Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Takeoffs & Landings

I really loved my former apartment. It was just one stop from downtown, with the most amazing view of the skyline from across the small stretch of water. There was the new Jeffries Point Park and also Dough, La Sultana, and La Hacienda all within walking distance. But I kind of love my new apartment, too. It's across the street from a small beach that overlooks part of the airport, and I've spent a few afternoons sitting on the sand watching planes taxi down the runway and lift into the air. 

Which of course makes me think about life.

I'm a little scared. I'm scared of my schedule, which is packed to burst with school and work and extracurriculars. I'm scared of not delivering quality product to teachers and students. I'm scared of watering unhealthy habits and of growing further away from my God instead of becoming grounded in Him. Last fall was difficult. Is this fall going to be even hard? Each new thing is a takeoff. Each success is a landing.

Life is a series of these, takeoffs and landings. Most lives are a grueling marriage to a proverbial suitcase, moving from one flight to another to another, endlessly. That makes me feel tired. I watch the flight attendants who get on the train at the airport stop, with the little rolly suitcases, headed home after a few days on. (The whole top floor of our building is flight attendants.) I think about what a hard job they have.

My co-teacher told me today one of our students left his country because his parents were shot. I have a student whose parents sent him to the USA to study English to protect him from gang recruitment. I have a handful of students from Libya who are in the US biding their time for stability to come to their country so they can return. My students remind me that even the rich and the privileged experience heartache and tragedy. Because life has turbulence. 

I watch the takeoffs and landings and think of all the people sitting in chairs encased by a hunk of metal, and suddenly they are moving through the sky. It's amazing. Life is a gift. 

Sunday, June 28, 2015

How Frozen keeps blessing my life

It's shocking how many monologues I've been starting lately with the phrase, "See, this reminds me of Elsa." Because isn't Elsa so relatable?

This is what I mean. Spoilers for those of you who somehow have managed to avoid seeing this precious film.
Elsa has ice powers.
Elsa and Anna play with her ice powers as children, and it's all fun and games until Anna gets hit in the head and the doctor who heals her foresees something terrible happening as a result of Elsa's powers.
Elsa and her parents misinterpret the doctor's warnings and decide the best thing is for Elsa to put on gloves and hide out in her room to keep from hurting anyone.
But at Elsa's coronation she loses control and the ice explodes all over the party.
Everyone is (understandably) freaked out, and Elsa runs away.
She sings "Let It Go", celebrating the fact that now she can let her ice powers run wild without having to worry about hurting anyone.
But that freedom is bittersweet because Anna comes to find her, and in the process ends up getting a dart of ice to the heart.
In the end, love of her sister drives her homeward, where the bad guy tries to do her in and Anna sacrifices herself to save Elsa and true love heals both frozen hearts. 
Watch it. You will laugh, you will cry, it will move you. Promise.

Hopefully the subtext here is pretty obvious. Elsa is afraid. She's afraid of a part of herself she can't control. She's afraid of her capacity to hurt other people. She isolates to avoid that fear, and when she runs away from everyone she thinks she's found freedom. And while she finally experiences the joy of being who she is, people still get hurt because she never learned to control her power. The happy ending finally comes when love trumps fear and Elsa gets her powers under control. 

Love casts out fear. I was going to get that tattooed on my chest, had the design and the parlor picked out and everything, until I realized I was too afraid of needles to go through with it. But it's a principle I would feel comfortable having permanently etched into my skin because I think I need the daily reminder: there is no fear in love.

Unfortunately, fear is perpetually present in my life. Fallen world. Sinful girl. There's a laundry list of fears floating around in my head right now, temporary and long-term, superficial and existential, stomach-fluttering and heart-sickening. It is what it is. I can't necessarily snap my fingers and be done with it, but I can dwell on love. There is a safety net. There are strong arms. There is a love with a depth and a width and a height and a length I cannot fathom. And that love is shown to me each day. When I am set on love the fear is less crippling. 

The other lesson here is to control what you can control. Fear leads to its own kind of defeatism. I trend towards laziness and I find it leagues easier to throw my hands up in the air and admit, "I'm screwed up and there's nothing I can do about it." And that's dangerous grounds because it leads to isolation. And then sometimes your greatest fears can come true. (Elsa locked herself in her room because she was afraid of hurting Anna again, and guess what, she ended up hurting Anna again. Life, amirite?)

But we're not helpless in the face of our demons. Fear doesn't win, love does. For Elsa, the love of her sister enabled her to get her ice powers under control. No longer afraid of what she could do, she harnessed them so Olaf could experience summertime in one piece. We have not only the precious love of the people who care about us, but the divine love of our God and the partnership of the Holy Spirit, who is with us reminding us that we are righteous in the eyes of the Lord and that we have a promise to one day be whole. 

