Writing for a purpose

One of my players had me review a paper she wrote recently. It was for school and discussed the hardest event of her life. 

As I looked it over, I contemplated the reasons I write. First and foremost, I write for me. I write because it calms me by providing me perspective. It’s something I was taught to do at a young age. I rarely read what I’ve written, but I write anyway. 

While talking with her, I realized I have other reasons I write as well. 

For many years we are forced to write for a grade. We do it because we are forced. That should not stop us from writing when we leave school. While we talked, I told her,

I didn’t understand there were reasons to write beyond The Grade when I was in high school. Now I realize I can write to create art, to tell a Truth, to tell a story, to inspire, and to heal myself. 

While at church this week, I talked to another friend about writing. I write to communicate better. I write to understand myself. I write for me. But I hope I write for you, too. 

Dear sister in the parking lot

I saw a sister walking at the front of the building as I drove into the church parking lot today. When I walked to the back door, she passed me again and I saw her face. I glimpsed it for only second, but there was anguish laced across it and she was on the verge of tears.

I did the normal smile-just-before-you-pass-and-then-put-your-head-down. However, before I started that process, though I saw her face and realized my smile would have little effect. I felt as though I should ask, “Can I do anything for you?”

But I didn’t. I let the moment pass.

It would have been weird to ask a complete stranger what I could do for her. She could have taken it wrong. I might have been embarrassed. She might have ignored me and passed by still sobbing.

All that might have happened. And all of it has happened in my mind many times since passing her by. But more importantly I’ve realized something more embarrassing occurred: I chose not to follow a prompting.

It was small. It was quick. It required immediate response. I didn’t jump at the chance, and I should have.

Although I regret not following the prompting, I take major comfort in one thing: I recognized it. For a lot of months, I was so embattled within my own head that I couldn’t recognize pain in others’ faces. I wasn’t receiving promptings to help others because I wasn’t in a good place myself.

So I rejoice that I saw another’s pain and received a prompting to do something about it, and I recognize the next step: acting on it and doing something about the prompting.

My dear sister whom I saw in the parking lot,

I’m sorry I saw your pain and felt prompted to ask whether I could do anything for you and did nothing. There are a lot of things that went through my head in that split second, and none of them are adequate excuses for not acting.

I’ve thought about you during every moment of the meeting, I’ve prayed for you that my missed chance will not negatively affect you, and you’ve been the muse for a blog post. So maybe two people beside me will pray for you also (my blog doesn’t have a consistent readership), but that’s two more than you had, so maybe that’s not nothing.

I don’t know why you are pained. I hope Father wrapped his arms around you since I passed you by, and I hope you’ve been courageous enough to reach out to friends.

It isn’t as meaningful now, and it doesn’t help you now, but I pledge to be stronger in the future and to follow promptings in the moment they come.

You likely hold no grudge or ill will against me, but I hope you forgive me for passing you by and not reflecting you Father’s love with anything more than a smile.

I wish you the best, Anonymous Sister.

Lee J Hinkle

Our challenges affect us forever

I didn’t ask to have the year I did. In fact, I fervently prayed for a completely different set of experiences. I worked really hard for things that I felt inspired to pursue, things I knew would be blessings in my life. I strove to land a full-time teaching job. I worked to be appointed as a head coach. And I fought tooth and nail to keep my relationship together and make progress toward making eternal covenants with her and God.

Now, none of those things exist in my life. I have no contact with the girl, I don’t teach for pay, and I no longer am the head coach. All those things I worked for, all those things that mattered most have been taken away. To top it all off, I experienced depths of depression I never thought possible, I mourned more deeply than I expected I could, and I quit the things I thought would bring me the most long-term joy.

But my heart is opened. I feel more deeply now than I ever have before. I’ve learned to draw on the pain I experienced and the worries I have about my future to empathize with friends who experience trials and challenges in their lives.

