Hello 2016

It’s been a crazy year… But haven’t they all been crazy recently?

When 2015 dawned, I was bowling with my mom, brother, stepdad, and stepfamily. It’s a long-standing family tradition. I celebrated six months with that handsome guy in January, turned in my first real resignation letter in March, and began the process of moving to a new state. During a Sunday morning sermon, our pastor explained that sometimes we don’t see the next step. We don’t see point C when we’re standing at point A. We have to step out in faith to point B and follow God’s leading. He said: “Jesus is standing on the waves, calling you to step out of the boat in faith,” referencing Peter’s walk on water. At that moment, I realized God was asking me to follow Him to my next place, which involved moving closer to the guy who would soon become my fiance. So, I took a new job, moved to a new city with new roommates in a new apartment, and fell deeper in love with the handsome guy I’m marrying in less than six months. He proposed in October, and it was perfect.

In 2015, my OneWord was love. One single word to focus on for the entire year. That’s three hundred and sixty five days of one word. One. Word.

But y’all… It works. I learned so much about love. When 2015 began, I was celebrating six months with my first and only boyfriend. When 2016 begins, I will celebrating less than six months until we say “I do.”

When 2015 began, I was learning how to continue to love a Buddhist co-teacher. When 2016 begins, I will be learning how to continue to show love to 60 sweet and crazy teenagers.

When 2015 began, I was praying for the future service opportunities I would have to show love to others. When 2016 begins, I will move from assistant to teacher roles in the toddler class at church.

Above my desk in my bedroom hangs a quote from Ann Voskamp:

You love as well as you are willing to be inconvenienced.

So much truth. Love is not easy or convenient or simple. Love cannot be an afterthought. The beautiful thing is we get another shot each day. I’m not the best at showing my fiance that I love him, and sometimes I find it difficult to accept his love, but I know that he’s not going anywhere. He loves me, and we are willing to try again if we didn’t do such a great job of showing that love this time around.


 

As we move into 2016 in the next few hours, I wanted to take a moment to announce my OneWord for this year. In a world of smartphones and commercials and social media and pushy waitresses, I want to focus. I want to be in the moment. Like the quote: “Wherever you go, be all there.” I want to be mentally aware where I am physically existing. I want to be connected to my body, my soul, my emotions, and my Savior. I want to be real with people who are actually in the same room with me. I want to pray with passion because God and I are actually having a real and meaningful conversation. I want to give and serve and love it. I want to invest into people and I want to be invested in. I want to go and meet and dream and love. I want to be present.

OW2016

Lessons in Love from My First Year of Teaching

Education is figuring out what works for individuals.

My mentor teacher sent this one sentence reply to one of my long emails detailing a strategy I used with one child’s particularly difficult behavior. I found this statement to be true throughout the remaining months of my first year of teaching out of college.

Lessons in Love from My First Year of Teaching

During an “exit interview” of sorts, my principal explained that it takes 3-5 years for new teachers to master their behavior management techniques. Most new teachers leave the field of education in the first five years because they struggle with behavior management. (New teachers also leave for two other significant reasons: 1. There is so much else to do besides teaching that they feel overwhelmed; and 2. Administration or co-workers are not supportive.)

My principal told me that once I feel confident and secure in my behavior management, I will get new students who throw the entire system out of whack. Jaded teachers often say that it must be the chid’s fault that the system isn’t working. Successful teachers acknowledge that they are getting paid to find a solution that works for each child. And then they go find one and use trial and error adjustments to make it work.

Successful teachers reflect and attempt and adapt and adjust and try again because children and hope and future and love matter…

Love. Is that not why I became a teacher in the first place?


Yesterday was the last day of my first year of teaching, and I found an excellent post about marriage that ironically correlated with teaching in one amazing aspect: both are based on love. In this recent post, Ann Voskamp wrote these three earth-shattering statements:

Marriage is a commitment meant to form us, not a commitment you enter only once you’re convinced you’re finally formed.

Marriage is something that we learn, like the way we learn our mother tongue.

Whenever you want to rant, it’s your cue you need to make a request.

First, Marriage is a commitment meant to form us. I have already seen that in my dating relationship. Yes, I love my boyfriend. He loves me. But we also love Jesus. And Jesus is not content with us not going anywhere. The Christian life is about growth (albeit sometimes slow) and change (as much as I hate it) and sharing (despite my introversion).  Proverbs says that “a friend sharpens a friend” and that could very easily be a significant other of any type doing the sharpening.

