Sunday, February 28, 2016

He's Already There

I've continued to pursue the dream God brought back to life in my heart, to become a public school teacher again. What a ride it has been so far! At first I was very afraid of the challenges, but then I threw myself into research, online classes, and classroom observation. The more I discover about the latest research on learning, the more excited I am to try those strategies out for myself.

In fact, for a time I was so excited that I couldn't think about anything but teaching, even when I should have been sleeping. For several nights in a row, I lay in bed utterly exhausted but too keyed up to sleep because I couldn't stop thinking of things I might try, books we might read, things I wanted to say to my students. Even as I pleaded for sleep, I thanked God for putting such a passion in my heart.

At other times, though, my fear has taken the upper hand. One example was the first time I observed Mrs. I. at the middle school just around the corner. It was such a blessing to be there. All I had to do was email the principal and ask if he had an English teacher who wouldn't mind a visitor, one he thought a returning teacher would want to emulate.

Within a week, the vice principal called and scheduled my first visit for the following week.

She's a beautiful young woman, full of life and laughter. When I told her I'd taught seventh grade 18 years before, she said, "And I've been teaching seventh grade for 18 years."

I gaped at her. "You don't look old enough to have been teaching for 18 years," I said.

She ducked her head and grinned. "Thanks!"

She told me she loves teaching middle school and couldn't imagine doing anything else. When I saw her interacting with her students, I could see why she felt that way. She clearly loves her job, and she's very, very good at it.

She's so good that as I drove home, my perfectionist side immediately began battering my confidence. "I could never be that good," I thought. "She's so amazing. And beautiful too!"

But then I heard a quiet answer. Mrs. I. has been working on her teaching skills for 18 years. You can do this, too. I will be with you.

And then I realized something beautiful. I don't need to be like Mrs. I. All God wants me to do is be Sarah. He knit me together with such care, and He gave me everything I'll need to do the good works that He has planned for me from the beginning. Most importantly, His love has been growing and growing in my heart, and I don't need any special training to love my students. In fact, I already love them even though I don't know what they look like yet. I pray for them frequently, and for their teachers.

Last Friday, I was blessed to be able to attend a Hillsong concert with Allyson, my mom, my sister Amy, and two of our friends. Oh, how it moved me. The theme of the evening was how God's perfect love casts out fear. In between the songs, the singers urged us to give ourselves over to God's lavish love, to surrender our will to Him completely and let go of our fears.

Listening to a song about "the scandal of grace," I reveled in my Father's love. I thanked Him for washing away my fears in the river of His love and grace. I thanked Him again for setting me free from the anxiety that nearly drowned me this past summer.

And then I had an epiphany. I realized that my recent insomnia had been the manifestation of a low-level anxiety I hadn't even recognized. There in the safety of my Beloved's arms, I realized that in the middle of all of my excitement about my teaching career, I'd actually been striving to work out all of the details for myself. I'd been smothering my fears in my attempts to make this crazy mission safe.

I contemplated my carefully thought out plan to apply only to the "easy" districts, so that I could get some success under my belt and gain the experience I'd need to be a real help at an inner city school, if God should call me back there after a few years.

"Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander," sang the beautiful female lead. "And my faith will be made stronger, in the presence of my Savior."

"Okay, God. I'm yours," I prayed, sending up a silent prayer over the thunderous music that filled the arena. "Take all of me."

"Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders. Let me walk upon the water, wherever you would call me," the woman sang.

"No borders," I went on. "I'll go anywhere with you. Anywhere you call me, Father."

I closed my eyes and let that incredible love wrap around me, melting away all of the fear I hadn't even realized I was carrying. And I felt a burning desire to share this love with my students, to show them the scandal of grace, a love that won't give up on them no matter what they do.

From that point on, I no longer felt that manic enthusiasm I'd been living in, only a quiet trust and an expectant joy. I continued to read my teaching books and watch teaching videos, but I shifted my focus to seeking God with all my heart. I began to realize that giving myself fully to Him is truly the best preparation I can make because the only way I'll be able to love my kids the way He loves me is to let His Spirit grow in me. And the only way I'll have wisdom and strength to persevere through the difficulties I know are coming is to let His Spirit rule in my heart and mind.

But that wasn't the only lesson God had for me.

A few days later, I was feeling a little beaten down after completing another rigorous online application. At least this one had not required a "virtual interview," which was worse than any interview I ever experienced with a live person. I'd had to plug in my camera (after changing out of my sweat pants and putting on some makeup) and record my answers to six questions. I had 30 seconds to prepare for each, and then three minutes to respond. I couldn't redo a question, nor could I stop and finish later. I had to get through all six questions, talking blindly into a camera. Aiyee!!

Anyway, the worst that my latest application required was to respond to a string of essay questions about how I would handle this situation or that situation. I responded without too much difficulty, but in the back of my mind I was remembering when exactly those situations had happened to me, and how I didn't think I had handled them all that well.

I began to wonder just exactly why I wanted to do this. Did I really want to let go of a great-paying job that I was really successful in? To become a novice in a job I already knew was the toughest job on the planet? Perhaps I'd only imagined that God was calling me. Maybe it would be better to stay where it was familiar and comfortable.

I talked it over with God in my prayer closet before bed. "Please let your perfect love cast out my fear," I prayed. "I do know you're calling me to this. I'm sure of it. But I'm afraid of the unknown. I'm afraid I might fail."

Just then, God reminded me of an amazing revelation He'd given me through a song three years before. Bill and I had just separated, and my heart was torn with pain and burdened with the fear that I'd never be happy again.

One day when I was at my lowest, I found a CD under my windshield wiper, with a little note attached: "Listen to #4. Love you, Angel."

Number 4 was a song I'd never heard, Already There by Casting Crowns. I listened to it over and over for days, maybe weeks. I marveled at how the lyrics seemed to have been written specifically for me.
When I'm lost in the mystery, to you my future is a memory.
'Cause you're already there...
Standing at the end of my life, waiting on the other side. 
When I sang that song, I could actually picture myself standing with God, looking back over the big picture of my life. It was such a comfort to know that God was already there, waiting for me to catch up so He could show me what all of this meant, and how it fit into His "picture-perfect plan." It helped me trust that He really did love me, and that all of this would truly work out for my good.

And it has. Oh, it has.

Me around that time, early 2013

So in my closet last week, God reminded me about that Casting Crowns song from sweet Angel. With a thrill, I realized that not only is God waiting at the end of my life, He's also waiting at every point in between.

"You're already there!" I breathed. "You're standing there with me in my classroom on day one, and on day 180. Of course you are. You're outside of time."

I thought of Him there, with the students He picked for me long ago. "You've worked out every detail already," I said. "You've already put everything in place, figured out all the timing and opened all the doors. You've surrounded me with teachers who will mentor me, in a school that will support me."

How I praised Him. "You're going to go beyond the beyond for me. Again! I can't wait to see what you will do--no, what you've already done."

How I loved Him, there in our secret place. I felt deeply rooted and established in His love, perfectly at peace, trusting Him with quiet strength. And for the first time on an online application night, I slept like a baby.

Yes, He's already there. And soon I'll be there with Him.

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