Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Hello, Goodbye, Hello

I started this blog to have a somewhat safe place to practice my creativity, and then I avoided using it to do so. I have lots of excuses to avoid writing. Unfortunately, most of them backfire in the end because they are things like, "I'm exhausted from student teaching where I ask my students to write for me and exercise their creativity and become brilliant thinkers." What kind of terrible teacher is terrified of modeling this behavior?


Oops. Well, here I am putting out a new post, trying to erase a bit of my own hypocrisy. And in the vein of reducing hypocrisy, I've got a story to tell. This isn't a creative fiction story though, this is a real life, happening now story. That's the goodbye part of the title. The first hello is that I'm posting again after a long absence. The goodbye is that it's not a creative post like I try to do more frequently. Goodbye, pressure of only posting when I have a narrowly defined creative writing piece. Hello (number two) to a new kind of post that is even more vulnerable than before. Hello to a post about my own life.

I love diagramming sentences. I think it is a fascinating art. Sentence diagrams are like trees. They have a trunk of the simple sentence and beautiful branches that reach out to provide complexity and support the life of a sentence. My love for sentence diagramming began in junior high when my English teacher made us diagram sentences all the time. I mourned the loss of sentence diagramming assignments when I reached high school, but Mrs. Johnson had sparked a desire for me to pursue a career in English with all of those sentence diagramming assignments. She also sparked a desire for me to write. I began writing "creative" stories with friends of mine. I shared them on this beautiful thing called the internet. I am ashamed of my lack of imagination at that time.

But I kept growing. I got to high school, left behind the sentence diagrams, and began to read more. I read beautiful texts that only increased my passion for the language arts. I decided that I wanted to become a high school English teacher. I even worked it out with my own high school English teacher that I would take her job when she retired. I've been on that path ever since. I'm getting my masters degree now, and I'm only months away from graduating with my teacher's license. However, I hit the first snag in my perfect plan less than a year ago. Mrs. Maki told me that she couldn't retire at the end of this year.

I need a job.

I had several people from several different areas of my life just drop the idea of teaching overseas into conversations. I laughed them all off. You see, there is something else important about me that you should know: I have a personal relationship with the Creator of the universe, who happens to be my personal Savior. This is connected to teaching overseas because I've always been vocal about how much I loved Jesus and was willing to go to the ends of the earth for him. The big kicker is that I only said that loudly and frequently because deep down I felt I'd never be called overseas - especially if I was going to take Mrs. Maki's job.

Well, along my journey to take Mrs. Maki's job, I discovered a lot about myself and even more about my Savior. I realized that when the Word became flesh, he made the discipline of literature an avenue to know more about him. I began to seek him out in every text I read. I began to grow closer to him.

Then I started grad school. I was in an education program where I had a year of theory about the American education system, and the things I learned about this behemoth began to wear on me. There is no hope of me fixing this broken system, and I don't even want to try. I just want to teach in a tiny private school in safe, suburban America where I can share my passion about discovering Truth in texts with young, eager minds. God has a sense of humor; I got placed in a tiny rural public school that plays in the same league as my old high school. Many of the kids there are numb to learning, and it's an uphill battle to share my passion about Truth in texts.

I began to become cynical. The year of theory about a broken system had already started to pull me away from my passion of connecting truth in literature to real life, and teaching these kids who didn't want to learn exhausted me. Something was amiss. And to top it all off, people right and left were suggesting to me that I go teach overseas after I graduate. A storm was brewing.

It all came to a head one Sunday at church when I was talking to a girl from the youth group. (I've been a youth leader for years because I want to be a positive influence on young people, and I want to share my love for the Lord and encourage others to passionately pursue him.) This particular student told me she hated youth group, felt like she never learned anything, and thought that she should be teaching the junior high youth. I was sick to my stomach when I heard her words. Whether she meant it or not, her words implied that she had somehow arrived in her faith and rather than needing to be fed and grow more herself, she was capable of passing on some "get out of hell free" advice to younger people.

What appalled me most is that I realized she might be following my example. I'm not that old, and I feel I have the audacity to speak truth into younger people's lives. I don't know nearly enough of Jesus to have the wisdom for that. After months of denial about the call overseas, I got angry. How dare this girl think she's arrived in her faith and doesn't need to grow? More importantly, how dare I think that I can remain in my comfort zone and get enough of Jesus? I had absolutely no right to speak to this girl - or anyone else - again until I wholeheartedly chased after Jesus.

I've grown up in the same town my whole life, and I feel very deeply rooted in my community. I'm comfortable where I am, and I hoped to stay here forever. Moving out of state would be a big deal for me. I tried bargaining with God: maybe I could move to Denver? I have a lot of family and friends there. It would still be a big step, but at the same time pretty comfortable for me. Oh fine, how about Pocatello? I only know a couple people who live there... and one of them is my best friend. No, a different state isn't far enough outside of my comfort zone for me to depend completely upon the Lord.


Woah, that got deep. I hit depression on Wednesday after the initial thrust into this cycle, and it wasn't until Friday when I told the story to one of my closest friends (who had nudged me through the denial phase) what an exhausting week I'd had but that I was finally feeling at peace about that I realized what had happened. Kara named the five stages of grief through my week.

I have a list of schools that I am applying to, and all of them are outside of the United States. I'm terrified. I'll likely be terrified until I've been out of the country for a month or two, but in the terror there is also peace. And in the terror and peace there is also Jesus. What I care about most at this point is Jesus.

Let me add, I care a great deal about the student who made me angry last week, but she is not nearly as important to me as Jesus. I want to make that point abundantly clear: I'm going overseas to seek out Jesus. He gave me a unique set of gifts, some related to reading and writing, and mixed in there is a passion for young people to see and know more of him through my life as an example. I could never look any of my students in the eye again if I did not live what I believe and chase after Jesus. I do not want to set an apathetic example that appears to have arrived in her faith in order to give answers to everyone younger than me. I don't have all the answers. I do know who does, however, and I'm eagerly seeking him out to know more about him and who he has created me to be.

I'd love to come back from a teaching experience overseas and know more about my Savior to share him with the students at my youth group, but that brings me to the last important point I have to share. I'm chasing Jesus, and I care very much about my students. I'm chasing Jesus to a place with new students. It's hard for me to leave the ones here who I know and love, but how can I possibly go to invest in a whole new set of students and anticipate pouring into them as a teacher and abandoning them after a single year? I'm leaving for at least a year to find more of Jesus. I'm chasing him for the rest of my life. I don't know if I'll ever come back to Oregon. I don't know where I'll be in a year, but I know I'll be chasing Jesus. I don't know where I'll be in two years, but I know I'll be chasing Jesus.