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Archive for September, 2011

Unending Help

Life has moved to the fast lane very quickly lately. I am experiencing a new learning curve with a new grade to teach this year, and over 2 weeks have already flown by in the classroom. I have a full plate with 26 lively students. This set of students is younger than I am used to, and you can’t beat their enthusiasm.  Hugs, heartfelt responses to everything and a love of listening to stories are just some of their great features, but the challenging flip side to this is that it’s like having a room full of puppies – really cute but, well, have you ever tried taking care of 26 puppies at once?!

My favorite activity so far has got to be singing with them at the end of the day. I have been teaching them all the “oldy goldies” that I’ve been singing at the senior’s home, and they are loving it! Who would have thought Grade 2 and 3’s would belt out “Oh Susanna” and “Roll Out the Barrel” for all they’re worth?

So with all these learning curves and busy schedules, I’ve noticed an old temptation rearing its head in my imagination lately.  A panic can start to arise that makes me think all this is too much. It’s amazing how quickly this old way of thinking can set in for me, and by old, I mean really old. I think this “911” mode was just a habit I developed early on in life. I became a drama queen, thinking about what was going wrong. Maybe it was a way I thought I could spice up my life. I’m old enough now that I can spot this old habit and see it for what it is (lies), but it’s amazing how much a grip it can still have!

What I believe and dearly want to live out in the classroom is to be a calm, centered presence, kind of like the Dog Whisperer, who is one of my heroes. Many who see me, however, might not guess at the churning stomach behind the scenes, and tossing in bed at 2 a.m. with the worried temptation that I don’t have what it takes.

So it’s been really helpful in the midst of all this to hold on like an anchor to a verse that came up for me just before school began. It’s from a book in the New Testament, and the line that stayed with me was a promise: God will surprise you with gifts of unending help and confidence.” (2 Thessalonians 2:17, Message translation). I even typed it out and put it up in my cupboard at work.

This world with an unending supply of what I truly need is God’s world. It truly confronts all my worries and self-doubt and helps me place my trust not in my gut responses, but in God’s abundant help. When the verse came to me, I remember feeling such gratitude at all the ways God has helped me already, and I’m sure that even when the stomach is churning, the promise will still hold. As Julian of Norwich (the 14th century English mystic) once famously said, “All shall be well, all shall be well, all manner of things shall be well.” This is one of the ways God has been showing up lately.

As a P.S., I also wanted to add that another huge blessing lately is seeing that our son Joel has arrived back home safe and sound from Europe and has a new confidence and joy in him from a summer of adventures and receiving so much kindness from others. He has jumped into his fall schedule at university with both feet and is more than busy, but he’s taking it in stride and I’m sure he’ll be all right.

Joel feeding a donkey in Ireland

Generosity

Today I have some reflections on where I’ve seen God in my son Joel’s summer. For anyone who doesn’t know, we have a 20 year old son who was lucky enough to go to Europe for over 4 months this summer. The first ¾ of the summer was spent in Germany, working at a pool and lakeside resort, doing glorious things like weeding, painting and any other small jobs. The point of this adventure has been to work on learning german, which is his major at university. He’s coming home in little over 24 hours from when I am writing this blog.

For the last part of the summer, he has been traveling with some buddies. Flying or riding the rails, camping and hosteling along the way, he has visited the Ukraine, the Swiss Alps, England and Ireland. Joel has emailed and phoned during his travels, and one theme I have seen over and over again is the generosity of people he has met.

Saying good-bye to Joel at the airport on May 1/11

When you have someone you love dearly, it is essential to let them go as they find their way in life. We watched his plane depart on May 1st, and as parents everywhere do, we sent him with many prayers for his well being and hopes that he would find his way in this first venture in independence. Worrying isn’t one of my biggest vices, but I certainly wondered how things would pan out.

Soon the stories began to trickle in, building to a steady stream that we’d hear about all summer. First there were the kind people in Hemmingen who gave him a place to stay and helped him with many details. The two “Frau’s” who hosted the two Canadians at their houses, Frau Quentin and Frau Rumberg, are in Joel’s words, “some of the kindest people I’ve ever met”. “Herr Novak”, the head of the program, helped him sort out many practical details such as banking. Today those very people are hosting a good-bye supper for him.

