Wednesday, January 19, 2011

My Rudder, My Heart

Something I recently read talked about the heart as a rudder that sets the direction our life heads in. Even the slightest movements of a rudder can significantly alter the course of a ship. Just a small piece of metal has the ability to direct a multi-ton vessel. In the same way, the heart, the inside of each one of us, has the ability to affect the direction of our lives, where we go and how we affect those around us.

I want to have the kind of heart that is directed towards honoring God by helping others. That is what I think of as a "right" heart. That kind of heart examines it's own motives and alters course when selfishness or hurt begins to affect direction. Sometimes self-examination can be painful, but it leads to necessary course correction so that I can point my "ship" in the right direction, toward giving my life for the benefit of others.

As I have been ruminating over this I have been thinking about how not only our own heart can determine our direction, but also someone else's heart. I am thinking of a time when I experienced a devastating loss. Not the loss of a loved one, but the loss of dreams, direction and vision. Someone else's actions affected me greatly and sent my life in another direction. Was is completely the other's fault? Absolutely not! My actions added to the crisis point, the point when the rudder changed direction. However, it was the decision of the other that began a complete change of course. I realize, however, that the fate of my "ship" was still in my control. Even though circumstances changed beyond my control, my rudder, my heart, was still my own responsibility. How I chose to direct my own heart would determine what course I would take now, because really, the circumstances of my life and the course of my life are two very different things.

Someone else may have the wrong heart, a heart that is looking out for their own best interest rather than mine, and out of that wrong heart make a decision that affects me in an unexpected and undesired way. However, it is my own choice about how my heart will respond. As I contemplate that long ago course change, I realize that it was a course correction. The circumstances caused me to do some serious and painful self-examination that allowed me to steer toward new dreams and visions. It was difficult for quite a while not to harbor resentment toward the other, but I knew that would cause my rudder to steer me in a direction I didn't want to follow. I realized that I could still choose a right heart and that is what has made the most difference.
"Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life." Proverbs 4:23 NLT

Friday, January 7, 2011

Tribute to a Life

Tom Hess was an eighth grade English teacher at the middle school where I work. He passed away from ALS, Lou Gehrig's disease, on December 14, 2010. The first time I met Tom was in 2002 at a "Meet the Teacher" night when my son was in the eighth grade. He told the parents that he had been inspired to become a teacher because he had a middle school teacher that had greatly impacted his life. In my mind had had said it was his eighth grade English teacher, but now I am not so sure. It impressed me as a parent that he had become a teacher not only because he loved his subject, but because he wanted to impact kids as he had been impacted. However, it wasn't until I became a coworker with Tom that I really began to understand the depth of his commitment to his students.

In my first year working in the library I learned about a new season: "Research Season."  At that time of the school year many teachers bring their students to the library to work on projects. The most notable project is the eighth grade research project. Over six "research seasons" I spent many hours with Tom Hess and his students, during regular school hours as well as after school. By the end of my first research season I became convinced that no student of Tom's ever had a good reason to do poorly on their research project.

Tom expected, no, demanded, that each student do his or her personal best. (One year a coworker and I found a whip-cracking sound effect that we played for Tom during his library time. He got a chuckle out of that.) But he also gave them every opportunity to do their best. In addition to personal attention during class time, Tom liberally distributed priority library passes to any student who wanted one and spent almost every day after school with any student willing to work. I never saw Tom impatient with any student genuinely working their hardest. However, any student whose effort was less than their best was a prime candidate to receive what we came to call "the wrath of Hess". Most students understood that Tom's "wrath" was an expression of his concern and care for them and his desire to see them do their best. As a result they endured it and loved him all the more for it.

Tom was a fixture on the annual eighth grade trip to Washington, DC. The trip was something he felt was so important for students that he had been known to pay for some kids who couldn't afford to go. After Tom died, my husband and I were talking and he had what I thought was a great idea: Start a scholarship in Tom's memory to help students who can't afford to go on the trip. I recently went to another staff member to present this idea and was overwhelmed to find out that Tom himself had created such a fund before he passed away. I am still shaking my head at that. I guess I really shouldn't be surprised.  He was that dedicated to students.

We have quality teachers who care about their students at our school. Tom Hess set the bar high for his students, for himself and for the rest of us who work at the school. Research seasons will come and go, but as the eighth grade projects begin, in the back of my memory I will be hearing a whip cracking and I will be smiling a sad smile as I remember Tom.

So why do I share all this with you? Because EVERY LIFE MATTERS. I did not realize how deeply Tom Hess's life had impacted mine until I began to contemplate and then face his loss.  Your life matters, dear one, and you will never be able to comprehend the depth of your influence on others. We all want to be valued and appreciated, but the truth is that sometimes our value is not appreciated until our influence is no longer felt. So, please, dear one, continue to strive toward being the best you and loving as many people as you can. When all is said and done, those who have known you will be grateful that you became a part of their lives as they realize just how much their own life has benefited because of yours. YOUR LIFE REALLY DOES MATTER. Live it well.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Tomorrow is Always Fresh

What is it about endings and beginnings that cause us to review, remember and re-prioritize? Whether it's a new year, a new job, a new home, or any other "new" in our lives, there is something about it that causes us to take stock of where we have been and where we'd like to go.  There is something built in to each one of us that causes us to look back when it's time to look ahead.

In "Anne of Green Gables" Lucy Maud Montgomery gives us the wonderful quote : "Tomorrow is always fresh, with no mistakes in it." Perhaps we like "new" so much for that reason. No matter how hard we try to be "good" we can never get away from the fact that every day, every year, is full of mistakes. We have an innate sense of when we've done wrong. It's called a conscience. We all have regrets. Things we wish we hadn't done or said, as well as things we wish we had done or said. There is something in us that knows we can do better and that wants to do better. Perhaps the reason that celebrating the New Year has become such a large celebration over the centuries is that the changing of the calendar reminds us that "Tomorrow is always fresh, with no mistakes in it."

So, as I do every year, I am taking the last few days of December into the first few weeks of January to review, remember and re-prioritize. I look back on the year gone by and think about the major events that occurred, what's been lost, what's been gained. Each event is now part of my history and who I am. Each event has served to shape me in some way. Then I look ahead at the events that are already planned for the coming year. I think about who I am becoming and how I want to reach forward toward the best that I can be. There will be mistakes, but then there will be another "new" in my life to remind me that my tomorrow, and yours,  is fresh with no mistakes and we get a chance to try again.