With fear and trepidation

Photo Credit: Matt Hamm via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Matt Hamm via Compfight cc

There’s a reason that I rarely post to Facebook, avoid Twitter, and have never started my own blog. It might seem strange that I now am blogging about my avoidance of the social media bandwagon, but frankly I am terrified to throw my ideas out in public for the entire world to peruse, review, and critique without the ability to have a face-to-face and preferably one-on-one conversation about them.

The thing I most loved about my graduate school experience was sitting around the conference table having passionate debate with people that I could still consider colleagues and friends at the end of the day.  My experience reading discussions online hasn’t replicated this experience. I find that (some) people tend to throw out niceties and manners when they arrive in cyberspace and rather than having sensible discussions about differences of opinion they attack, point fingers and resort to name-calling.

The fact of the matter is that, even were the entire world kind and gracious, I don’t really like drawing attention to myself.  Most people find it odd to learn that I’m an introvert as I don’t mind teaching in front of a classroom or even a stadium full of people. While being in front of people isn’t a problem, talking about myself rather than my subject tends to be difficult. So we arrive again at my hesitation to post personal reflections that the entire world can see.

So, what do I do? I submit my name for consideration as a Spring 2014 blogger for the Intersection. (Yes, I am aware that this might mean I’m crazy!)  Even as I type this first blog post on the CECS Intersection, I do so with a bit of trepidation.

And yet, I choose to post these thoughts because even more than I dislike the vulnerability of this discussion that is open to the world, I love to converse about the intersection of my discipline (leadership) and our Christian faith. I find myself having this conversation quite frequently in recent weeks…

  • With our commencement speaker as we waited in line
  • Standing on a curb in the bitter cold wind (Why didn’t we move inside?)
  • At the car lot with a (really helpful and kind) salesperson

It seems that just about everyone is interested in a conversation about leadership.  And though many people are surprised to hear that leadership is my academic discipline (or an academic discipline at all), I’m pleased that it is the kind of discipline that most people feel they can converse about. So, I’ve decided to move the conversation online. And though, I’d like to keep the conversation pleasant and lighthearted, I fear it may occasionally (next week, for instance) dip over into the controversial or difficult. Still, I’m willing to risk it so that we can all be a part of this conversation about what it looks like to lead as followers of Christ.

And maybe, just maybe we can do so without forfeiting kindness, graciousness, and civility.

 Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone. Colossians 4:6

-EP

This Side of Heaven

Sharon and I stayed close to home this Thanksgiving.  My parents were traveling, so we invited a few friends over for dinner.  My wife can cook.  And she can decorate.  The table was perfect.  The food was too.  And at the end of the evening, Sharon prepared to-go boxes and sent everyone home with leftovers to enjoy the next day.

Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays.

But for the families of two of my friends, sadness found its way into the week.  And Thanksgiving Day did not go as they had planned.

Last Tuesday, in the Ambulatory Surgery Center at Good Shepherd Hospital in Longview, a man went on a stabbing spree—leaving four people injured, one critically.  A nurse lost her life in the confrontation.

The man’s name was Harris Teel.  He was stabbed in the heart while waiting for his son to come out of surgery.  He is the father of a friend I used to teach with.  He is still fighting for his life.  And I know that his family is on their knees praying for his survival.  I am lifting up prayers for Mr. Teel and his family as well.

The nurse was Gail Sandidge.  When she heard the disturbance, she left the patient she was caring for to be of assistance.  She too was stabbed in the heart.  She was related by marriage to a dear friend who is a member of the church where I worship.  Gail was a wife, mother, sister and dear friend to so many.  And besides being a devoted nurse who loved her patients, she was a believer who walked close with God.

I didn’t know Gail.  But I have been in that part of the hospital as a patient before, and the nurses on that floor have been a blessing to me.

As I reflected on this tragedy, I remembered a day six years ago when I was having a catheter surgically implanted in my chest just above my heart.  The catheter would serve as the entry point for my chemo drugs.  The morning of the surgery, I was apprehensive.  But then a nurse breezed into my cubicle and smiled warmly.  She asked me about my cancer and I told her I had lymphoma.  Then she told me that she was a stage 3 breast cancer survivor. “Your oncologist,” she said, “was also mine, and he’s the best.”

Then she did something extraordinary.  Something I will never forget.  She looked at me and said, “I had the same procedure you’re having today.  I had a catheter placed in my chest too—Here, let me show you my scar.”  And she pulled the collar of her uniform down just enough to show me where the catheter had once been.  “You don’t have to be afraid,” she said. “You’re in God’s hands.  It’s up to us to fight the cancer, and it’s up to Him to do the miracles.  And He can do miracles.  I’m living proof.”

