Nov 12, 2011

Band of Sisters

In Saipan there was a unique sense of camaraderie among the teachers—particularly the short term ones—that I didn’t think I’d find here in America.  I chalked it up to being so far from family; to not only working but living, playing, and worshiping together; to the shared experience of slogging it out in the trenches.  Most everyone was a new teacher, alternately thrilled and terrified, overwhelmed both by the enormity of the task of shaping young lives and the affection welling up in their hearts for those precious students.  Babs and I were the battle-hardened veterans who’d seen it all and served to comfort, encourage, and instruct those in our charge. While the sacrifices those young volunteers made often (but not always) paled in comparison to real soldiers, they were still very much in a battle where lives were at stake.  Like the “band of brothers” described in Stephen Ambrose’s account of the soldiers of Easy Company in World War II (and in the outstanding HBO miniseries based on his book), the teachers in Saipan shared the unique experience of those who struggled together in the thick of the fight.

When I we returned to the States, I expected that sense of kinship to be left behind on the front lines of the mission field.  And indeed, at first it seemed to be as I had expected.  Here in America the teachers’ lives weren’t defined so much by their work at the school.  We had families of our own, lives quite divergent from the school, and we rarely crossed paths outside of CAA.  Here most of the teachers were veterans in their own right, and if anyone was the newbie on the team, at least that first year, it was me.   It seemed to me that each of us was in our own world, occasionally hailing to one another a brief word of encouragement during staff worship or while passing in the hallways.  Like ships in the night, we shared the same space, but were essentially alone.

But this year, something has shifted.  What I thought was reserved for the mission field has blossomed right here—a sense of camaraderie and closeness, and the rewards of a shared struggle.  Once again, I have sisters in the fight (sisters because, as in Saipan, my fellow colleagues are entirely women; for those that assume such fellowship belongs only to men, I can attest that a man can find solidarity among sisters as well as brothers).  We’ve talked about it some, and we all sense this new unity, though we can’t put our finger on exactly what brought it about.   

As I reflect I see a couple of things that might have brought us together in a special way this school year.  First the enrollment at CAA has skyrocketed, and with the blessings come the challenges of increase.  And as the challenges have increased, so has our individual and corporate sense of need for the grace of God to meet these challenges.  We are all praying more, and sharing our struggles with one another and lifting each other up in prayer.  Lately, morning staff worship has become a lifeline.  On the days that I miss worship, I always feel the weaker for it.  For a little more or less than ten minutes we have church in that circle.  The spiritual insights shared, the words of encouragement, the Spirit-soaked prayers, and just that sense that we’re not alone, that we’re in this with each other and with God serves as a morning pick-me better than any cup of coffee and fuel that keeps me going throughout the day.  Despites the recalcitrant students and the jam-packed schedule these moments of morning watch together remind me that God is on the move in our school, moving in us and through us to reach our students with His love.

Another thing that has bound us together this year is our decision to start gathering on a regular basis outside of the school setting.  On the first Sabbath of each month we gather with our families at one of our homes for Sabbath lunch and an afternoon of relaxed conversation and time together.  Sure, we end up talking about the school 90% of the time, but it’s an agenda free gathering marked by lots of laughter and absence of workweek pressure.  We’ve only had two such get-togethers so far (we’ll be hosting the December gathering), but they’ve become a highlight of the month for me already.

It’s a nice feeling to once again be in the company of sisters; to sense that someone has your back.  I know that I can depend on my sisters to let one of my students sit in her classroom when a kid needs to not be in my room for a while.  I can count on them for a wise word of counsel and an “I’ll pray for you” that I know is not merely a courteous expression but a promise that whatever burden I bear she’ll help me carry before the Lord.  I know that they will be patient and flexible, always willing to make changes to accommodate the crazy classroom contingencies that are forever popping up.  I know that they’ll understand what I’m dealing with, what I’m rejoicing in, what I’m anxious about, because they are going through the same things I am.

This week when I jump back into the fray come Monday morning, I know I won’t be going into battle alone.  I’ll have Ms. Minisee, Mrs. Gray, Ms. Thomas, Mrs. Lavlas, Mrs. Lee, and our big-hearted, passionate leader Mrs. Arthurs right there in the thick of things with me.  In the heat of the struggle to liberate my students, to help them live, learn, love and grow, I know my band of sisters will be right by my side.

The Women Warriors I Work With: From L to R: Janelle Thomas, the newest member of our troop. She was hired after the start of the school year to teach second grade after Ms. Minisee's 1/2 classroom was split due to its size. She has a sweet spirit and so far seems to be holding her own quite well in her first year at CAA.

