Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Confessions of a multi-grade teacher.

Each weekday morning I take a postured stance as I read the morning devotions. I appear confident and prepared. I have used my 5 years of post secondary education to effectively routine my 9 eager students. I have laboured throughout the weekend structuring a productive week of lessons. I have organized each of the grade work and each subject is laid out with corresponding activities and response questions. I am efficient. I am ready.
Seems pretty straight-forward, right?
And yet behind the poised teacher image, there is a girl who feels quite in over her head. My well-articulated responses and instructions are just a modest attempt in convincing my students that I know what I am doing. As we dive into our work for the day, I scramble around from math patterning, to letter recognition, to science terminology to printing drills, and then back again. All the while I question if we are really getting anywhere. My students are looking to me for leadership, and sometimes I wonder why.
This week as been the first official school 'work' week, and it has not been easy.
To state the obvious, there is one of me and nine of them... Not the easiest thing to balance.
We are still lacking a classroom, so the resources we have are in a chaotic heap inside the spare room apartment, making any simple task quite lengthy as we wade through glue sticks, chapter books and calculators trying to find a long lost ruler or thesaurus.
It's frustrating, and I am easily discouraged by the fact that it's already the last week of September and we've barely skimmed the surface.
As I sat in the quiet before school started this morning, I gazed out beyond the mission gate to the mountains. The morning haze was still lingering, so the effect was quite stunning. The Haitian mountains are probably one of my favorite things about this home. The beauty that can be viewed just around the corner of my apartment is breathtaking. And yet mountains have a lot to teach us. I know I've blogged about mountains before, but I need to do it again for my own sake. The reason for this is that this morning as took in the beauty of the mountains, I also had a very daunting pile of student workbooks in front of me. My mountain.
I have high expectations for myself. I have high expectations for my students. I want this school year to be the best they ever had. I want them to learn skills that they will use for the rest of their lives. I want to impress God's love on their hearts. I want them to be challenged and encouraged and believe that they can make their dreams a reality. This year has so much potential, and yet this role that I am honoured to take - training tomorrow's leaders, doesn't come without fear and uncertainty. What if we can't make it? I just don't want to let anybody down.
I am beginning to realize that there comes a point when my ability stops. No matter how thoroughly I've planned or how high-esteemed my pre-service training reputation is, there comes a point where I simply have to lift up my hands and surrender. Turn all of my hopes and dreams and efforts to the Lord and let Him take over. When I do this, and only then, can I experience true peace - knowing that He will accomplish His will in my life and the lives of my kids. He knows the desires of my heart, and just like last year, He will refine and break me and provide in ways I never dreamed so that the only thing left to do is give all of the glory to Him.

I lift my eyes up to the mountains, where does my help come from?
My help comes from You, Maker of heaven, Creator of the earth.

He made the mountains. He made the valleys.
And for this I know, He will lead me through.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Better Together.

I'm beginning again.
Re-establishing a home. Bracing myself in the challenge. Finding my footing.
Starting fresh is full of possibility, but it's not easy. There is no 'user guide'. It's overwhelming. It's stressful. Sometimes I wonder how I'm ever going to get through. The unhurried rodents in my apartment taunt me with the fear that I am not cut out for this.
The Loulous taught me a lesson this week: Two are better than one.
We went for a mission exploration adventure on Tuesday and as the kids and I trekked up the hill, we all watched in awe as the two girls branched ahead of the group. They had their little arms wrapped around each other and the words they spoke could only be heard by each other. Without saying a word, they demonstrated that they truly love each other. They need each other. They are better together.
It wasn't long after this that I realized how I too have been blessed to experience this same kind of partnership... Like when the Hope House kids offer to teach me creole, when my voice blends with the songs of friends as we lift up praises in a desolate village, when Rachel shares her supper and we scream through the drama of Prison Break, when I receive a late night e-mail from home.
It's the prayers, the laughter, the songs, the heart-to-hearts. The reminders that we're all in this together. So even when the road seems long and the mountains high, I'm thankful that I'm not in it alone. Thank you Jesus for the hope that comes in the face of a friend. Thank you that we're your people and we're better together.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Back to the books!