“Sharpening” can take any number of forms… But it usually hurts. It hurts when I have chosen a selfish alternative to love and then my boyfriends calls me out on it. It hurts when a colleague asks me to talk with him/her about a poor decision I made. It hurts when I have neglected relationships with my family members. Despite the hurt, it is good to be becoming a new person in Christ. Think of justification versus sanctification. Justification is the immediate salvation that saves a person from Hell and into a relationship with Jesus Christ. Sanctification is the continual process of salvation that molds a person to be more like Jesus. I have been told that marriage is one of the most difficult things anyone will ever do purely because of the significant amount of sanctification that occurs if we will be humble enough to let it sharpen us.

Similarly, a successful teacher reflects on previous experience and adapts his/her practice to see what might work better next time. He or she is constantly undergoing reflection and adaptation, becoming a better teacher along the way. The reflection process is often painful, but we can use it to form us personally and professionally.

Second, Marriage is something that we learn. I feel that the connection to education is so apparent here. A person cannot and will not learn how to be a successful teacher by sitting in some college classrooms and taking notes. A person cannot learn by watching  videos of good teachers or by observing real classrooms. A person cannot truly learn how to be a successful teacher by doing some practice lessons or even twelve weeks of Student Teaching, either. It takes years of hands-on practice as a teacher to truly become a successful teacher.

Likewise, a person cannot and will not learn to how to be a successful marriage partner by sitting in some sermons or conferences or reading some books. A person cannot learn by observing successful marriages or by talking with successful wives and husbands or by dating for a while or even by living together before marriage (playacting is not good practice!).

Pause. Am I saying that any of those things are bad or wrong? No. Those are great things! Read all the books and attend all the seminars and observe all the successful people – for both teaching and marriage! But remember that those things do not a successful marriage make. A successful marriage (and a successful teaching career) are based upon practical practice. I have learned to start practicing essential skills while dating (listening strategies, how to apologize, how to forgive, ways to show appreciation), but there is no true way to practice actual marriage until, well… Actual Marriage. It’s something that we learn. And we learn how best to do it through practice. Lots of it.

Third, Whenever you want to rant, it’s your cue you need to make a request. This is one of the things that Ann Voskamp learned during her marriage. When you want to rant (or choose a ranting alternative, like stonewalling or avoidance), make a request instead. She gave the example of ranting versus requesting that her family put away their shoes in the mudroom. Problems can be solved so much more easily by asking politely and encouragingly than by ranting about how No one ever puts their shoes away! 

I see this in my dating life. When I acknowledge something that I need from my boyfriend, I get his attention by touching him. My boyfriend is huge on physical affection, so I can put a hand on his knee or his shoulder to get his attention. Then I ask for what I need. I don’t put down, use extremes, or get overly emotional. Here are some examples of two negative responses and one positive response if I wanted my boyfriend to call on his way to work.

  • Ranting: “Why do you never call me on your way to work? It makes me so angry! You can’t remember anything!”
  • Avoiding would be to not mention anything (or to fall silent on the phone when he asks if you want him to call when he’s on his way to work). And usually this is followed by becoming super emotional and overly disappointed when he doesn’t call.
  • Requesting: “Could you call me when you leave for work? It would be really important to me.”

Since most of our relationship is long-distance, I’ve learned that when we’re on the phone and I can’t touch him to get his attention or to signal importance, I can use a key phrase: “This is very important to me” or “It’s important to me that you….”. This is huge. Sometimes men need a little announcement; they aren’t usually good at reading between the lines.

This all to say that I’m finding what works for him and for us. He is doing the exact same thing. He has learned how I react when I’m upset or stressed and he finds ways to react that are helpful and not upsetting to me. We are both learning how to request instead of ranting or avoiding. This not to say that we have it all figured out. I have used all three of the responses above multiple times to varying levels of success. But I am learning.

Just as successful teachers use trial and error, research, and observation to figure out what works for their students, so successful significant others use those techniques in their relationships. When we are excited about a new relationship, we use these techniques and observe things about our significant others without realizing it, but when our relationships don’t quite fit into the “new” or “exciting” categories, we may struggle to note them. For example, I know that my boyfriend likes peanut M&Ms, looks good in green and blue plaid shirts, and has an awesome tie collection. I know that his love languages are physical touch and words of affirmation and I know that he is a huge extrovert. We’ve been dating for almost a year, and I’ve observed, researched, and experienced those things because our relationship is comparatively new. However, it took some digging to realize that my seventeen year old brother loves Grumpy Cat memes because he’s seventeen and I don’t live at home anymore, but now that I know, I send him some occasionally because that is one way I can contribute to our relationship. (He sends me some back, too!)

In both teaching and in our personal relationships, we are called to be consistently looking for ways to fully love the other person. In teaching, this is demonstrated through intentionally meeting the needs of our students educationally and often personally as well. In relationships, this is demonstrated through learning how best to show love to our significant others in ways that they will receive well as well as learning how to manage conflict in our relationships in ways that benefit the relationship instead of tear it down.

