11 Days

Have you ever had one of those stretches of days? I would say weeks, but mine has been more than one week. The past eleven days have been one of those stretches to me.

Here’s a run-down—believe me, a very condensed version of what I could tell you—of my past ten days.

Day 1 (Fri): I get 126 papers to grade (for those of you who don’t know or remember, I teach technical communication in the college of engineering at a local university. Reports and stuff).

Day 3 (Sun): I spend the day being a mom and doing household chores. My husband has to work, which used to be the norm, no longer is, but now might be soon again. That’s another story. We go out to eat half an hour away for his late birthday dinner, and I spend an hour driving home and playing make-your-own-lane on the freeway and side roads in an unexpected snow storm that hit while we were eating.

Day 4 (Mon): My kids have another snow day (they have not attended a full week of school since before Christmas), so I take them with me to the day’s lecture and office hours. I intend to start on that grading, but a colleague asks me to work on something else, so I do.

Day 5 (Tues): The day I normally take for my Sabbath this semester, so I don’t work. I let my daughter borrow my iPad Pro for robotics club—she has never been allowed to use it before. She comes home distraught, with a broken iPad, and mommy gets an unexpected $500 bill in the future.

Day 6 (Weds): Pressure is mounting. I get very little grading done but am graced with postponed dinner plans and extra time to grade. This also means I have to think about what to prepare for dinner. I let the pressure win and break down into a woe-is-me yelling fit.

Day 7 (Thurs): I grade and grade. I teach and then call my husband in tears, because I realize this is one of those days when I have to choose between being a mom and being a teacher. My husband is gracious and offers to feed the kids and clean the house. I grade and grade and grade, and then take a short brain break. That’s when I run across a verse:

Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God; the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. Isaiah 40:28.

He does not … grow weary. That gives me pause, gives me comfort. On Facebook, along with the verse, I post, On a day when I am beyond weary, this is such a comfort and a good reminder. I also hear a small whisper: Do not worry about tomorrow—tomorrow has enough trouble of its own (Matt. 6:34).

Do not worry about tomorrow. Okay God, I will try. You will have to help me with this because you know how hard it is for me NOT to worry.

I work, at school until 8:00 p.m., and at home again until 12:00 a.m., but finally go to bed prepared for the next day. I met my first grading deadline.

Day 8 (Fri): I grade. I have office hours. I teach. I have a meeting. I teach again. I get in an unexpected and much needed grocery shopping trip. I send my husband off to a spiritual retreat for the weekend and grade again, until I can no longer stay awake reading about bomb calorimeters and the energy contents of diesel and alternative fuels.

Day 9 (Sat): I grade. I do laundry and change the bedding for my sister, who is coming into town so my husband can be out of town and I can still do my normal weekend volunteering at the church. I don’t get as much done as I thought necessary in the morning, and once again I start to worry. Then I look at my grading stack. What I thought should be 35 papers left to get done by Monday morning does not look like 35 papers.

I count. It’s not 35 papers. It’s 12.

Twelve papers, when I thought I had 35 left. When my colleague told me that there were 43 papers, he must have meant 43 papers total, split between three of us. All along, I only had 20. Still a lot, and a lot of time‚ but much more doable than 43 or 35.

See? I told you not to worry. So I don’t, mostly. I spend the afternoon and early evening volunteering at church. Still, I don’t sleep well. There are still 12 papers left, and that is a lot. (Worry.)

Day 10 (Sun): I break down during rehearsal at church.

I “switch,” meaning I run which cameras appear on the three screens in our church, following the director’s, well, direction. But the board (with all of the square lights on it, below) had been reprogrammed since I had used it the previous month. The previous night I had managed to figure it out and do well. Now, during rehearsal, I messed up.

Three people began speaking to me at once in the headphones. The producer was talking into his mic, and I couldn’t hear him because it wasn’t piping into the control room. And I just stopped, put my head in my hands, and let the tears fall.

The tears fell for a full five minutes. The head-in-hands only lasted a few seconds, but the tears lasted. During the director’s patient (re)explanation of what went wrong and how to fix it. During everyone’s waiting on me to get it together, to figure out what I was doing wrong and how I needed to do things differently, after everything had been settled. I just couldn’t. Stop. Crying.

I’m 44 years old, people. You’d think I had it together by now, but I didn’t. I don’t. And apparently I had been running on too little sleep and too much worry for too many days in a row, and I just lost it.

I pulled it together. The others were gracious, so much more than I am to myself. I managed to do well in both services following, and when something did go wrong, I calmly thought through how to fix it, did what I could (I actually pushed the right button!), and everything was fine. Mistakes are made; accept it and move on.

After that morning, I still had to go on. I still had to go to the public library, work until they closed, come home, and work until I couldn’t stay awake any more. I went to sleep with three more papers and a lecture to prepare, all before 10:30 a.m.

For the first time since I started this blog, I didn’t get a chance to write and publish on a Sunday.

Day 11 (Mon.): Up at 3 a.m. Realized that no, I hadn’t lectured on all of the material I intended to lecture on at 10:30 a.m., and didn’t have slides for the first few minutes of it. So I started preparing. Then I showered, got the kids ready, took them to school, finished grading those three papers, and dropped them off.

Dropping them off: “Did you get so-and-so’s email?” No, I hadn’t had a chance to check my email since about 5 a.m. that morning. “Well, he’s behind so we had a bit more time, but you probably would have just wished you wouldn’t have stayed up to get these done.” It turns out that the papers won’t actually be returned until Friday.


But you know what? Mine are done. One less thing to worry about.

I rushed off to finish my lecture, had to lecture in a room set up for group work instead of lecturing (one of my many hats is furniture mover, since the rooms are designed for different uses), but it turned out okay. Office hours, writing and printing an exam, and then off to be a mom and housewife again.