You may be sick of hearing little girls belting out "Let It Go" on the streets, but dayum, it's a catchy song. We are not called the carry the guilt for the mistakes we've made; we are free and can rejoice that no burdens weigh on our shoulders any longer. 

Friday, June 26, 2015

It's okay to celebrate

Here is my confession: I waited with taunt anticipation for SCOTUS to release their opinions this morning, and when they announced that they were granting same sex marriage in all 50 states I wanted to CHEER! But I didn't, even though I was in the basement of a building housing a predominantly liberal office with only one other person who probably also felt like cheering. But I didn't cheer, and this is why.

I thought:

1. Is it okay that I'm happy about this?
2. Is my happiness about this incongruent with my faith?
3. WWJD . . .
4. Can't tweet about it either because my tweets go straight to my dad's phone.
5. I mean, my dad's a good man and he loves me, but he might think I've had a little too much of the liberalist Kool-Aide.
6. People are going to think I don't care what the Bible says.
7. Or they're going to think I'm just making things up.
8. Or they're going to think my brain is full of heresy.
9. Oh man, this is the normalization of evil, Satan wants me to cheer for marriage equality like he wants me to smile at the "Say Anything" sex scene or shrug off hooker jokes.
10. I'm probably wrong about everything.

But I couldn't stop thinking about it all day. Today felt special, historic. I read article after article, reactions from every faith blogger or journalist who has credibility with me, trying to find some explanation for or dissection of what I was thinking. My sister said that how the church responds today is really important. So I decided it was okay to celebrate.


1. Equal Protection

The Bible doesn't require you be a fan of the Constitution, so that's fine. If you're against the 14th Amendment, this idea won't matter to you. But for those of you who appreciate our structure of government as one that's better than most, this decision strengthened one of the greatest doctrines of our government. The law of our land says you can't treat one group of people differently than another. The equal protection clause assures fair treatment even when a huge portion of the nation stands against you. Sure, for the "moral majority" it's concerning to have your power circumvented, to have the court muzzle democracy. And yet, where the Athenian democracy went belly up the USA (struggles to do) does good. I'm thankful for a government that bats for the little guy, because it feels like that doesn't happen too often. That fairness is worth celebrating.

(Really. This does not affect us.) (Though if and when it does, I have something to say about that, too. Dig deep and stand with the persecuted church around the world.)

2. A Step Against Bigotry

It's one thing for us as believers to say we love gay people. I think we say it with good intentions, but also with naivete. There are people who have lost their jobs for the sole reason that they're gay. There are kids who have taken their own lives because they couldn't cope with social attitudes regarding same sex attraction. There are people who get mistreated and cussed out and called rude names because their haircuts were "too butch" or their nails were "too effeminate." We believers would call that wrong, but what do we do to change the cultural tide to treat people with respect? As same sex marriage brings about the normalization of gay relationships, I feel hopeful that this mistreatment will ebb. And I think it's okay to be excited for a cultural shift that will mean better treatment for a whole group of people.

3. A Refocus

There seems to be a tendency among believers to spend a lot of energy decrying the evil of sodomy*, presumably because the culture at large says the opposite. The culture at large actually says the opposite of believers a good portion of the time, because as Paul said, "When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the control of righteousness." The culture is going to be opposite us all the time, almost always. I'm not sure it matters all that much. Now that this issue is settled, maybe the faith community can refocus on the actual priority: preaching Jesus as the answer. I'M NOT SAYING SIN IS IRRELEVANT. But maybe now it will be easier for the church to treat sin like sin, instead of regular sin versus sin that is ALSO a hot button political issue. Because it's not about the politics, family, we know it's not. It's about Jesus and knowing Him better and knowing His love and showing His love to others.

As I believer, I think fairness, better treatment, and a clarified message are all things that are worth celebrating. Even when those things carry the baggage of normalizing sin.

I welcome the thoughts of believers who see where I'm coming from on this; I would like to know what you think about celebrating marriage equality within the contexts of the faith. To be honest, I'm not interested in hearing about the social ills of same sex marriage nor do I want to entertain any hand-wringing about the erosion of religious freedom. You may count my frankness about this intellectual dishonesty--it is, you're right--but I'm just looking for edification, not to change my mind.

Can believers celebrate today while still maintaining that sodomy* is a sin? Are the two mutually exclusive?

*I'm sorry to offend by using the term sodomy to mean any girl/girl or guy/guy sexual activity. It's an ugly word and I don't like saying it and I'm not even using it correctly, but I use the term to emphasize that the sin the Bible talks about is not "being gay" or experiencing same sex attraction but rather sexual activity with a person of the same gender. 

