Tuesday, October 22, 2013

1000 Gifts

This one is for you, Noelle
It seemed as though everything was going wrong. As the phrase, “when it rains, it pours” started to become all too real in my life, I was looking for heaviness in the drops instead of the rainbow shining through.  From dripping ceilings, to no electricity, to clogged sinks, to broken routers, to overcast skies, I was missing home and all of the people in it.                 

My placement work was slow to start, and with all my extra time I looked to take notice in all the little things I had not expected to happen.  I was using my time to question why I was on this journey, and how God could call me to such a place.  I was negative, I was desperate, and I was lonely. 

Before leaving for London, a family friend left me with a gift I managed to pack in with my luggage.  A book she cherished, hoping the words that touched her could find a way to guide me as well.  It was a simple gesture of kindness, and she couldn’t have known that a month later this book would be my saving grace in bringing light to my journey and filling me with the Holy Spirit.  One chapter in, I was hungry for more words, more God, and more challenges. 

Thanks to this book, I have started a list.  It’s simple really.  It’s a list of gifts I witness every day.  Gifts as small as dew on a vibrant pink flower petal, or the smile of the crossing guard stopping traffic on my way to school.  I'm also learning to see the "ugly beautiful"; when I might not understand why I am faced with a specific challenge, but can focus on the gift it holds.  We have a God of specifics, and as he is giving us 1000 gifts every moment.  It’s our privilege to be able to stop and notice them.  As we notice these gifts, we are noticing all the ways God loves us.  We are giving thanks to his glory and letting the Holy Spirit fill us with joy. 

Two months in… and as my list continues to grow longer, the rain seems to be letting up.  Sure, I’m still soaked when I step outside, but instead of focusing on the rain, I see, taste, hear, and enjoy all of the million sunbeams shining through. 

So for now…

252. Sharpened lead to paper

253. The smell of fresh pencil shavings

254. Legs carrying me on a walk to school

255. Wind carrying the sound of shrieking laughter

256. Missing my train to stop and share an apple

Sunday, October 13, 2013

The City is Calling

Standing at the top, I easily let the feeling of accomplishment wash over me as the wind dances wildly through my hair and my heartbeat pulsates from the steep elevation.  Standing at the top, it’s easy to look down at the journey I’ve just taken, up the long, rocky trails through pastures and acres of land.  And for a second, I can just take in this moment and be happy.

Of course, it’s only for a second.  Then my mind starts to wander about the journey I’ve just taken and how hypocritical I’ve been.

Spending a week in Derbyshire for a conference with my fellow YAGMs, we were given the opportunity to go on a hike led by one of the professors leading lectures.  We set off in the morning, and I loved falling behind at the back of the pack – camera in hand - as I looked through my lens attempting to capture the beauty the Artist created.  I focused and I gave thanks, over and over again zooming in clarity and clicking the shutter. 

Thinking from the top, not once on the journey up did I ever falter or doubt.  I trusted blindly in the professor and expected to complete the hike safe through his guidance.  I did not know where I was, what trail to take, or what would happen when I reached the top.  All I did was continue to move forward, one foot in front of the other, camera in hand, in perfect harmony with the movement of the wind and the people in front of me. 

The hypocrisy lies in the contrast in which I trust in God.  Here walking up this unknown mountain, I could trust in our guide and enjoy while giving thanks to God.  Yet every day in my unknown climb through this mountain called life, I doubt and I worry and I falter.  Every day I forget, and every day I must remind myself that it is not about a guide but The Guide leading me, as I put one foot in front of the other.
Mountain hikes have always held significant meaning in my heart, and I know I will always think of this particular journey as the important reminder of ultimate trust.  

This week was one of rejuvenation, of growing friendship and intellectual conversation.  It was also an easy week, living in the comfort of a college where my meals were prepared for me and the dishes were cleaned behind common eyesight view.  I was taken cared for by the staff, and only had to follow the schedule given to me (once again, just blindly trusting without given thought).  As I return to London, hesitation comes naturally to the known hardships corresponding with the true aspects of simple living, but I remind myself to trust in God as I put one foot in front of the other.  I must continue to move forward, on the narrow path leading me on.

The mountains speak their ever powerful voice in the structural awe in which they’ve been created.  But I cannot stay. My real mountain this year lies in the city; in my budgeted spending, classroom planning, ceiling leaking hike, in the true, hard beauty in the eyes of the Artist.   
So I pack my bags.  The city is calling, and I must go.

Friday, October 4, 2013


I’m Hungry.  It’s 11:00, I have two more lessons to teach, my lunch break isn’t until 12:30, and I’m so hungry. 
I really have no time to sneak in a biscuit or cup of tea.  It’s time to pick up my next student and I press onward as my stomach grumbles.  We go over the student’s sound pack and work on the short vowel sounds.  We spell tricky words like “could” and read a book about a dragon.  The student gets a sticker for their good work.  I take them back to their class and pick up my next student.  One down, one more to go.  Then I can eat.
By this point I have a hunger headache and am having a hard time concentrating on my once detailed lesson plan.  My student is a chatterbox today, finding every distraction possible in the room to look at and talk about, rather than read the book we must get through.  Eventually, we make it to the end, and chatter wins as we walk back to their classroom.  I drop them off with their teacher as their class queues at the door.  At this point, three flights of stairs separate me from my lunch. 
As I’m walking up, the hunger makes my mind wander and I think of my students I’ve seen today.  All second language students, their English vocabulary is limited and they work extra hard every day to try and learn in a classroom that doesn’t speak their first language.  Vowels are the trickiest to learn, and for every rule we learn about spelling I have to explain the many exceptions that follow.  Some students have lived in London their whole life, some have just moved here, but their ethnicities range from Turkish to Pakistani, to Colombian, to Hispanic, to Jamaican, to Nigerian.  One girl out of my 15 students is British.
I stop mid-step up the stairs and I think about how distracted I was during my lessons today.  As I taught one of my boys, his jumper was torn and his shirt carried the sticker he earned during yesterday’s lesson.  Another forgot their glasses at home for the second time in a row.  I had two bowls of cereal this morning and am wearing clean clothes, about to eat the abundant lunch I packed this morning from my cupboards stocked with groceries. 
Suddenly I don’t think I’m quite as hungry as I thought. 
I have 15 children this year, which I’ll see one-on-one twice a week for 40 minutes at a time.  I cannot control their past, I cannot control how clean their clothes are or if they have been coming to school for free breakfast.  What I can control are the 40 precious minutes I spend with them twice a week.  When they can come to Springboard and receive individualized attention, working through their weaknesses and highlighting their strengths.
40 minutes.  That’s all I have.  But I’ll take those 2,400 seconds and work slowly though the complicated English language.  At first I was nervous to work with Springboard, not having a degree in education or understanding the whole notion of teaching phonics.  But I am human, and that gives me the knowledge to understand the importance of a child’s right to succeed.  The right to play.  The right to be loved.   
"God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference. 

Living one day at a time;
Enjoying one moment at a time;
Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
Taking, as He did, this sinful world
as it is, not as I would have it;
Trusting that He will make all things right
if I surrender to His Will;
That I may be reasonably happy in this life
and supremely happy with Him
Forever in the next."