Sunday, March 17, 2019

The Best Unanswered Prayer

About a year ago, I endured a bitter disappointment. Over spring break, I made arrangements to fly to Guatemala for a Spanish language immersion program that seemed absolutely perfect for my needs and my priorities. The program combined the school with mission work, and all the proceeds benefited the small mountain village where I would be staying. I was a little put off by the admonition not to drink the water or even to use it for brushing my teeth, but I was more than a little excited about experiencing a primitive way of life. Part of my room and board would cover laundry service... washed in a lake! I figured I would try my hand at doing a bit of laundry just so I could see what it was like for my ancestors.

The week before, I had run several errands in order to update my passport. I was so proud of myself for getting that business taken care of months ahead of time.

In under a week, my new passport arrived! I couldn't believe the efficiency of our government (this time). Inside the package was a pamphlet with instructions for registering my trip so that the embassy would know where to find me in the event of a natural disaster or other emergency. Immediately, I went online and registered. At the end of the process, a travel advisory message filled the screen: "The U.S. government strongly advises travelers to reconsider travel plans to this location." I clicked a link for details about travel advisory level 3 (on a scale of 4).

I was horrified to read about violence on the highways out of Guatemala City, where criminals sometimes set up roadblocks and shoot people before taking all of their belongings. I knew that my fair skin and blue eyes would mark me as a tourist, and that traveling alone as a female could also make me a target.

I literally felt nauseated. I had just spent $900 on a nonrefundable ticket and paid a $50 deposit to the school. For two days, I'd been imagining myself living in that lovely mountain village, pounding my clothes against the rocks at the edge of the brilliant blue lake. Maybe I could just go. The village itself seemed quite safe, and I'd be arriving in the daylight. Surely I could get in and out of Guatemala City without incident.

The words echoed in my mind: "Strongly advises... reconsider travel plans."

If I decided to go, I knew I'd have to lie to my mama. Worrying about her daughter in a foreign country for three weeks would have been bad enough, but throwing government warnings into the mix might just kill her.

Saturday, March 2, 2019

Hello, My Name Is...

In December, I shared what God was teaching me through a 21-day detox from negative thinking. I completed two cycles to combat these deeply entrenched lies: "I'm not good enough" and "I can't." Throughout my Christmas break, I saturated myself with Scripture, sermons, and positive meditations, and also caught up on sleep and reading for pleasure.

When school resumed in January, I felt much better able to deal with the stresses and to look for the joy in each day. Though I still had mild nerves at times, I felt much more stable in my emotions than ever before.

With each class, I shared the story of how God had given me a new name for 2019. First, I told them how God had given me the name of Beloved when I was going through my divorce, at a time when I felt that my name was Forsaken. After I'd explained what beloved means, I asked whether they thought receiving that name had made all my hurts go away.

"No," they replied.

"You're right," I said. "Even though knowing that I was Beloved helped start my healing, it took a very long time for me to grow into that name. After a few years, though, Beloved became my identity. I hope you have noticed that I am a person who loves very passionately. The reason I can do that is because I know that I myself am richly loved, and I have plenty of love to share. In fact, that's the biggest part of why I wanted to become a teacher again." 

I went on to explain how anxiety over the challenges of teaching had given me another false name: Fearful. "Here at work, what do you think I fear most?" I asked.

The first class I shared this with stared at me mutely, probably because one of our assistant principals was in the room, sitting next to one of my most challenging students. After a few moments of awkward silence, Mr. K spoke up. "You're afraid you will fail your students," he guessed. "You're afraid you won't be able to help them learn." 

"Exactly!" I answered. "It's not the misbehavior or the disrespect that I fear, it's the worry of not being enough, of not meeting my students' needs."

Mr. K and the kids waited expectantly. 

"Over break, I asked God for a new name, just like the time when he called me Beloved. I figured it would be the antonym of Fearful.... What words are the opposite of Fearful?"

This time, they weren't afraid to speak up. 




I smiled. "I thought of all of those and more, but none of them seemed to fit. The name that finally came to me at first didn't seem to be an antonym for Fearful."

I held up a drawing that I'd made of a name badge. 

