Tag Archive for growth

It’s a Matter of Perspective

When Shane and I first moved back to Texas from Kentucky, we lived in Gatesville, a small town about 45 minutes west of Waco. Shane was the preacher at a church there. I became good friends with Amy, a girl who lived with her husband about 5 miles outside of the town. When we talked at church or on the phone about what we would be doing the next day, she often told me, “I have to make a trip to town tomorrow.” The first time she used this phrase, I thought she meant that she would be driving to Waco. That’s what I meant when I said I was driving to town. Cool! Let’s go together. To me, driving into town meant a long drive to the “big city.”

Living in the Country

Image courtesy of freefoto.com

But I soon learned that she did not mean that at all. Instead, when she said she would be driving into town, she meant that she would be driving the five miles into our town, not to Waco. She lived in the country and “town” for her was Gatesville. I lived inside the city limits (and also came from the big city), so, to me, “town” was the bigger city of Waco.

It was a matter of perspective.

Last week I posted 12 reasons I like living in the country. A lot of people read that post, and, since then, at least five people have told me, “You know you don’t really live in the country.”* They have pointed out to me that since I have city water and city sewage, I do not live in the country. They also used as evidence the fact that I do not have well water. No, I do not live in the country, they say; I live in a “rural community,” “a small town.” One friend at my church even commented that she must have me out to their house so that I can see what living in the country truly means.

In some sense, I agree with them. Yes, I do live in a city. It is rural and small, but it’s still a city. We have about 7,000 people living here. I do not have to “drive into town” for groceries. I have neighbors. I have a city address. I live on a paved street. I do not have a well. I do not have a stock tank. I do not have cows or horses or pigs. I have internet access and it is fast. I have good cell service. We have 4G.

No, I do not live in the country in the same sense my great-grandmother Meme did while she was alive. She lived in a single-wide trailer with nothing else around her for miles. No grocery stores, gas stations, or schools. Not even a Wal-Mart. She used well water. She had cats running all over the place. She had a big tank in her yard that we liked to climb all over. Skunks lived under her trailer and made a major mess of things. She lived in the country.

Shane’s grandmother also lives in the country. I love going out there to the ranch. She lives in the country in a way that I do not.

But, in another sense, I do live in the country. Although it may not be the country in the technical sense of the word or in the same way my great-grandmother did, I still live in the country in comparison to my experiences of city life.

As I mentioned before on this blog, I grew up in Houston. For those of you who live in or have lived in big cities, this doesn’t need much explanation. For those of you who were part of my life in Houston and knew what life was like for yourself and for me, you know what a statement like this means. Images of city life immediately take hold, and you can imagine what big city life is like.

But for others who have not lived in a city or a bigger city, saying that may not mean very much.

When I graduated high school and first moved to Abilene for college, I thought I had moved to the middle of nowhere. Abilene was considered a “small town” to those of us who came from bigger cities. It was. About 150,000 people. Fast forward several years later to Gatesville: 10,000 people.

My definition of “small town” soon shifted. Gatesville was a small town; Waco was the “big city.”

How we regard life is a matter of perspective. Where we’ve come from. Where we’ve been.

Our perspective shapes what we see. Our perspective limits what we see.

Only when we interact with others who come from different places than we do, who have different experiences, who believe different things, can we truly understand how limited, situated, and incomplete our perspective is.

Only when we get to know others can we truly grow in our own perspectives.

*My husband was one of the people who told me that I am wrong, that, no, we do not live in the country. I think this is interesting because, like me, he lived in big cities for most of his life. I think it’s even more interesting because he has  referred to where we live as the wilderness.

Teaching Writing in a Digital Age

This semester I designed and taught a new course, “Writing in a Digital Age.” This course will soon become required for all Professional Writing majors, and I am thankful to have been the first to teach it.It tops the list as one of my all-time favorites.

The students were engaged, dedicated, and flexible.
The material was stimulating, new, and exciting.
The topic was relevant, interesting, and practical.
The clients were involved, attentive, and grateful. 

I learned. The students learned. The clients learned. And we all did so with attitudes of openness to the process, which is important when you’re teaching with and using technology.

My students presented their final projects yesterday. They showed us the website they had created for a local small business, and they reflected on the process of writing for the web, working with a client, and transitioning the website and social media pages over to the client. I was fascinated by what they did in six weeks. I am amazed at my students.

A few of the clients were able to come as well. I really enjoyed hearing their perspective about how digital writing matters in small business. A few mentioned that they did not know how much an online presence would matter for their business, but that, in just a few weeks, they can already see how useful it will be for their business. Awesome.

