Saturday, June 17, 2017

Hope That Doesn't Disappoint

I've missed you guys so much! I've had even more stories stacked up in my head than usual, but lacked the time or energy to write them....

I finished my 12-week teaching assignment on May 8. Overall, it was a very positive experience, though I did get discouraged and overwhelmed in the middle of it. Ultimately I learned to relax and accept my students--and myself--for who they were rather than expecting them to adhere to unrealistic standards. I tried to model grace and then to ask for grace when I made my own mistakes. I formed strong bonds with many of my students, and they are my biggest cheerleaders when it comes to the prospect of working at their school in the fall. I did interview for the single open position, but then they got a new principal and then a new assistant principal, so everything is still up in the air.

I spent the last three weeks of school doing one-day sub jobs at various middle schools and high schools across two districts. I had a few adventures that I never had time to tell you about, and mostly enjoyed myself. I was surprised to find that I quite enjoy middle schoolers, and I think I would be just as happy teaching them as I would be teaching high schoolers. I also found that there are many, many schools where I'd feel honored to work and where I would be welcomed warmly by the students and staff.


I had planned to spend the summer doing contract work for my previous company, but was not really looking forward to doing instructional design again as opposed to actual instruction. I figured that was a good sign. What I was looking forward to was the money. At least I wouldn't have to worry about how to get through the summer, and maybe instructional design could supplement my earnings next school year in case I didn't get a contract and had to keep subbing.

So I was understandably disappointed and bewildered when I learned that the budget for my contract work had not been approved. Just as the school year ended, I suddenly found myself unemployed for the first time... ever? Considering my history of anxiety over far less troubling situations, I think I've done remarkably well. I just keep telling myself that God's plan for me is good, and that this is a great opportunity to practice trusting Him no matter what.

Even when I got a bill for a doctor visit from six months ago, which my former insurance company denied because my annual exam was scheduled one day too early.

Even when my dryer broke and I decided we'd have to get by with a wooden drying rack.

Thanks to God and Dave Ramsey, I have a fairly healthy nest egg that had been growing over the last decade, but I don't like to see it shrinking. I've had to remind myself of what I said to Allyson when she worried about me quitting my job to become a substitute teacher: "God will always take care of us. It's a good thing for us to be put in a position to trust Him more."

I do have a number of marketable skills, but I hesitate to start any "good job" that I'll likely be quitting in two months, and I hate to take a minimum wage job that will likely require me to work nights and weekends; I'm especially committed to resting on the Sabbath.

So, even though I feel guilty aligning myself with a company that exploits drivers who are desperate for cash, I decided to try driving for Uber. I figured I could be a blessing to a bunch of strangers, and perhaps God would bless me financially while I was at it.

Within a few days, I learned that you can't really expect a reliable living. Sometimes you get back-to-back rides, but they are only $3 or $4 each. Sometimes you get a long run that nets you $30 in half an hour, but then you find yourself far from home and sitting in a parking lot for 45 minutes trying not to sweat (or get bitten by mosquitoes if it's nighttime) because you can't afford to run the A/C. And forget driving back towards home because your next call could take you right back to where you were. I learned that you could drive 17 minutes for a pickup on a 2-mile run and earn less than $3. (That should be illegal. Seriously.)

At first, I felt anxious, frustrated, and resentful. I had to pray about that; I didn't want to do a job that put me in such a negative frame of mind so that I found myself repenting on a regular basis. Just as I had done in the classroom, I asked God to help me shift my focus. I asked Him to help me find the good and to help me see my passengers through His eyes.

Over the course of a week or so, I suddenly realized I was enjoying myself immensely. I wasn't making as much as I'd hoped, but it was close to what I'd made as a one-day sub. On the other hand, I felt rich with joy and appreciation for all of the fascinating people God has made in His image. For hours each day, I get to talk with people from all over the world, from all walks of life, from different age groups and different socioeconomic statuses. It doesn't take much effort to draw most of them out, and many of them tell me a lot of their life stories and/or or their current stories. In the last two weeks, I've talked to:

  • Immigrants from India, Nepal, Africa, Germany, and Greece. I got a kick out of saying, "Danke, sehr," to the German and out of explaining the phrase, "It's all Greek to me," to the guy from Greece. I was touched when the young man from Nepal said quietly at the end of our ride, "Thank you for talking to me."
  • Lawyers, project managers, engineers, waiters and waitresses, a female executive, a daycare teacher passionately committed to her job, a commercial pilot in training, a former Air Force chaplain with a beautiful testimony, and a retired pitcher for the Twins (man, was he a cutey!).
  • People who live in run-down apartments, posh Downtown condos, and staggeringly huge castles. 

Most of my passengers want to know how a middle-aged woman ended up driving for Uber, and I'm happy to share my teaching journey with them. But I've had to admit that, being unemployed and without a contract for the fall, I sometimes wonder if I heard God incorrectly when I felt the call to return to the classroom.