I then explained, "You can be very brave even though you still feel quite fearful. Real courage is being afraid to do something and doing it anyway. It's different when you feel joyful. That's when the fear fades away even though you're facing all of the same challenges. You see beyond the fear to the joy ahead of you. I'm sure it will take a long time for me to grow into my new name, but I believe 2019 is my year for joy. Through my struggles with teaching, God is teaching me that joy doesn't come from my circumstances. One day, when people look at me, they are going to see a woman who finds joy in everything she does." 

I challenged my students to make their own name badge drawings. "Who do you want to become in the new year?" I asked.

They brainstormed for a few minutes, but they didn't come up with much. Since it had taken a couple of weeks for God to give me the name Joyful, I figured they would need more time, too. I hope that some of them will find a new name.

Since then, several of them have honored my request to remind me of my new name. When they see that frustration is stealing my joy, they ask, "Ms. B, what's your name?" 

I take that opportunity to pause and focus on my reasons for joy. For example, I like to say, "I have joy because God is making me fruitful in the land of my affliction." Sometimes, I elaborate on the fruit of my struggles: love, joy, patience, peace, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self control. 

How about you? What false name have you taken on? What true name do you want to take on this year? 

Friday, January 4, 2019

La Hermosa Aventura / The Beautiful Adventure

I woke up on Sunday morning ready for mi gran aventura, a visit to a Spanish-speaking church on the other side of town. Though I felt a bit nervous about meeting so many strangers, I was mainly excited. Regarding myself in the bathroom mirror, though, I sighed heavily over the black eye I had given myself on Christmas Eve.

What would people think? If they had my vivid imagination, they might think that I was dragging myself to church after being battered in a domestic dispute. I'm not sure why I felt so embarrassed over that hypothetical assumption; if I ever met someone who'd gone through that, my reaction would be compassion and not judgment.

I've had to explain the eye a lot of times in the last two weeks, but that's because I've been around people who know me well enough to ask, and well enough to believe my bizarre, but true explanation: For some inexplicable reason, I shut my head in my car's passenger door. Once I had stopped seeing stars, I tried to piece together how it happened, but I couldn't make sense of it. Here's what I do know.

After parking my car in the garage, I went back outside and pulled in my empty trash bins. Then, in the dim light of the one remaining functional fluorescent bulb, I quickly opened the door to retrieve some books I'd left in the passenger seat. Backing away from the car with my precarious armload, I awkwardly slammed the door with my right hand, and the metal corner connected solidly with my left temple.

After dropping the books, I clung to the passenger seat's plastic seat belt loop with one hand and covered my eye with the other one. "Oohhh.... Nnnnnh," I moaned as tears gathered in both eyes. "Ow ow ow!" I whined.

When I finally walked inside, I was surprised to find blood on my hand. Would I need stitches? I peered into the mirror in my dining area. No, the only mark was a small, raised lump that was oozing blood. I quickly made an ice pack and pressed it gingerly against my throbbing temple. Good thing I missed my eye, I thought. That could have given me a nasty shiner!

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Why Would I Want to Be Normal?

I've been living out a crazy adventure the last few days that I never could have predicted. It started on Saturday morning, when I was watching a playlist that God had queued up for me on YouTube. For the last several Saturdays, I've been multitasking by listening to various preachers to redeem the time spent on dishes and laundry.

The first video was a teaching from one of my favorite Bible study teachers, Priscilla Shirer. As always, God had arranged just the messages I needed to hear, rather like an extension of our earlier conversation in my prayer closet. Through the familiar story of Jesus feeding the 5000, Priscilla taught these truths:

  • When Jesus told his exhausted disciples to come away with him, they didn't just go on vacation. On their quiet getaway with their teacher, they encountered a multitude waiting for them. So they continued to work alongside Him, and that shared ministry is where they found their rest.

    This echoed what God has been telling me about how I can find rest in the middle of all the stresses of my very demanding teaching job. Though I don't always have time for physical repose, I can always come to Him with my heavy burdens and find rest for my soul  (Matthew 11:28).
  • When the disciples saw the hunger of the multitude, they asked Jesus to send them away so that they could find something to eat. Instead, Jesus told them, "They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat."

    Priscilla invited me to think about the multitude around me, the ones who make me feel overwhelmed with their impossible needs. Of course, I thought of my 97 students. She suggested that though I may be tempted to ask God to take away my personal multitude, God has sent me into this impossible situation because I am His plan for them, and His provision and glory will be revealed through me.

