"dream great dreams and find the courage to live them"

-erwin mcmanus

Thursday, September 30, 2010

rest for the weary.

I wake up at 5am every weekday.  While I try to take my mornings slowly and relax a little in order to wake up gradually, I am beginning to feel weary.  So much life happens when I work that by the time I get home at night, I'm exhausted.  I can't fully enjoy the time I spend with my roommates, with other friends, or going out, because my days start so early.

This weekend I went camping with Mariah and Andrea.  While I spent less than 24 hours at the campground, it was enough.  Sitting on pieces of firewood around a small fire with two of the most beautiful girls I know made for good conversation and a renewed spirit.

When I'm at my apartment, I often bombard myself with music and television, not allowing myself the joy of silence.  This needs to change for the sake of my sanity and for the girls that I take care of every day.  They deserve a bright-eyed and bushy-tailed Miss Erin, not a grumpy, sleepy, my-mind-has-been-awake-so-long-it-already-shut-down one.

Good night, moon. :)

Friday, September 24, 2010

decay of the soul

Over the last few years, I have gotten hooked on a few tv shows.  Some of them witty, some full of drama, and some very realistic... there are a few that I hesitate to admit that I watch.

I talked with my "boss" this week a lot about television and the progression of entertainment throughout the centuries.  Civilians and royalty alike used to crowd into amphitheaters to watch lions tear apart and devour criminals (or, God forbid, the innocent).  They would grunt, cheer, and applaud when two men would fight to the death.  It was absolutely barbaric.

Fast forward hundreds years and turn on a television.  Today's shows may not focus on that same kind of physical violence, but surely it is the same theme.  Instead of watching people's bodies be devoured, we watch their minds and their souls decaying, being eaten away, by the drama, the sex, the drugs, the lies, and the worldliness.  Yet our minds are hooked and we are entertained.

This kind of barbarism is perfectly acceptable in today's society, but should it be okay?  As a Christian, I should be guarding my eyes and my mind from these things, the very things for which Christ died.  I know that sounds a little cliche (and we all know how much I hate cliches...), but it reigns true.  Why do I choose to watch something that I know will pollute my mind?  Why do I put these inappropriate jokes in my vocabulary ("That's what she said," anyone?)?

While I am not ready (nor do I think it necessary) to give up tv completely, the thought of watching other people's souls decay is not appetizing.  Reconsider the shows that you watch, the themes in those shows - what is the message they communicate?  Is it something wholesome, godly, and true?  If not, give a second thought to your motive for watching it.

I will be struggling through the same thing over the coming weeks.  Wish me well...

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

the field museum.

The last time I went to the Field Museum was the summer of 2008.  For my internship with the Center for Student Missions here in Chicago, I spent six hours every day at Jackson Park on the South Side, helping with their Park & Rec Program.  Each week, all 300 kids and 30 leaders would pile on buses to go on a field trip.  Usually the field trips were too chaotic to actually enjoy, but this one, the one to the Field Museum, outdid them all.

Upon arrival at the museum, the group I volunteered with, the 7-8 year-old girls, was already in disaster mode.  These 38 girls ran wild through the group entrance into the cafeteria seating, shouting and fighting.  Their counselors (thankfully as a volunteer, I didn't have to take care of disciplinary issues) finally rounded them up and took them to a small seating area where they had to sit silently for a period of time.  This period of time became very very extended, as their counselors decided to get McDonald's and eat it in front of them.  Then the counselors decided to take all the girls to the bathroom and then sit back down in the seating area.  The entire experience lasted about 2.5 hours.

We left the museum to find where the rest of the kids were so we could eat lunch.  We ate lunch.  We got back on the bus.  And that was their museum experience.

I suppose that makes today's trip seem like a much more valuable experience.  Audrey loved watching the African cooking demonstrations and learned what nocturnal meant.  Victoria squealed when she saw that the "Nature Walk" exhibit included numerous varieties of squirrels.  We had a nice time.

Out of these experiences, I realize how stressful summer 2008 was.  I see how much I value small-group times (rather than hoards of children all at the same time).  And I learned, again, how much I love museums.  I think I'll make it a goal to visit as many museums as I can in Chicago before I leave here.  This is a goal that will enrich my mind and expand my experiences - Is there any better kind?

Sunday, September 19, 2010


I see now how quickly I changed my mind back and forth between grad school and a break.  A pendulum swing every day, losing momentum, ending in the middle, entirely undecided.