Here are some of the websites my students created:

In the future, I plan to expand this Digital Marketing project to the entire semester. I think students and the client will benefit from doing so, and I can envision many ways to expand the assignment.

Thanks for a great semester, #DW4375!

Up In the Clouds or Down on the Ground: When Marriage Is Difficult

A few weeks ago I was on the couch reading a book. My husband was sitting on the other couch reading a book. We had been there a while when I glanced over at my husband. The title of the book caught my eye. Here is what I saw.

What If I Married the Wrong Person?

(Of course, I didn’t take a picture of him actually reading the book, so this picture will have to suffice.)

Before I had a chance to process the title of the book, he caught my eye and smiled. Then he began giggling.

I asked, “WHAT are you reading?”

Apparently, one of his mentors was clearing out some of his books and my husband–hilarious as always–couldn’t resist taking this one. He and a friend even brainstormed all the ways I should “discover” this book, even anticipating how I would react when I saw it.

Knowing the two of them, I laughed. It was a joke. He got the book as a joke. He doesn’t think that about me (whew!).

For several weeks since, I have been wondering about this book.  It’s been sitting on the counter for a while. Lingering. Waiting for one of us to read it. We still haven’t, and I don’t know if we will. But, I finally put it on the bookshelf next to C.S. Lewis, our Bibles, and some library books (for now). Guests perusing our bookshelf will see this…

What If I Married the Wrong Person? Bookshelf

I wonder what they will think when they notice the title.

I haven’t read the book, nor do I think I will, but I do think the book poses an interesting question,

“What if I married the wrong person?”

The week before I got married, I was riding in the car with a female mentor of mine. She had been married for almost 30 years at the time. She told me, “Kara, one day, you may regret your decision to marry Shane. You may come to a point where you do not love your husband. You may want a divorce. You may become resentful, or angry, or discontent. And I want to tell you that it’s okay. At various points throughout my marriage, I felt this way, too.”

As a person a few days shy of getting married, this conversation, frankly, shocked and surprised me (yes, I was naive). I couldn’t believe that this woman I admired and sought to emulate had felt this way about her husband. She always seemed so happy in her marriage. She respected, admired, and publicly demonstrated her love and devotion to her husband.

But she had gone through low times, too. She wanted me to know that if (or when) I felt this way to remember that I was not alone. Others had been there.

My friend proceeded to reveal to me what she did during these times.

She prayed.

She prayed for her husband.
She prayed for herself.
She prayed that God would help her focus on the things she first loved about her husband.
She prayed that God would help her fall back in love with her husband.
She prayed that God would keep her committed to her husband, even when her heart did not feel it.

I cannot count how many times I have come back to this conversation throughout my soon-to-be 10 years of marriage.

I have remembered her words. 

When I was hurt by my husband.
When my expectations were not met.
When I was disappointed.
When I wanted to be alone.
When I was depressed and lonely and sad.
When I disliked something about my husband.

I remembered: Perhaps my immediate situation will not change, but, through prayer, the way I feel about it can change. I can’t control what my spouse does; I can control my reaction. I can control my feelings about him. I can still choose to love him.

My friend may never know how much her words impacted me. And as I was soon to learn, marriage is not easy. But, my friend’s willingness to share something so personal, so real, has been a source of encouragement to me again and again. You see, her words taught me, first, to take my struggles to God. And, second, to look at myself…the only person in the marriage I can control.

Note: I don’t mean to trivialize marriage or the real difficulty of making marriage work. Marriage is hard. It, literally, takes two people to work. I know many people who have tried for years to work on their marriage, only to be met with abuse, affairs, or an unwilling, unbending spouse. I only point out here that being honest and real about marriage–rather than idealistic–can make a difference in the lives of young people about to embark on the journey.

Anxiety Abatement: 12 Ways to Simplify Your Home

Today is the first post in my 12 series.

I write today about simplifying your home by clearing out the clutter–physical clutter, such as toys, books, and decor; environmental clutter that increases anxiety; and emotional clutter like distraction.

I have my own issues with clutter. Last fall, I stayed home with my new baby. I work outside of the home, but my wonderful university gave me a semester-long maternity leave when I had my baby at the beginning of the term. During this time at home–almost every single day–I came to realize that I did not like being at home. I was shocked by this revelation. I really thought I would like staying at home.

I have a nice home. And I like my stuff. But I disliked being at home because of the constant mess. I didn’t like looking at the junk, and I mostly stayed in one or two rooms so that I didn’t have to see the rest of the house. Too much clutter.

I decided to do something about it.

Today, I present to you 12 ways to simplify your home, to de-clutter your home so that you can find the emotional sanity you need and truly live your life in focus. These items are not ranked in order of most important, but I chose to number them to make it easier to skim the list.