    The disciples' response was remarkably similar to my own: "We have here only five loaves of bread and two fish." How could they feed such a crowd with those meager resources? And how can I even begin to address all the spiritual and physical needs represented in my classroom... when I feel so inadequate?
  • Priscilla's next point addressed that concern. In Jesus's hands, the impossibly tiny supply was more than enough to meet the needs. Not only did they feed the 5000 men, along with their women and children, but they even took home 12 baskets full--one basket per disciple! 
To sum it up, Priscilla said that Jesus's plan for the disciples, and for us is:
  1. He called them to a purpose only they could fulfill.
  2. He gave them power and authority to accomplish what they could not do through their own abilities.
  3. He sent them out to do His work.
For me, the most moving part of the message was a story she shared about the sudden death of her cousin, at age 38. She said that we may think we have lots of time to fulfill God's calling, when actually we could have very little. Life is too short to waste time, she said. Whatever God has given us to do, we should feel an urgency to do it now, and even if fear tells us the job is too hard for us, we can't let that stop us. If we say yes to God's call, we can be certain that He will equip us. 

Sunday, December 9, 2018

A Seed of Light

I don't have time to write tonight, but I feel that I must. 

The last three or four weeks have been exceedingly difficult for me. We are implementing a new instructional model that I believe in, but actually putting it into practice has been rough. In theory, most of the class will be reading independently and responding in their journals while I focus on guided reading with a small group.

The reading part is getting better, for the most part. We started several weeks ago with 20 minutes of reading followed by whole-group instruction. That was a battle because over half of my students profess to hate reading. Every day, they'd say, "We're reading again? Why do we have to read every day?"

Each day, I calmly repeated, "This is reading class. That's what we do. You can't get better at reading without reading."

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Good Times With a Hall Walker

I have three or four teaching stories saved up, and I hope to share them all over Thanksgiving break (thank you, Jesus!), in chronological order. Here's the first....

Remember Julia*, the student who was overwhelmed by a grade-level reading comprehension test? She continues to drive me batty on a daily basis in class, yet our relationship has been growing over the last few weeks. She came in for tutoring again about three weeks back; I'd arranged it with her mother in order to make up for the independent reading and response that she'd refused to do during class.

I'd expected a surly attitude, but she was surprisingly cheerful as we waited for the campus to clear after the final bell and then strolled to the cafeteria for snacks. I think she was happy to get the undivided attention that she clearly craves. We chatted easily about the day, and about the nearly empty box of donuts that she'd spotted on top of a cabinet in my room. Those had been a reward for the classes that behaved for the substitute when I had jury duty. Julia's class, the last period of the day, had definitely not earned them.

"There are a few donuts left," I said. "Would you like one?"

She nodded vigorously, and then she asked if there were any chocolate ones.

"No, I'm sorry. Only plain glazed."

She pursed her lips for a moment and then grinned. "That's okay. I'll still eat one."

"Great! I'll eat one with you."

Sunday, October 28, 2018

So Proud of You

A few weeks back, one of my struggling readers stayed after school for a behavior conference. Julia* and I had a relaxed conversation while she helped me clean graffiti off the desks.

"Tell me how it is for you in my class," I said. "I know you don't like it. What's going on?"

"Well..." she said, hesitating as she scrubbed off a SnapChat user name.

"Go ahead," I urged. "Be honest."

"Well, usually I'm just bored. I don't get what we're doing. Sometimes I want to try, but it's too hard. And then my friends tell me to do things to make them laugh, so..."

"So you do things to keep them entertained?"


Friday, October 26, 2018

I Love You Even Then

Please forgive my long silence now that school has started. What a year it has been so far! There have been so many blog-worthy moments, but no time to write about them. I've lost track of the days I've gone home wanting to quit, but there have been many other days that made my heart sing. Yesterday was one of the latter, and I've decided that grading papers can wait. 

I thought this year would be easier than my first year because I'd be teaching the same subject and could use some of the same lesson plans. Plus, I learned a lot from my mistakes last year, and I planned to start the year off on the right foot this time.

There was only one problem. Our students came to seventh grade reading at much lower levels than last year; our average student reads at the fourth-grade level, and some of them read at the second-grade level. It only took a few weeks to realize that last year's model was not serving our students. There is no point asking students who cannot read a passage questions about point of view, setting, and author's purpose.

