March 29, 2017
Maybe it was for the note waiting for me in my inbox the next morning: an email reply from a new acquaintance, in which that same “They that wait on the Lord shall renew their strength . . .” verse was the featured focal point.
Maybe it was for the moment I had, thanks to an extra set of hands in the library during my lunch duty there, to join in with the student praise team for their practice. They were singing a new song, and my heart soared in equal measure with my vocal chords, exulting in the joyous harmonies, and in the joy of getting to do this during my workday. Only afterwards did I realize the significance of the words I had been singing. “Speak to me. With each word you breath new life, bringing hope to me.”
Maybe it was for the 2nd day of crossing paths with that over-extrovert at the pool. This time she pointed to my tattoo. “I’ve seen that before.” I assured her that she likely had. I then explained to her what the “ichthus” meant—or at least what it means to me, as a symbol of my faith. She grinned widely. “Oh! I’m gonna tell my uncle what I know now . . .” again dashing out the door before she’d finished her sentence. I hope she did.
Maybe . . .
March 28, 2017
At the sound of the bell I fled in frustration. “Failure,” I sighed. Far too often, that word associates itself with this particular class. It was one of those days. But today I knew that I bore the weight of this failure. Sure, they were their usual moody, and unmotivated, adolescent selves; but I was the one who, shortly into the block, felt my own motivation dwindle. By the end of the first half hour, I had pretty much given up on inspiring them to learn this lesson.
Feeling the weight of that knowledge, I began to question my own assumptions about work. I think I have always assumed that the older I get, and the more experience I gain, the better I will be at any given job. But recently, I am wondering if I’m actually getting any better at this teaching gig. No matter how many techniques I try to incorporate, or how many pep talks I give myself, I can’t seem to pull myself up by the bootstraps from this general malaise when it comes to my job. The moments of joy just stay moments, while the daily grind stays dreary.
This was the state in which I began my afternoon swim, with an ache and a longing for comfort. I wished I had a functioning MP3 player, missing my daily audio Bible readings. But instead I started to breath out prayers at each exhale, so I could actually hear my audible “groans” bubbling out before my head came up for air at each stroke.
A talk I had recently heard on Faith Conversations came to mind, in which Mike McHargue (of the podcasts Ask Science Mike and The Liturgists) spoke of his conversion experience to, and then out of, atheism. When explaining his process of coming to terms with his personal faith, he mentioned that, for all of his evangelical church training, his scientific and cosmological studies, and his apologetics (both Christian and atheistic), when it came down to it, his faith was prayer. Period.
I decided to spend this swimming time pursuing prayer, in a way that would go beyond my usual “arrow” or daily life prayers. One of my recent prayers has been a sort of “Speak, Lord.” I envision Samuel when I say this, sometimes adding, “your servant is listening.” I struggle, though, with the apparent lack of “speech” that I get in return. “How can I really know if God is speaking to me?,” I wonder. Today I grew more bold. What if God really talked to me right now, while I am swimming? If I have enough faith, will He talk to me?
As often happens when I am doing anything meditative, I began to “sing” [kinda hard to actually sing underwater ;-)] lines from songs that came to mind. I was in the middle of “Those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength . . .” when another song popped into my head. An old high school favorite—“40,” by U2. I began to go through the lyrics to this one: “I waited patiently for the Lord. He inclined and heard my cry. He brought me up out of the pit. Out of the mire and clay. I will sing, sing a new song . . .” Then tears sprang to my eyes, blurring my already foggy-goggle vision. That was what I needed to hear. Hope returned. It then occurred to me that I had just jumped from one “wait” song to another. I tried to think of all the verses that spoke of this word but my memory didn’t do that well at coming up with a list. I did, however, settle into those two songs for the remainder of my swim. And I also felt certain that God had indeed spoken to me just then—and that what He said was “wait.”
Wait for what? I don’t know.
Maybe it was for the little one who started to tug on me each time I passed her, shouting out “Auntie—hello!” Turns out she was just an overly extroverted youngster who continued to talk to me in the pool (about how she was watching me swim my deep end laps while she tried to get to the other side of the shallow end) and then in the changing room (“Auntie—why is there a shower in here?” Um, I don’t know. “There’s a shower out there and one in here . . .” her voice trailing off as she walked out to investigate other strangenesses).
Maybe it was for the memory of another class today, after which I had a completely unexpected chat with a high schooler who didn’t see anything wrong with legalizing prostitution. I told him of stories I’ve heard from friends who work with sex trafficking victims, and I explained my perspective on it. He was clearly ignorant about bits of knowledge I simply take for granted, and it struck me that I was in the right place at the right time. It was a rare occurrence of heartfelt (not just head) knowledge that I was, in fact, doing some good in this teaching gig.
Maybe . . .
March 16, 2017
Today I chose to laugh. I did not feel like it. I would have, in fact, preferred to crumple into a weepy mess on the floor. But considering the circumstances of a classroom of 13-year-olds watching me, I managed to suck up my inclination in favor of a more productive response.
For some time now, I have lived in fear of a student—a middle schooler who has managed to hold an inordinate amount of power over me in the classroom. I had her for one semester last year, when I was struggling to figure out this classroom teacher business, and also battling significant dorm parent issues in the home, with a boarding kid who was also in this class. It was, quite simply, a daily nightmare.
As a result, I spent a large portion of last semester dreading this one, when that group would once more grace me with their classroom presence. The class is smaller this year, and only a handful of the same students from last year remain . . .but they are a powerful few, and I’m afraid I still dread each 80-minute block with them. To be fair, I have grown in my teacher identity since last year, and have learned some better classroom management skills for that age group. Some days I feel much better. But some days I don’t. Today I did not. Today the ringleader saw the opportunity to snag the upper hand and she took it. She also, I believe, was quite aware that she had control, as she is an extremely smart teen. I do not think that she is consciously out to spite me; rather, I suspect that she is hurting, in some form or fashion, and that she uses her influence with her peers in order to comfort herself. I try to remind myself of this, and to not take it personally, but I know I do it poorly, with my complete lack of a “poker face,” and my tendency to be frustratingly visible with my emotions.
