It is, after all, National Library Week; although I have thought of this message long before I realized that.
I am not sure of my favorite book. I have many. But Gatsby is right up there. I love so many things about the people I meet there. Fitzgerald creates a world of greed and wordliness which God warns us of. While Tom who lives a life of no meaning. Gatsby continues to search for meaning and love and a place in the world. That book reminds me of God’s promise to us of an abundant life with Him and and through Him and the futility and desolation of life without him. I believe the thing I like best about the book is Nick and Gatsy’s friendship. I love in the movie when Sam Waterson says goodby to Gatsby (movie clip.) God has given us one another to love and to care for. He gave me Bunny and Kim and Janet and Laura and Robbie and Dennis and Gary and Aaron and Zach and all of you….In this life. Now. We only get to do this once.
For me Salinger touches the need for prayer and the boundless joy in all of us. In …he describes a victorious tennis player this way. And in Franny and Zooey the effort we make to do our best.
My husband told me I would miss being an English teacher. In some ways I do. But in lots of ways I have more friends. All the students of 42 years. What would I do without Seth, Audrey, Laura, Stephen, Nate, etc.? And I couldn’t manage without you, the faculty and staff (Jennifer Hudson) And I get the chance to browse daily, to walk by Emily, C.S., David, John, Walt, etc.
I almost forgot my inspiration, Carolyn Keene, who wrote the Nancy Drew mysteries. I had such a good example of can-do and independence from her as a girl. Gotta love a sixteen year old with her own roadster, a housekeeper, a lawyer father, an absent boyfriend, and plenty of mysteries to solve. But the Bible has taught me and continues to teach me of the strength, dignity and beauty and patience of a woman of God. (Think Ty Heckelman). I am working on it. I want to be that woman who has boundless energy for God’s work. Who can relax in the simple things of life. Who can work with her hands. Who knows how to love. (passage from Timothy.)
OK, so what’s your testimony? I have always been a little jealous of those with a powerful conversion story—a dramatic moment when they went from a near death experience. I have come to realize that my testimony is a series of little life experiences where God has prepared me to be a witness. Now if only I can live up to the challenge. I will frame this testimony around the idea of explaining things I have learned about God and about myself: I know that God prepares us and he has been preparing me for all these sixty-three years. There once was a centipede who was supposed to be in the football game between the animals and the insects. In the first half the animals were winning by a mile. At half time, the insects come in to the locker room, and got the centipede to join them for the second half. He was all over the place, catching passes, throwing the ball, and instrumental in turning the game around. Afterwards, when everyone asked him where he had been the first half, the centipede responded that he had been getting ready, tying his shoes. Of course he needed to prepare and his team really needed him. My dad was my Sunday school teacher. He spent a lot of time talking and listening to me. I learned about God in those days and how important our fathers and teachers are in our lives. Raised in a Lutheran tradition, I learned Bible stories, went through confirmation, spent summers at church music camp with friends. I learned how wonderful it is to be part of a Christian community, how important music is to me in worship and how much I love to read God’s word. I went to Colorado College to become an English teacher. There I met my husband, whistling along the road by my dorm on his way to church. He encouraged me to work at summer camp with him in Nederland where I fell in love with him, the Rocky Mountains, and working with kids. When I told him I wanted to date others, too, he broke up with me, telling me to read “Love is patient and kind…” In fact, he was patient and kind, through all my adventures with other boys, my first job and apartment, and we got married six years later. My first job was with Denver Public schools. I learned that I am so lucky to have become teacher, for I never wondered if I can make a difference. Every day I have been given that opportunity, especially in teaching English which abounds in opportunities to discuss values and the meanings of life. Smiley Junior High, a black inner city school in Denver and Rishel Junior High, a Chicano school in south Denver taught me valuable lessons about Christ’s love, how to be a minority, and how love not violence works. I learned that children are children, all of us standing in the need of prayer. After we had been married seven years, my husband had two severe operations. So shocked by the gravity of the situation, I wondered where God’s love was. I prayed in despair. It wasn’t long before I realized that God’s love was all around me, in the service and action of others. So many loving people reached out to us. About five year later, we had two daughters. More than anything, we wanted them to know God and to see Him. We took them to church, sang in the choir, went on mission trips, and loved them. At this time one daughter is in seminary and the other an opera singer. Both know God and worship Him. Meanwhile, I