The Knowledge of Wisdom

This past week I attended an AP English workshop, where we 12 teachers sat in a room for 8 hours a day for 4 days straight, discussing Hamlet’s soliloquies, interpreting literary criticisms, and practicing writing answers to the three essay questions students are given for this college entrance exam.  Listening to the presenter describe the intricacies of Graphic Symbols and TP-CASTT was a daunting, mentally exhausting, yet highly eye-opening experience.  Besides learning how I can better teach iambs to students (who doesn’t love iambic pentameter???), more importantly I was able to connect with other English teachers from around the state.  We ranged in age from those fresh out of college to others who were creeping towards retirement, yet all were quite interesting to talk to.  I had lunch most of the days with one such gal from the Big Island, as she participates in BJJ and actually knows of the teachers that instruct at my husband’s school.  We chatted about the sport for a bit in between bites of our sandwiches, but most of our conversation revolved around her introductory year to AP and the fears she has about starting off the course unprepared.

I reassured her that everyone has fears, and no matter how adept one is at creating thematic units and grading papers, teaching truly is a “learn-as-you-go” type of position.  A person can garner much knowledge from college courses, but wisdom about the profession only comes with time.

Knowledge versus wisdom.  Wisdom versus knowledge.

The more we discussed these ideas, I was reminded about our church’s daily reading track, and how this plan had me contemplating and meditating on the book of Proverbs.  During my quiet times, a few questions came to mind:  What constitutes a person having knowledge?  How does one go about gaining wisdom?  Aren’t they both one in the same?

I know I used to use those words interchangeably.  If a person is wise, doesn’t that mean she also has knowledge?  However, I’m beginning to see that there may be a difference.  In Proverbs 1, wisdom is personified as an actual woman, one who shouts out to the crowd to be on the look out for knowledge.  Further on in Proverbs 4, sons are urged to listen to their fathers (because they are wise), and in doing so will reap knowledge.  Interesting.  From these sections (and many other chapters) of this Old Testament book, knowledge is being derived from the wise.  To be wise means that wisdom is INSIDE a person.  It is at his core.  What springs forth from that individual is knowledge, and consequently, when one attains knowledge, he can then walk towards gaining wisdom.

This is no easy feat.

Take the profession of teaching.  I garnered many lesson plan ideas from my colleagues this past week at the workshop (and all of these educators are quite wise, by the way), yet just because I have a digital document of their curriculum maps doesn’t make me any wiser.  I have their knowledge on my flash drive, but until I plan my own lessons, teach it to the students, and see if my kids are able to attain the learning objectives placed before them, I will not truly be “wise”.

One’s past experiences also plays a huge role in differentiating between wisdom and knowledge.  I have sat through many appointments with dietitians, nutritionists, psychologists, and psychiatrists, who have all attempted to help me be “recovered” from an eating disorder.  Although they were able to create a meal plan that provided me with the appropriate amount of calories to eat, critiqued my food logs in order to help me gain weight, and offered up CBT terminology to talk down an anorexic thought, their knowledge about the illness was quite different than the wisdom someone who has gone through an eating disorder will have.  It is that personal experience component that makes me turn to my husband or other females who have gone through the throes of anorexia and compulsive exercise when seeking help.

They get it.

They understand.

They are knowledgeable about what it takes to get better.

They are wise to how the disorder can rear its’ ugly head at any minute.

But more importantly, there is connection and familiarity.  When I confide in my husband how I pulled on a pair of shorts and “felt fat”, he immediately understood that that comment meant I was really feeling sad, disappointed, angry, or some other kind of emotion that ended up being projected as “feeling fat”.  My wonderful mate never had anorexia, but he has seen me at my lowest when I my heart could have stopped beating at any minute.  He has seen me hide running shoes in my car so that I could sneak them out for a run.  He knows firsthand the devastating actions an eating disorder could (and would) propel me to do, and he can even repeat to me what ruminating thoughts a starved mind can have when thinking about food.  As a former MMA fighter who had to cut weight for matches, he would describe how he would daydream about inhaling buckets ice cream and cookies because he had been living off of water, vegetables, and meat to shave off pounds.  Those thoughts he had about Ben and Jerry’s and Chips Ahoy were the same type of crazy-starved-brain talk that ran through my mind when I was at an extremely low weight.