Anyhow, all that to say, I was not a happy camper today. In the midst of the power struggle (which happened while they were taking a practice test), I had no reply to one of her jabs and just turned away to hide my face. Doing so, I turned towards another student—one whom I’ve enjoyed in different contexts at the school (like my girls’ fitness class). While I watched her, she looked up from her paper and loudly called to another student by name, “Hey—what time is it?” I frowned and immediately called her out for talking in the middle of the test. She looked so confused that I walked over to her desk to see what was going on. I, incidentally, was confused by the realization that the wall clock hung directly in front of her.
When I looked down at her paper, she simply pointed at the question she was working on, looking at me with that still genuinely perplexed expression.
Then I laughed. The instructions were to show me various forms of translation to the French language. The question she was looking at read: “Ask a classmate what time it is?”
She had simply forgotten that she was taking a French test and taken the sentence literally :-)
In that moment, I realized that this girl was my “escape hatch” for the class period. If I looked at, and listened to, the students who were simply trying to do their work, I would be able to almost-forget the hurt, and able to laugh—even if that laughter was masking tears.
March 11, 2017
. . . ok, so maybe it’s only completely different in my odd-ball world :-)
I’m participating this week in a blog post link-up with Emily Freeman about seasonal learning. Whatever “winter” is supposed to mean in this hemisphere, here’s my short list.
- “Heaven is a wonderful place . . .
. . . filled with glory and grace . . . “
Any of you out there who grew up with 80’s Church camp may be singing along with my right now :-) The lyrics to this slightly annoying but catchy tune have been running through my head for a few days now. I know the truth of the concept, and have for decades now. But the enthusiasm is new, thanks to a beautiful moment in my ladies’ Bible study this week. We were studying the book of Romans, and focusing on 8: 22-23. “We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies.” A few women began to talk about what that actually would look like: the bodily redemption that was to come in heaven. As they did so, the idea of actually being able to do all the activities I love in this life, with none of the frustrations, just hit me in a way that it had not before. “Thank you!” I blurted out as they talked. I continued, explained that I had suddenly had a beautiful lifting of the spirit at the realization that I didn’t have to just trudge gloomily through my days, as I generally feel I am doing. It has been a season of Eeyore-ish-ness for me, with my daily activities simply feeling like a list of chores and obligations. But suddenly I realized that, my nature being one of goal-oriented motivation, I can handle any sort of hardship if I can see the end in sight. And in this case, what a stunning end!
The version I was actually reading was French, in which the word for “groaning” translates literally as “sighing.” I am a sigh-er, vocalizing my annoyance and frustration more often than I wish. So if I consider these frequent sighs, on any given day, as a reminder of a glory that is to come, I feel as if I might be able to step a bit more lightly, and smile a bit more brightly. When the ladies left and my husband came out from his office hiding place, I was still on a bit of a high. So much so that I spontaneously serenaded him with full-on, belted out serenades (Hanson Brothers, anyone?).
2. I’m not a very good teacher.
There was a time in my life when work came easily and naturally to me—when I felt confident about my career and proud of my accomplishments. This is not that time. Full time classroom teaching has stretched me beyond my comfort level and stripped me of the illusion that I know what I’m doing. I have learned that one classroom can have me teary-eyed with joy while the next can provoke tears of frustration and, at times, even panic. I am grateful for the lesson in humility that this has been . . . but I am growing weary of the challenges and beginning to suspect it is time to settle back into work that is a bit more natural for my introverted and intuitive (INFJ, if you’re a Myers Briggs person) sensitivities.
3. I’m a pretty good student.
I never thought I would do seminary. I was, in fact, originally headed towards a Doctorate in Education. But that program did not offer a scholarship; this one does. So I’ve ended up discovering a somewhat surprising side of me, in that I really enjoy being a student, and learning, again. I guess I knew that to a certain extent [I like to say that I became a librarian so that I could have a job of learning everything about everything] But the actual experience of enjoying my studies—and of craving time to be able to do it—is a bit of a surprise considering what I thought I knew about my student personality [thinking I was goal-oriented about it, as opposed to just enjoying the study itself]. In this case, I have no professional aspiration for this MDiv . . . but I’m enjoying the process,
4. I love my students when I’m dancing with them.
At the end of International Day festivities today, several of the high schoolers taught a few of their respective dance moves. As I followed along with them, and watched their rhythmic beauty, my smile grew to a ridiculous grandeur. I thought of the happy moments spent with them in such times—like when I have done dances with them during Girls’ Fitness class a few weeks each year. It was a blessedly needed reminder of the beauty of humanity as a whole, and of each of these students in her unique giftedness. After a morning of frustration with my abilities in the classroom, this vantage-point shift was life giving.
5. I love my students when I’m playing nurse.
Because the school does not currently have a nurse, I have ended up acting as one a couple times, seeing students needing something as I passed. Today I was freed up from normal schedules due to the afternoon festivities, and so was able to sit with an elementary student while she was on the breathing machine for an asthma attack. I decided to start telling her stories, to distract her from the fact that she was alone while her classmates were out having fun. At the end of the 20-minute treatment, she took her mask off and smiled at me. “Can I have more stories on Monday?” she asked? I was simultaneously saddened (at the knowledge that next week would be normal classroom teaching for me) and gladdened (at the exquisite certainty that I had been in the right place at the right time, if only for today).