It's that time again... School has officially begun!
Unfortunately, although WE are all ready, the classroom is not. Each day the workers come and give it their best, but we aren't there yet. So as of right now (and however long the building is going to take), our classroom has and will be at the Mission of Hope guesthouse.
When I first understood that our classroom building was delayed, I felt quite discouraged because that left us with only 2 options: The empty downstairs apartment, or outdoors at the guesthouse. I quickly ruled out the apartment since, although it is a low-traffic area, with 9 kids it would easily become cramped and stuffy - not the best combination in 90-degree weather. However, although the guesthouse porch is breezy and spacious, it's certainly not the most ideal of places. There are plenty of distractions considering it's the 'base' for all of the Haitian guesthouse staffers. Needless to say, I was worried that these first days were going to turn into a parade of interruptions - Not the most ideal way to start the year.
However, praise be to God, it has been a GREAT week thus far. First of all, I have cream of the crop students. They listen, cooperate, and have maintained enthusiasm and optimism about the year ahead despite the slow start. The fact that they already know each other has been a great blessing for me to facilitate teamwork, and it's been quite entertaining for the older ones to see how the Loulous respond to their new school activities.
And despite our lack of 'classroom', the Lord has been very gracious. There are no teams scheduled for at least another two weeks, and even the Haitian cooks and staff who pass through the guesthouse area have been thoughtful and quiet. I can say without hesitation that the biggest culprit for distraction has been Mango the cat - Nothing a vacant guest room can't fix! :)
Thank you again for your prayers for my students and I this week. I have truly felt the support and peace even amidst the chaos. Please continue to pray for the builders and all those working on our classroom this week - that there would be no setbacks, and that in the meantime the kids and I can make productive use of our time.
Here's a sneak peek!

And then there were 9...
Our porch classroom

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Revamped return.

I have had a jam-packed week. I just realized this morning that I have yet to give a blog update, so here is a quick shpeel on what's happening over here.
First of all, I am safe and sound in Haiti! After a smooth flight on Tuesday, I arrived back at the mission to my 'new' apartment upstairs. The baby twins are living in my old two bedroom apartment, and I've been raised up to the second level in between Rachel and the Rumford family. I hope to post some pictures soon... The view is incredible!
The extent of my week has been filled with unpacking, organizing, scouring, sweating (it's REALLY hot), and catching up with everyone here. Yesterday I got to go along with some of the staff to Port-au-Prince where I purchased paint for my walls (aqua green doesn't exactly compliment red velvet couches), and GROCERIES! Check another day's work off of the list. :)
This morning I wake up to the anticipation of going to church. It will be wonderful to see so many familiar faces, sing some crazy songs in kids church, and continue the tradition of a tap tap ride and fried chicken for lunch. This will be the first day that I won't worry too much about de-cockroaching my kitchen or assembling furniture, and I am thankful that I have a day to 'rest' before the school year hits tomorrow.
The reality of an official routine beginning tomorrow makes me a little nervous. I still feel somewhat overwhelmed by all of the work left to do in my apartment, and with the new classroom not yet complete, I worry about orienting all of the children to our year of school. I am very excited about all that the months ahead will bring. I am excited about teaching and getting to know my students, but it doesn't take away the lingering knot in my stomach.
Thank you for your prayers as I manage all 9 of my students this year. That the first week would spark an enthusiasm and joy for learning in the children. And that I can structure our time wisely so we would all have fun and get along together.
Stay tuned for a school update... I'll do my best to get it out sooner rather than later!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Prepare for Liftoff...