My husband is wise when it comes to eating disorders.  In much the same way, there are many women I chat with that also have this same type of wisdom about weight and exercise.  When I am faced with eating another scoop of peanut butter or handful of nuts because I am on a quest to pack pounds onto my small frame (more on that bit in my next post), but then feel that fear of losing what muscular definition I have (which is a crazy idea, I know), I turn to fellow powerlifting females (or other women that share the same love of weightlifting as me), and tell them what thoughts are going through my brain.  And wonderfully, they get it.  They understand that it takes hard training and hard eating to move more weight on the barbell.  They understand that powerlifters need to have healthy and strong bodies in order to improve in the sport, even if that means shirts don’t fit over lat muscles and wearing jeans is ridiculous because they don’t go over round quads.  Moreso, they are wise as to how our warped society deems we women who WANT bigger thighs and more mass as crazy and odd, and that this type of cultural compartmentalization can make the weight gain process that much harder.

Wisdom.  Knowledge.  Both are necessary in order to live a life of clarity, yet attaining wisdom means that one will have to take risks with the knowledge she has–this individual will have to be confident in the knowledge she has been gifted with and step forward into the unknown, ready to use said understanding to better herself.

This is no easy feat.  Whether it be as a teacher, a patient in eating disorder recovery, or a parent, no one wants to feel inadequate or less than competent in any field.  Thankfully it is by God’s grace we are able to take that first step into the unknown, hold up our shield of faith, and use the knowledge we have to find true wisdom.

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I Could Get Used to This Life

I could get used to this life.

I wake up without an alarm, the room still dark and cool.  My daughter is lying on the floor next to our bed, her waist-long hair splayed out around her head like a dark brown halo.  She has taken to laying out the green and blue patchwork blankets on our bedroom carpet at 7:30pm every night, grabbing her favorite fluffy pillow, and camping out there until I turn off the light and lay on our futon mattress.  I should usher her upstairs to the bunk bed that she and her brother share, but there is something comforting about hearing her deep breaths as she nods off to sleep at night.

I could get used to this life.

I softly walk to the kitchen, take out a cup of cold-brewed Deathwish Coffee (yes, that is actually the name of it), and sip it quietly as I start preparing breakfast for the crew.  Sliced cucumbers and aspargus topped with wasabi sauce, cut up turkey slices, half a banana, and a handful of nuts for me–apple slices or fresh red grapes with peanut butter and jelly toast for the kids laid out on matching pink and blue plastic plates.  Like clockwork, as soon as I am done cutting and arranging said food for the little girl and boy, I hear Shogun jabbering away to himself in the bedroom, which is my cue to head up the two flights of stairs and rescue him from the wooden bunk.

I could get used to this life.

I peek my head into the room he and his sister share, and he is already sitting up in the lower bed, handmade patchwork blanket in hand, a big toothy smile on his face.  “Good Morning!” he jabbers, arms suddenly outstretched to me as I make my way to his bed.  I lift Shogun over the bunk bed barriers, and holding his tiny hand, we make our way down the 14 stairs, counting them one by one.

I could get used to this life.

I let go of Shogun’s hand as soon has his feet hit the living room carpet, and he ambles over to the Paw Patrol pillow situated in the middle of the room.  Sitting on the soft cushion, my little guy remarks to me, “Shi-shi.  Shi-shi.  Poop.”  It’s his cue to tell me, “Hey, mom, diaper!  Change me!”, and so I follow suit.  By this time big sister is awoken because of the noise outside, and she staggers out of the bedroom, hair disheveled and eyes bleary.  Misha sits next to her brother, gives him a big hug, and in an almost inaudible voice, she whispers, “Good Morning, Shogunnie.  I love you.”

I could get used to this life.

Don’t get me wrong.  There are days when this scenario is more “Come-on-stop-crying-go-brush-your-teeth-before-we’re-late” than the picturesque scene I just described.  But more often than not, the morning routine is calm.  It’s (dare I say) relaxing.  It is different than the normally hectic actions that occurred during the regular school year when I was attempting to get Misha into her uniform, grab a pop-tart for Shogun to eat in the car, and getting my iPad and bag together–all at the same time.