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

1L: lessons learned

My first year of law school, wow, it's over. It's amazing to me how swiftly this time flew by, especially compared to last year, but it's disheartening when I remember I still have two years to go before I can get in the trenches with clients. I love school, school is great, but it's intriguing to feel a new pull on my heart, a desire to do something other than sit in a classroom.

As with any academic endeavor, the whole point is learn stuff. And I've learned a lot about the law and our judicial system and how exactly the USA has gotten to where it is today, but I've also learned some personal things. I have made note of them here, in hopes that my own lessons may serve as perspective for you in learning yours.

  • I learned that I don't adjust to new things as well as I thought I did. Adjustment takes time. Maybe more time for me than the average person. But it is what it is. Being depressed that I require time to settle into things does not make time tick by faster. 
  • You have to be okay with sounding like an idiot when you talk in class. And so what if everyone thinks you're an idiot? I am constantly being surprised by classmates I thought had empty heads but are actual leagues smarter than me. So either I am actually an idiot, or sooner or later people will figure out I'm not the airhead I seem to be. 
  • And to dovetail with that, there is nothing wrong with being an idiot! So you're not smart, fine. Being smart does not make you a better person. Being uneducated or even being ignorant doesn't mean you have committed a moral wrong that you deserve to be punished for. There is an aura of intellectual elitism that pervades Boston, because to be fair, education is a huge industry here! But there's an unspoken assumption that education makes people better people. I have a coworker or two who openly mock rednecks and think that the southern accent is uneducated. To be honest, I used to be that person. I'm trying not to be anymore. 
  • I usually think of my year in Kazakhstan as ruining me; when I came back to the USA I was a basket case and this year being back has been THE HARDEST year of my life so far. But I don't give KZ enough credit for preparing me for life in Boston. In KZ I learned how to cook, go food shopping, take care of a leaking sink, teach English, live with another person, survive the cold and snow. All those things have benefited me enormously this past year. 
  • ATFQ. Or if you don't know the answer, don't say anything. Word vomiting all the information you know is not what gets you a good grade. Answering the question does. Because that's what lawyers do. And even though the answer is usually "it depends", that's what keeps you in bread and butter. This has become my new life philosophy. 
  • There are a lot of political philosophies out there, all of which spitball about the best way to structure a government. And I used to be a big proponent of limited government, balancing federal power with state power and limiting judicial review (or, I think we called it, judicial activism.) I joke that I'm a liberal now, but what it really mean is, I'm less worried about our nation going to crap. It's not the structure of our government that keeps us from turning into whatever country is spinning a global cautionary tale, it's the daily actions of the people who govern us. That's why voting's important, y'all. (I'm glad there are people who care about politics. I want them to keep caring. I want liberals and conservatives to keep fighting, because between the two extremes reality eventually falls in the middle.)
  • If you're sick, rest. It was Wednesday and I felt like a raisin stuck to the bottom of a boot that kept slapping the pavement. It was bleh. Thursday I climbed into bed and when I crawled out Monday morning I was healed. It was like magic. I never tried the whole resting thing cos I just didn't think it worked. Why rest when Theraflu and Dayquil exist? Rest because it works!
  • It's okay to need people. I am possibly allergic to asking people to do things for me. I can't cope with the feeling that I am inconveniencing someone by asking them to do me a favor. I feel icky that I'm somehow "using" others for my own personal gain. And yet, life is easier when you have people's help. The heart of the difference here is humility. I don't need people as pawns to reach my life's endgame. I need people because I flounder on my own, and sometimes those people are my endgame. I can't say I'm comfortable with this entirely, but I realize I need to get comfortable with it, which is a sizeable step for me.
  • Build community where you can. Without this it's really hard to flourish; the loneliness of this phase of life is robust. Still, I am realizing that despite my myriad character flaws, insecurities, and lack of social graces, I can still make community by being open to the people around me and initiating. Don't underestimate yourself. You can't force a life-giving community to flourish, but you can help construct little safe havens along the way.

I made a lot of mistakes this past year:

I didn't get plugged in with a spiritual community.
I didn't get involved with any school activities.
I didn't befriend any of my classmates.
I didn't handle my first ever relationship right.
I didn't go to my professor's office hours. (This still shocks me, because that was my hallowed MO in undergrad.)
I didn't send thank you notes after any interviews.
I ate too many peanut butter M&Ms!