What these students really need is time to actually read. As I've told them all year long, the only way to get better at reading is reading. But there are two problems with that: 1) The ones who need it most despise reading, and we can't force them to do it. They will use any diversionary tactic to avoid reading and to prevent their classmates from reading, too. 2) We are a middle school. We don't have books on the second- and third-grade level. [Our principal just now obtained funding to provide us with leveled libraries for our classrooms, as well as a consultant to help us implement a reading workshop approach. Hallelujah!]

For the last two weeks, I've devoted over half of my class time to silent reading--in theory. But a handful of students have made that time both unfruitful and highly stressful, at least for me. Wednesday was the low point. On the advice of an administrator who has been helping with my most challenging class, I sent every disruptive student to the office and set up parent conferences. Guess how many I sent out in one period? Six. Six! With all of that drama, only the most determined readers could have read anything.

Monday, September 3, 2018

Algo Mejor / Something Better


[Here is my last bilingual travelogue for a while. School has started and I'm horribly busy with teaching now. For this bilingual series, I compose the story in Spanish and then translate into English so that we can see my progress in learning the language. Disclaimer: All grammar errors in the dialogue are my responsibility.]


[Aquí está mi último travelogue bilingüe por un tiempo. La escuela ha empezado y estoy terriblemente ocupada con la enseñanza ahora. Todos errores gramatical en el diágolo son mios.]

Muy temprano una mañana, oí una voz masculine y desconocida. Me levanté y me vestí, y entonces me apuré a la cocina.

Allí conocí a un hombre mayor que se parecía a Mecho. Estaban sentados a la mesa, hablando y comiendo.

“¿Es su hermano?” le pregunté a Mecho.

El sonreió. “Sí.”

Le di la mano al hombre y dije, “Me llamo Sarah.”

Él miró a su hermano. Mecho repitío mis palabras. (Aperentemente, mi acento es muy fuerte.)

“Ah. Mi nombre es Israel, pero todos me llaman Lulu,” dijo.

“Oh. Me gusta mucho su nombre… Israel. Y tambien Lulu.”

Lulu reió.

Como de costumbre, no podía entender la conversación de otras personas, pero esto no me molestó. Miré a y escuché a los hermanos y comí mi desayuno con tranquilidad.

Después del desayuno, ellos fueron afuera, donde  Mecho hábilmente le cortó el cabello de Lulu.

“Mecho, usted tiena muchas habilidades diferentes,” dije en mi discurso lento y cuidadoso.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Un Tipo Diferente de Aventura / A Different Kind of Adventure


[This is not your typical travelogue, but an important part of my story in Costa Rica. For this bilingual series, I compose the story in Spanish and then translate into English so that we can see my progress in learning the language. (By the way, I'm back home now. It was a difficult adjustment.) Disclaimer: All grammar errors in the dialogue are my responsibility.]


[Todos errores gramatical en el diágolo son mios.]

¿Se preguntaba sobre que pasó con Walter? Me preguntaba tambien; pensaba sobre esto mucho. 

El domingo siguiente mi tour de su campo, Zeidy y yo debíamos tener una cita en su casa. Recordé el consejo de mi amiga Kim el día antes mi viaje: “Pinta sus uñas. Quizás tú vas a conocer al amor de su vida.”

“No tengo tiempo,” he contestado. 

“Si conoces a un hombre guapo, vas a desear que había pintado sus uñas.”

Decidí que corro el riesgo.

Friday, August 3, 2018

Por el Borde / Over the Edge


[Here is another bilingual travelogue entry about my trip to Costa Rica for a Spanish Immersion program.]


En la tarde del día cuando visité a Turrialba, hice un excursión con mi profesora, Karen.  Pensé que este canopy tour habían solamente cables, pero la experiencia incluyó más.

Una sorpresa esperó para mí: ¡Antes el primer cable, debemos hacer rappel debajo de una catarata! Nuestro guía nos mostró el proceso y me explicó en inglés. 

Entonces, él me dijo, "¿Está lista? ¡Vaya!" Él pusó mi hombro suavemente.

No podía cambiar de parecer. La situación era misma que mi viaje entiro; aquí, nunca sé exactamente que va a pasar, pero he aprendido que tener confianza. Siempre, todo es bueno. 


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