What day is it?
What time is it?
What's next on the list?
These are the typical disoriented questions crowding my mind as I wind down the last days of my summer 'furlough' and prepare to head back to my other home. It's been a jam-packed two months. Road trips, showers, weddings, long dinners, and shopping sprees. I am so grateful for these weeks with my 'people'. For the chance to make memories and re-fuel for this coming term. My plane lifts off first thing this coming Tuesday (Sept 15th) and my thoughts spin around possibility and anticipation to see the ones I've missed, along with doubt and dreading of goodbyes of the ones that I don't want to part with. I catch myself on the verge of tears while at the same time spilling over with joy. It's a familiar feeling to my departure last year. However this time around, the scenario is a lot different.
First of all, I know what to pack for and I know where in the world I am going. I know that Keens are more important than shiny church shoes, and that hair elastics and bobby pins are a better choice than dehumidifiers and defrizzers.
I also have 'family' waiting for me to get back, that I didn't have last year. The excitement is beyond what I can express to see all of the kids, near and far, that I was able to bond during my past time in Haiti. Even the thought of seeing my little Jun or Widler or Gina is all I need to switch myself into countdown mode for landing on Haitian soil. There are so many things that I can't wait to be a part of again - to go back to church and see all of my friends, sing along with Claudel to those catchy Haitian worship songs, and then of course head to Gwopapapou for some mouthwatering rice and beans!
Indeed, there is so much drawing me back to my Haitian home. I feel pulled and ready to go.
And yet there is also some hesitation about leaving again. Goodbyes have never been easy for me, and I feel sad when I think about the things I have to miss and the sacrifices I need to commit to when I leave. Going back to Haiti is going to be wonderful, but there will surely be great challenges in store as school begins. Sometimes I catch myself and realize the magnitude of this teaching commitment and just panic. I feel inadequate and alone. What was I thinking agreeing to teach 9 kids!? Am I out of my mind? Probably. But the reminder of Jesus using us most in our weakness is the assurance I need to press forward, even when I don't have all of the answers. As I've repeated over the our past school year, there is no way that I can gain any credit or glory from what comes out of this year of learning. Once again I am reminded that the only way my students and I are going to succeed is through the Lord's provision and strength. That prompts me to simply shuffle back over to the passenger's seat. A place where I don't get to control how we get there or what speed we take, but confidence in the Lord's leading that we will surely make the journey.
Thank you for your prayers this coming week as I venture back to my other home. As I settle back into Haiti life and organize my classroom. That my students would be receptive and I would find creative ways to teach them not only the curriculum, but guide them in their spiritual lives and point them to the Greatest Teacher they will ever know.
Pray also for my relationships. My friendships with the staff on the mission, the people of the church, and the children and their families in the villages. That I may be a light and testament of God's love and grace.
Be sure to check out Laurens and Cheryl's blog to see how the twins progress is coming along and also the Rumford family as they adjust to their new life beginning at the mission this week.
My bags are almost packed. My flight is set to go. Just a few more days until the real adventure begins. We give you all the glory. I'll be sure to post a message again soon, but next time my words will be written from Haiti! :)

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Me too.

I've heard it said that the most powerful phrase in the English language are two simple words:
Me too.
I agree that it's not as earth-shattering as one might think, but oh, the remarkable effects that a simple understanding can have. When somebody can echo the very experience, the pain, the joy, the insight, the lessons and emotions of life, it means more than one can express. There is something about someone else being 'there', that produces more fuel for the race, simply by knowing that you are not alone.
Over the years, I've had many amazing people who have repeated those wonderful words to me in times when I needed it most. The Lord has blessed me abundantly with friends who care deeply, show genuine understanding and who have demonstrated sincere love. I don't think I would be who I am today without the support of these people. God is the source of all true peace and love, but I feel very thankful for the people He has given me with 'skin on'.
It's also been a joy for me to repeat these words to those around me who are going through circumstances that I once went through, or am currently experiencing. I believe that the purpose of some of the most difficult things I've faced so far are so that I get to be the one to truly understand and comfort those who are there now.
One thing I've noticed over time, is the way that my 'me too' people have come and gone. I've experienced things in my life which have created both hurts and passions that are difficult for many in my generation bracket can relate to. Some people that I once resonated with have found a different trail on the journey, and I instead I find myself relating to some very unlikely sources. To name a few: a retired African missionary, an autobiographer and founder of the Mercy and Sharing Foundation, a country songwriter, and a nursing student from Kansas City. These are not people I would have ever expected to click with, however the more I open myself up, the more I become aware of the Lord providing people who surprise me with a 'me too' response. I realize over the course of this year and from those walking beside me on this path, that I don't need to be afraid of pursuing my passions (no matter how outlandish they seem) in fear of becoming disconnected.
Here is a verse that inspires me to keep on:
Make a careful exploration of who you are and the work you have been given, and then sink yourself into that... Each of you must take responsibility for doing the creative best you can with your own life.
> Galatians 6:4
I'm thankful for this reminder of beauty of individuality, and the peace that comes in knowing that as I pursue all that I was created for, the Lord knows what and who I need to get me through.