That nagging whisper flits through my mind like the gnat that deviled me when I was trying to sleep during a recent camping trip. It's the old lie that the Serpent used on Eve so long ago: "Did God really say...?"

Hope That Doesn't Disappoint

A couple of weeks back, while visiting a nearby church because I was too tired to drive to my usual one, I heard a familiar scripture. When the music minister mentioned it in passing, I immediately recognized it as one of the sticky-note passages hanging on my kitchen cabinets. But he quoted a different translation, and a part of it came alive to me in a new way, quickening my heart:
We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love. (Romans 5:3-5, emphasis added)
There, surrounded by strangers who are my brothers and sisters, I felt God speaking to my heart. He reminded me of all of the twists and turns on this journey, of all of the things He did and said through so many different people just to get me to the point where I could let go of my comfort zone and take this crazy leap. I could never have done that without the hope that I would one day stand in a classroom and touch lives. "Where did that hope come from?" He asked. "Yes, I gave it to you. And I did not give you a hope that will end in disappointment."

"Thank you for giving me hope," I whispered over the worship song we were now singing. "I trust you, Father. Oh, help me trust you."

From that point, I resolved to start praising God for the job He has already lined up for me. Whenever I start to think about plan B for the fall, in case I don't get a position, in case God doesn't take care of me, I have to catch myself and turn my thoughts to praising Him for his perfect timing and his infinite wisdom. I tell Him how I can't wait to see this story unfold and how I will give Him the glory when I do.

To remind myself of these truths, I hung a couple of my kitchen verses around my Celebrate Recovery lanyard, which hangs from my mirror.

"For hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has?
But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently."
"Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives.
Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid." (John 14:27)
I also hung the crucifix that was a gift from my dear friend Laura's mother. It was made in Jerusalem, allegedly from wood harvested in the garden of Gethsemane.

Each day, I bring my journal, my Bible, and my current Bible study (Entrusted by Beth Moore, yay!). When I'm waiting for a call, I scout out a shady spot to park and dive into the Word. Inevitably, a call interrupts me just when it's getting good. Then I shift gears (literally) and often start praying over my next ride. Nine times out of ten, we have a great conversation before passing out of each other's lives forever.

So, aside from daily skirmishes with Google Maps that drive me craa-zy, I have mostly been enjoying driving total strangers around the Metroplex for 5-6 hours at a time.

But...

If you have been reading long, you probably won't be surprised when I confess that are still moments when I wonder, "What if?" and "Did God really say...?"

Yesterday was one of those days.

Just a Little Something

One of the worst things about Ubering is that I feel compelled to wake up before dawn--as early as 5:30!--to try to catch an airport run, which is typically the best fare of the day. Because I'd been having trouble sleeping the last couple of nights due to a bit of anxiety that I brought on myself, I slept a little later and got my first ride around 6:30.

I felt pretty bleary-eyed and not overly cheerful, but I put on a bright smile as I opened the front passenger door and motioned for my customer to join me up front. (I can't stand having people sit behind me, and they are much more likely to talk up in the front seat so that I don't have to endure long, awkward silences.)

After kissing his wife with shocking passion for 6 in the morning, he tossed his suitcase into the backseat (airport run, ka-ching!) and then greeted me warmly. We hadn't gone a block before he learned that I am an aspiring English teacher.

"Say, I noticed that you came from the other side of the park," he said.

Goosebumps rose on my arms, but then I realized that there was no reason for him to suspect that he was my first ride and thus that I'd been coming from home. For all he knew, I'd been up at 4 like the hard-core Uber drivers.

"Yes," I said cautiously.

"Well, my daughter lives over there on B-- Drive. Are you familiar with it?"

My eyebrows rose. That's the little street that leads to my cul-de-sac.  "B-- Drive? Yes, I know it."

"The reason I mention it is that she is an English and ESL teacher over at C- T- High School. Or, she was. She's going out on maternity leave, and she's going to be a stay-at-home mom. I bet she could give you some--"

"C- T- High School??" I interrupted. "You say she's an ESL teacher?" He nodded. "Crazy! I interviewed for her position just a few weeks back. They spoke very highly of her."

"What a small world," he said. "How did you do?"

I told him the interview had gone very well for the English classes, but that I had not been qualified to teach ESL (English as a Second Language). "I have the ESL certificate from when I taught 20 years ago," I explained, "but I only got to take one of the four ESL college courses. All the teachers in our inner-city school needed an ESL certificate. My principal wanted me to just try taking the test, and I passed it--with a 72."