It’s amazing what completing one year of teaching has taught me. Do you have any lessons from this past school year, this past year out of college, or your current relationships that you’d be willing to share? Comment below!

Winning & Losing

You can’t win every day; some days you’re just going to lose.

I remember saying that to one of my roommates while I was in Thailand for student teaching. We were struggling through culture shock and adaptation and we came face to face with the reality that mistakes and disappointments were bound to happen. That vocabulary stayed with me as I moved and changed jobs and living situations. Last summer, I started referring to experiences or even entire days as “winning” or “losing.” It was a humorous way to document the initial struggles of real life after college graduation.

I’ve been learning that life is composed of both “winning” days and “losing” days. At my current stage of life, winning days are comprised of finding extra coupons, developing superb navigational skills, and getting ahead on work. Losing days might resemble the bills being due before the paycheck, experiencing crazy coworkers, or making stupid mistakes.

When we experience the phenomenon known as “winning” and “losing,” we are experiencing real life. Perhaps we have days or weeks or even months of “losing,” and that’s normal. Usually, however, winning and losing days are interspersed with regular quality days, which is also normal. I would caution that months and months of feeling like you’re losing might be an indication that good Christian counseling could be a good next step for you.

I feel strongly that there are at least two reasons we should not let “winning” or “losing” days define us.

Losing Days Do Not a “Loser” Make

When was the last time you called yourself a failure? Remember it. Well, let that be the last time.

See, a problem we often face (and I have seen this in my life and in the lives of others) is when we take the winning and losing days as indications of who we are. One week I experienced “a week of Mondays” in which every day was bad enough to be a Monday. I took that experience and said to myself something along these lines: “I am a failure. I can’t do this. I can’t be a teacher. Nothing is working right. No one understands me. I’m not good enough.” And then I took that different work at work and applied it to my other roles in life: “I’m failing as a daughter, a friend, a sister, a girlfriend…”

Okay, before you give me heat, think about the times you’ve said something similar to yourself. Negative self-talk is a beast. And listening to Satan is a death sentence. Give that guy a foothold, and you’re done for.

None of what I told myself was true. I was doubting in the dark what God had told me in the light. God has already made it very clear that I’m supposed to be a teacher. He has already proven his goodness and graciousness to me. I know it’s difficult to move from college to the “real world,” but God has already told me that he is with me and will be with me through anything. In fact, I may have been struggling that week, but it did not change who I was.

Everyone Has Them

The end of Matthew chapter five tells us to love our enemies. God gives to them even the general grace he gives to us. Similarly, God allows the general pain to befall both believers and the enemies of believers. In the NIV, Matthew 5:45 reads…

He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.

Everyone gets the sunshine and the rain. One reason I think God gives us all both sunshine and rain is because his desire is that all people come to know him. By using the sun and rain to provide for everyone’s needs for food and to show Himself through creation, he is giving those who do not know him even more opportunities to see him and his power and goodness.

Therefore, our response to losing days should not be self-pity (“Why am I such a loser?”) but acknowledgement of the pain that sin has caused and an awareness that maybe God might just use the losing days to bring about something great. He’s in the habit of redeeming and restoring things like that. I’ve seen God take horrific circumstances and turn them into great and wonderful expressions of his love and rescue and power. (I have been writing about redemption and restoration for a while now. Ironically, I tend to write most about those themes in the month of April!)

When unbelievers see us responding to difficult circumstances and “losing days” with gratitude and hope in God’s providence and provision, they’ll know that something is up, and they just might start asking questions.


I’m writing this post as I’m working through Ann Voskamp‘s One Thousand Gifts. She compares learning the language of gratitude to learning a second language. In the book, she explains that she is writing down a list of things she is grateful for, adding to the list each day, as if she were copying vocabulary in a second language.

As a English as a Second Language teacher who has spent time with Spanish, Cantonese, Lao, and Thai, I connect with that comparison. What if gratitude is a language we must practice using in order to get better at it? What if we must practice listening to, reading, speaking, and writing gratefulness before it will stick? Perhaps being thankful in all circumstances (1 Thess. 5:18) is something that must be learned, Ann writes.

To this end, my challenge now becomes: What if we were thankful on “losing” days, too? It’s easy to be thankful on “winning” days, especially if our attitudes are in the right place. But we are not called to be grateful only in some circumstances. We are actually specifically called to be grateful even in troubles.

I have a sneaky feeling that if we named specific things, whether tangible or otherwise, and thanked God for them, even on “losing” days, we would feel less and less like “losers” and more and more like the children of God we really are. See, we aren’t “losers.” God didn’t give us that name when he called us out of darkness into his marvelous light. God calls us chosenset apartholybelonging to GodGod’s delight, and God’s bride (2 Peter 2:9, Psalm 18:19, Isaiah 62:4).