Now don’t get me wrong again.  I love my job, I adore my students, and I find inexplicable joy dialoguing with them about literature, writing, and all things books.  But truth be told, I love the simplicity of being a mother.  It’s a bit oxymoronic to say being a mother is simple, but maybe it’s because this summer break is a time when I don’t have to be “on” that I’m finding all the normally stressful duties of the day aren’t as crazily maginified.  Teaching is one of the most mentally and physically exhausting professions, as one is constantly walking around a classroom, drumming up excitement for subjects as enticing as grammar (that was sarcastic, by the way), and rarely finding a spare minute to sit down to drink water and eat a snack.  It’s no wonder that teachers are often times just as excited as the students for vacation days.  By the end of my work day, after meeting with students about papers, lecturing on Edgar Allen Poe and making copies of upcoming assignments for my ninth graders, I was ready to head home, put my feet up on the coffee table, and zone out to “Full House”.  But there was always Misha’s homework to go over, the dinner that needed to be cooked, and the laundry that should be washed.  I rarely got time to take a breath in between school and home duties, and towards the end of this last month, I was starting to feel delinquent in my role as a mother.  I spent hours planning lessons on short stories, grading essays on Thoreau, and designing new curriculum maps for the incoming freshmen.  But when did I have the time to sit with my son and do an alphabet puzzle with him?  When did I have the time to play restaurant with my daughter?

And so when summer break began two weeks ago, I breathed a sigh of relief.  Literally, as soon as I left campus for the last time for the 2016-2017 school year, I let out a huge exhale that mirrored that of my son attempting to blow out candles on his birthday cake (and side note:  he will be two next month!).  Teaching was done.  Now I could focus totally on mothering.

I know I need more balance between work and home, and sadly, the amount of time I spend doing school stuff outside of the campus has drastically decreased throughout the years.  Despite this change, there has secretly been a little inkling of fear in my spirit that was causing me to look down on my own parenting skills.  What was this fear?  It was a fear of being alone with my children because in my perfectionistic mind, I imagined my mothering skills to be less than up to par.  Although I knew that every parent has her own opinions on how to best raise her child, I always felt uncomfortable in my label as “mom”.  I wasn’t one of those snuggly-types of mothers who always wanted hugs and kisses from their child, nor was I a stern-type who showed no emotion at all.  My mother was known as the disciplinarian, and while I do enforce rules, I rarely yell like my mom, and my daughter and son have never gotten a spanking.  I felt uncomfortable because I wasn’t sure what my “style” of parenting was, and since I didn’t know that piece of information, I constantly felt on guard.  Were other people watching me with my children and secretly critiquing the fact that I let my toddler eat ice cream for a snack?  Were other people whispering behind my back because my daughter’s long hair was tangled and not in perfect pigtail braids?

But then I realized that God has blessed me with children for a reason–not to validate my own parenting skills because in the end, He is their true Heavenly Father.  It is my role as a mother to lift my daughter and son up to God each and every morning, bless them with prayers every night before they go to bed, and raise them to seek after Jesus with their whole hearts and bear His light to the world.  In Titus 2:4, the scripture states that mothers are designed to love their husbands and their children–and “loving” another is more than merely making breakfast every morning for the kids or making sure they have clean clothes.  “Loving” another ascertains that a person is emotionally and spiritually there for another, and that individual would also show the same reverence she has for Jesus to another person.  This got me thinking:  Do I love my children the same way I love Jesus?  And vice versa?  How do I show love to my daughter and son?  Do I do the same to God?

When I do actions for my children out of love–cutting their PBJ into cute shapes, gifting them with tiny toys from Target–is it out of compliance to someone else’s expectations or because I WANT to do said actions due to my love for them?  Folding Shogun’s clothes and changing his diaper throughout the day may take on a tiring feel, yet even though those actions are not my favorite, I do it because I WANT to.  I love him and am thus willing to sacrifice sleep or my own desires to bless him.

I think that is the main reason why I am loving this summer so far.  All of the morning routine actions, all of the time I’m getting to spend with my children, are because I WANT to.  I see Jesus in their shinning faces, and no matter how stinky Shogun’s poop is or how much Misha will whine for a cookie, I WANT to be around them.  I am their mother.  I am the person Jesus placed in their lives to grow them into loving children of God.