wanted to move from teaching English to becoming a school librarian. I wanted to serve the teachers as well as the students. So I started back to graduate school while teaching in a Christian school in Phoenix. About this time, our house burned down. My husband and children would tell you that it’s one of the best things that ever happened to us. We learned again that we don’t need anything but our faith and one another. A short time later, we moved to Denver so I could take job at Cherry Creek High School. We missed Colorado and I was excited for the challenge. One daughter was already away at school and the other would be leaving for college soon. I realized then, in the absence of our two daughters, how lucky I am to be with teenagers at school… It is such a unique, wonderful time of life. They provide so much fun for us. At Cherry Creek, I was fortunate to work with a lovely Christian woman, another librarian, who joined an organization called Room to Read. With her help, we were able to raise funds to build a library in a school in a third world country. As we worked on that project, I came to realize that my purposes weren’t the same as the school’s, and I became discouraged. A mentor of mine told me about Valor, that a librarian had already been hired. About a month later when I learned that she had resigned at the last minute, I knew the Holy Spirit was telling me that to start Valor’s library would give me a new way to work. As I purchased what we needed for our library, I made our collection policy reflect God’s purpose: “…whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things” (Phil. 4:8).As librarian I desire to help students to question the world and to become convicted in the truth. This fall, I took some baby steps--went gleaning, and to World Vision—in order to work alongside our students as they serve. Now it’s time to stop preparing and be a witness in a new way in India.
I was reading the poem "Summer Day" by Mary Oliver and was struck by the last part:
I don't know exactly what a prayer is. I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass, how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields, which is what I have been doing all day. Tell me, what else should I have done? Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon? Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?
The answer for a Christian is to love God and to love one another. This means to humble yourself. We are all made in the image of God. We need to listen to one another, to learn from one another, to honor one another. If you do loving things for someone, you will begin to love and your relationship will improve. I have found this to be true in every situation--an unloveable student, a difficult coworker, even my husband at times. This means you will put her feelings and opinions and successes above your own. You will seek to learn from another's experiences.
You don't want to be silent or proud when you love someone. You want to be the cheerleader and the peacemaker.
After attending a conference on libraries and technology, I discovered a new way to explain our high school library to our users. We recently moved the shelves back into a wing of the area, opening up space for tables and students. One of my favorite faculty members came into the new configuration and said he felt the loss of the books. (They are there...just not in the middle of the room.) They aren't gone, just moved aside to create a work space for kids who want to use books and computers to create!
The conference speaker, Dr. David Loertscher, who is a great thinker in libraries, reminded us that the client is more important than the organization--the Google model. We can provide students the tools for them to build. He suggested that our library be a learning commons which provides physical and virtual tools for the community: http://www.davidvl.org/Davidvl.org/Home.html
First of all, I like the way he looks at the library website as a conversation for collaboration. The library web page can offer a place for learning projects, virtual book clubs, discussion, assignment conversations, and even a virtual year book for student work. He suggests beginning with personal space on an igoogle page, surrounded by a group space for working collaboratively on a project, and finally outer space which connects to the world. This model changes the dynamic of some assignments as both teacher and student are involved in a dynamic assignment using an RSS feed to update the conversation. He delineated the difference between a school using administrative computing, locked down for attendance, etc., as well as a more open structure for instructional computing. Through this new model of collaborative tools, we will teach responsibility and safety, building access much the same way as the "dimmer switch" on a light bulb, allowing more light (and access) as a student can handle it.
Whether teachers will grab the concept of 2.0 tools for the classroom wholeheartedly or not, we as librarians can set the tone for our library, showing all how the space can be used. By using the library as an experimental learning center, we can schedule and arrange the space to adapt to the needs of the students. We really don't want a library that is a storage place for books or a place where students sit and do nothing. We desire a productive space where books and computers don't get in the way of students thinking and creating.