1. Consign, sell, or donate at least 2/3s of your toys. Seriously, do it. Over the past several months, I have been cleaning out the toys. It’s been easy to get rid of the ones my kids have outgrown. If we don’t need it anymore, I’ve gotten rid of it. I also tried to get rid of toys that limit creativity or originality, toys that come in such a pre-form package that they do not allow children to use their imagination. My daughter’s Barbie dolls are the only things that I have yet to throw out in this vein. She has about 10 of them. I told her she can keep 2. She’s deciding which ones and then they are gone.

The hardest part for me has been to dwindle down the toys to a very small stack. But I have tried. I only have one more room to do. The results? It’s been freeing for my children. Their rooms are neater. Cleaning up is not quite as big of a task. They don’t seem so stressed out or overwhelmed when I ask them to clean up. I’ve also noticed that they are playing more. They aren’t coming to me saying their bored. They know where their toys are, and they want to play with them and then pick them up. As I was separating the toys into consignment or donation piles, I also added one more pile–a rotating pile. I put the rotating pile into one storage bin and moved it to our garage. Eventually, I will rotate the toys in the bin out with the toys in their room. My kids are enjoying their clutter-free spaces. And I am enjoying their better attitudes and their renewed interest in the toys they have.

2. Cook the same meals (or types of meals) each week. I like to cook gourmet meals. I like to eat good food. I like to watch cooking shows and discover new recipes. And I must admit, I’m still trying to put this one into practice. We have simplified our weekly menu by instituting Pizza Night, a tradition going strong for several years now. The problem here is that I’m the only one who’s known about this weekly event. I cook and plan the menus and having one weekly meal on my list has made meal-planning and grocery-shopping easier. My kids know that we have pizza a lot (it’s my daughter’s favorite food), but until recently, I didn’t call it Pizza Night. I am learning, however, that children need to experience anticipation, so I plan on communicating meals like “Pizza Night” to my children. Over the summer, I plan to institute “Meatless Monday,” “Pasta Night,” and a “Mystery Dinner.”

If you were to take this tip one step further, you might even designate the exact meal: chicken spaghetti, soup, chicken tenders, breakfast-for-dinner, lasagna, etc., so that the meals are simplified even further. I don’t think this would work for me because of my own interests as a cook, but if it works for you, great. Go for it. The goal here is to simplify meal-planning, cooking, and eating and for all to experience joy at the dinner table.

3. Get rid of all those extra cookbooks on the shelf. Admit it, you probably don’t use half the cookbooks you have on the shelf. I just went and counted my cookbooks. I have at least 50 (and I just got rid of about 30–still working on the others!). I probably only use 8 of them. But the others are special to me, so I’ve kept them. I still have too many, though. My sign should be that they don’t all fit on the bookshelf I have in my kitchen. Still trying…

4. Play a game. Indoor or outdoor. As a family. With your child. By yourself. Play a pick-up game of basketball. Play Horse or Knock-Out (I recently played this with my 7-year-old nephew and my brother-in-law Derek, and it brought back so many memories of playing these games in middle school and high school. I loved it!). Play a baseball game where the trees in your backyard are your bases. Play board games like Candy Land, Chess, Monopoly, or Checkers. Play Double 9 dominoes, Uno, Spades, or Memory. Anything your kid likes. Or, make up your own game, complete with materials and rules.

5. Try to filter out the adult world from your children. Try this for one week: No fights with your spouse. No negative comments about other adults (friends, teachers, church people, the president, politicians, relatives, in-laws). No inappropriate content coming to your children through the TV (especially the morning and evening news or certain video games that can desensitize us to violence). Instead, be present with your children. Talk to them at the dinner table or when they come inside from the backyard. Listen to them. Learn about their world, their interests. And let me know how it goes.

6. Donate all those books on your bookshelf to your library. My husband and I both went to graduate school, where we were required to buy hundreds of books for our courses and our research. Most of those are at our respective offices, but many have entered our home. If you don’t use it or think you will use it, get rid of it.

But graduate school books are the least of our worries when it comes to books in the home. Novels, Christian books, self-help books, biographies, and children’s books are of much greater concern. I must admit that I am cheap when it comes to books. I don’t like to spend money on books. I go to the library at least once a week. Any book my local library doesn’t have I can get through my university’s interlibrary loan service (which is awesome). That being said, I still have a lot of books. People give books to me because I am an English teacher, and, hey, I like books. But I don’t like books to clutter my shelves. I used to think having books in your home was a sign of intelligence and brilliance and being smart. Just think of all those movies where smart, rich people have these amazing libraries with the movable ladder. But now I don’t really care to live up to that standard. Books and bookshelves lead to clutter. So, get rid of your books. Getting rid of the children’s books has been the hardest part for me. I put some of them in the rotating pile and got rid of at least three shelves’ worth. I now have three shelves of books–one shelf for each kid. That’s still a lot, I know. But we do read a lot and we read a lot of the same books, so I’ve kept a few.