I spent the weekend with four dear friends who all happen to be elementary teachers.  Much of our conversation revolved around children, classrooms, books, discipline, ADD, and swapping classroom ideas.  These things should have made me more excited about teaching, soaking in so much information from those who are more experienced that I am.  Instead, I got bored with it.  I listened, waiting for the topic to change to something I could relate to better.  I tried to get myself excited by writing down the names of authors and websites and other resources to use in my potential future classroom.  To no avail.

This, among other things, has me completely and entirely convinced that I need to take time off from this Masters of Education program.  Time off that could lead to completely dropping out.  The term "dropping out" scares me.  I hear that phrase and think: "failure" "aimless" "indecisive" and a plethora of other negative things, yet I know it is what I need to do.

What makes these decisions so difficult to make?  Why do I fight what I know is right?

This weekend I talked with a new friend, Steph, about her job.  This girl went to Northwestern with me, became friends with my friends after I transferred out, and I've heard about her constantly ever since.  Finally at Audrey's wedding this weekend, we met (for real) and talked.  She works at an organization that very nearly matches the kind of work I used to dream of doing.  While I pushed this dream aside because it seemed impossible, here is the reality:  These organizations DO exist, I just need to find them. And work for them.

I realize now that there is much I can do with the degree I already have.  I do not, in fact, need a Masters to pursue a job, because I am qualified to do many things, and capable of learning to do so much more.  So here I embark on this job-searching journey.

Do you know of any salaried openings, doing anything from office work to family assistance to... anything) at organizations for "troubled youth" that do not require a counseling license?  I'm all ears :)

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

observing. changing.

I spent the middle part of my day yesterday at an elementary school down on the southwest side of Chicago.  The school is located in an industrial part of the city, so many of the students are the children of third-shift factory workers.  As a result, these parents are not involved in the day-to-day life of their kids, nor are they involved in the child's schooling.  The students are not achieving up to their potential partly because they do not have support at home.

Notice the chain reaction here:  Parents work in a factory, therefore their children don't get the most out of their education, so the children end up working in the factory too.  The cycle of drug/gang families is similar.  As is the cycle of college-educated families.  Money breeds more money, drugs breed more drugs.

I observed a 7th grade language arts teacher who talked to me for a long time during the lunch period about just how messed up CPS is.  For being such a massive school district, it's not wonder that it is run like a corporation that is too focused on money to see the bigger picture.  As we talked, we wondered together what the ideal Chicago Public School system would look like.  While we shared grand ideas, we could not come up with the steps to get there.  And thus the failing school system will remain until someone comes along with big dreams and enough practicality to make it happen.

Is this what I need to do?  To look at the big picture, look at who and what I want to be in fifty years.  Then backtrack and figure out how to get there?  Is it better to plan ahead, to have goals, or is it better just to take one step at a time in faith?  Oh, the questions that arise when a biblical worldview collides with the world.

Friday, September 10, 2010


For a class I'm taking, I have to summarize my family's cultural heritage.  In my case, this involved going through compilations of family histories on both sides of the family.  Fortunately, someone else did all of the research, I just have to pull out the details relevant to the paper I am writing.

As I read through the short narratives included in the Johnson family history (my mom's side), I came across this little gem, written by my mom's cousin about my grandparents:
"When Aunt Vivian and Uncle Art were scheduled to come out and stay for a few days, I was so excited.  When they got here, I saw that they still held hands and, bless her heart, Aunt Vivian still giggles like a schoolgirl when he walks in the room.  Such devotion after 54 years of marriage is amazing.  They are truly blessed."
If that's not the sweetest thing you've ever read, I don't know what is!  This is the kind of love and marriage that is real, the kind that pushes through hardship, the kind that lasts now 60 years.  My goodness, it's the kind of love and joy that, more than anything, I want to find.

As Grandma and Grandpa's lives have changed so very much in the last seven months, it hurts a little bit to look back at what they once were and what they are now.  While Grandma still giggles and Grandpa still flirts, age has physically and mentally worn them both down.  Time has taken its toll, and there is no reversing the damage.

I have no easy way of wrapping this up, as there is not much to say.  Let's leave it at this:  To see someone age is really hard

calming the soul.

Yesterday morning I woke to that sick feeling in the pit of my stomach that screamed "I need more sleep!"  After a night of conversation over German white wines and the future of Facebook, I got only about five hours of sleep.  It was worth it, but it made for a slow-moving, tired morning with lots of coffee.

I spent some time on the front steps with Victoria that morning.  For about ten minutes, we just listened for things.  Trains rumbled by, planes hummed overhead, and cars zoomed past.  In the midst of it, though, I found a peacefulness in the rustling leaves and birds chirping.  It took me, even for just a moment, back to that second fishing dock at Lake Lundgren - one of my favorite places in the whole world.