I still have another twenty-two days with my little girl and little guy before I head back to school.  Twenty-two days to enjoy the early summer mornings, hot afternoons, and calm nights with them before my first teacher meeting.

I still have twenty-two more days to embrace the role of mother, to grow in my knowledge that God will guide me in parenting, and that by loving my kids, I am also showing my love for Jesus.

I could get used to this life.

Celebrate. Celebrate. Celebrate.

At our last English department meeting for this school year, there was a feeling of jubilation in the air as we quickly went through the nitty-gritty administrative details (Don’t forget to turn in keys!  Don’t forget to update your curriculum map!) and chit-chatted about our upcoming summer plans (No summer school!  I get to stay home with the kiddos!).  Eventually we educators got caught into discussing the popularity of graduations, and how preschool and kindergarten ceremonies are now A THING where toddlers parade across stage in construction paper hats to accept certificates of early education merit.  The discussion then turned to whether or not these types of ceremonies are really warranted, and not just for the toddler set.  Why do high schools celebrate the ending of a school year?  Aren’t there more important life events one could throw confetti for?

This past Saturday, one hundred or so of our school’s seniors took part in such a celebration.  They marched across the Blaisdell Concert Hall stage, smiles as wide as the ocean, enthusiastically shook hands with the president of the school as they grabbed their diplomas, and pumped their arms in a victory call.

WE DID IT.  WE DID IT.  YES, WE DID IT.

Seeing these rudy-faced young adults eager to enter life after uniformed class schedules and curfews made me quite excited for them (I’m not embarrassed to admit my eyes welled up with tears of joy), but the questions about the uniqueness and practicality of celebrating graduations still remain.

Why celebrate the ending of a school year when there are still so many more challenging life events yet to come?  Should we as a society award praise to a child who has attended four years of English, science, and math classes (all required, mind you), and emerged from the tests and homework being able to analyze Shakespeare and compute biochemical equations?

Why do parents, family, and friends shed tears of joy when seeing their loved ones parade across stage wearing a black cap and gown, when in truth, said students still have the rest of their lives to fully experience?

Is it really so impressive that students basically followed our society’s rigorous educational rules (i.e. spending hours listening to lectures and even more hours studying in hopes of getting the “A” that will propel them to a good college) and survived it all?  Are we merely celebrating the fact that they were pushed by us adults to do something which was PROBABLY not what the teenagers actually wanted to be doing anyway?

Initially, I agreed with the majority of the educators in the room in response to these questions.   YES!  Life hasn’t really begun for these students.  Lets not delude them into thinking that high school IS IT.  There’s attending college.  There’s finding a job.  There’s working at a job.  There’s dating (UGH).  There’s getting married.  There’s (possibly) having children.  Life has so much more to offer after the cap and gown ceremony!

But then I realized what my high school years were like.

Midway through my sophomore year, I felt the pull of inadequacy tugging on my spirit when I saw classmates acing tests that I received all red marks on.  I struggled through understanding Japanese characters, and no matter how many flashcards I made, the brushstrokes for kanjis never took to my brain.  After one incident when I had to give an oral presentation in history class but stood there in front of my peers, eyes bulging with fear because I didn’t remember what to say, I realized that I still had two more years of being just “mediocre” in my studies. It was a sobering realization that I would not be the valedictorian, salutatorian, or even in the top 10 percent of my graduating class.  I had to come to terms with the fact that not everyone is meant to be great at everything–and it was a wake up call that happened during my high school years.

Ironically, I spent a lot of my breaks completing homework so I could have free time when I got home to practice my oboe.  I thought that since I couldn’t excel in academics, I could at least have SOME talent in music.  Even carving out for myself that chunk of rehearsal time at home, however, didn’t leave me feeling any more relaxed or confident in my musical abilities.  Instead, the more times I played the same run in the Saint-Saens concerto or practiced my chromatic scale, the more my weaknesses were exposed.  And then I got the awful case of the “shoulds”:  I “should” practice at least 2 hours a day to get better.  I “should” play “Metamorphosis” in this manner so that the judges would like it.  I “should” make the first chair of the symphony, otherwise no one will think I’m great at anything.  It was a lot of “shoulds”, and in the end, those “shoulds” left me feeling even more inadequate in my capabilities.  I had to learn that the limitations and expectations I placed on myself could be either helpful (yes, set goals!) or harmful (no, don’t place unnecessary stress on yourself!)–and it was a wake up call that happened during my high school years.