But it all worked out because God is good. And that's it. I'm not good. But God is good. And grace means He gives me things I don't deserve, even when I muck it all up. That's hard for me to swallow. That doesn't seem fair, in fact, it isn't fair. But it's not about me, it's about a God whose goodness needs to be known and recognized by all. So all I can do is testify. I survived 1L. My God is good.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Addressing sexism in the classroom

I so read "Lamb to the Slaughter" with one of my classes. It's a story about a woman who kills her husband when he tells her he's divorcing her. There's a short film by Alfred Hitchcock that opines he's divorcing her because he's having an affair. I asked my class, "Is it ever justified to kill your spouse for cheating on you?" (If you think this is a ridiculous question, consider Mosaic law. Since we have a mix of nationalities represented, I'm always interested to see the lack of consensus on certain points of morality.)

My Brazilian student (it's worth noting for these purposes that he's male) stated firmly, "For a man, yes, but for a woman, no." Stunned, I asked him, "Why?" And looking incredibly puzzled by my question he answered with brows knit, "It's my culture." Later I told him it was also a common practice in my culture also, but he challenged me pointing out that most Americans would call it a double standard. I whipped out the term cognitive dissonance, attempting to explain that just because a society says one thing doesn't mean they always act that way, and that just because a culture is a certain way doesn't mean it's right. We didn't discuss it again. 

Later that week, another student called me over to the corner where he was working with this Brazilian student. Laughing he told me how the Brazilian was a bad guy because he was looking for a new girlfriend while he was still with his current girlfriend. And the Brazilian told me how he was stressed out because his girlfriend didn't trust him and he wasn't sure he could take it anymore. (I met this girl briefly in the subway station late at night. I passed my student on the stairs, cheerily waved and shot him a "Hi!" He shouted in response, "Teacher! I love you!" and his girlfriend snapped, "What? Who is she?!" They were drunk, but you can imagine the dynamic here.) I told him I hoped that wasn't true, because he was a nice guy. But he shook his head. "Maybe I am a bad guy," he said. 

For the record, this is a hill I have decided not to die on. By virtue of actual and pronounced physiological differences, there may be some legitimate justifications for treating men and women differently in certain ways or in certain contexts. And it can be a tall order sorting out what's a legitimate and justified difference in treatment and what isn't. I am prepared to bear the hardship of what I consider to be mistreatment because of my gender. It's a naive statement for me to make, but there it is. Women's rights are necessarily important to me, but they're not as high on my priority list as other things. 

But these encounters have me wondering what the correct and appropriate way to handle these statements is. On the one hand, I don't want to judge my students. I don't want them to feel like something they perceive is cultural is something I perceive as immoral. And for those who wonder, who cares if it's against their culture if they're wrong?, I would point out that they don't think they're wrong and that saying "you're wrong" doesn't productively advance the discussion. 

My word is gold on questions of grammar. If I say a verb is transitive, it is. But on social issues I am an expert only on my own perspective of my own culture. I have no credibility to tell them what is wrong with their culture, even if there is indeed something wrong with their culture. And perhaps my reasoning here is obvious (of course a collaborative and judgment-free zone should be preserved within the classroom) (and that has to be the way it rolls when a large number of students are Saudi and come from a culture that affords men four wives and bars women from driving), but I recognize this idea is difficult for some people when pitted against the other value at play here: the truth.

Because on the other hand I don't think sexism is wrong because my culture tells me so (even though my culture does tell me so.) Sexism is wrong because the highest authority acknowledged by history, by the world (God) says so. It is not okay to be looking for a new person to date while you're exclusive with someone else. It is not okay for women to be punished for adultery when men are not. And while we're at it, it is not okay for one guy to have four wives. It's just not. To my students that may seem like an opinion, but that's truth I am convicted of, knowing my own worth as a human, knowing the principles of righteousness my God has revealed, knowing what is a social good in a western and humanistic society. And if I care about the truth, I should speak it, right?

I love how as a teacher I am uniquely poised to introduce my students to compelling ideas and facilitate an increase of empathy, perspective-sharing, and diversity, all of which I think are inherently valuable things. But those things are not more important than what is right. There seems to be a very delicate line to walk when speaking the truth in love. And I wonder if it's possible to draw a line in the sand regarding right and wrong without leaving some students on the wrong side of the line unequipped with a path of egress. I sense there is a way to have it both ways, but in my allegiance to both values I'm hard-pressed to imagine what that would look like.

Have you ever been in a situation like this? Is it possible to speak truth while maintaining a judgment-free zone in the classroom? How would you leverage this kind of conversion?

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

My Cautionary Tale

My most embarrassing moment was the happened during the summer I was 14, my first week (and coincidentally only?) week at camp. We were playing four on a couch with one of the boys' cabins, and there was some kid in that cabin I had a crush on, a brother of one of my cabinmates. And I don’t remember what I did exactly, but I remember that I was acting really goofy and laughing uncontrollably, which didn’t strike me as like terrible or anything, until a friend told me I was acting like a fool. 