Joel also enjoyed meeting people at his job site, people who were tourists like himself and enjoyed meeting the Canadians. Joel has a knack for talking to strangers, and this became one of his favorite parts of the summer. We’d constantly hear about him asking people for directions, and he and his buddies would end up being invited over to camp in their backyard and join them for supper. Once, after hiking up a mountain in the rain, they ended up at a small hotel where people took them in and bought them supper.

As a mom hearing about all this across the ocean, I’d always say a heartfelt prayer of thanks for all those angels who gave him a kind word, food or lodging. I remember when he was going through school, I’d feel the same gratitude for those teachers who were able to make a connection with our son, going the second mile to be friendly or humorous or just human, encouraging Joel with their friendship. It was the same way when we heard about the generosity overseas. I kept being reminded of God’s bountiful world, and the many ways Lyle and I have experienced God’s help in raising him. We truly have never felt alone.

Over the years, we have been so grateful for the love shown to Joel in our community. Every child needs caring and interested adults to help them grow in life, and Joel has received that in abundance, from loving grandparents, to all our dear friends, to mentors like Cal and Paul in Watershed who have spent time going through books with Joel and giving him guidance and friendship. I remember when I first learned we were expecting him, and the pang of worry I had as I wondered how we’d be able to nurture this new life. Now, twenty years later, when I see the web of love that God has intricately provided for us, I know that our prayers were answered in ways I couldn’t even have imagined.

We have also been grateful to see that Joel has been learning to see this bounty as coming from God. It is always our prayer that he might continue to make faith his own. God knows we need more people in the world who are able to translate faith and meaning in a relevant and contemporary way. There’s enough crazy translations of faith out there.

We hear that his hair is now a "bit" longer than in this picture!

I don’t mean to say that it has all been clear sailing, because it hasn’t. I don’t think there’s a parent alive who hasn’t had worries and bumps, sometimes big bumps, along the way. But even there, I have seen God providing guidance and healing.

It has often helped me rebuild my own sense of what God’s world looks like. With these many examples, my worldview is slowly being changed to seeing that “God is everywhere”, which was one of Joel’s first sentences in life.

There are so many verses that illustrate what I am coming to see, but one that comes to mind is Romans 11:33: “Have you ever come on anything quite like this extravagant generosity of God, this deep, deep wisdom? It’s way over our heads. We’ll never figure it out.”

Joel, as you travel home, I want to say that I always thank God for giving you to us. You have been my greatest gift in life and God has taught us so much through your unique and precious life. We’re looking forward to seeing you again. It’ll be different at home since you have acquired so much independence, and we want to continue to help you as you step into new adventures. May you always continue to see God everywhere you go.

Why I Am Still Sticking With Teaching

“Maybe that can be your next blog post!” my friend Linda said to me the other day during a conversation. My friends often say that to me since I started this blog, reminding me that there are so many rich answers to the question of where God is in my life.

Linda and I were at “Movie Night”, something that happens once every two months. It is hosted by Watershed, and anyone who loves movies and meaning is invited to come down and join us. Friends and neighbours get together and there’s always great coffee, popcorn, dessert, lots of laughs, not to mention a movie and meaningful discussion afterwards. (Check the movie night link.)

The movie chosen this time around was “Of Gods and Men”, a true story set in Algeria about some Trappist monks who had a tough choice to make. A group of fundamentalist terrorists were threatening their village and the monks had to decide whether to leave or stay. It’s an inspiring story. I’d highly recommend it.

We were talking about choices in the discussion afterwards. We all wondered what we would have done in that situation. Would we have made the harder choice and stayed with the people we loved and served, even if it meant possible death?

We are not usually (or ever) in such a life or death place of decision, and this led me to wonder about the smaller choices in our lives. “There are many smaller occasions when we have to choose between what is easy and what is difficult,” I piped up during the discussion. I was reminded of a time that I came to a crossroads.

