Sunday, March 20, 2011

On life outside the fast lane

Pretty pictures...

Well, this was supposed to be the moon, but my camera isn't for that sort of thing. I thought the tree was pretty anyway.
My happy room. :-) It has the projects and the pictures.
The canyon going to the river.
My favorite front porch view.
Driving home.
The coldest point of winter... and still the grass is there.
And God's word outshines it!

I developed a really bad habit my first year of teaching, when I lived in Texico. I’d stay up ‘til 11 on Sunday nights, cleaning while I listened to Cowboy Corner with Red Steagal on the radio. Defined as a bad because of the Monday morning effect, but habitual because Sunday night was the only time I was caught up on both tasks and sleep - and cleaning was fun to me at that point.

I dropped the habit during my Albuquerque years. No Cowboy Corner, for one thing. And for another, there were no rested and caught up Sunday nights. I lived life in the fast lane. When school was done, there was an EW kid. If the kids were all home, there was bound to be something at church. If by some chance I was home, there were emails to answer, phone calls to make, paperwork to do.

I was accustomed to it, just as I was accustomed to the excessive amount of cars on the roads, the inconvenience of missing a turn, and the fact that very few people return a friendly greeting in the parking lot. God called me to live there and live I did, to the fullest.

But here it is, Sunday night. I don’t have Cowboy Corner, but I’m torn between cleaning and writing. I’m caught up on sleep and tasks, and this is fun. I’m away from excessive cars and back where everyone expects you to chat in the post office. God has brought me back to a slower world.

Most Friday afternoons, I go by to visit Rosa Lee. Rosa Lee is approximately 79 years old. She lives alone, for she never married, in a big rock house on Capitan Street. I met her at church, where she was the pianist until she had a stroke that impeded the use of her hands. Now she can barely walk, but she washes her laundry by hand and carries it to an outbuilding to use the dryer. She says she’s busy, in her slower world.

I love the family who are my landlords. Often when they are over to feed, they’ll come up or I’ll go down to chat. One day, she just needed pliers. I took them out, but we stood for 30 minutes after the job was done. Another day she was picking up the rent check. She could only stay a minute, but I hugged her good-bye three times an hour later. It’s a slower world.

It’s not that I’ve nothing to do. I have 21 little lives to love on and a plethora of ideas for improving their education; I’ve done more projects to that end than I have for my own home, and I have paperwork created by the greatest bureaucracy in the world. Bilingual and TESOL (teaching English to speakers of other languages) certification is required within three years of my hire in this district; I think I can finish my coursework this summer, but it hasn’t been easy. Online Spanish classes require about 4 hours of homework a week; I’m thrilled to have the education class ITV at the high school because there’s enough homework to cover all the time I spent driving last semester. And I actually think about what I’m learning. How often do you consider how you learned to read and write, or how that parallels your speech and listening? I don’t remember analyzing it, but I do now. I guess that’s a benefit of a slower world.

Considering small details is part of my survival as a teacher. At times I live my first year over again, but I’m encouraged by small signs of progress. As some of you know, I love to read aloud, and I love to dramatize the stories. The other day, as I was fighting the noise level and off-task behavior I moved to correct three students who were supposed to be reading silently, but I stopped for a moment to watch them. They were noisy, but I realized they were voicing the characters, acting out the story. Maybe I shouldn’t push so hard to cover the curriculum. Maybe they’re gleaning just as much from the simple pleasures... a slower world.

I love Sundays. I love (=like much) church, for one thing. I miss Trinity terribly, but I love the fact that God’s given me people to love (=agape) and who love me. I love the fact that when people here say, “Come by,” they expect you to do it, and when you tell them to come by, they might. I love the fact that as soon as teachers at school learn you are acquainted with the new student, they find you to question his absence. I love God’s Word and He’s allowing me to take a leader’s role in beginning a new Bible study with some of the church ladies. I love calling those ladies to let them know I care about their lives and encourage them that He does, too. I don’t have nearly as many facebook friends as I used to, and very few friends answer emails regularly, but God has given me face-to-face relationships in a whole new way. It’s a slower world.

A few months ago, I spent the day with a couple I met through church. They spoke of how fast-paced the world had become and the damage they saw in our dependence on technology. They told me I shouldn’t work on Sunday. I knew that. I’ve always known that the sabbath was made for man, that even the French plan of one day off every ten days wasn’t enough, but I’ve lived in the fast lane for so long, I didn’t know how to stop. But the Spirit confirmed the rebuke. I’ve made more an effort. It means working hard every weekday evening, often even Fridays. It means working most of my day Saturday to finish homework, lesson plans, grading, sorting, preparing. But it’s worth it. Sunday is a glorious day, the day I really enjoy my slower world.

Today I took a nap when I came home from church. I prepared my Bible study, then I took a walk, a long walk through the grass with sandals on. I took pictures, even though I’m not much of a photographer. I sat on a rock and called a dear friend. I unpacked boxes and made bookmarks. I even saddened when I realized that one of the many obnoxious cats who love my porch had had his eye deeply cut (I don’t like cats, so it is truly a marvel that I am becoming attached to them). I wandered at what God has given me. Why I am here? For what is He preparing me? This I know not. I know I am “contenta,” happy, in a peaceful everyday kind of manner, yet I know it is not forever. I know that I am learning, learning that I am not the Savior. I cannot do the work. It is better to be still in His presence; as one children’s story says, to remember “the most important person is the one you are with, the most important moment this one, and the most important deed to be of service.” As I am learning in my classroom, it is more helpful to do much of little than to do little of much. For acknowledging that He is sovereign without my help allows me to live in a slower world.