And I was mortified, of course. Not so much because of the random boy I had drawn into my spectacle, but because of what my friend said. I cared intensely of what my friend thought. She called me out on acting like a fool, and I was embarrassed like Meg from Little Women was when Laurie caught her putting on airs at a party. I cared very much that she thought I was making a fool of myself, and I cared about what my cabin thought, what the other girls thought. I had made myself that girl. Not in a 50s television kind of way. In a Mean Girls kind of way. You know. Kind of still makes me cringe.

I am reflecting on this because I did something similar today. And it was humiliating not just because of the amused bewilderment on the guy’s face, but because I did it in front of a room full of my coworkers, one of whom point-blank asked me why I was acting like a fool, and in that moment I was so thankful I didn’t blush and I hoped no one could see the sweat on my forehead as I tried to save face and laugh it off.

Why do I never learn?!

True confessions, though I don’t see myself as a flirty person, I also live in fear that I don’t really know myself. I don’t want to be that way. I want to see myself accurately. I want to understand who I really am and accept my fallenness and my neediness. But I second-guess that always. I am so confused by the things I think and feel. I don’t understand the things that happen in my own mind, and this is so frustrating because it leads to a lot of cognitive dissonance. Cos there are things my instincts want that my mind doesn’t.

But one thing I know to be true is that I’m an attention whore. I chalk it up to a mixture of factors, like being a first born and also, being human, but it takes a lot of work for me to call it what it is. For example, I kind of hate that I enjoy teaching so much, because part of the reason I enjoy it is I like commanding a classroom, and I like everyone asking me questions and following my instructions and laughing at my jokes and listening to my stories. That’s an ugly thing to admit, and I hate it because it’s often true. I can say that teaching is rewarding and missional and it totally is, but sometimes I don’t love it for that reason, sometimes I love it for bad reasons.

So you can imagine how this colors my interactions with people. I really believe that people are the most important thing, and I want to affirm people and serve people and see people because I believe that’s what I’m called to do, but honestly, sometimes I turn towards people not because I want to build them up but because I want to build myself up.

And that’s what makes flirting selfish, isn’t it? I don’t even remember the same of the kid I flirted with at camp. And my coworker, I can’t say I’ve ever had a serious conversation with him. We riff non-stop. This, actually, was part of my flirty faux pas. I think I said, “We have got to get better at having normal conversations.” It wasn't embarrassing because my actions potentially betrayed some veiled affection, no, it was embarrassing because I was caught trying to draw attention to myself.

I don’t want to communicate to my coworkers that I don’t care about them. I don’t want to be the person who is (unprofessionally) flirting with people just to make herself feel good. I want my coworkers to feel valued and respected. I want my coworkers to feel individual heard and noticed by me. I don’t want to have conversations based only on teasing and quick wit. And while I love love LOVE laughing with my coworkers, there seems to be an appreciable difference between laughing together and flirting. 

Flirting is not the greatest social ill or anything, but it’s not something I want to do. Not subconsciously and definitely not on purpose. And to be clear I’m horrendous at flirting, which is one reason why getting caught doing it is so embarrassing. I’m like the opposite of smooth, probably because I don’t flirt to be smooth, I unwittingly flirt because I wittingly want attention. But I think flirting is fundamentally using someone else to make yourself feel like you’re awesome, and, that’s not something I want to be associated with. And I don’t want to be that girl. You know the one. 

Though the shame was still hot when I relived the exchange two hours later, the embarrassment has already faded substantially by now. I wonder if I will remember this as an embarrassing moment once time passes. Hm. I make this mistake a lot. I can remember so many different versions of this situation, from high school, university, oh! Ugh, even from last summer. I wish I hadn’t stopped to think about it; this isn’t a fun game. But it’s a necessary one, right? Identify the mistake, repent of the mistake, move on, rest in grace. 

Jesus is shaping this attention whore into a validation giver. Jesus is making me less self-focused and more others-focused. I gotta believe that, even though these mistakes make me wonder. And His beautiful grace means that my testimony to my coworkers isn’t forever broken, and even if I’m that girl for the rest of my time on earth He can still make good things happen. Sanctification I’m sometimes still skeptical about, but on grace I am certain: my mistakes do not prevail over the power of His will. Thank the Lord.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

TV Show Listening Worksheets

I don't always think it's beneficial to use to use TV shows in class time because while it's definitely more fun for students, the learning objectives of these longer activities are not always clear. I usually reserve TV show activities for substitute lessons or test days. The following worksheets have been designed to teach phrasal verbs and colloquialisms, help students listen both for gist and for detail, and challenge students to make inferences based on character dialogue. Each episode relates too to the topic of the unit it's used in conjunction with.

