Advent 2016

If there was ever a year I needed to observe Advent, this is it. Since I’m new to Advent, and it’s not something observed at my church, I forget that it starts right after Thanksgiving. So it’s 9:43 p.m. on the first day of Advent and I still have so much to do before heading to bed and starting a long week.

But I wanted to share what I’ll be doing for Advent this year. If you’re new to my blog, two years ago, I drew from Rachel Held Evans’ Advent study and Handel’s Messiah. Last year, I purchased a book inspired by Dietrich Bonhoeffer for Advent.

This year, I’m following this website’s Advent readings. They have an app as well, which is really great.

I hope you find a way to celebrate Advent–since I started purposefully observing Advent, I’ve found much more peace and happiness in what is always an incredibly hectic and stressful time of year.

Of Good Report or Praiseworthy.

I have a half dozen political blog posts sitting in my drafts folder. Sitting there, unfinished. Some end after a few paragraphs, some end in the middle of words. These past six weeks have stymied my wit and eloquence every time I sit down and try to write what I’m feeling and thinking and know.

Part of the mental block is my job–I’m a teacher and I need to set an example of rational, logical thought. When I taught AP Lang and Comp, I stressed the importance of a balance in rhetoric; I didn’t allow my students to rely on pathos at the expense of logos. Yet lately when I try to write, my fingers bleed pathos from the keys to the screen, often accompanied by tears of rage or sadness.

Modeling positive behaviors aside, I know some students stumble on my blog, and while as a private citizen I have First Amendment protections, I’m aware that even posting on my personal blog from my couch, as a teacher I’m held to a higher standard of public discourse.

As I write this, two of the five presidential candidates are debating. I am not watching. I check Twitter occasionally to see sound bites and memes, commentary from people trying to convince themselves and their followers that the world might keep spinning on November 9. Part of me feels like a failure for not watching; ever since falling 2 classes short of a Poli Sci minor at BYU, I’ve felt a moral obligation to do all I can to be an informed voter. That includes watching debates. But I cannot.

The past 48 hours have filled me with sadness and panic.

Sadness: what do I say to my students? I’ve drummed into them all of 1st quarter how important it is to pay attention to the news–I didn’t think I needed a TV-MA warning on that instruction. What do I say to my newspaper staff, kids I encourage to consult the Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics every time they aren’t sure about running a story? Save for the Washington Post, I’ve been disappointed in true journalism examples for my students to emulate.

Panic: Regardless of who wins, what will happen to the stock markets and economy? Can American politics recover from these toxic 18 months? In three years will public education even still exist? If not, what else can I do? If not, will I be able to home school my nieces?

Watching this debate would exacerbate that sadness and panic, so instead, I’m writing in between texts from friends who are watching the dumpster fire of a debate.

Today at church I taught a Sunday School lesson about remaining steadfast, about keeping positive and continuing to live as the world seems to burn around you. I’m struggling with that concept, whether I can actually live that way and not simultaneously take an ostrich approach to injustice and corruption.

I didn’t watch the second debate of the 2016 Presidential election. I’ll read about it, I’ll be informed from my trusted sources. But for me, to have hope for a brighter world, I need to follow Paul’s advice to the Phillippians:

“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)

I’m certain the debate was none of those things. But actually completing a blog post and hitting publish? Pretty sure that qualifies.




Doing Good.

The sore throat started around 5 p.m., and I’ve been on the couch slurping chicken soup and hot tea while editing a podcast (more on that next week) and checking Twitter. It’s fascinating to me that I’m feeling run-down–it happens around this same time every year, actually–because just today I was feeling like a low-grade panic attack was just bubbling beneath my surface. Now I have a physical manifestation of my stress.

And since I know writing helps, even when it’s bad writing, I’m here trying to purge some of the panic.

I read this article last week, three days before I received the news that a former student died in a car crash.

I can’t go to this young man’s funeral, but I can go to the viewing. I never met his parents and didn’t teach any of his siblings. But I taught and knew many of his friends, and on the off chance one or two of them is there and needs a hug or a smile or a reminder that their friend made an impression on me, that’s reason enough to go. I don’t feel an acute personal loss, much like the writer in this article, but I hope my small gesture brings a small bit of comfort to people in mourning.

This line has been on my mind for the past several days:

“In my humdrum life, the daily battle hasn’t been good versus evil. It’s hardly so epic. Most days, my real battle is doing good versus doing nothing.”

Doing nothing is so much easier, because I assume that no one will notice or care whatever gesture I’m willing to make, whether it’s printing off notes for a student or telling someone she’s wearing a cute outfit or smiling at a stranger. Doing nothing requires no effort, no risk.

But I’m foolish to assume a small gesture of good doesn’t affect those around me. I don’t know, and I might never know, what impact an insignificant (to me) gesture might mean to someone else. Because in the battle between doing good and doing nothing, I want to always do good.

And in this moment, right now, at 8 p.m. on a Tuesday night near the beginning of the school year, that means drinking one last mug of tea and going to bed early. Because if I’m sick, I’m not good for much.



Every now and then, my friend A.J. picks a Christmas song with a four-hand accompaniment for his choir, and he asks me to play two of the hands. I hate to admit, but some years, I triage my part. I make sure the parts where I can be heard clearly are really good, but everything else is hit-or-miss.

This year, I’ve dedicated more time to practicing than ever before, and I’m feeling really good about this year’s song. Tonight I ran up to school at 5:45 to run through the 3-minute song twice. Well worth the trip, as it gave me a chance to see how playing with the singers would mess me up (because they always do) and get a sense of the tempo I need to be practicing at.

I’m grateful for all kinds of music–the kind I play on the piano, the kind I sing, the kind I listen to. I often underestimate the power of music in my life. I need to be more grateful for it more often.

Healthy Hunger.

So Saturday I thought I had food poisoning.

Sunday I thought I was recovering from food poisoning.

Monday I started to feel better so I started eating as if I no longer had food poisoning. But by Monday night the queasiness returned and I spent most of the night convincing myself not to puke again.

Tuesday I woke up nauseous and couldn’t really eat…and then again all day Wednesday (I actually almost puked a couple of times while teaching)…and into today.

And then around noon, I finally started to feel normal again. I stuck to my Saltine/chicken broth/applesauce lunch, and by the time I got home, I felt like I could really survive a semi-normal dinner.

I’m hungry again now, and my stomach doesn’t feel like it’s going to revolt on me, and I’m actually craving protein.

I don’t think I had food poisoning over the weekend–I think I actually had a virus. But I’m better now, and I’m grateful for that.