Friday, March 18, 2011

On being first and being vulnerable

Today I had to stop at a state police checkpoint on the way home. At one point, the front car in oncoming traffic required some follow-up checking, but the second car was cleared. Impatient, he pulled out, around the cop cars parked on the shoulder, and into the bar ditch so he could get on his merry way. The policemen were apparently undisturbed, but it gave me material for contemplation while I waited, as I’d given up wishing for better radio reception.

Why is it that our agenda is always the most important? This driver couldn’t wait two more minutes. His business was his priority! And I’ve had the feeling. In fact, last Friday in Albuquerque, I was so, so frustrated because all those other cars felt the need to be on the road at the same time I was. Who are they hurting?

ME! because I am important.

It starts early on. Look at my class. Everybody wants to be first. Every day, every time we line up, I have to announce the order or there WILL be a push and shove fight over who was in front of who. Now, maybe I can understand this when we line up for lunch, or even library, but I’m not sure how it helps on the way to an assembly or to switch classes, since seating is assigned once you get there. I certainly don’t understand why they so badly want to be in front when they’re on the way to a... um, disciplinary moment. Who wants to suffer first?

ME! because I am important.

We experience the “me first” complex as adults, though it manifests in different ways. It took me many months to accept that in Colombia, people were allowed to cut in front of me in the supermarket if they had fewer items than I. We not only want our business done first (although we do eventually figure out that suffering first may not be a privilege), we want the first attention of others put on us. That’s why anarchy doesn’t work. Your way and my way aren’t compatible. We can’t both be the popular one, the one in charge, the best. We’re bound to push and shove, because who should win?

ME! because I am important.

Because I’m important, it’s hard to admit the following, but... Although I’m not a fight to the front of the line person, I do want to have everyone’s best opinion. I have a competitive nature, apparently, or it wouldn’t bother me that I think the other grade-level teacher is really a better teacher than I am. It wouldn’t bother me that I’m never really assigned extra responsibilities (like I need them!). It wouldn’t bother me when as life goes on, people eventually stop answering my emails; it certainly wouldn’t bother me to realize that no matter what job I do, it can be done by someone else. I am not indispensable to God.

WAIT. It’s not ME?! I’m not that important????

And it wouldn't bother me that my EA distinctly prefers to help other teachers rather than be in my room. That's been an ongoing dilemma all year, as I've struggled to understand what I do to make her uncomfortable. We made some progress the other day, though. I had an incredibly embarrassing moment, from which she was a part of my rescue. All of a sudden, I was completely vulnerable in her hands. Now, it seems, she's opened up more to me.

Vulnerability. I feel vulnerable even writing this, which is why I have to do it. Vulnerability is completely the opposite of being first. It's being pushed out of line. It's letting others go first.... but vulnerability creates a moldable spirit. It doesn’t really sound like a good thing. Wouldn’t it be better to live by MY ideas, MY opinions, MY reactions than to be vulnerable to the world around me?

Maybe. Unless you take into account one other factor. The fact that there’s another option. I’m not the king of my world (so I don’t have to push and shove my way to the top), nor is the world the king of me (releasing me the slavery of being first in everyone’s opinion). The Creator is King. He is Redeemer King. True vulnerability works in the heart, creating readiness to live under this crown. Vulnerability to God’s standards creates virtue, the traits heralded throughout the centuries as strengths within a person. Taking responsibility for my own actions. Accepting correction. Doing what’s right without commendation. Patience. Diligence. Love, joy, goodness, gentleness... NONE of them are rooted in

ME! And how important I am.

Virtues are rooted in a wise King, who asks us to be vulnerable to His wisdom, to be vulnerable to the needs, NOT the opinions, of others.

I learn, again, from my students. I have several who have advanced beyond the class average. They work quickly and efficiently and are always done early. Most of them drive me crazy. “Miss Wells. Miss Wells. Miss Wells. What do I now? OK, I’m done. What do I do now? Miss Wells.” (Remember, it’s all about ME from infancy). I find mistakes and omissions in their work and run out of extra activities.

Then there’s "Bob."He’s vulnerable. He doesn’t really care about his scores, but when I asked him to make more effort because one score had dropped, he promptly brought it up, passing the base score. He really does not like it when I raise my voice to the class, often hiding his face. He cried for over an hour the one day I had to severely correct him.

But he’s such an easy student. Two grade levels ahead of most of the class in math and reading, he finishes his work in half the time and I rarely find mistakes. When he’s finished, he’s pretty content to pick up a book - except when he comes and asks, “Miss Wells, can I help people?” And he does help. He doesn’t giggle and chat and say “Write this answer.” He helps, doing his best to mimic what I do with the other kids. (Bless his heart, he is always seated between the behavior problems because he is the only one in class strong enough to withstand them, not being “bugged” or drawn in).

I use the word strong. How does that go with being vulnerable? Strength to deal with people and changing situations is based in vulnerability within the protection of an absolute. For "Bob," that absolute is his parents. For me, it must be God. Because being first and being vulnerable are not compatible. And He’s first, which only leaves me vulnerability.