My Latin American students get a kick out of this 44-minute episode because it features a murder on the set of a telenovela. The over-the-top accented Spanish in the episode gives them a laugh. The dialogue of this show is very brisk and peppered with pop culture references, so I use it exclusively for Upper Intermediate - Advanced levels.

I usually use this worksheet for lower levels, Pre-intermediate - Intermediate, because the questions are more fact-based and less inference-based, and can be answered even without hearing every line. And it's only 22 minutes. I usually also leave the subtitles on for lower levels on this one. It can still be a great discussion catalyst for higher levels, given that it hits on racism, protest, and why we study history.

I use this 44-minute episode as a lead-in to talking about interpersonal conflict, family drama, and conflict resolution. Gilmore Girls episodes are great for Upper Intermediate - Advanced levels because they speak so quickly and the dialogue is quite sharp and witty. I try to use with predominantly female classes; male students have reported being amused by it, but still find the show "girly."

I also use The Office episode "Conflict Resolution" with a rotating set of discussion questions because it is so on point for this topic, and the Upper Intermediate students really respond to the humor.

This episode is my lead-in to my lesson about small town Americana. (Usually part of a unit that includes dystopias/utopias, Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery," and socioeconomic status across the globe.) Over 44 minutes it shows some of the fun traditions small towns can have. The worksheet is simple enough to be used with Low Intermediate - High Intermediate, but in this case I leave the subtitles on, because the dialogue is quite challenging because of speed.

Admittedly, this is a movie, not a TV show, but I reserve this lesson for those class days where no one comes to school, either because of the weather or because of holiday traveling days. Our class blocks are three hours long, so I can comfortably show the whole movie while stopping periodically to check in with students in plenary regarding the worksheet. I've used this with the Intermediate level without subtitles.

Hopefully these worksheets can provide some ideas of how to use your favorite TV shows in the classroom. Please let me know how these worksheets can be edited or improved to hit on listening skills and target language!

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Paper Chain Discussion

Give each student a blank piece of paper.

Refer back to the prompt. Maybe it was a documentary segment they watched as a listening activity, maybe it was a news article they derived a key word outline from. I've used this activity after reading a short story, to generate discussion about its themes. 

Instruct students to create a discussion, comprehension, or interpretation question about the material and to write the question at the top of the piece of paper.

Set the timer. The level and complexity of the prompt should dictate how much time you allow them, but keep the pace brisk. I've found three minutes to be on point for the high intermediate -- upper intermediate levels.

When the timer goes off, pass papers to the left.

Instruct students to write a sentence or two in answer to the question written on the top of the paper. Again, set the timer, and again pass papers to left when the time runs out.

Then instruct students to elaborate on, support, or contradict the answer to the question. They should add more color and detail to answers they agree with, or explain their reasoning for disagreeing with the existing answer. Again, they should add one to two sentences.

Set the timer.

When the timer runs out, pass to the left. By this time there is a question and two answers on the sheet of paper. (You could continue and do three or four answers, but I find they get redundant past two.) Now instruct students to write a sentence or two that synthesize, summarize, or paraphrase what has already been written on the paper.

Since they have a bit more to read and because this task is a bit more complex, set the timer for a minute longer. (I upped it to four.)

Pass papers to the left. Explain that this is the last step and they will be peer-correcting the sentences on the paper in front of them. Use your preferred method for peer correction. I usually have students check for subject/verb agreement, spelling, and punctuation. Sometimes I have them diagram the sentences produced. You may also modify this activity to require inclusion of target language and have students check that the target language is present or used as you instructed.

I then collect the papers for class assessment, to see where I should focus grammar instruction for the following week based on what errors crop up most often.

I like this activity because it is language producing but also incorporates many skills concurrently. It's a great activity for the end of a three-hour block class because it moves fast, is short form, but allows students to focus on precision rather than quantity. This can be a catalyst to class discussion; often students will want to talk about some of the questions and answers their classmates supplied. 

Please let me know if there are any tweaks that come to mind that could make this a more effective activity!

Monday, February 2, 2015

Redeeming the time

I don't know how I feel about deviation from routine. Despite running on four hour's sleep, I was excited to brave the messy roads with my dad this morning. There's something exciting about being outside when everyone else is inside. It's the only thing I like about being up early. I was not excited, however, waiting on the chilly platform for my train to pull in. And I was not excited trudging the four blocks to my flat with snow in my eyes. I was not excited as I surveyed my already tidy room and wondered what on earth I was going to do today. Snow days, man.