I teach in elementary school, and every spring, the administrator sends everyone a sheet asking about our intentions for the next school year. Are we planning to retire, move to a different grade, stay in the same grade? You get the picture. In the early years, this was a difficult decision for me to make. I love kids but I often found teaching difficult. Still do. It is a complex job, one that takes equanimity and energy to do well. “You want me to do this for another round?!” I wanted to write on the intention sheet. “Let me be a cashier at Safeway, or pour coffee at Tim’s…anything but this!” 

Fortunately, I have a group of friends who encouraged me not to take the easy road. There was one year in particular, back in 2003, when I came to a crossroads. The school that I’d been at for six years was closing. This transition point gave me the itch to want to do something different and I remember asking my friends Cal and Bev for advice. I remember the year and the advice because I wrote an article about it afterwards, and this week I took the time to read it, called, “Why I’m Sticking With Teaching”.

We ended up talking about my tendency to want to squirm out of difficult situations when the going gets rough. “This is my temptation too,” Cal empathized.

Life was bringing me the lessons I was meant to learn in the difficulties I experienced in teaching. I can see that now. But at the time, I wanted to do anything but apply myself. The teacher became the one faced with the most lessons.

Usually (if not always), these life lessons that come to all of us involve struggle and the choice is always before us – to develop character amid the difficulties or not. “Will you distract yourself in a million ways, and resort to a situational cure like scampering off to a new job? Or will you accept the suffering life brings, and with God’s guidance let it be a chance to deepen as a person?” This is the question Cal and Bev asked me.

This is not to say that a person should never take a new direction in life. For me, however, I knew  that a job change wasn’t the answer. I knew the answer was sticking with teaching. With the encouragement and unconditional love of dear friends, I took the harder path, the one less traveled, and over the years I have been every so slowly learning the lessons before me.

One big lesson has been from the course called “Becoming Human 101”. I am perfectionistic by nature, and teaching got my feet tangled in the sticky mud of real life. Too often my anger made me miserable by day’s end. I found a question before me from God: “Lydia, who will you be? Will you remain rigid, demanding that life be what you bargained for? Or will you let go of your expectations, letting me use your circumstances, no matter how difficult, to shape you into a person of character?”

The internal taskmaster who used to crack the whip has become, over the years, more of a gracious mentor (mostly taking the form of my encouraging and faithful friends at Watershed), reassuring me at every turn that I am free to be human because I am loved unconditionally. This mentor, also known as God, also gives me the courage I need to stay in a difficult place and lean into the lessons before me, developing the fruits of character such as patience, love, peace of heart and kindness.

Another big lesson I am learning is that “I am not my job”. A famous theologian named Paul Tillich coined the phrase “ultimate concern”. What is our ultimate concern in life? Is it our jobs or what we “do”, or is there “Something Greater” out there that our jobs and our very selves are contained in? How connected are we to our deepest values? My friends reminded me to keep my eyes on God, not on my own performance or my subjective sense of whether I was doing “well” or not.

"Set Down in Green Pastures" - Taken at the Pinawa Dam

“Beautiful things are seldom easy,” says a poster I remember on my cousin’s wall from my childhood. The saying is set on a picture of a flower growing up through a crack in the pavement. I often remembered this poster as I went through the years. I started out in life expecting easy street, but I have learned that the difficult road is where all the treasures lie.

And there have been flower treasures growing up through the cracks! For one thing, I no longer hesitate when that intention sheet crosses my desk every spring. Somehow I know this is the place for me. But more than that, I have had greater peace of heart with the kids. “The major task of aging is that of mellowing,” said a quote given to me on my 50th birthday this year. Maybe mellowing is the best word for it.

I still have a long way to go, but I wouldn’t change my job for anything at this point. Difficult days still give me that knee jerk reaction of wanting to toss in the towel and go pour coffee at Tim’s! But I have another option now, to pray and stay in the difficult place, trusting that God is working out his ways in me and that God will provide for me, giving what I need to face the day.

Here is that quote in its fullness, with a blessing to you all as you enter your places of difficulty, whatever they might be, with a sense of trust and hope.

The major task of aging is that of mellowing – grieving, forgiving, letting go, accepting vulnerability, and moving beyond the greed, ambition, competitiveness, and perpetual disappointment of youth.              Ron Rolheiser

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