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Reflections on 2014

This past year was a year unlike any other as it marked a transition in my work situation. I’ve written far less blogposts during this time because it became difficult to know “what to say” as I underwent a major change in my life circumstances.

In mid-April, I left school and sat in my car and wept. I was going on medical leave for headaches and while I was (and am) incredibly grateful for the break, I felt torn and sad about leaving my school of 11 years and career of 20+ years. Staying with the decision was very difficult at first, to say the least. How could it be right when it felt so wrong? I felt I was letting many people down, especially my students. As someone who outwardly gave an optimistic face to the world, I’m sure many never guessed the turmoil and soul searching that led to the decision to say yes to what my friends and doctor were telling me.

In the nine months since this decision, I can say it has been a wise one, and probably one of the best of my life. Finding yourself in a “dark wood” (as Dante famously called a difficult time), made me dependent on God like never before, and I’m so grateful that I was not left alone in the impenetrable place of chronic headaches.

I could not have done it without many mercies that came my way. Here’s a list of the many ways God was faithful when I cried out, “Help me!”:

  • Community – God regularly provided the prayers and guidance of many people I have come to see as angels, both in and outside the church. My faith community of Watershed has given invaluable counsel, love and prayers during this time.
  • Faithful friends  – I’m grateful for two angels in particular — my friends, our pastor Paul and his wife Bev. Their counsel, much of it through email since I love writing, got me through many days of uncertainty and lostness. They 4697399154_5bcddffd3fremain an abundant source of wisdom, both in emails and in person in our community life together. As they do with so many, they stood with me and saw God in me when I felt less than human to myself. I hope that I will pass this on to others.
  • Outside help – The MB Teacher’s Society has had my back as well, giving step by step guidance and advice on how to continue, as has my wise doctor.
  • Signs – Along the way, there were also many songs, books, sermons, events, people, dreams, “synchronicities” that came my way — which continued to prove to me that I was being nudged along by an Unseen Hand. Two notable ones were:
    • When I initially went off work, I had a visceral experience in the middle of a bad night of praying “Help me” to God. It is hard to describe. It was more like God prayed it for me, bringing me to a confession that my own efforts on the spiritual journey were inadequate. When I shared this with Paul and Bev the next day, they said they had just read a meditation that morning entitled “Help me”, where a Canaanite woman in scripture begged Jesus to help her and desperately cried out when he ignored her the first time. “She pleaded again, ‘Lord, help me!’” (Matthew 15:25) At the time, it seemed like a sign that God had heard me, and it gave my heart peace. My efforts had taken me only so far on the spiritual journey before their inadequacy showed up. I’ve read that this is the goal of the crisis of faith: total surrender. A knowledge that, like the AA people say, we are completely dependent on a Higher Power. I know surrender is a lifelong process, but this moment was pivotal.
    • I discovered the song “Wasteland” from the group Needtobreathe, which perfectly articulated where I was at.
  • Meditation Room – The advice from Paul to spend each day “writing, reading and praying” in my meditation room was truly the best of all. I’m certainly no saint with a glowing halo. It’s more like I have discovered that a more contemplative life has been restorative, and has helped me take an honest look at the deeper roots of my health issues. For someone who has led a very extroverted life, the meditation room has become a magnet for me. One of the books I read this year was a historical fiction of the life of Julian of Norwich, a 14th century mystic who spent most of her life cloistered in a “cell” (a room)  beside a church as an “anchoress”. I began to see the meditation room as my “cell”, and it remains my favorite place to be every day.
  • Learning to use my inside voice – As I’ve written in the last blogpost, my headaches, while not gone altogether, have been eased by learning how anxious my people-pleasing had made me. Now I’ve just got to keep practicing what I’m oh so slowly learning.
  • St. Aidan’s Christian School – I was resistant at first, but as part of my “rehabilitation”, MTS mandated that I begin to volunteer. From talking to someone at Habitat one summer years ago, I learned about  a small independent school servicing immigrant students called St. Aidan’s, and chose that as my place to volunteer. I’m now up to 4 half days per week (soon to be 5), teaching English as an additional language one on one. I have been so grateful to have found a new home there, somewhere I can continue to work with young people. Grateful because for so long, I didn’t know what kind of future was left for me. I’ve felt a bit like an immigrant myself, having left the “old country” of my former work. The administrator there has been so welcoming to me (as she is to all the students), and being out of the class environment has been helpful in easing the headaches. My Jewish friends Arthur and Debbie have a Hebrew word, “bashert”, which means “meant to be.” I feel that my being led to St. Aidan’s has a “bashert” feel about it.
  • Reading – Besides writing my way through the dark wood, reading has provided another flashlight. Here are my favorite fiction and non-fiction books of the year:

I did many monarch releases in 2014, but one stands out for me. In July, our monarch committee did our annual workshop, and this year had been scheduled to take place in the school I’d just left. It stirred up all kinds of feelings to return. As usual for our workshops, we held a monarch release at the end.