Why do we do what we do? Maybe because we enjoy it, but not everyone is so lucky. I enjoy my work, but more in a this-is-a-pleasant-way-to-spend-my-days kind of way. Few are the tasks that are a motivation unto themselves. We do what we do, I think, because of the prize promised at the end, because of the transcendent worthiness of it. My work is meaningful to me, and that matters more to me than the thrill of diagramming sentences. The mechanics are not glamorous. The ideas that inspire the mechanics are. 

The announcers said of Julian Edelman last night how much they respect him as a player not just because he gets open, makes the catches, works the openings. They said he shows up at 5am and studies the plays and catches balls and works hard. Something about that stray comment clicked for me. Edelman is a superstar, for sure. But it sounds like he's respected more for his hustle than for his talent. 

Hustling isn't exciting. I'm watching all of these people head to work in the snow. I'm congratulating myself for being a commuter at large when both my work and school are canceled, but here are these people, headed to work with no fanfare. Business as usual. Braving the elements doesn't make you a hero. You're just going to work, like you're supposed to. 

And now this deviation from routine. I don't know how to feel about these deviations because I never know what to do with them. I'm terrible at redeeming unexpected downtime. But I'm alive, I'm awake. The snow has separated me from my casebooks and the papers I need to grade, but surely there's other work to be done. I'm rested, and it's time to work, like I'm supposed to.


Saturday, January 24, 2015

Take your medicine

High school is full of pivotal moments that you will remember for the rest of your life. One such moment I have been reflecting on some eight years later, was a frank judgment made my a classmate regarding picky eaters. She said: "Who cares if you like it? It's food, you eat it." This was revolutionary to me. This thought, so basic, had never crossed my mind. I remember my dad trying to tell me that I would grow to like Swiss cheese like he did (and sure enough, I did), and I was so incredulous. How could I grow to like something I had no plans of eating? How could I like something that tasted bad? Eating is really wrapped up with pleasure for me. I hate eating things that don't taste good. And eating things that DO taste good is one of my favorite things! I have cried over a lovely meal before. And, oh shame, I have written angry Yelp reviews in response to icky dinners. So from this perspective, it just didn't make sense that you could force yourself to consume something that didn't make you happy. This very idea seemed to defile the soul. But when my classmate put it that way I felt like I was seeing the world anew. Of course! Food is for living! Enjoyment is not the point, living is the point!

And maybe that's where I am right now. There are all these things I don't want to do. But, I do want to do them because I want to be well. I want to be whole. I want to be near to my Jesus. But, doing them is just difficult and unpleasant, and it seems to violate the soul to do something I just don't really want to do. (Maybe it smacks of hypocrisy, as well.) It doesn't seem right to seek wellness this way. But I think of the paralyzed man near the healing fountain and what Jesus asks him: do you want to be healed? I want to sleep like a log but I don't want to swallow the Nyquil. I'm standing over the sink with the dosage in my hand and a palate cleanser on stand-by, but I can't throw the medicine back. But I need to take my medicine. Not tasting bitter, yucky things is not the point! Medicine is for living, and living is the point! 

But I worry also that I want wholeness, wellness for the wrong reason. I'm afraid that on some level I'm just chasing happiness. It's like that moment when my parents told me that dinosaurs and people lived on the earth at the same time, but then I watched Land Before Time and just kind of forgot about D is for Dinosaur. What I mean to say is, you can know something is true, but also forget about it while simultaneously believing that the opposite is true. And that's how I've felt about happiness. I've believed that the point of life is not happiness, and yet I've lived my life to make myself happy, not questioning the validity of my endgame.


So if I really believe the point of life is not happiness, that the point of life is Jesus, then I need to live that way. And I've been having a crisis about this, not just the past few months, but also pretty much my whole life, because I want to magnify Jesus with my life, but at the same time, it's hard.

If I'm honest, I want it to be easy. It's not easy.

But at the same time, it's not the big deal I've built it up to be in my head. How many times has my dad rolled his eyes at me pinching my nose with the Nyqiuil in my hand and entreated me, "Just take your medicine!" It's not a big deal. Obedience is simple and silent. It is without war. It just is. There is no hemming and hawing about what should and should not be done, there is no straining against the conscience. This is the gift of the law, that our task is clear. And even better, He equips us for it. It can certainly be difficult and unpleasant and that's why I don't want to do it, haven't been able to do it. But food is food, you need it to live. Obedience is obedience, I need it to live. I am not my own. I am His.