Today: Today is another Sabbath for me, desperately needed. There are still 60 papers to grade, but no solid, worry-inducing deadline hanging over my head. So today I’ve mostly rested. I’ve also (obviously) been writing. Writing isn’t always easy, but it is one of my ways of communing with God, so I decided to write and publish.

One of the things God reminded me of when I was mulling over what to write is a lesson that I’ve had to be reminded of, time and time again. It’s the lesson of Martha and Mary, and I’m definitely more Martha than Mary. Sometimes I wish I could be more Mary, just sitting at Jesus’ feet and listening, rather than feeling like I need to be doing. Always doing, always “responsible.” There are many lessons there, but the one I remembered today is this:

“Martha, Martha” [Ahem, “Rhonda, Rhonda“], the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better …” Luke 10: 41-42, NIV.

See, Mary had chosen to listen to Jesus—just to sit at his feet and listen. Martha, on the other hand, had been “distracted by all the preparations that had to be made” (Luke 10:40).

Distracted. That’s a good word for it.

In the midst of everything, I had realized, even if only for a few fleeting sections, that what I was going through was so little, so small compared to what will matter in eternity. But I had forgotten. I had allowed myself to be distracted.

I had allowed myself to forget to focus on the one thing—the one person—who really matters: Jesus. But maybe, just maybe, part of the reason God allows me to go through the worry-stress-fail-collapse-get up-get it done-finally sleep cycle time and time again to teach me, time and time again, that I have a choice. I can choose to focus on the distractions, or I can choose to focus on Jesus.

Focus on him.

I have a feeling I’ll be learning and relearning this lesson the rest of my life. But I find reassurance in Jesus’ words about Mary’s choice; he says the option to sit at his feet, to focus on him, will always be there:

“Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

It will not be taken away from her.

It will not be taken away from you. You may always come. You may always listen to what I have to tell you. Don’t focus on the distractions. Come; focus on me.

What a wonderful invitation. I hope and pray that I will always accept that invitation in the end. Thank you, Lord.

How Dare He? But Wait…

I had been grading papers for a few hours, for what feels like the umpteenth day in a row, when I got the email from my colleague. “How is the grading coming along? The students should get their papers back in time to help them on the next assignment.” Upon reading those words, the emotional response was immediate: anger. Resentment. How dare he?!?

I suppose I should backtrack and explain a bit. I teach writing—technical communication—in an engineering college, and what that means is that I’m the one teaching engineering students how to write reports. At my university, we do a lot of team teaching and this particular course is team-taught by engineering faculty—my colleague—and me. I’m responsible for grading sixty of the eighty students’ papers (one other person does the other twenty), and right now I’m muddling through individual reports that are between four and five pages each.

Have you ever tried to read sixty, four to five page research papers that are students’ first real attempt at technical communication? Yeah. Not easy. And because I want to be helpful, and the best opportunity I have to teach students on an individual basis is through the comments I make on their papers, each one takes me between half an hour and forty-five minutes.

Some more background: I have taught this particular course, with this particular colleague, four times in the past and two other times when he wasn’t teaching. And I recently realized that this is my eighteenth year teaching at the college level. Oh, and I have degrees in the teaching of writing and in technical communication, and some people even call me Dr. Rhonda in reference to my PhD (which I find a bit awkward and hilarious, but there it is). But when I read that email, I once again felt as if I were being scolded, judged, perceived as a graduate student who is just learning how to teach and grade and do all of the things. As if I can’t do my job without a reminder to do it, even worse, as if I can’t be trusted to know what my job is and to get it done. And that—that made me angry. (It still does.)

This time, though, after the immediate reaction, I caught myself. If I’m going to be fair, emails like this have been a regular occurrence with this particular colleague, not only with me but with people far older and more experienced than me. And this year he has been much better about sending them out, much better at resisting that urge to micromanage everything. This is the first time he’s sent out an email like this in a month—that’s an amazing record. So why was my immediate response anger and resentment?

Honestly, it’s because I am already upset with myself for not having the papers graded yet. While I know personally that I have been doing my best to catch up and keep up in this crazy, death-illness-and-snow-ridden semester, I also am disappointed with myself for not having caught up or kept up. And upon reading that email, I immediately wanted to be defensive, list every reason I don’t have the papers finished, justify myself, make myself look better in his eyes. And that’s just it: Even when I don’t feel good about myself—maybe especially when I don’t feel good about myself—I want to look good to other people, to have them respect me and not judge me. I want to feel better knowing other people think well of me. So many of my actions when it comes to work are motivated by this—by wanting others to think well of me. I have a hard time keeping the eternal perspective, the God perspective that goes like this:

Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ. (Col. 3:23-24, ESV)

I’m not quite sure how to keep the eternal perspective, but I know as I just read those words I had tears in my eyes. I am working for the Lord. The thought that he knows my heart, he knows my true efforts, he knows whether I’ve been working heartily or not, is a comfort. It’s also a motivation to keep going. To keep going when the work feels like drudgery, when everything that results from it feels like judgment or—even worse—indifference or active, intense dislike (on my students’ parts; engineers are not always enthusiastic about writing). And the thought that even when all I can seem to see and feel is the here and now, that something I am doing in the here and now may make an eternal difference—that is motivating. Because the one reward I really want, I long for, is to hear those lovely words of affirmation:

Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master. (Matt. 25:21, ESV)

Lord, let me be good. Let me be faithful. And let me keep going, keep working earnestly, and let me do it as for you and not for men. Help me to keep that eternal perspective.

#work #eternalperspective #workforthelord #anger #resentment #defensiveness #disappointment #faithfulness