. Care for your friends. Work harder. Put your phone down and read a book. Exercise. Practice your music. Do the dishes. For Pete’s sake, cook once in a while! (You all know how much of a trial this is for me.) Stop complaining.

This weekend I finally got over THIS THING, this icy grip winter has on me, and I’m finally blooming once more. It’s as if this week, I’m growing. This week started off with a bang: I had motivation for… a day.

And on that day I was still going strong at 10 p.m., so much so that I started cooking rice, SOMETHING I’M EXTREMELY BAD AT. (You can ask me how it turned out.)

You know when you feel like a total failure? Like despite the fact that you’re surrounded by so many people but you can’t shake the feeling of isolation and you kick yourself for every single tiny mis-step that you take? (Who am I kidding, now I’m just talking about introverts.) You know when people ask you how you’re doing and you respond sincerely, “I’m good!” but an inky black bunny, hopping up and down, robotically condemns you in your mind, “THAT IS COMPLETLEY FALSE. THAT IS COMPLETELY FALSE.”

Okay, what I’m trying to say is that even though I’m extremely bad at rice-cooking, and this week could honestly be labeled Week of Teaching/Friend/Human Person Mistakes, it doesn’t matter because I have so much hope AND I’M GOING TO MAKE IT.

For crying out loud, I WANTED to cook rice at 10 p.m. WANTED to.

You will make it too. But you better light a candle, calmly read Paul Lawrence Dunbar’s “We Wear the Mask,” and start changing the world one English lesson at a time, read thought-provoking BBC articles about the American criminal justice system, start following Jada Yuan on Instagram, the writer that the New York Times hired to visit 52 world-class travel spots in a year and write about each of them (we are all jealous), and remember that for some people dreams really do come true, and that you must do today what will get you closer to who you want to be tomorrow. Finally, remember that not everything is about you. Stop worrying that people might think you’re weird. “Nobody ever changed the world by worrying about people’s opinions of them.” (Lecrae’s Twitter this week.)

  1. Last thing that’s going right: spring running season is upon us!

Announcement: the season is going to be about hurting.

I have a confession. When I run, I never hurt. I am the world’s laziest runner. I keep my paces comfortable because I don’t know, I have rules about hurting? And distance does not bother me physically. Distance for me is only a mind game.  I would rather run 5 times a week than even TOUCH an indoor workout. Why? Because cardio HURTS.

Painless running? Not anymore. Last fall’s marathon was a goal of a lifetime, and I completed it conservatively, fearful of reinjuring myself. Now I’m setting my sights higher, possibly returning to the half marathon, going for a sub 2. IT IS GOING TO BE PAINFUL. I’m giving myself plenty of time, looking for a fall race, but I’m already picking up the paces this spring, and I’m loving it.

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See you at the races!

Destroying DEVOLSON

If I take a month-long break from blogging, you know two things happened:

  1. Life got insanely busy, and
  2. I spent important time fixing life.

I’m done now!

In the last month, I’ve:

  • Had my car in and out of the shop
  • Suffered an Achilles strain after working to improve my average mile time
  • Been teaching Pride & Prejudice, Macbeth, like a gazillion Spanish verbs, Thomas Paine, Creveceour, and a little bit of Poe just for funsies
  • Wrote a syllabus (from scratch) for the AP Rhetoric and Argumentation class that I teach in order to send it to the College Board for approval (oh, hello, American rhetoric, speech, and Transcendentalists)
  • Rehearsed music to record for Blue Sky Music last weekend (check out my composer friend Lyle Stutzman’s new website: https://blueskymusic.net/)
  • Took a much-needed travel break to Virginia with dear friends in which I took in a livestreamed Gospel Identity Conference by Tim Keller and saw a show at the American Shakespeare Center’s Blackfriars playhouse, the world’s only recreation of the original indoor Blackfriars Theatre in London circa 1655! (We saw The Fall of King Henry; it was tragic.)
  • Practiced problem-solving. Back story: you know how the world’s funniest blogging teacher, “Love, Teach” has coined the term DEVOLSON to describe the Dark Evil Vortex of Late September, October, and November? To be honest, I’ve actually never really understood the term because for me the Vortex (that is, the most deplorable winter blues) doesn’t come until January, February, and March. (You’ll remember last year’s tearful post about the drudgery of winter weight sessions.) Friends, DEVOLSON has arrived! October was brutal! And November’s evil time change? What in the samhill is a 4:30 sunset? #extremelygrouchyrunner.  In the midst of all childish whining, I stumbled upon two fantastic articles about mental and emotional health (which, if you are wondering if you have, means you might have some adjustments to make). I discovered I have room to improve when it comes to managing stress because, in fact, more often than not, I *don’t* manage stress. I just complain about it. (Not exactly the most emotionally healthy thing to do.) I’m learning that it’s necessary to *deal* with stress and work to remove it. This requires grit, determination, and flexibility.
    IMG_1623So in the interest of knocking DEVOLSON in the teeth, I’m developing all kinds of goals for January, February, and March in order to practice the emotionally healthy habits I’ve learned about, including but not limited to:
  1. finding balance between work, rest, and activity by increasing daily prayer and Bible reading, and by exchanging empty activity for more restful, renewing activities like reading (lots of great titles on my Christmas list and current bookshelf)
  2. continued problem solving around large and little daily stresses
  3. minding physical health by developing a winter workout regimen (which I created while eating a giant piece of chocolate cake from my friend). Ugh. Guys. This year’s Thanksgiving morning run was a fantastic, sun-lit jaunt over flat Mid-western plains (oh, how I’ve missed you, Ohio!), and the joy I experienced during that run reminded me why activities of discipline are so important for my life. Anyway, winter running goals for me include (guess what) more problem solving! Particularly around Achilles injuries and what to wear on windy winter runs. I think eccentric single-leg calf exercises and Black Friday deals will do the trick for me!
  4. practicing thankfulness in order to be more positive (which actually brings health benefits!) Today’s thankful list:
    • my car is out of the shop,
    • what Achilles pain?
    • my syllabus is on its way to the College Board,
    • a brand new Tim Keller book for the mornings and Psalms for the evenings,
    • the poem I saw on Sunday, driving home from our concert after recording, during the most storybook of purple dusks in Lancaster County, as two dark, slow cyclists crested a hill, and I wound through quiet farmland, past farm ponds still as glass, lavender mirrors, with carols ringing in my head, and bare scrags and gray trees silhouette against the good, good sky.

A Poem: Teaching Heart Beats

I’ve been working on portions of this poem every spring over the last three years of teaching here in Indiana. It’s deeply personal, and for my students.

There are things left unspoken inside a teacher’s heart. After the grading is done and the lesson plans are printed and the meetings are over, some of us teachers go home, and myriad thoughts whirl around in our heads, long after the sun sleeps, and we lie in darkness praying for tomorrow.

In “Part I: Memories,” you’ll meet several students that are characters created from parts of students’ personalities from the past three years, collected into single characters. “Part II: Lament” grieves students’ loss of innocence, and “Part III: Credo” is a charge for Christian teachers. “Part IV: Invocation” is a prayer for my students.

I’m not particularly fond of this poem (obviously, as I’ve been continually revising it). But sometimes revisions are never done. So I’m putting it out here, meaning, it’s good enough, and it’s what I want it to be for now.

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Teaching Heart Beats

Part I: Memories

Once,
I saw you reach out.
Once, I saw you pray.
Once, I saw you put an end to the mocking.
Once, I saw you listen.

I see you.

They told me, “His name is Learning Problem.” “He calls himself Attitude.”
I try to see potential.
And buried in your sporadically-done homework, I once heard a quiet moral opinion from you.
I whisper-cheered through clenched teeth, at my desk, at 9:00 p.m.
“Yessss.” He thought today.
My hope is that you will think tomorrow.
And the next day.
And the day after that.

I see you.
You’re the one who demands A’s.
But I gave you a B
To teach you to think.
Writing is the measure of thinking,
Not silly test scores.

I see you.
You’re all alone at lunchtime,
The others gathered around in desperate cliques, animatedly eating.
And my heart aches for you.
I pray for you.
I think you are special. I think you are unique.
(If I were 14, we would be friends!)

I see you.
You’re the intellectual one.
You keep me on my toes when you fact-check me.
Your assignments are almost chilling in their brilliance.
You will be taking a road that not many of your peers will.
My advice: keep your social life and go play some volleyball. Get the B.
(Learning the art of friendship is also a lifelong study.)
Teaching you is one of my biggest tasks.
I feel a huge responsibility to guide you toward the big “c.”
College.
You will go.
Will you become bitter at your uneducated subculture?
When will you realize that Mennonite pastors and deacons are fallible humans?
Will you notice the uncommon fellowship of our subculture?
Will that fellowship be important enough for you to stay?
Will you find community, acceptance, love, or romance outside our culture, leading you away?
Will that acceptance change your morals?