I wrote last week about seeing the people behind their trials. The things I experienced make me better. The long-term perspective shows that I am more like Father than I was last year.

But I am not the things I experienced. I am not a failed teacher. I am not a depressive. I am not a bad coach. I am not a failure as a boyfriend.

Viewing myself as these things limits my growth and improvement. Taking these experiences and recognizing lessons I can learn from them, has shown me to see my friends behind their trials.

The largest take-away is I must actively be pursuing the things that matter most. I value helping others. I value serving. I value following Father with trust and faith.

What I experienced this last year teaches me to be spiritually strong. It teaches me to follow God and be more like Him. I will be forever affected by my experiences, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Thank you, my incredible students

Before I left the high school, I was very upfront with my students about what I was experiencing and why I chose to leave them. I cited many reasons that you read in my post from two weeks ago (On life, unmet expectations, and the impact of depression), as well as a several professional needs that finally solidified my decision.

At the end of that lesson, I asked them to choose a teacher who had the most influence on them while they had been at the school and write to the teacher describing that influence and saying thank you.

The students signed their names to the notes, and I delivered them to the teachers’ boxes before I left.

Surprisingly (perhaps not), many of my students wrote to me. I’d like to use the remainder of the post to thank them.

My dear student:

I wish I could respond personally to your note to me. Alas I am now locked out of any district servers that had access to personal student data.

However, you are the reason I feel I was somewhat successful as a teacher. Thursday night, after the semester ended, I went home and waffled for two hours about whether I should read the note you wrote me.

I finally decided to. As I read your kind, heartfelt words and added them to those of your several peers who also wrote me, I could barely contain my emotions and more than once I had to wipe the tears that blurred your words.

I had a difficult time this semester. You did, too. I’m grateful to have recognized that and said and did things that helped you through it. We helped one another. When I struggled to get out of bed, I knew I had to because you needed me there. You you similarly struggled, I’m glad I provided an environment where you wanted to be.

Thank you for sharing your personal experiences with me. Your stories, your scriptures, your vulnerability are things I will treasure and hold to when times get rough in my future.

Because of what you did for me this semester, and because of what you shared with me in your note, I currently have written on my bathroom mirror: “Do my students proud.” You remain a motivation to me as I go forward to conquer the world before me.

I wish you the best. Please stay in touch. You’re one of only 150. I know who you are, and will remember you when you email me. You made a difference to me: you kept my head above the crashing waves of self-doubt and depression.

Thank you.

Season of thanks: Mom

I love my mom.  She’s the perfect example, mentor, role model I could have.  (She wouldn’t agree, but I might be able to convince her a little.)  Some may say it’s cliché to put her as the first entry during my season of thanks, but I feel it’s the right thing to do and it is fitting.

Aside from the obvious “she sacrificed herself to carry and birth me,” she has done far more.  During elementary-school summers, she would sit me down for half the day (it may have only been 90 minutes) and I had to to school work.  I hated it.  I fought it.  None of my friends had to endure that type of torture.  And I made the experience hellish for her.  That’s probably why she stopped doing it.  But I’m grateful now.  I frequently look back and know that my desire to do well in school, my confidence that I will, and my desire for perfection were molded during those summers.

My school teachers were ok with me missing a few math problems or having a few grammar errors.  My mother never was.  I spent hours (sometimes hours each day) going back and redoing my work.  Because I hated redoing so much, I learned to ensure it was done right the first time.  (Some of this mindset continues to today.  The desire to be right is so strong that I never check my answers on tests because I trust I read the question carefully enough the first time and that I did the problem right.)

She also made me play the piano every day for 30 minutes.  I would often slough and do less work, messing with the timer or putting the clocks ahead (I did this during time-outs too because I have no patience.)  I regret it now.  I regret that the choice offered me was to either play the piano or play sports.  Obviously I chose sports, and now I can only sight-read very slowly and can only play what I have repeated over and over and memorized.  But the important thing for me is I learned to appreciate music.  Although she usually chose songs I hated or didn’t know, my mom often played the piano when I was little.  I complained about it, but those songs (“Born Free” and “The Blue Danube”) echo in my mind today.

