The Day My Dreams Came True

There I was, standing opposite an enormous, roided-out teenage boy, who was trying to hit me with a ball…

*Disclaimer: I don’t actually know whether the kid takes steroids; all I know is that he is a big dude.

So, basically, I’ve always wanted to put together a teacher dodge ball team to participate in the tournament at the high school where I teach. It’s a grand affair, and the students take it far too seriously. They always put together some sort of team uniform/costume – usually with little regard for the school dress code. Some of the teams practice. All of them move insanely fast, as if dodging bullets instead of balls… Matrix-style, of course.

Teachers, sadly, are not the most athletic of people, and, despite the numerous humiliations they suffer daily on their jobs, none are too enthusiastic about putting themselves into a situation where lots of people would see them get hit with balls. However, with them knowing that this is my last year at IRHS, I was able to put a team together.

The team consisted of me, the tall, young, athletic History teacher who coaches soccer and runs in his free time, the doesn’t-know-how-old-he-is trash-talking Calc. teacher, the super-hero-obsessed and admittedly-unathletic Bio. teacher who played as a favor to me in spite of getting the flu just days before the tournament, the youth leader and thin, but uncoordinated English teacher who had no business being out there (I wouldn’t have asked had I known how embarrassing her throw really is), and the 4-ft tall Spanish teacher who didn’t even show up.

So… our first match was against a team called Swoll (or possibly Swole – it means uber buff) Team 6. They were all football players with arms the size of my thighs. In between matches, they did push-ups because they promised their coach they wouldn’t let the tournament put them behind in training… even though football doesn’t start again until like August or September. They played in red, white, blue, and various military-style gear, such as ammo vests, boots, etc…

And they wrecked us in the first game. However, the matches went to the best of two out of three, so we had another shot.

It went down to me and the History teacher against two teenagers pretty quick. I managed to get one of the enormous teens out with a well-timed throw, but the History teacher went down at exactly the same time, so…

there I was, standing opposite an enormous, roided-out teenage boy, who was trying to hit me with a ball…

After all of the balls ended up on my side of the court, I gathered them together, got one in each hand, and went for it. I honestly didn’t even get close to him with three consecutive throws. I back-pedaled, thinking I was ready for anything, and he launched one at me that I did not dodge Matrix-style… I stood there, bewildered, as it hit me directly in the chest without me even making one movement.

And yet, that tournament made my dreams come true.

After running a marathon in a few weeks, I intend to get a team together for the Tucson Dodge Ball League. Who’s with me?!

The Protection of the Cross

While reading John Stott’s The Cross of Christ, I came across something that subtly knocked me on my ass.

Thus from Christian birth to Christian death, as we might put it, the church seeks to identify and protect us with a cross.

This statement was interesting to me, because the cross should probably a symbol of protection to us. After all, it is the spot where Christ took the punishment we deserved. And yet, when I think of the iconic symbol of that substitutionary atonement, I’m ashamed to admit that I see a target rather than a shield.

Striking Out, Looking

I’ve recently several sin-able opportunities that I have not taken. And the not sinning feels like the first novel I ever attempted to write. Its title was Striking Out Looking.

In softball and baseball, striking out looking is the equivalent of an unpardonable sin. You don’t do it. You go down swinging… that’s forgivable. Even going down swinging at a terrible pitch is forgivable. However, right before I gave up softball, I was thinking about how wise it is in life to be willing to occasionally watch strike three go by. Recently, I was given some advice that mirrors that idea of just letting a pitch go by, and it reminded me of that tension between what feels right, and what actually is right.

My novel was about teenage love, so, of course it was cliché and overdone, so don’t judge me my over-romatic premise here. High school sweethearts are heading off to college, and boy has bought the ring. He loves her and doesn’t want to lose her… and yet, right on the edge of the proposal, he realizes that if he really loves her, he has to let her go. So… he let’s the pitch go by and she moves away, ending their romance forever.

Tragic. Dramatic.

I know.

But I liked examining that feeling of intentionally not going after something, because it’s not always right to knock that pitch out of the park.

Just now, I had one such moment.

There’s a man who I want, and maybe God talked me into quitting my job to get away from him, and I’m trying to move on because he’s not a Christian, and therefore strictly off-limits.

Just now, though, there was this thing I was reading, that would have been the greatest quote I could ever send him. It would be so clever. It alludes to some inside jokes we have going. It’s basically the most brilliant thing I’ve ever come across.

Also, I sooooo love texting people quotes. I love quotes.

But. I. Can’t. Text. This. One.

I can’t.

It’s a terrible pitch for me to go after. I’d knock it out of the park, for sure.

But I had to let it go, which should make me feel incredibly proud, probably, because I don’t think most people would let this one go. But I don’t feel proud much at all. I’m just sad, because it’s been a really long time since I’ve gotten to take a legit swing at a pitch.

The Resignation

*I’m not sure what the rules are about the resignation letter, but let’s hope it’s okay for me to share it here.