In the midst of trying to attain somewhat decent grades and medals in music recitals, I was also highly influenced by my long-legged, tanned, surfer-like female classmates who seemed to exude the sexual appeal that guys at school desired.  I realized that looking the role of a “popular” girl meant that I would have to turn from the person God made me to be into another creature, and maybe once that transformation occurred, I would find acceptance and inclusion.  I, being only 5’1″, Japanese, and inept at water sports, was aesthetically the complete opposite of what I deemed to be the “perfect girl”, but that did not stop me from trying to transform myself to a surfer chic.  As a result, I used self-tanning lotion to make myself darker, flooded my closets with thin-strapped tanks, and bought a pair of reef slippers that didn’t fit me well, but who cared, because all the “popular” girls had them.  Still, my short legs did not compare to the taller Caucasian gals’, and my stick straight hair did not flow in the wind like theirs.  I secretly desired to have the attention those “popular” girls had, because the smiles from boys, the look of envy from other girls, the carefree attitude they encompassed were what I was missing.  One night, I distinctly remember laying on my bed, eyes opened to the Heavens, hypothesizing that only IF I had the perfect exterior, THEN I would feel special and THEN I’d be internally happy.  The fact is that Jesus made each one of us perfect in His sight–sadly, I didn’t realize this during my time as a teenager, but what it means to have self-acceptance (or lack thereof) reared its’ head during my high school years.

So as we teachers talked about the absurdity of graduation, my knee-jerk reaction of “Yeah, that’s right!!!  Life hasn’t started yet!!!” changed to one of “No.  Wait a minute.  High school is HELLA hard.”  In what other time in one’s life will a person have to learn pretty challenging lessons (how to accept oneself, how to set goals), all the while battling teenage insecurities and (gulp) hormones?  What other time besides during high school will students realize that there IS a big world out there beyond the walls of the classroom, and taking that first step to the unknown is tremendously intimidating?  Even more nerve wracking is that they are doing it all as 18 year olds without any previous experience living on their own in the “real world.”

And don’t forget about all the other “stuff” that high schoolers are dealing with that we teachers don’t see:  parent relationships disintegrating, strife between siblings, sports injuries that can knock a kid out for months on end, friendships changing as social circles collide, and teenage hormones running a muck.  It’s almost like these high schoolers are back in the terrible twos stage where toddlers are asserting their independence and personality, except these young adults have pimples, don’t speak in gibberish, and can drive.

Clearly, graduation is a time of celebration.

We are celebrating a monumental time of inner growth and development.

We are celebrating that many students had to endure much emotional and spiritual learning beyond the academic rigor of papers and tests.

We are celebrating how high schoolers are taking that next step to fulfill the call God has upon their lives.

While typing out this post, I’m reminded of all the graduating seniors I saw parade across the stage this past weekend to accept their diplomas.  Some looked enthralled, while others seemed relieved.  Either way, there was satisfaction in the fact that God was there with each one.  He had knit every single student in his mother’s womb, thoughtfully cultivated that individual with His Holy Spirit, and amazingly, we in the crowd were able to see His handiwork there on stage.  Matthew 28:20 urges believers to “Go forth and make disciples of all nations”, and that is exactly what this graduating group of 2017 are doing.  They are taking a spiritual (and literal) step from the life they’ve known and are seeking to do God’s will in their lives.

My high school experiences were rough, to say the least, yet those times of trial were made all the sweeter when I stepped on the stage at Blaisdell some 18 years ago and received my diploma.  Yes, it was merely a piece of paper that stated I had accumulated the required amount of credits to graduate, but having that certificate in hand meant more than grades.  It showed that I was a fighter, that I was a survivor.  It demonstrated that I could push myself through great mental, emotional, and physical strife, and by God’s grace emerge on the other side ready to do His will.

So celebrate, class of 2017.  Celebrate your achievements, your failures, and the path God is leading you on.  Celebrate.  Celebrate.