I found myself in the gardens I’d planted, saying good-bye to the monarchs with the

Photo by Holli Webb Hearn

Photo by Holli Webb Hearn

adult workshop participants and children from the daycare. As usual, I invite people to say a prayer, which the monarchs can “wing their way to their Creator”. It’s a speech I’ve given countless times, but this time I could barely get through without getting choked up. I offered up a silent prayer for myself, and for everyone who is searching for a way out of a dark wood.

Those monarchs flew well that day. Just look what kind of a Creator we have. One who answers prayers with such abundance, and with far greater imagination than I ever could have.

Tight Places

One of the blessings of every summer is monarch butterflies. This year, I raised about 20 in all and kept finding people to release them with. Whether it was with a grieving friend, inner city kids, IMG_5134summer bible school kids, at a  community “Nature Walk”, at a garden party or wedding shower, I felt honored to watch wonder unfold. The monarch is an ambassador of hope, especially now as they are becoming endangered.

At each event, I was struck by the challenges people were facing. It wasn’t hard to see the poverty of the inner city children, or the grief of my friend with the sudden loss of her husband, but I also knew there was suffering in the more polished looking places. No one is immune. We all have limitations that bring us to the end of ourselves. Tight places that leave us without answers. In some way, we are all misfits, longing for grace and healing.

The monarch caterpillar knows all about tight places as it sheds its skin one last time,

Photo by Holli Webb Hearn

Photo by Holli Webb Hearn

transforming into a chrysalis.  A chrysalis is a place of radical rearrangement. The caterpillar looks nothing like the adult it becomes, which is the definition of complete metamorphosis. It’s a miracle to be sure, made all the more remarkable when you realize what a tiny place the chrysalis is. It’s a very unlikely place for transformation.

In the middle of the night, when answers sometimes seem the furthest and we don’t know how we can get through, we are not unlike that chrysalis. It’s hard to believe that transformation can be just around the corner. It’s hard to believe that something new or even beautiful can come out of suffering.

Photo by Holli Webb Hearn

Photo by Holli Webb Hearn

As I’ve been in my own unsolvable tight place with my wonky head, I have received hope from an unlikely thought – just to give up and rest in the process. I can not bring about my transformation anymore than a caterpillar in its jade encasement. Despite the 20+ solutions I’ve tried over the last 30 years, I have not yet solved my conundrum. So I’ve stopped trying to wiggle my way out. I’ve begun to listen.

I’ve been learning to trust that this place, while it is difficult, is not a dead end place. Like the monarch, God is surely working a transformation in me, as in all the places of struggle in the world. The places that strike us with terror or no-hope are the places where God can change us the most, because we are brought to

Photo by Holli Webb Hearn

Photo by Holli Webb Hearn

God in prayer. We can do nothing but trust that an unseen hand is bringing about some kind of radical rearrangement of our very molecules. Transforming us in the miracle of complete metamorphosis.

The Psalmist says it best, “From a tight place I called upon God; and God answered me and set me in a spacious place.” Ps. 118:5

This Thanksgiving, I offer a prayer of thanks for the knowledge that I am not alone. May we all be rearranged in our tight places and have the faith to know that a time will come when we will emerge, by God’s infinite mercy, into a spacious place. Surely our spirits will soar again.

Be Not Afraid

This week I experienced God’s presence through a decision I had to make. A sudden opportunity came up to go to Toronto this coming weekend to get trained in a workshop called “Voices From the Land”. It’s all about making art with students using found objects in nature and then writing poetry to go with the photographed art.

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Art from Voices from the Land

I took the workshop 2 years ago at Ft. Whyte. It was taught by one of my all time favorite teachers, Erik Mollenhauer along with his wife Kris. Erik is the founder of the Monarch Teacher Network, and he and Kris are ardent supporters of teaching students to protect our planet by learning to love it.

I first met Erik when he led the Monarch Teacher Network tour of the monarch butterflies in Mexico in 2009, which I was blessed to be part of. He is a born teacher, perfectly exemplifying one of my favorite teaching quotes, “Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.” (attributed to William Butler Yeats)-BeNotAfraid_grande

It was a difficult decision to make because life is more than full right now with report cards to complete along with regular school planning.  It didn’t seem to make any sense to even consider going, but the opportunity kept tugging at my sleeve.

In my quandary, I decided to try bringing it to prayer. I sat beside Jesus in my imagination, as I’ve been doing. It’s often strange to try to do this.  There are moments when it feels weird and other moments when Jesus seems real, but I’ve been encouraged enough to stick with the discipline. I straight out asked Jesus what he would want me to do.

As I sat with this question, all the fears I had came to the surface; fears around not getting my to-do list done. It felt like a swirl. And then, in my imagination (or was it real?), Jesus reached out, put his hand on my heart and said, “Be not afraid.” And the swirl stopped.

What followed was a feeling of profound peace and gladness, and I knew that all would be well. I checked out the decision with my close friends. And that’s how I decided to say yes, trusting in God’s word to me.I was able to use my school division’s discretionary day and book my flight.

In the song, “A Dream Like Mine”, Bruce Cockburn’s sings, “When you know even for a moment that it’s your time, then you can walk with the power of a thousand generations.”  In the 2 weeks that followed, life has been fuller than full but I have felt God giving me strength. Remembering the moment I heard “Yes” and that I could step into life and not be afraid has made all the difference.

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