I see you.
Wasting time.
Staring
At
The
Clock.
Creatively taking a long time to do anything besides your work.
Throw away a tissue.
Get a drink.
Go to the bathroom.
(I snicker at you.)
Know why?
Your vocab words still aren’t done. Even after all that.

I see you.
You had to stay in from recess.
Again.
You glance up from your book
And with your inquisitive face
You inquire
What this verse means
And how to deal with an angry friend.
Your thirst for wisdom is deep.

I see you

I see you all.

Do you know
…that your radiant face in 8 a.m. Bible class is inspiring?
…that your seriousness and bold attention in literature is startling?
…that your hard work and goodwill are so convicting?

You are skillful students. You clean, cook, work, and play with such excellence.

(Who do we think we are, trying to exercise your minds?)

To the students at UCS:
Your faces and lives stretch before me
like a promising Midwestern sunset

And I weep
on my knees
for the lives you will live.
I thank God for the pain you will endure in the next five years,
pain being the only thing God can use to empty you of yourself so that you cling all the more to Him.

What token, what gift, can I give to you who have given me so much?
This poem
is my photograph.
Keep a copy to glance at sometimes
and remember a teacher who saw you in this way.

Part II: Lament

I am weeping for you.
My heart is bleeding for you.
Oh my students.
The pain in your lives.
The hurts from your past.
Your broken families.
Your lost childhoods.

Part III: Credo

We will be strong.
We will be pure.
We will stand in the gap.
We will sacrifice our lives.
We will build up the church.
We will love each other.

We will not back down.
We will be good role models.
We will love Jesus more.
We will be disciplined.
We will be difference makers.

We will not be down-hearted, cynical, or hopeless.
We serve the God of all comfort.

Our task is not our task.
Our task is God’s task.
To bind up the broken hearted, to heal their wounds, to love.
God is our hope.

Part IV: Invocation

The wind whips and whistles through the early spring sunshine
Tries to dry the wet land and white lumps in the fields.

I know that spring is coming.
We are not surprised.
It always does.

So like spring
comes the enduring work of God.
And wherever His Word goes
It is not wasted.

Oh Jesus
Ravish us with the spring-dream of your unending faithfulness and blessing.
Amen.

How My School Ruled April Fool’s

You know, April Fool’s Day doesn’t fall on a school day for another three years, so my co-teachers and I planned a memorable day for the students.

First, the tired and trodden students ambled sleepily into the hallway only to be met with a Barrage of Large Objects in Their Path, and found themselves ducking under the high jump bars, around a very large caged bunny, moving past a fake tree, hoisting themselves over a massive, ten foot long, two foot high long jump mat, and proceeding down the hallway, filled with a roll-y cart, a commercial vacuum cleaner, and a table supporting a large bowl of…. onions. And a broom was sticking out of the library book return receptacle.

As students streamed into school, they asked our secretary who filled the hall.

“You tell me!” she retorted.

Confused, the high school students turned to our “slightly annoyed” high school teacher.

“Who filled the hall?”

“Well it was obviously some of the older ones, either the seniors or the youth group who rented the gym last night!” he sighed, irritated. (Our prank wasn’t just the hall-filling, but also convincing the students that we hadn’t done it.) The surprised students immediately began denying their involvement; THEY certainly didn’t want to be held responsible or have to clean up the mess. (We as teachers VOWED that the responsible parties would put everything away.)

“I wonder who it was,” the ornery students asked, in awe.

Students who attended the “offending” youth group’s gym night immediately began protesting.

“I’m sure it wasn’t us! We didn’t even have keys to the school! They school renter unlocked for us!”

The high school teacher brushed them aside.

“You could have easily gotten a key!”

“But it wasn’t us! You have to believe us!”

One conscientious student, on his way to class, approached the teacher and said penitently, “I just want you to know that it wasn’t me. You can call my parents. I was definitely home last night and there is no way that I did it.”

Meanwhile, the seniors headed to their second class and stopped the principal.

“Who was it? Who filled the hall?”

“Well it was obviously your youth group!” he retorted.

“It wasn’t us! We promise!”

“Well then maybe it was the senior girls!” he hurumphed.

The senior girls were getting visibly upset and started protesting louder,

“IT WASN’T US! Why do we always get blamed for everything?!”