It's not Scripture, but I saw this video today:


And what strikes me about this is that the acts of the unsung hero are not difficult or amazing. He moved a plant over three feet. He gave an old lady some bananas. He didn't even talk to her! If that were me I feel like I'd have to ring her bell and have tea with her and learn about her life's story and her family and then give her something she really needs, not just hang a bunch of bananas on her door every evening, I mean, come on! But that's what keeps me from doing what I'm supposed to do. I draft a mental calculus of excuses and obstacles before I step out. The unsung hero just obeys. And conventional wisdom shakes its head. But obedience alone doesn't make the plant grow. The hand of the Creator gives our actions purpose.

I need to take my medicine. I need to stop anticipating how bitter it'll taste going down and instead step into the freedom of wellness and wholeness in obedience to Jesus. To do His will is to truly live.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Riding the train

Back and forth goes the train. Back and forth. 

South Station, Back Bay, Ruggles, Hyde Park, Route 128, Canton Junction, Sharon, Mansfield, Attleboro, South Attleboro, Providence. 

Back home. Away from the loneliness. Away from binge-watching TV and binge-eating M&Ms. Away from the classmates and the roommates I bring myself to connect with, away from the church I half-heartedly attend. Away from the lifestyle I can't really afford and the change I'm coping poorly with. Headed back home.

Providence, South Attleboro, Attleboro, Mansfield, Sharon, Canton Junction, Route 128, Hyde Park, Ruggles, Back Bay, South Station.

Back home. Away from the dirty bathroom. Away from the heart-achy conflict between people I love. Away from the church in transition. Away from the boy who dumped me. Away from the binge-watching TV and binge-eating Nutella. Headed back home. 

I spend a lot of time feeling miserable on the train. 

On the train I caught the breaking news about Ferguson, read about human rights abuses in North Korea, watched footage of Boko Haram aftermath. On the train I blew chunks, my breakfast in the train toilet in the darkened car, nervous about my new job and how I would fare. On the train I breathed deep, willing my stomach to stop twisting on the way to meet a boy for coffee. On the train I wiped tears away, sing-whispering to myself, "So pull me a little closer, take me a little deeper, I wanna know Your heart."

I step off the train and the world grows so much wider. Here international students are consulting a map, there roommates are reuniting with a hug. There's a young family doing a head-count, and a couple tightening their shoelaces and adjusting their backpack straps. The state house looms majestic on the grassy hill, or else the smell of the ocean blows in across the traffic. Tall buildings and clogged walkways remind me how small I am. I feel like my life's a catastrophe, but as they say, feelings are not facts. 

I'm going to ride the train sometimes. And sometimes I'll be escaping from what I don't like about my life in Boston, and sometimes I'll be avoiding what I don't like about my life back home, and sometimes that train ride will make me cry for the weakness of my heart, because I'm a little bit stuck with who I am. But at the end of the train ride is always perspective. The problems are small but His love is great. My God meets me in the mire. My God fights for me. My God lifts my chin to carry me through another week. His is a wide, wide world and His love fills the whole horizon. 

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Year in Review a.k.a. I need a less public coping mechanism

It's been a pretty eventful year for me. This time last year I was living in a foreign country, and now that I'm back stateside, I've moved to a new city, started a new job, and completed my first semester of professional school.

Uh, gah!

I get frustrated sometimes, because I feel like so little has changed. My parents still pay for my food when we go out. My stuff is still in boxes in their basement. I still sleep some weekends in a room with my sisters and our three matching bedspreads. I am still roughly the same person in roughly the same place. I keep waiting for the atomic life event that will level my life to the ground floor, refinement through the fire. I went all the way to Kazakhstan for that, and it was a drop in the bucket.

I'm getting the feeling that, like Bono crooned, "Oh, a change of heart comes slow . . .

When I look back at the events of the past year, I feel the need to emphasize that my life is not as great as it looks on Facebook. Actually, I am a mess. I really need people to know that. I have never felt more weak and dysfunctional in my life. It's like I have some tic or compulsion, that I have to attach an asterisk to everything. I think this is why I don't feel like I've grown, because every step forward is qualified. Those qualifications are me trying to be accurate and honest, me trying to explain that if I am growing at all, I am growing ever so slowly and clumsily and messily. 

I smile and then sigh. First job after college, but not really. First apartment, but not really. First relationship, but not really. A slew of messy, unfamiliar things that have brought the mess in me closer to the surface. I thought I was supposed to become more sanctified, not more dysfunctional.

But I forget that life is qualified, and all of these asterisks I want to attach to all of these things do not negate the fact that these things happened, and that they were new and difficult and growth-motivating. I'm trying to give myself permission to celebrate these creeping little mile-markers. I want growth to happen all at once when I'm allowed to be contented with faithfulness. It's okay that the going is slow, like, maybe that's even how it's supposed to be. 

The swift cycle of life changes does not mean an equally speedy change of heart. I have been feeling like that's a bum deal.

But maybe it isn't.