I didn’t often bring friends home, but she talked a lot with me about who my friends were and why I liked them.  She taught me to choose my friends carefully, to know why they were my friends.  I still talk with her frequently about my friends now.

She taught me something far more important about friends.  She taught me that friends are family, and friends of family are family.  She would often go out of her way to ensure we had interactions with friends.  After grade six or seven, I cooked up a plan with my friend Addison Pica to go climbing (I definitely had a middle school crush on her).  It was mostly due to my mom’s effort with Addison’s parents that the trip worked out.

My mom taught me to love people and want the best for them.  Sometime she didn’t approve of who I brought home–mostly in principle–sometimes in character.  Before my mission, I dated Ruth (Andrews) Chandler for seven months (or six–the timing got strange at the end).  My mom was not keen on the idea of me having a girlfriend.  But she accepted it and worked hard to learn about Ruth and learn to love her.  (For me dating Ruth was the best possible thing that could have happened before my mission.)  I’ve seen this pattern from my mother with other women I’ve dated.

She never approved of one person I dated, despite spending a lot of time with her during several visits.  Looking back, I wish I had been less infatuated with the girl and listened more to why my mother, despite attempting to love this girl, never could.

My mom adopts people.  My best friend during high school was Jenna (Furniss) Ralph.  She had a greater influence on me as a friend than I can express in words, and it may take us until after we die and communication is eased for her to understand why.  To the point, my mom loved Jenna like a daughter.  She learned to love Ruth like that.  My mom thinks of my oldest friend, Maren Kennedy, as a daughter.  Maren is involved in a theatre group back home and my mom always goes and supports her productions, and she always asks me what’s going on in Maren’s life.

This is a pattern my mom has shown since before I was born.  She wanted 12 biological kids (that’s a lot, I know) and I’m grateful there are only two of us.  But she has “adopted” children (especially daughters) since before I was born.

My mother consistently reaches out to love those around her.  She shows Christlike love for them and will serve them however she can.  My mother taught me to value my mind and has been formative in setting me on the path toward a Ph.D.  She taught me to accept and try to love people, even when they might not be what I expect, or someone I would normally love.  She taught me to love music, to love intelligence, to love others more than I love myself (possibly a lot).

Because of her example and her tireless forcings, I am now grateful for her example.  I now try to emulate that example.  She is probably not the mother she expected to be, and she likely regrets some things she did.  But she is the mother I need and should have no regrets about that.  I cannot imagine a more perfect mother.  I am grateful to my Heavenly Father for allowing me to be her son.

_________

Challenge of the day: pray for 10 minutes and only thank God for what you have.

Education vs. Schooling

You know, it’s funny, but I’m in an Honours Writing class and today the teacher talked about how trying to get a C in a class would change our university experience. She talked about how it would give us new insights to life and learning, among other things.

While I haven’t been trying to earn a C in any of my classes (my presence in an Honours Writing class should give good indication to that), I have realised that, in some small way, I have been following some of the principles my instructor discussed.
As a resident assistant, my life has become one of service to my floor and building. I’ve given a lot of time to others to help them with papers and other assignments, putting my faith in God to bless me in m studies. And I’ve seen Him come through. As I’ve trusted that my service would help someone else, I’ve seen my own studies greatly blessed (and I’ve felt very rested on little sleep). In fact, I’m doing better this semester than my previous two–and I feel like I’m studying less.
It’s pretty weird, but I have learned a lot as I’ve put my education (about life and all other subjects) in front of my schooling. I’ve learned more overall.
So to all you uptight Honours students, don’t favour your schooling above your education. Put others first, and trust that the Lord will bless you. I’ve seen it.