“All right, come here, I need you to help me with something,” our principal said. He disappeared for a few moments, and then pulled up to the school’s front door with his car, of which he had taken off the side mirrors.

For the seniors, it suddenly clicked what was going on. They greedily helped him ease the car into the hallway. Just yet another Large Object in the Path.

Around this time, we teachers released the three BABY GOATS into the gym.

The poor little kindergarten class, whose classroom is right next door to the gym, heard a bleating sound. One small student excitedly announced to his pregnant teacher, “I just heard your baby make a noise!”

Next, our secretary asked a senior girl to “go get me something from the fridge.” A few moments later we hear screams of terror as she returns.

“MISS MILLER, MISS MILLER! THERE’S BABY GOATS IN THE GYM! THEY’RE RUNNING AROUND AND THEY SCARED ME SO BAD!”

Meanwhile, in the junior high classroom, we were having a surprisingly fun class. We had just played a game in celebration of finishing our annual research papers and had settled in to a monotonous grammar review. Midway through the review, I stopped.

“Did you all hear that? I heard a cell phone.”

No response.

“I was sure I heard a cell phone,” I said. “Does anyone have one in your desk?”

I cocked my head at a seventh grade boy and bored into him with my gaze. I marched over to him.

“I’ve talked to you before about having your phone in your desk instead of keeping it turned off and outside in the hall in your backpack.” I put my hands on my hips. “You’re going to have to give me your phone.” I returned to the front of class and threw the purple cell phone on my desk. I put my hands on hips and sighed angrily. Suddenly, I whipped a hammer out of my desk and began smashing the phone to pieces! Up and down and up and down I raised the hammer, hitting the phone to bits! Tiny pieces of glass spread over my desk and onto the floor. The phone nearly slid off my desk, but I reached after it smashing it over and over with my mallet.

Out of the corner of my eye, I grew startled by junior high students’ scared, apprehensive glances. THEY WERE IN LITERAL SHOCK.

I could hardly contain myself. I fought not to laugh, but all of a sudden I grew pained because I realized that my students were actually afraid of me in that moment, terrified at the monster I had become.

I gurgled and giggled nervously. “Uh, April Fool’s, guys.”

Only two students kind of giggled. The rest stared at me strangely, not believing what they had just seen. They sat in solemn terror. I tried to lighten it up by laughing and explaining how I had planned this at the beginning of the day with the seventh grade boy. He, of course, was smiling behind his hand. Once I was sure that they all got that it was a joke, we resumed English class, but they were all still a little shaken! They all sat quietly through the rest of grammar class, even as I kept giggling at the front of the classroom. By the end though, they were smiling shyly and me and each other.

Student 1: “I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. I thought: ‘She is WAY overreacting.’”

Student 2: “I was SOOOOO scared! I was shaking!”

Student 3: “I was pretty sure a guy wouldn’t have a purple phone.”

Student 4: “I knew he didn’t have a phone, so I was pretty sure it was a joke.”

Student 5: “I thought you had literally GONE CRAZY.”

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Down at typing class, our secretary had created her own fun by changing the autocorrect on all the computers so that whenever the students typed the word “candy” (a word from their typing exercise for the day), it would automatically change to rude name-calling names. How would you like it if the words you keep trying to type change to “Stinky Face” or “Liver-witted Hiney Squeegee”? (Tears are rolling down my cheeks right now.)

One high school teacher gave a test, with regular questions interspersed with IMPOSSIBLE questions that the students could never be expected to know.

A particularly conscientious student, quite confused, reasoned, “Mr. Yoder, I’m SURE we never went over these in class! And I KNOW they weren’t on the review sheet!”

“Are you sure?” he answered, calm and surprised. “Keep working; maybe you’ll find a question later that can help you with this one.”

That question being the last question on the test: “DO YOU REMEMBER THAT TODAY IS APRIL FOOL’S DAY?!”

Not wanting to leave out the little ones, we even got the youngest students in on the fun. Our kindergarten teacher passed out little packets of Cheerios labeled “Donut Seeds.”

“Take these home and plant them, and you can have your very own donut tree!” she said.

Most of the young ones knew it was a joke because she had carefully explained to them about the prank in the hallway and had even read a story about April Fool’s Day. But one young man somehow missed it all because later he was still talking about taking home his donut seeds so that he could grow his own donuts.