She didn’t know me.  But she knew how to bring calm into that cubicle.  She expressed vulnerability.  She showed me her scar.  She made the unknown known.  She didn’t waste her cancer.

And when she left the room, Sharon whispered, “Little angels.”

Last Tuesday, when Gail went home to be with the Lord, heaven certainly gained another precious angel.

I know Gail’s family is mourning her death.  But as he reflected on the loss, Gail’s minister, the Rev. David English, said this: “We grieve, but not like those without hope.  God can and will redeem this loss somehow, although we may not be aware of it this side of heaven.”

His words struck me.  Each one of us, after all, is living just this side of heaven.

I am mindful, always, that my life is a vapor.  Six years into remission, I understand that each day is a gift from God.  And each day is filled with gifts for us to treasure.

I live a blessed life.  And I am grateful—for my wife, my family and friends, and for the students on this campus that God has entrusted into my care.  Each day, I have the opportunity to invest in their lives, with the dream that they will, in turn, invest in the lives of others.

And so, while I’m still this side of heaven—

May I be a faithful servant to the students in my classroom.

May I be a man who reveals the heart of God.

May I be willing to share my scars with others.

And may I remember that someday on the other side—“. . . there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain.”

(Revelation 21: 4)

 skc

 

The Fear Factor

I went to an academic conference over the summer.  Several of the speakers zeroed in on an area of research that is finally getting some traction.  The question they addressed concerned student success in college.  One survey, taken at the Community College of Baltimore, discovered two primary reasons students drop out of school—They are overwhelmed by life problems.  Or they are overwhelmed by affective issues, mostly centered around “fear, anxiety, and a suspicion that they are just not college material.”

In other words, ability is usually not the problem.  Life is. The fear factor is.

So, how do we help these students?  The suggestions given are common-sense ones—“Create a safe atmosphere” in the classroom.  Find a balance between “flexibility” and “tough love”—between “compassion” and “firmness” (a lot harder than it might sound).  Implement “confidence-building experiences” early on in the semester.

And be aware of mindsets—because students will have “fixed mindsets” or “growth mindsets.”

Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck says that a fixed mindset is “the belief that intelligence is fixed [which] dampens students’ motivation to learn, makes them afraid of effort, and makes them want to quit after a setback.”

So when classes get hard, students give up.  Because when they struggle, Dweck says, they “feel dumb.”

Do I have students who have this mindset?  Of course.  But my confession is this: Sometimes I have the same mindset.

I fear failure.  And in my profession, where performance is evaluated and measured each semester, I often feel like I’m not measuring up.  And when I struggle, I feel dumb.  This doesn’t motivate me to be better.  It discourages me and makes me want to give up.

I guess the question is this: How do we establish growth mindsets?  How do we establish the belief that just because something is challenging and causes us to struggle, this is not a reflection of our intelligence or ability?

I’m pretty sure that most of the speakers at the conference did not embrace a Christian world view.  If there is such a thing as grace, I learned, it is merely a human grace we extend to each other.  And as teachers, we know the expectations of gracious teaching.  Help students to realize their potential and to be true to themselves.   Encourage.  Uplift.  Reinforce.  Reaffirm.  We do this because we care about them.  But we do this too because we care about retention, and we must always be looking for ways to keep students from dropping out.

But is this all there is to teaching?  Just getting students to finish college and get jobs so we not only identify them as successful but ourselves, as well?

I worry a lot about leaving God out of this equation.

Do I care for my students? Yes.  Do I want them to graduate?  Yes.  Do I want them to get good jobs?  Yes.  But. . . .

If this is all we are about as educators, we only address part of the need.  Because each one of us has a soul.  And souls don’t have expiration dates, like milk.  We will all live forever.

I take education seriously.  But I take eternity much more seriously.

I admit to my students that college is a big thing.  But it is not the whole thing.  God has opened this door of opportunity for you, I tell them, so seize it.  Work hard and be successful, not to bring honor to yourself, but to bring glory to God.

And when they get scared.  When they start to struggle.  When the challenges seem insurmountable.  I remind them that they can do all things through Christ who gives them strength.  Trust Him, I say.  Lean on Him.  Because He is real and He is relevant.

I work hard in the classroom.  I take the material seriously.  But I am also serious about modeling a life that glorifies God, the author of grace.  If they don’t see that life in me, I have failed.  Measure me all you want.  Evaluate me all you want.  But I have a greater judge.  And when I stand before Him, I hope I hear these words—“Well done, good and faithful servant.”

I want that for me. I want that for you.  I want that for my students.  Because that is true success.  

SC