Dear (My Principal),

In order to pursue other opportunities, I am resigning my position at Ironwood Ridge High School, effective for the 2015-2016 school year. While I’m not currently set on an y one specific opportunity for the future, I am confident that the seven years I spent in education, and specifically at Ironwood Ridge High School, have prepared me in more ways than can be measured for whatever positions I assume down the road.

I want to thank you, and the entire IRHS staff, for teaching me how to teach, as well as how to learn. I believe my colleagues at IRHS have shaped me into a more caring, more decent human being, and for that I’m forever grateful. In particular, I hope you’ll convey my sincere appreciate to the entire English Department, and especially Susan WIlliams, as a department chair who was there for me in more ways than she was required to be. Additionally, Terri Amonson and Eileen Jonaitis are two individuals who helped me believe in myself and the often-invisible impact I had on students’ lives. There are many more staff members at IRHS who have changed my life for the better, helping me laugh, preparing me for world travels, tolerating my observations in their classrooms, and introducing me to good books – both literary and not. The sheer number of individuals I’m tempted to list here is a testament to this site. IRHS was truly an excellent place to work.

On that not I hope you’ll accept my resignation, and fill my position with someone who can add to this community in a unique and selfless way. There are many things I’m tempted to write in this letter- many explanations I’m tempted to give, but I believe the situation speaks for itself. I am a young, passionate professional who believe in public education as an ethical mandate. I love students and I love stories. Thus, I can think of no better career than playing the match-maker between students and stories. However, I feel I must leave behind something I love and truly don’t want to leave behind. Perhaps I’ll be back in the future, destiny and district permitting, but, for now, I believe it’s appropriate to see what else is out there.

Please let me know if there’s anything I can do to help with the transition – especially in regards to the Language Acquisition program. In intend to make myself available through the summer for the person taking over with the English Language Learners.

Sincerely and with gratitude,

Kathryn (Katie) James

The Mystery of Conversion

Pretty soon, Steve, Lori, and I will be starting up a Bible study on Friday nights. We will be reading John Stott’s The Cross of Christ, which I am finding challenging thus far. I’ve read Stott’s Basic Christianity, but none of his other books, because it’s far easier to commit to the short, but deep, than the 300+ pages of some of this other works (The Cross of Christ included).

In reading the introduction, I came across a description Stott gave of his conversion that I want to share… well, it was actually Alister McGrath quoting John Stott in the introduction he wrote to Stott’s book… it’s all very confusing:

That night at my bedside, I made the experiment of faith, and ‘opened the door’ to Christ. I saw no flash of lightning… in fact, I had no emotional experience at all. I just crept into bed and went to sleep. For weeks afterwards, even months, I was unsure what had happened to me. But, gradually I grew, as the diary I was writing at the time makes clear, into a clearer understanding and a firmer assurance of the salvation and lordship of Jesus Christ.

I think the reason this quote struck me was because we so often try to wrap up the moment of conversion into a quick sound-bite. We try to paint it in a nice little picture that’s not confusing or muddled. But, in my experience, conversion is almost always confusing an muddled, as it gets all blurred against sanctification.

With me, for instance, I committed my life to obedience of God something like 13 years ago. However, I don’t think I truly understood grace or Christ crucified until something like 7 years ago. Both are necessary for conversion, and I’m not sure I feel confident saying that I wasn’t a Christian when I was only obeying God… because that’s a huge step that God spends our whole lives kneading into us. And yet, I’m also not confident saying that I knew the weight of the Christian label.

Perhaps it’s more mysterious than we ever want it to be.

Happy Saturday!

The End of My Self

*Yes, I’m aware that the word is myself… by I really mean it to be more like my self… with self as the noun, and my as possessive. You also have a self… that’s what I’m writing about today.

I remember sitting with the Johnsons, and one or both of them pointed out that I don’t do a very good job of needing, and, perhaps that’s one of the reasons I gravitate toward singleness. They tried to explain the difference between needing someone to live… and just needing someone. Just because the heart keeps beating once someone is gone and that person lives on… that doesn’t mean the need for that lost person has lessened. I get that… and I think I got it in a very intellectual capacity then. However, I also had an intellectual understanding of my misunderstanding of “need.”

I tucked that thought away and brought it out every so often, never quite feeling that “need” for someone, but always knowing that I was missing something.

I’ve had plenty of opportunities to date. I don’t regret any of the relationships that never happened, because none of those guys were right for me and I wasn’t ready anyways… and, while I used to have the luxury of believing myself to be unattractive and unlovable, God has worked on me and shown me that I no longer have to try at femininity… I’ve actually changed enough that most people don’t even see the softball in me anymore. They think I’m just a nice, sweet girl, and when I try to put together a dodge ball team at work, they say things like, “I’ll only play if you get some athletic people on the team.” I mean, what am I… a delicate flower or something? ;-) I don’t even feel upset that they can’t see division 1 scholarship offers for how well I throw a ball.