Back in the high school classroom, our math teacher was explaining the kindergarten prank to some students in one of his math classes. Which prompted the math students to ask:

“So what’s YOUR April Fool’s day joke? What’s YOUR teacher prank?”

Mr. Dave squinted his eyes and said, “Well, actually, I was the one who put the stuff in the hall.”

“No you didn’t!” they crowed. “That’s your prank, is you getting us to THINK that you put the stuff in the hallway! But you actually didn’t!”

By this time, we as teachers are just howling because of how many levels of prank-ness there is by now.

“No, this time I really did it!” he laughed.

By this time, the students decided to get in on the fun. They successfully sequestered the high school teacher’s fancy, cushy, office chair, awkwardly lugging the large rolling chair, from end-to-end of the school, in panicked rush, to avoid being seen by the high school teacher on the warpath to find his chair.

Ninth and tenth did a great one on me. I breezed into class ready to give them their vocabulary quiz, going off about the absent students and chirping about who should and shouldn’t take the quiz today… I began passing out the quizzes when I realized that all of them were smiling strangely at me. Then I realized: they’re ALL in different seats! (I have assigned seating in that class.) I hadn’t noticed at all!

One last April Fool’s Day prank came from the junior high students. Our student council planned a beautiful Easter meal today. We set up in the back of our classroom. We had fancy decorations of tulips and pearls, and ate off those really nice fake silver plasticware sets, and had grilled chicken, mashed potatoes, salad, jello, and the most especially divine white chocolate raspberry cheesecake. (Mother who made the cheesecake: it was superb, as always!) Before we prayed our Easter prayer and ate our meal, the student council made an announcement.

“Since it’s Easter, we have a gift for each of you! BUT: you have to wait til everyone gets a present to open one!” One seventh grader ceremoniously handed each student a nicely-packaged gift bag.

“Okay! You can open them!”

We dove into our bags, clawing, and giggling with glee. And we each unwrapped…. a rock.

A dumb ‘ole rock.

Boring gray lumps of stone.

“What.” we intoned.

“APRIL FOOL’S!” the Council yelled.

We all laughed together and then our class president led us in a special prayer of thanks.

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Probably one of the best April Fool’s days I’ve ever had. 🙂

Later in study hall, the junior high girls and I dissected the rest of the cell phone. So, obviously, we had fun.

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Things I Didn’t Do in 2015: the Truth about Mediocrity

I’m a fixer. I have little tolerance for poorly-functioning organizations and irrelevant traditions. Yet I want to imagine myself as someone who is not afraid of daily sacrifice and short-term discipline that lead to long-term results. But do you ever get overwhelmed by your idea-bank, that list of things that need to be addressed and that list of ideas you might implement to address the challenges you’re facing? Sometimes, because of my perfectionistic tendencies, I can tend to think too small and only address a few things because I want to do everything perfectly. (Not “perfectly,” per se, but perform things with some level of thought, skill, and professionalism.) But do you ever feel like you don’t have the needed expertise, education, or even the proper personality or social skills needed to address the issue at hand?
Last year, I found myself in this situation only like a HUNDRED TIMES, and I’m learning that even though I’m 26 and supposed to know Stuff, it’s okay to experiment sometimes; I can guarantee you it will lead to important observations along the way.
Don’t be afraid of trying new things. I mean, there’s a possibility that you might learn something, but that’s just a risk you’ll have to take.

Things I did imperfectly in 2015, but at least I TRIED:

1. Motivate my students to get better grades and to enjoy school.
Um. So promising to take kids skiing may not be the best idea ever because, what do I know about organizing school trips that have the potential for breaking bones and being canceled due to the weather?
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Also, due to students’ requests, I organized a trip to a local mosque for visiting a weekly service. What do I know about Jumu’ah, and what should I tell my students about respectful interchanges with Muslims? Despite my lack of experience in these types of exchanges, we went anyway. Unsure what to do when we arrived, I told the boys to just “figure it out,” as they were whisked away to a different part of the building before we even left the parking lot. In the end, I found that doing something that doesn’t follow “my plan” and isn’t especially comfortable for me can be really beneficial to those around me, specifically my students.
This year I also implemented a “Blessing Slip” policy for my homeroom to complement our school’s “Demerit Slip” misbehavior policy. I haven’t implemented this policy perfectly, and I don’t know if it’s working how it’s supposed to (to motivate students to develop good character instead of just pointing out their faults), but it at least SOUNDS like a good idea.