In the new space students will work individually, in small groups, and in large groups. Specialists can "office" in the library to combine their efforts resulting in more creativity and productivity than a teacher or a librarian could have done without the other. The library can be the experimental learning center that belongs to nobody and everybody at the same time. It can be a safe zone for risk taking. New teachers can be nurtured there and action research can take place.
How does our library measure up to these standards of an open common work space? Does our library reflect
1. a sense of ownership by administrators, teachers, students
2. a place to collaborate, innovate...
4. active versus passive learning
5. specialists pushing together
Most important in the ideas that confronted me at the conference was the use of technology. Of course technology has increased efficiencies. (We do remember the typewriter, etc.) But what has technology done to make deep understanding possible in our knowledge in chemistry? in literature? Do we confront major ideas on contemporary issues? Do we create possibilities for creativity? Certainly the computer has given students a chance for unlimited products and distribution as never before, but are we asking them to create something new and make new connections with what they are learning?
As we look at and use our library differently, the stakes are high. We can change the library from a place for checking out books to a learning center which allows teachers and students to be creative. The library is a phoenix which will arise in this new concept.
I probably should have taken a picture of the garden yesterday before weeding, although it doesn't look all that different after one day of frantic cutting and pulling. Doing a good job of weeding takes a long time. Even big plants need room to grow and sunlight to thrive. Weeding around them brings them out, defining them to the observer. I find that if I do a little weeding regularly that I can see where I've been and remember the progress. It's pretty overwhelming. This summer I will read again All the Little Live Things by Wallace Stegner if I can find it. Every time I go to the garden I am reminded of that book. The binder weed gets me started thinking, a little vine that wraps itself around other plants grows near bigger weeds throughout the garden. As it matures, pretty pink flowers reveal that it is taking over, almost impossible to remove because of its intertwining. And that gets me thinking about a million things in life, especially how insidious vines can wrap around us until it's hard to remove them. Bad habits are like that, things that find a place to grow underneath and around.
Last night as I was sitting in my car, someone in a vintage red Corvette drove up. I had forgotten how uniquely shaped they are, long in front with a big trunk area, very sleek in a way. I waited to see the driver, certainly someone who appreciates a cool car, the speed, and an image of himself as the driver of such a vehicle. He was about what I expected--jeans, a tshirt with some sort of dragon insignia. But he wasn't a young man. Definitely middle-aged. He unfolded himself from the car to reveal a short, salt and pepper haired man with his jeans hiked up around his stomach held up with a belt. A pair of white Nikes completes the picture. As he came around the car to fill up the gas tank, I wondered if he had always driven that car, or if he is finally an age where he can afford it. Did he admire someone who drove a Corvette, or does he just like the way it makes him feel? Red and fast and sleek.
My mind wandered to a time after our house had burned down in Arizona. My daughter went shopping for a pair of boots. She chose a pair of flowered Doc Martens, certainly not a necessity--we lived in Arizona--very expensive and outlandish in a way. They made a statement of some sort to a teenager, I think, and so little to ask for a girl who had just lost everything in a fire. I expressed my disapproval with a little fussing and frowning before giving in. What was I thinking?
And then I flashed back to my husband's and my first car purchase. He selected a Gremlin, which at the time was very environmentally forward thinking--small and conservative. He wanted red; I insisted on white. Honestly. How many times will he get to pick a car in his life?
I am really hoping that this spring is really warm and that man will have many days in the sunshine driving in his red Corvette. Moreover, I am hoping to hold back my conservative, annoying opinions from those who are having a little fun with the little things. Balance is what I desire and seeking after what is important. After sixty years I'm thinking that it's important to have a little reckless abandon--buy the plastic bags with the pictures on them, wear flowered boots, drive a convertible, go to Europe. Most of all, relax with the people I love, enough to share their foolish fun. Absolutely no frowning.