Saturday, 30 December 2017

To the Person Who Asked Me About My Future


Several days ago, someone asked me some questions about my future that I honestly couldn't answer.  It's not the first time this has happened to me. When you've grown up on a small island where everyone knows you, these kinds of interactions are the norm. So in that moment, I gave the answer that seems to be the default one in my life lately. I said, "I don't know." I was taken off guard and not sure what else to say, but as I revisited the conversation in my head later on, I realized my answer was incomplete.

To the person who asked me about my future, here's what I really meant to say:

Up until a few years ago, I had all the plans. I had a five year plan, ten year plan, probably even a twenty year plan. I thought I had my life entirely figured out... until one day I realized I didn't.

Over a period of a few months in early 2016, I started to question a lot of things in my life. The five year plan I had come up with during my college years wasn't exactly unfolding the way I expected. The more I thought about the future, the more anxious I became. I started looking everywhere for answers, except for the one place I knew I could truly find them: in the arms of Jesus.

On April 6, 2016, I made a decision to surrender my life and plans to the Lord, to finally obey the call I'd heard for so long and seek Him with my whole heart.

"You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart."
- Jeremiah 29:13

And that I did. Almost two years later, I still haven't found all the answers that I was seeking. But I've discovered something better: hope and confidence in the One who does have the answers, the One who loves me with an everlasting love (Jeremiah 31:3) and has engraved me on the palms of His hands (Isaiah 49:16).

In just twenty months, God has turned my life upside down and filled it with new passions, dreams, and desires. He has given me a new sense of purpose in my life, a passion for His Word, and has placed a burning desire in my heart to share it with others. I am still full of questions, probably even more than before. Surrendering my plans to Him has been difficult and admittedly scary, but with surrender comes freedom. Day by day, I am learning to live by the promise of Matthew 6:33-34.

"But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own." 
- Matthew 6:33-34

 A few months ago, God planted a new dream in my heart, one that wasn't on my original five or ten year plan - to pursue an online master's degree in Christian Ministry. It's a big dream, an exciting dream, a scary dream, but I'll be honest - I have no idea how God will use this dream or what exactly it means for my life and future. I may not know how He will use it, but I know He will. I don't have all the answers and I'm learning to be okay with that. I'm also learning that oftentimes faith requires action without answers. In the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., "Faith is taking the first step even when you don't see the whole staircase."

To the person who asked me about my future, I meant what I said to you a few days ago. I was telling the truth when I said, "I don't know." But what I really meant to say was, "I don't know, but God knows." I will never have all the answers, but I can trust in Him because He does.

"Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!" 
- Romans 11:33

I no longer have a five or ten year plan and maybe that seems foolish. But I've realized that a plan without God is one that isn't worth making. I've realized that I would rather walk with the Lord day by day - even if it is painfully slow - than run ahead of Him. He's teaching me that my purpose isn't found in the answers; my purpose is found in Christ. As I enter this new year, I will still ask questions, have dreams, and yes, even make plans, but hold onto them loosely. In 2018, I will choose to cling tightly to the only permanent thing in a world full of temporary - the hope I profess in Christ (Hebrews 10:23). In 2018, I will cling to God's promises and His truth, with the assurance that He is working in all things for my good and His glory (Romans 8:28).

"Many are the plans in a person's heart, but it is the Lord's purpose that prevails." 
- Proverbs 19:21



Saturday, 5 August 2017

The Problem With Stuff: One Teacher's Take on Having #AllTheThings



Recently, on my vacation to the US, I bought a trash can. Yes, a trash can. Did I need it? No, not really. But it was cute, it was from Target, and it was only $3, so I bought it for my classroom.

I don't know about you, but that last sentence has come out of my mouth a lot over the four years that I've been teaching. And somehow, in those four years, I've managed to accumulate a lot of stuff.

By now, if you're a teacher reading this, you're probably trying to rationalize. "But buying stuff comes with the territory when you're a teacher," you might say. "It's different from any other job." And I agree. However, I am realizing that my "stuff" problem doesn't just show up in my classroom; it's in my home too. It's in my closet, in my drawers, on my desk. Everywhere I look, there's so. much. stuff.

I'm realizing that the problem with stuff is that you always want more. As a teacher or just as a human being, I may think that is perfectly fine. But as a Christian, I know better. I know that there's more to life than having more.

"Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." 
- Matthew 6:19-21

God has been using this verse over the past year to remind me that all these things, these earthly treasures if you will, are temporary. He's been teaching me that putting my hope in something temporary will always lead to disappointment. Temporary things can never bring permanent joy and fulfillment. Only Christ can do that in our lives.

"Jesus said to them, 'I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.'" 
- John 6:35 

Sadly, we live in a world that tries to convince us otherwise. Everywhere we look - especially on social media - we're bombarded with the message that we need to have #allthethings in order to be happy and successful. And we get the idea that if we don't have the same things as everyone else, we're missing out. This message has trickled into the teaching community over the last few years, and many teachers - myself included - have fallen into the trap.

In 1 Timothy 6:17, we are told "not to be arrogant nor to put [our] hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put [our] hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment."
I love the last part of that verse because it reminds me that God doesn't want us to not have money or nice things. In fact, He's provided us with things for our enjoyment. In the Old Testament, we're told that God blessed King Solomon with more wealth than any other king (1 Kings 3:13). God is not opposed to wealth and possessions. What He is opposed to is the attitude of dependence and greed that we often develop towards wealth and possessions. Instead of owning possessions, our possessions end up owning us. Even Solomon, who was arguably the richest man who ever lived, concluded that riches and possessions are ultimately meaningless.