2. Actually cooking.
So I made this salad.
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And a bunch Greek-seasoned meat in my crock pot. And I burned a bunch of salmon. But. I learned that if you don’t know much about cooking and if you don’t have a recipe, you really shouldn’t bother. So. 2016. Year of the Recipe. This is also the year of perfecting my French press brew. (I’m so bad at brewing freshly-roasted beans. But I have 365 days to keep practicing getting it perfect, so… things are looking up.)

3. Celebrating friends and family.
BOOM. Golden birthday this year!
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I spend a lot of time talking to people in their 20s, and one thing that these (single) people talk a lot about is how our social groups aren’t very large or varied and how hard it is to develop community and fellowship for ourselves. Even though many of us do not have the support, friendships, or even church relationships that we always imagined, that does not mean that we shouldn’t celebrate the people we’re surrounded with, no matter how complicated those relationships are. We’re realizing that community is a beautiful thing that should be celebrated in all of its forms.
We are also realizing the immeasurable value of family. And that some of the best celebrations are the quiet, unpublished ones you share with family.

Because, seriously. Aren’t my parents SO CUTE.
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And. Even though the internet is OVERRUN with baby pictures. (Seriously, is that all that is on Instagram these days? Kid pictures?) I’m indulging myself and publishing pictures of MY CHILDREN, my ahDORable nieces.
Sabrina, the impossibly thick-haired infant.
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Cassidy, the incredible smart almost 2 year old, who already excels at imaginary play.
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She loves dollies and measuring spoons and pretending to feed people. She is also extremely gentle, patting her infant sister in the tenderest of ways. Honestly, my favorite memory from Christmas was when we were alone in the kitchen together, and even though I am very self-conscious being with children, I found that jumping as high as I can makes her smile, so I kept jumping and jumping, and it was so ridiculous, and I realized, Oh. This is what is beautiful about hanging out with a child. Letting go of your inhibitions to love them.

4. Exercising safely.
Failing to finish a marathon was one of my biggest disappointments this year, along with suffering a pretty significant running injury that is forcing me off the road for several months. Is it ironic that the year that I’ve focused the MOST on my health is the year that I’ve spent the most time in the doctor’s office? However, I’ve learned a ton about this specific running injury and other aspects of healthy living and healthy exercising.
Also, is it ironic that the year that we have an impossibly warm winter, I’m laid up from all exercise due to strict instructions from my podiatrist, and I’m missing what could have been the most active outdoor winter exercise season ever in my minimalist, gym-less existence? Friends, we will be having a moment of silence for all those missed winter runs.



Sigh. Thing I’m not doing in 2016: giving up on exercising safely. Weight room: I am looking at you. (Staying off one’s foot makes it nearly impossible to exercise (cheaply), but I hope to at least return to cross training soon! Also, to lifting all the [small] weights.)

5. Writing more.
Last spring had flown by, and I, realizing my poor blog had been neglected, quickly typed out a snarky little post and dashed off with friends to celebrate that another year of teaching was in the bag, and that day for the first time Shasta’s Fog BLEW UP with caring and crotchety commenters. While I’m not going to relive the finer points of the things I learned from THAT experience, I think it is safe to say that (1) it happened, and (2) I’m still writing despite.
I’m also occasionally sending pieces over to The Elkhart Truth as a community blogger, and while I’m not nearly as prolific as I want to be as a writer, I’m realizing that even small steps count, and really great things can come out of doing even a little bit, rather than doing nothing at all. For example, there I am, sending occasional pieces to an online county newspaper when Jeffrey Trachtenberg from the The Wall Street Journal reads my summer reading post on the Elkhart Truth page and reaches out to me and ends up quoting Shasta’s Fog in an article about Harper Lee’s sequel Go Set a Watchman! It was a lesson to me that in writing, every little bit of effort counts.

In conclusion, I kind of hate this post, because I hate mediocrity, and this post is pretty much me telling you: it’s okay to be mediocre. But the point is: being mediocre is better than not being anything at all. Living imperfectly and asking for the grace of God to infuse your experiments is better than giving up and saying, “It’s impossible to expect change here.” Demanding small changes is better than suggesting monumental revolution at the expense of relationship. (Hmmm, do I believe that? It remains to be seen.)

I think this year, I’m in the balance. Between shielding blossoms in hope and crushing those growing blossoms, outfitted in rugged hikers, and climbing for higher ground.

In 2016, don’t stop.

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