7. Consign or donate your unworn clothes. Seriously, do it. It is liberating. Go through your clothes, your spouse’s clothes, your kids clothes. Consign clothes that don’t fit or that are out of style. If you have gained or lost a lot of weight recently, get rid of the clothes in the different size. Even if you lose that weight (or gain it back), those clothes will be out of style. And it will make you feel better when you are getting dressed each day not to be staring at those other sizes.

8. Turn off the TV. At least 2 days a week, no TV allowed. Try it. It’s amazing how much more time you have to do things you love to do–and things that will make you feel so much better about yourself than watching 4 hours of TV every night. Read, write, cook, eat, talk, scrapbook, exercise. Find a passion and turn off that screen.

9. When you feel yourself getting overwhelmed at the mess, take 15 minutes to do a quick pick-up of the house. Toys and mess can be overwhelming for adults, too, and setting a limit on how much time you spend picking up is good for you, too. Get the kids involved. Make it a game. We did this recently and it was the fastest, most fun clean-up we’ve ever had. I set the timer and provided an incremental countdown of how much time we had left. The older kids were so excited. They kept coming back to ask, “How much more time?!!” Fun will be had by all.

10. Read more. Take the time to read that mountain of books on your nightstand. You will have more to contribute to discussions with your husband or your friends. You will learn something. You will feel good about yourself. You will grow as a person.

11. Make it a goal to have 2 entire days or evenings of unstructured time at home. Nothing planned. Nothing scheduled. Except being with your family and letting your kids run free. They can know you are there and come to you when they need you, but don’t plan an activity–even in the home. If your kids get bored, tell them, “Well, then, something amazing is about to happen.” Just be. Your kids will appreciate it in the long run. And you will, too.

12. Pray more, and dwell in the presence of the Lord as often as possible. In the rush of my busy life, I must admit that personal time with God often gets lost first. I used to have quiet time in the morning. But with young children, such a goal is idealistic rather than realistic, and I won’t beat myself up over not being able to have this peaceful time the same way I did as a single woman. Instead, I have learned–through the gentle love of some older, wiser women–how to integrate prayer and God into my day rather than save a single time or space for it. I like this idea. I’m still not very good at it, though. I am trying, though.

This list is far from comprehensive. These changes take time. Change is a process, not a one-time fix. I merely offer some things that have worked for me. They’ve helped make our family closer. They’ve allowed my kids to open up to me in ways they hadn’t before. They’ve decreased my own anxiety and have helped me deal with the feelings I have being in my own home.

What tips do you have to make your home a peaceful place?

Why I Like the End of the Semester

The last week of the semester is upon us at Baylor and at many colleges all over the country. Next week is finals week, and then comes graduation. And, then, the semester is over.

This time of year is one of my favorites. Yes, summer is coming and students and teachers alike will soon get a much needed break. We don’t have to come back until August. But what I like just as much as anticipating the summer hiatus is getting to see what my students have learned. This is the time of the semester when students submit their work, work that highlights what they have learned, accomplished, and achieved through my course. I enjoy looking through student  projects and reflecting on what we have done over the course of 16 weeks and all that we have accomplished together.

What is really exciting for me this semester is that I designed and taught a new course, “Writing in the Digital Age.” This course has exceeded my expectations, and I have really enjoyed the content and the students who enrolled in it. We have had a great semester together. Students created a professional blog and composed weekly blog posts on issues related to digital writing. They marketed themselves and their work through Facebook and Twitter. They researched a topic related to digital writing, such as podcasts in the classroom,e-books, digital marketing, and the SmartPen.

Students also created an audio or video Public Service Announcement. Alison created a video PSA on Lupus, and Ariadne composed a provocative PSA on body image.Other PSAs examined childhood literacy, hunger, and binge drinking.

The last project of the semester, which we are currently working on, asked students to locate a local small business and work with them to develop an  online presence–to market themselves digitally to their audience. Students built a Web site for their client and then created or updated their client’s Facebook and Twitter pages. Next week, we will have a celebration party where we will view the final web sites and celebrate with the clients. I have really enjoyed this project and plan to expand it as a semester-long project next time.

The end of the semester is exciting for students and teachers. Education, in all its embodiments, becomes evident.