We will have losing days. We will have winning days. Do not let either day define you. Let gratitude for who God is and what God has done for you be your definition. Circumstances will change, but God does not.

The Adventures In Between

I realized today that even the “boring” stages of life are adventures.

I have really been struggling with the concept of growing up and being on my own. I think part of this struggle comes from feeling alone. I mean, even though I am blessed with friends who are making his journey with me and family members who are caring and supportive, sometimes I still feel like I’m doing this on my own. I must have the internal motivation to succeed. I must make choices that are right for me. I have to send out my own job applications and schedule my own interviews. I have to decide what time I’m going to bed and when I’ll wake up. I make the decision whether to have ice cream and coffee cake for dinner or to eat actual food (sometimes the ice cream wins out), but I’m making that decision myself. No one else will make it for me.

In that moment, realizing I’m free and yet somehow bound to my own limitations, I find myself fearful of what lies ahead. I was panicked at one time last month. I was incredibly anxious with all of my student teaching work to complete and with planning my next step. I fed my stress with junk food and lack of exercise (which, of course, is a completely healthy and mature way to deal with my problems).

the-adventures-in-betweengrace-upon-grace-blog


When I went to Thailand, I bought the audiobook version of Love Does by Bob Goff. If anyone is qualified to speak on adventure, it’s Bob Goff. Having just written resumes myself, I can’t begin to describe Bob’s resume. You can view his website here, but before I go any farther, you should know that Bob is a diplomat to Uganda, a lawyer who found an interesting way into law school, a hitchhiker (in his younger days), a father desiring to make his children’s dreams come true, a hiker and biker, the founder of a non-profit, a world traveler, a man engaged in life and whimsy, and an adventurer. He loves God and has a passionate for people and for showing people the God who loves them, too.

Listening to the audiobook version of Love Does reminded me of adventure. It is easy to “live the adventure”  when you’re dreaming of plane flights and rattling off new languages and hiking exotic waterfalls. But when you’re living with your parents and spending your time between job applications, running errands, and helping with yard work, it doesn’t really feel like an adventure anymore. How can I be adventurous at this stage in my life? Nothing stopped Bob Goff from being adventurous, even in the boring stuff. He sat outside the office of the law school dean for several days waiting and willing to be accepted to the school. When his Jeep was totaled, he rode a skateboard to work and asked his family and friends for rides to the airport and grocery store. Things that would stop me somehow didn’t stop him. He was still an adventurer regardless. Even if he failed, the failure was an adventure.

A writer at Deeper Story wrote that her “white picket fence… looks like safety but feels like adventure.” The thing is, my current adventures are not super adventurous. They look like safety. I few months ago, I was obtaining visas, buying tickets, flying halfway around the world, and living and working in a country I had never been to before for three months. That felt like an adventure because everyone knew it was an adventure. I had sent out prayer cards and made a blog and raised some money. I needed a passport, a visa, and plane tickets. It was good and bad and fantastic and difficult and beautiful all in one. (Adventures are not perfect every day.)

The same is true for adventures that seem somewhat less adventurous. I don’t need a passport for my immediate after graduation circumstances. I don’t need plane tickets. I’m not raising money (although that’s not a bad idea!). Regardless, my after-graduation adventures are still adventures. They may be less initially mind-blowing (moving to Thailand for three months was a little crazy to many people), but they are still adventures. I still find the whole “after-graduation”/”on my own” thing really crazy. And I believe that whatever the next days, months, and years hold will be good, bad, fantastic, difficult, and beautiful all at the same time, just like my student teaching in Thailand. God is calling me to adventures, even adventures of living in one of my dad and stepmom’s extra bedrooms and job hunting for a few months.

Twenties

Because you know what? This stage of life is just as valuable as the three and a half months I spent in Thailand. This stage of life feels like an “in-between” moment that I would like to skip over, but it is actually important. I didn’t graduate college after a few months of fun-filled partying with my best friends. I spent four years, most of them engaged in hard work, in order to graduate. The same is true about this part of my life. It may be weird and uncomfortable and hard and boring sometimes, but it matters in the grand scheme of things.


Let us not forget two things:

  1. Wherever you are right now, it is not a waiting room. As Anne Voskamp says, “Real Life is Happening. Right Now.” God is working right now. Use the time you’re given right now.
  2. Bob Goff writes, “You don’t need to know everything when you’re with someone you trust.” I think that because we can’t see God and we usually don’t hear Him audibly, we have difficulty trusting Him, but we are called to trust him and rely on Him. He knows what He’s doing, and He knows what the people around us are doing. He’s got a plan, so it’s okay to trust Him even when we don’t know exactly what’s going on. In the end, God is good, and He works everything together for His glory and our good.

Even the adventures in between.