Brenda Arthurs is our principal. What inspires me the most about her is her passion for our kids--you should hear her talk to the students, even when she's delivering a stern reprimand there is so much love in her voice.

Renee Lee is the 5th/6th grade teacher. She and I work most closely together since we teach each other's classes for part of every day. She is so patient and I couldn't ask for a better team-mate.

Next, the man in the middle; that's me--the "token male" on the team yet again!

Wayna Gray our third and fourth grade teacher is longest serving teacher at CAA. Wayna is a straight shooter, passionate about her God, her family, and her work and determined to keep it in that order. Her words in due season are regular source of encouragement to me.

Alyssa Minisee teaches 1st grade. She replaced me last year as the newest and youngest member of the team. She always appear calm, cool and collected (even when she's not). Fairly often we help each other out with disciplinary situations by letting each other's students take a time out in one another's classrooms.

Not pictured is Lisa Lavalas, our kindergarten teacher. She always has an encouraging word to say, and from my very first year at CAA I always felt she was someone I could talk to. She excels in the classrom despite challenges that would have felled a lesser teacher.

“Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor; not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer. . . .Bear one another’s burdens and thus fulfill the Law of Christ. . .Therefore encourage one another, and build up one another, just as you are also doing.”

---- Romans 12: 10-12, Galatians 6:2, 1 Thessalonians 5:11.


Nov 4, 2011


It's 10:12 P.M.

I was supposed to have been done blogging by 9:00 P.M. and been asleep by this time.

Undoubtedly it will be 11 by the time I go to bed, if not later (and that's assuming that I decide not to finish this blog tonight) and as a result I will likely wake up later than I had originally planned tomorrow, still exhausted, and likely be late for Sabbath School as well.

This is my life. Forever behind, forever rushing to catch up and forever failing to do so. I live in a perpetual state of tardiness. Whether it's work or leisure, bedtime or time to get up, paying the bills, getting to the bank, making a flight, arriving at the movies, or finishing chores, I am late.

I do not enjoy this. In fact, I can't stand it. Yet no matter what I try to do, I can't seem to beat it. One late arrival invariably leads to a string of further tardy appearances that can literally stretch on for days.

Perhaps part of the problem is that I haven't been bored since 1994. My life is full to overflowing. Which is a blessing, I know. But most of the time, there is so much to do that I can't keep up. Against my better judgment I constantly double and triple book myself, foolishly hoping that I'll finally be able to get it all done. I also tend to believe that I can do more than I can in a certain space of time, despite all evidence to the contrary (for example, believing that I could compose and post not one but three new entries in the space of an hour to hour and a half). Another issue is that I rarely have leisure time, and so will often take it when I shouldn't, just because I can't bear the thought of going straight from 16 hours of work to eight hours of sleep.

Something needs to change. I don't know what. I'm not sure how to go about it. I'd reflect on it more now, but as it stands, I've got to run. Yep, you guessed it. . .

I'm late.

I began this post two weeks ago. 

I added a lengthy example last weekend of how five minutes late here and ten minutes late there can snowball into an avalanche of lateness that can alter the trajectory not just an entire day, but an entire week.  I apparently never saved that addition because when I opened up the file this evening all I had was the material from two weeks ago.  I just don’t have the energy to rewrite that rather disheartening vignette.  And besides to do so, would send me to bed late yet again and I really am trying to break the cycle of tardiness in my life.

This week past week has been better, though not yet ideal.  I actually made it to work on time for the past two days running.  I’ve been rising earlier (though not necessarily going to bed as early as I’d like).  I’m learning a few keys to moving from running late to being right on time.  I’ve determined not to do any work after 8:00 P.M. in the evening, even if it means leaving crucial things undone.  This reduces the likelihood of me staying up late just to be able to feel like I unwound before bedtime.  I’m also making it a point to never get up later than 6:00 A.M., regardless of how late I go to bed.  This decision is helping with another key to timeliness—seeking God first.  I’ve been able to have more regular devotions this week and having begun with my day with God gives me an added sense of peace throughout the day.  As part of the devotional time I’m making a practice of asking God to “order my day” and help me do the things that really matter, and not stress over the rest.

I’m not there yet, but in the struggle to get a handle on this hectic life here in America, I know I’ll get there, sooner or. . .later.

"Teach us to number our days, that we may present to Thee a heart of wisdom"
                                                                                             --Psalm 90:12