He told me that his daughter had felt very unqualified also, though she had taken all four of the college courses. But she ended up loving the ESL classes and truly excelling in the position. After describing his experience hiring scores of engineering candidates, he passed on advice remarkably similar to some I'd previously received from my mother about that same English/ESL interview: "Going forward, let them decide whether you're qualified. Tell them what you can do, and focus on your past accomplishments. Tell them that you're confident you can learn to do anything."

I thanked him and told him about an upcoming interview for a middle school position. "Maybe you can help me with something," I said. "The question that always stumps me is the last one: 'What questions do you have for us?' I know that interviewers put a lot of stock in your response to that question, and I usually do come prepared with questions, but often they've already answered all of my legitimate questions by the time they ask me that. How should I respond?"

"You know," he said after a moment's thought, "My daughter Megan could answer that question better. I think she'd like to meet you. She could give you some great tips on interviews and classroom management."

"Really?" I gushed. Forgetting all about protecting my privacy, I excitedly told him that Megan lives right across the street from me, and that I already have friends all over our little double cul-de-sac, and that I'd love to make a new friend since my dear friend and neighbor Kim moved away to Florida recently.

"Would you mind shooting her a text to expect a strange woman to knock on her door?" I asked.

He said she was probably still asleep, but that he would email her right away. For the next 5 or 6 minutes, he pecked out a very long email on his phone's touch screen. About a minute after he'd pressed Send, I recognized the default email beep on his Android phone. He glanced down, "She says she'd love to meet you."

"What amazing timing," I marveled. "My interview is on Monday. This feels like a divine appointment."

"Yes, maybe it is," he said.

It turns out he was actually going a bit farther than the airport, stopping by his office building for a meeting before his trip to Munich. So I earned a couple of extra dollars and got to avoid the hassle of dropping him at the terminal. As we pulled into an empty parking spot, I thought "This was way better than any tip."

Usually, I vainly hope for a tip from the business travelers; I know that I always tip handsomely when it's on the company dime. But Uber passengers almost never tip because they can't do it in the app, and no one ever carries cash.

After he'd given me his daughter's name, number, and address, he took his leave. On his way out the door, he handed me some folded bills. "A little something for you," he said. "Best of luck with your teaching."

I thanked him profusely and then drove around the empty lot looking for a shady spot. Once parked, I unfolded the bills and almost dropped them in astonishment. Tucked inside of two $1 bills were two $20s! He'd given me $42 on a $20 fare!

Tears rolled down my cheeks. "Oh, Father," I breathed. "I don't deserve this kindness." For just a moment, I thought of my recent anxiety, of my distractions and busyness, of my heart that sometimes is not fully his. But then I felt a love that overwhelmed me, and I began to sob. I can't say I heard actual words from God, but I knew exactly what He was telling me: It's not about what I deserve. He delights in giving me good gifts because I'm His girl, always. Even when I am too busy and too exhausted to spend time with him. I never, ever have to earn His love. And He will always take care of me, just as He promised. This hope will not lead to disappointment.

"You are so good to me," I said aloud. "You can do anything you want to do. I know you will take care of me. I know."

I hadn't even dried my eyes when the Uber app beeped again, for a ride at a hotel only four minutes away. Yay! I blew my nose noisily and used the dry end of the Kleenex to wipe my eyes.

Thankfully, my new passenger was easy to spot; often it takes a good five minutes and multiple phone calls to track someone down at an apartment complex or hotel. Seeing his suitcase, I popped the trunk and then waved him to the front seat. "Airport run," I thought with a sigh. This time it would be a short run.

He greeted me pleasantly. "How has your day been so far?"

"I've had an amazing day!" I replied.

"Really? How so?"

"Well... Do you ever feel that God is so good to you that He's almost showing off?"

He smiled. "I'm sure it makes Him very happy that you acknowledge that. So, what was so amazing?"

I told him about how God had connected me with a potential mentor and friend who lives right across the street from me. I didn't mention the tip because I felt it would be in poor taste; I never mention tips to my passengers, though I do leave the small bills in a little box in my console as a hint.

He, too, was amazed at my apparent divine appointment. We spent the rest of the short trip talking about teaching--his sister had taught in an inner-city school for decades. He encouraged me greatly and told me I would surely make a big difference in many lives.

When we pulled up to the curb, I told myself not to hope for another tip today. It was enough to receive so much encouragement from two total strangers in a row. But as he stepped out of the car, he put a folded bill into my tip box. It was a $20. On an $8 fare. "A little something for your back-to-teaching fund," he said. I gasped at the sacred echo; two generous tips in a row, both called "a little something," surely were not a coincidence.

Throughout the day, I continued to receive tips, anywhere from $2 to $4 at a time. My little pile was growing:
It all came to $69! 
What an incredible day.

This morning I decided to sleep in and spend some much needed time with my Beloved. Later today, I'll walk across the street to meet Megan. At the least, I'll get some teaching tips. At best, I'll make a new friend.

No, I don't deserve all this kindness. That's what makes it so sweet.

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