Everyone needs a place where they feel at peace; a place where their mind is at rest.  Mine have been rare.  The fishing dock at Lake Lundgren, the prayer room at N-dub, and the Chicago Temple have been my only steady (yet infrequent) places.  That morning, however, I found it on the front porch of a home in Bucktown.

Perhaps it isn't the physical location as much as it is the spiritual condition of the soul.  Whatever it is, I loved it, despite it's short lifespan :)

Monday, September 6, 2010

moving out, moving on.

I came north to my parents' house again this weekend for several reasons:  My wonderful Aunt Cathy is visiting from Georgia and my little brother, Daniel, turned 18 today! (Happy Birthday!)

When I got to the house yesterday, my little sister was so eager to show me her new room (the bedroom I just moved out of two weeks ago) and how she set it all up.  I, too, was excited for her to have a new space of her own to experiment with and to grow up in.  When I stepped in the door of the bedroom, though, I cracked.

The realization hit that I no longer have a place in this house.  I don't have a bedroom, I don't even have a bookshelf (all of my books ended up being moved into a laundry basket).  The one piece of me left in this house was that bedroom, and now I don't even have that.

As I come into another period of uncertainty and decision-making in my life, I see Green Bay as an entirely viable option in the future.  No matter how much I wanted to leave five years ago, I love it here.  Losing my bedroom was the breaking point - the uncertainty no longer includes the option of moving back into this house where I don't even have my own space anymore.  And I broke down.

On a much lighter note, I went out last night with Sara and Teresa and ran into Timothy and all his roommates.  After a night of fun and laughter, I returned home to spend another entire day today laughing and laughing and laughing with my family.  I don't even know how else to describe it except to show you:

Meet Daniel's new best friend.
This unicycle's name is Chick Magnet...
You'd better watch out!

Somehow I can only upload one picture, so that one will have to suffice.  Just imagine someone learning how to ride a unicycle.  And then finding out 15 years later that he's infertile and he wonders why... oh man.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

could be

The struggle to find your niche is not only a middle school I'm-figuring-out-my-identity issue.  No, in fact, it begins as early as kindergarten, potentially even sooner.

Little Katherine started kindergarten on Monday.  While many of the other children had attended the 3- and 4-year-old preschool, Katherine did not, because the family values free play and home education during those years.  As she begins her journey through this small Catholic school, she finds herself surrounded by people who are already friends, children who have found their niche at this particular school.

As I think about her struggle to find friends, it reminds me of my own struggle to find my niche.  I'm not entirely sure where I belong.  Am I really a big city girl?  Or am I better suited for the small-town feel of a city like Green Bay?  Should I really be in grad school?  Who do I want to be in three years and how do I get there?

This fight to find my identity begins and ends in Christ.  At least it should.  I know that I am a child of God.  I bear the responsibility of living well and doing everything for the glory of God.  I bear the privilege of knowing my creator and seeking Him in all things.  I know that I am redeemed and that whatever I do that is true and right and noble will, indeed, glorify God.  Right now, what I do, caring for these three beautiful girls, glorifies God.  But I have to wonder, where is the next step?  How long is it okay for me to be indecisive.  It has been only a few days since making the decision to postpone graduate school (and potentially drop out... sigh.) and I'm already restless for answers.

So here I sit with the future staring me in the face.  Last November I decided to run for it, full force, without knowing quite where I was going, but full-force nonetheless.  This resulted in my application for a Masters of Education program where I decided I would teach.  I just... decided.  Did I think through it?  Perhaps, but certainly not fully.  If I had, I would have seen how entirely spontaneous (and wrong) the decision was.  Instead, I had to get eight months into the program, completely stressed out and ready for combustion, before I realized my mistake.  I don't know that I really want to teach, at least not secondary English, as I had thought.

So here I begin again my quest for "the next thing."  I feel a responsibility to make decisions quickly so that I don't have long periods of uncertainty.  This time, however, will be different.  I have already decided to take a period of rest, a time to de-stress, to process my time at college, to think through things, to do what I enjoy.

There's another thing - What do I really enjoy?  Besides work, homework, classes, and talking with friends, I haven't had a spare moment for a hobby.  What used to be my hobbies may no longer be what I love, but then what DO I love?  Or, better yet, what could I love?  What are those things that I have never tried, but have always wanted to?  I've thought about taking guitar lessons or a photography class. Perhaps a painting class or even dance lessons.  The options bring me the joy of possibility - the could be's of life.

Let this year be one that turns the could be's into reality.