"Whoever loves money never has enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with their income. This too is meaningless." 
- Ecclesiastes 5:10 

When I finally made it home from my vacation on Thursday night, I unzipped my suitcase and took out that trash can that had looked so enticing in the Dollar Spot just a few days earlier. It had made it through the journey, albeit with a new dent or two. I had stuffed some clothes inside of it to take up space and hopefully offer some protection, but I guess my plan hadn't worked as well as I'd hoped. After I removed each crumpled piece of clothing, I looked at the trash can - a little banged up and totally empty. The thought came to my mind that my life is often a lot like that trash can. To maintain appearances, I fill it with things that seem to offer security and protection, but just end up leaving me bruised and empty.

It has been difficult for this self-confessed shopaholic to admit the truth that God has been bringing to my attention over the last few months - that despite what Instagram is telling me, having #allthethings won't make me a better teacher. I recently came across a quote by Richard L. Evans that really struck me:

"Children will not remember you for the material things that you provided, but for the feeling that you cherished them."

It's easy for me to forget that although my students enjoy having a nice classroom with cool rewards and incentives, what they really yearn for is my love. This year, I want to invest in my class more than my classroom. I want to give these precious children my time, energy, grace, and love above all else. I want to show them the "great love [my] Father has lavished on [me]" (1 John 3:1) so that they will know more than anything that they are loved and cherished. Because that's what it's all about, isn't it? Not #allthethings, but #allthelove.

As I prepare to start the new school year in the next couple of weeks, I invite you to pray with me for our students and each other. To pray that our hearts will be focused on what's most important and that love and grace would be our top priority in our classrooms this year.

"'A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.'" 
- John 13:34-35


Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Reflections from The Year I Almost Left Teaching


"I'm thinking about taking a year off from teaching next year," I said to my principal with tears in my eyes.

When I first started teaching four years ago, I couldn't imagine myself doing anything else. When people asked me how long I intended to teach, I would always look at them like they were crazy and tell them I was going to keep teaching until I was old enough to retire. For me, teaching wasn't a temporary thing or a step on the ladder to some bigger and better career. Teaching was a calling. So how did I end up in this place a few months into the school year?

To give you some background, I teach at a pretty small school, with approximately only 60 students total from Pre-K to 5th grade. Yes, you read that correctly. 60 students. As you probably figured, there is only one teacher for each grade level because most classes have no more than 12 students. Teaching at such a small school allows me to know exactly who is going to be in my class the following year. Last summer, I knew I had a challenge ahead of me. I was getting the class that has by far the most behavior problems of any class at my school. Although classroom management has always been a struggle for me, I was determined to do my best and to build relationships with these students. I even wrote a blog post at the end of the summer last year detailing the journey I had been on in my faith and sharing my desire to show the love of Christ to my students in the upcoming school year.

And boy, did those words haunt me throughout the school year. Because if I'm being honest, a lot of the time, I didn't show my students the love of Christ. Instead of love, I often showed impatience, anger, and weariness. For the first time in my teaching career, I truly understood the struggle of Paul in Romans 7:

15 I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. 16 And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. 17 As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. 18 For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. 
- Romans 7:15-19

I felt like a failure. All of the behavior issues, additional paperwork, and personal stresses had started to take a toll on me and I came home feeling tired every day. I felt myself beginning to lose the joy and zeal I'd had for teaching since the day I stepped into my first classroom four years ago. I began to wonder if this was God's way of telling me to step away from teaching for a while.

And so that day came, when I broke down in my principal's office - something I had never done before - and told her about my struggle and the doubts I was having. She is the sweetest and most supportive principal anyone could ask for and of course told me she wanted me to stay, that she knew I would get through this and was willing to support me in any way she could.

Shortly after that, I began doing a Bible study with a group of women on the Fruit of the Spirit. I learned so much through that study and began to see a purpose in everything I had been going through. Even though I had been on a spiritual journey of sorts since April 2016 and could see evidence of God's transformation in my life, there were many areas I was still lacking in. One of the points from the Bible study that stood out to me when we looked specifically at patience was that we need those people who test our patience. And oftentimes, God places those people in our lives to show us that we're not as mature as we think we are, so that we can become aware of what we lack and where God needs to work in us.

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. 
- James 1:2-4

This realization made me look at my struggles with my students in a completely different way. You see, during a time in my life where it would have been easy to look back at my spiritual growth and become self-righteous, God gave me exactly what I needed. He showed me that there were areas of my life that I needed to surrender to Him in order to bear fruit. He showed me that teaching - the one thing in my life that I always thought I could do on my own - was something that would be impossible for me without His help.

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing." 
- John 15:5

One of the things I've always loved about teaching is that while we're teaching, we're also learning. In fact, teaching is a career where we never stop learning. This year, I think I learned more than I have any other year. I learned that God's grace is sufficient (2 Corinthians 12:9), that His mercies are new every morning (Lamentations 3:23), and that He is working all things together for my good (Romans 8:28). I learned that although I may fail, He never does. In every trial, He has a purpose and He will complete the good work that He has started in me (Philippians 1:6).