"You can make anything by writing."

-- C. S. Lewis

Monday, October 26, 2015

In the Details

If you could be a little mouse in our wall observing our new family “norm,” you’d see me in one chair busily writing product descriptions on my laptop, Ryan across the room (red pen in hand) grading his ninth graders’ essays on heroism as portrayed in Homer’s The Iliad, and Ryley pouncing about doing her typical Ryley-thing…homework, kissing her dog, reading, leaving a trail of snack crumbs wherever she goes. There might be music playing; the TV might be on. It might be silent, with the quiet only occasionally interrupted by one of us sharing an anecdote from our work. But we’re together, and we’re content.

The first quarter is already done and in the (grade)books, and yet Ryan’s new teaching position constantly amazes us with how perfect of a fit it is for him. Of course he was good at being a restaurant manager too, but he secretly hated the monotonous stress of his days…trying to fill shifts, running around short-handed, bending over backwards to please snotty customers, being on his feet constantly, fighting debilitating headaches, and always feeling like his life was going nowhere -- that his gifts, dreams, and education were going to waste. When we took our vacation in February, I worried aloud about using so much of Ryan’s vacation time so early in the year; what about saving some for holidays? But he was adamant that he would not be working at Noodles come fall. Even with nothing on the horizon, he was certain we were on the brink of a change. Thanks to some insurance claims and needed remodeling and repairs, our house had appraised for more than we expected, which allowed us to pay down some bills when we refinanced our home. So even the excess  in our budget seemed to be setting us up for something. But what?

When I look back at everything in hind sight, it’s incredible to see God’s hand at work, even years in advance. Even the decision to send Ryley to this particular school back in kindergarten seems like it was all a part of the plan, aside from the obvious good it’s been for her. The school was only one year old then, but we believed that it was where Ryley was supposed to be. I remember thinking that her heart would be safest there — that the school and its classical philosophy was the one that fell most in line with our values and expectations for education. When she was in sixth grade, the school’s success and demand was so high that it expanded to a second campus just two miles from our house, and this one included plans for building a high school, grade by grade. Possessing a yet unused English Literature degree, Ryan applied for the high school English position, but he never got a response. A year passed, and seeing an open English position on their web site for the second time, he applied again. Two months passed, and we’d all but forgotten he’d applied for it when the phone call came on a Thursday night in late July. His resume had risen to the top of the stack, and they wanted to see him for an interview. He was hired less than a day later.

The job was a significant pay cut, as we expected. After all, three out of four of our parents are/were teachers. But sometimes difficult leaps of faith are required, and after running the numbers numerous times, we realized that it was actually do-able, due to the recently acquired financial breathing room. If he had been offered the job a year ago, we couldn’t have made it work; it would have been ludicrous to accept the job knowing there wouldn’t be enough money to pay our bills, and he would have continued in the restaurant industry feeling hopeless and depressed about the inability to ever develop an exit strategy. But this year, the pay cut was feasible, landing us right back in the tight spot we’ve long been familiar with…which, though tough to swallow, is always enough.

And so he began. The school requires three weeks of in-service and training before students arrive, and Ryan soaked up all the knowledge and advice he could. Now, two months into the school year, our lives are falling into a new rhythm. For one, he’s home every weekend and every evening, which has never been the case in almost 17 years of marriage (he might be grading papers, but he’s home!). He wears a dress shirt and tie every day, so suddenly our laundry piles have taken on a different shape (way more lights than darks; few jeans). He’s reawakened all the philosophical and literary sections of his brain which have had to take a backseat for so long. Sure his job is stressful, but it’s more mentally stressful than physically. He finds joy in challenging his students, in helping to shape their character, in introducing them to great literature, in teaching them to think critically, and in reiterating grammar and writing rules. It’s definitely no picnic; many of his kids have learning disabilities, and many come from rough backgrounds. Reading The Iliad isn’t easy for anyone. And he is responsible for coming up with his lesson plans and much of his own grammar and composition curriculum from scratch. It is simultaneously the hardest and best thing he’s ever done, but he is giving it everything he’s got. I am so proud.

“My worst day teaching is 10 times better than my best day at Noodles,” Ryan said recently, and my heart soared. Don’t get me wrong; we are very thankful for that season in our lives. But this is what he is meant to be doing. This is what he was born to do.

And his mysterious headaches? Significantly better! They’re not completely gone, but they are definitely fewer and less intense.

He has a student whose name rhymes with Zacchaeus, and I always know when he’s grading that student’s paper because he begins to hum “Zacchaeus Was a Wee Little Man”! He had one student plagiarize an entire essay, which he discovered using the infinite powers of Google. When he went to the administration about it, they said that though the girl would definitely receive a referral, Ryan should first discuss plagiarism in class, giving her a chance to come forward on her own and thus “build her character.” There aren’t words for how much I love that philosophy…for how much wisdom I see there.

So, in a nutshell, :-)…. Fifteen years after being hired by a school and then let go three days later because they found a candidate with decades of experience, Ryan has been given a second chance…and at a position that seems tailor-made for his personality. In my opinion, his students could never have a better English teacher. He is a clear, concise communicator, an avid proponent of the Socratic method, and the most passionate person when it comes to literature and writing. We’ve taught Sunday School together several times over the years, and I’ve watched him teach Ryley throughout her lifetime, and I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that Ryan was born to be a teacher.

In the meantime, I’m trying to keep up by reading “The Iliad,” myself, though without the daily classroom input from Mr. Moore.

“Is Zeus on the Trojans’ side?” I asked one day, early on.

“It certainly seems that way, doesn’t it?” he answered in his trademark “answer a question with a question” method. “Why do you think that?”

And so we sit on these lovely fall evenings, carving out a new and wonderful “normal.” It isn’t easy, and it has required work on all of our parts as we’ve adjusted as a family, but I am so happy that my husband finally feels fulfilled in his career. The important thing to understand is that it’s nothing he’s done or we’ve done…God Himself orchestrated this entire opportunity from the very beginning. And when we think of it that way, it feels overwhelming. With all of the problems going on in this great big world, He cared about us, and He set up all these minute details over the course of years, literally.

He cares about you too, and I am confident He will do the same. He’s all-knowing, all-powerful, and all-present, and he can handle it. If he can handle the details for Joe Blow in Haiti, Suzie Q in China, and Ryan Moore in Colorado, he can handle the details for you too (Romans 8:28).

Take my word for it.