But, if we’re real about things, I have to admit that there have been two major obstacles between me and men:

1. I didn’t understand needing a man.

2. I was, and am, terrified of needing a man.

Softball Katie, you see, had never come to the end of herself, really. She could always run one more mile, read one more book, find one more solution to a problem, buy a house or a car for herself, etc… She was just doing her thing and enjoying it.

That changed about 3 years ago, when I started reaching the end of myself/my self.

I can’t say that I needed someone to provide me with food, $, or even emotional support. I was fine. And, in being real about it, I’ve never understood the question: “Are you okay?” because everything is always fine, and I’m always okay. At mile 16, when my calves are cramping and I’m literally struggling to walk, I’m okay. When I’m sobbing alone, I’m okay. I’m not saying I’m splendid, but I have always had a knowledge that it’s going to be what it’s going to be, and the best way to make it through things is to know, with all confidence, that it’s okay.

However, coming to the end of myself felt an awful lot like needing someone.

And it felt like not being okay… even though I knew I was okay.

It was a deep longing… for someone to take care of _________ every now and then. Maybe food, or $, or emotional support… not because I couldn’t provide those things for myself, but more because the pains were heavy… and I just wanted to not be dealing with them independently. I wanted and needed someone to do something that I always do for myself… maybe something as simple as driving when I didn’t want to drive, or microwaving dinner, or putting a hand on my shoulder while I was crying. And I can’t even say that it’s a loneliness, although it is sort of that… it’s honestly that sense of needing that I didn’t understand while the Johnsons were explaining it to me.

During lunch at work a few days ago, everyone was talking about ordering a pizza on our early release day next week, and they asked me if I wanted in. I joked about having a fear of commitment, but I thanked them for asking… and Lawrence laughed and said, “You do have a fear of commitment.”

Everyone looked at me oddly, because it was one of those rare glimpses you get into a person you’ve known for a long time without actually knowing. And I never talk about dating with them. I never talk about anything personal with them, so I think they think I don’t date… or maybe they think I sleep around, but keep it quiet. Lawrence obviously knows me slightly better and thinks my singleness is my fault… this isn’t the first time he’s spoken of my singleness with blame and almost disdain in his voice… like I’m not like everyone else, which means there’s something wrong with me.

But I’ve been trying to learn a lesson in regards to sameness. As we try to push all of our students to be college and career ready, by making them all like one another, I’m frustrated with this factory mentality of quality control, as if people are like Starbucks drinks, and should all come out tasting exactly the same regardless of where and when and how we encounter them. I love buying Starbucks in other countries, but the reason for that is because everything else is and should be different…

In Peru, the kids were so different from American kids. They had a visible and wondrous knowledge that they weren’t the center of anything. The landscapes were different. The air was different… which is why I love traveling. I love that feeling I get when I exit an airport in Mongolia, and see people who look different, speaking a different language. People who eat a lot of goats, and drink fermented horse milk. People who use different bathrooms and love ping pong the way Americans love television.

In the midst of all the differences, Starbucks, however, is exactly the same, which is cool, but only because it’s the only thing that’s the same.

In the states, we decided long ago that different was inherently unequal… and that inequality was evil.

But I think God treats us with inequality… and I think it’s okay.

I could sit around envying all of my friends who found love when they were 20. I could be angry with God for giving them something He didn’t give me… even when they made more obvious and frequent mistakes than I made or when they were immature in this way or that…

But, no matter how many judgment-filled comments my friends have for my choices about love or friendship or whatever… I wasn’t ready. I just wasn’t. And maybe I still am not ready. I’m not ready to run 26.2 miles, but that doesn’t mean I never will be ready or that I’m not working towards it. I have exactly one friend who is working towards 26.2 at the same time I am. And she’s already run it before. Twice. And she may drop out any day. Which is all okay, because she isn’t me, and shouldn’t live her life exactly as I live mine. I’d love to have her there for the run, but I won’t judge her if she does something different.

I’ve been reading a book called THE COOL IMPOSSIBLE, which is about running, and it reaffirms my belief that it’s so important for each person to run her own race, because each of us is inherently different.

“The hardest thing for a person to do is to run as he or she normally does when she knows there’s someone watching,” (Orton 22).

A girl must run at her own pace. She must overcome the obstacles on her path… which may be very different from the obstacles on another person’s path. She must wear the shoes that work best for her. She must listen to music, or sermons, or nothing… depending on what that day and that moment call for. And, while it’s nice to run races with others, it isn’t an insult when we hit a fork in the road and go off in different directions. A great runner can balk a run that should be “easy” and a novice can inexplicably own a really difficult run. Because inequality is built into our experience here on Earth.

It took me a long time to reach the end of myself… probably mostly because I didn’t want to believe there was an end to my self. Unfortunately, that meant that it took me a long time to see the value in having someone next to me… to help me keep going past the end of myself. It took me a long time to see the value in risking heartache. And none of that means that I’m going to find the guy tomorrow, but maybe it means that I’ll be a little slower to throw relationships away before they even get going. Maybe it means I finally want marriage… when I’ve never really wanted it before.