Change is the Only Constant

Through the month of December, I couldn’t help but think about how transient this life is. I was transitioning from student teaching in Niger, coming back to the States, back to my parents’ home, back to icy roads and free water in restaurants. I thought about my friends whom I was saying goodbye to. I thought about an aging friend in Cedarville; I almost had to say my last goodbye to her. I thought about the fact that life would not have been this tumultuous in Eden. The way God started this earth, the way we could have lived, in perfection, we wouldn’t have had all of this change. No death. One language. Perfect communion with God. People would still grow and mature and learn and develop, but I don’t think the changes would have been as painful as they are now.

But change is a part of this life. And, like all things in this life, God redeems it and uses it for His glory, for the good of those who are called according to his purpose. As much as I fear and resist change, I’m learning more and more that change mandates trust. Either I try to trust in myself or I can surrender and trust the almighty, sovereign, good Savior of the universe. Such a tough decision for my weakling heart.

The life of a substitute

I’ve started substitute teaching! It’s a real thing now. I officially love when I can accept a job before the morning-of. Those 5am calls are rough. In the past few weeks, I’ve been a teacher for high school PE (almost all boys), for 1st grade, for high school history, and for middle school drama. 🙂 I’ve also been blessed to join some special education classrooms recently. In my 8 days of subbing so far, 4 of those days have been in some kind of special education classroom. I’m really excited for how God’s been opening my eyes to the needs, the joys, and the opportunities of students who learn differently.

Subbing can be terrifying. I mean, ok, all I have to do is fill in for a teacher for a few hours, right? No big deal. And even when I had multiple sections of 40 high school guys for PE, I only had them each for 50 minutes at a time. What’s the worst that could happen? Please don’t answer that question. (Also, don’t worry—no fights, no broken bones, and some of them might actually have remembered my name by the end of the class period. )

The terrifying bit is the fact that each morning I get ready for a day full of unknowns. Sometimes, I’ve never even been in the building before. I don’t know who the other teachers are. I don’t know when classes change. For my first subbing job, I didn’t even know where the bathrooms were. Thankfully, I was only there for half the day. And almost every morning, I have a slight internal freak out: what if I can’t make it through the whole day? What if completely botch the lesson plans? Why did I ever think this was a good idea?? Of course, I keep these doubts to myself, I try to focus on breathing like a normal human, and I remind myself that God is so much bigger. And remember that one time He helped me teach in Africa? Oh yeah. That happened. Remember how He’s the same God now? Oh. Right. 🙂

Subbing is teaching me a lot about how I don’t know all the answers. It’s also been really cool to step in to fill needs. I like that a lot about subbing. Like most humans, I like being needed. Subbing allows me to, sometimes literally, respond to a call for help. I like that. And I already have 5 more jobs scheduled for February. Thanks for providing, God!!

Middle child—only child

Hey. What do middle children rarely get from their parents?

Any breaks.

Badum-cha!

But really. We also rarely get one-on-one time with parents. Sarah got Mom and Dad all to herself for a couple years before her baby “sisser” arrived, and Evan had their full attention after I went away to Cedarville. I always had to share my parents with my siblings, until now. 🙂

Thankfully, this truly is a blessing. Somehow my parents and I have navigated the transition to your-daughter-is-actually-an-adult-now land without too many bumps or scrapes. I love being able to have evenings with them. I try to help with housework and taking care of our horses. They’re both really understanding of me having my own schedule while also wanting to spend time with them. Especially since Stephen and I hope that we might eventually live and serve overseas, I’m really cherishing this time with my amazing parents. I mean, good food, great company, and free rent? What more could I want?!

The Door Analogy

Have you ever heard people talk about God’s will and doors? Forget about the whole, “If God closes a door, he also opens a window,” thing. First of all, how does free will lend itself to an image of us being trapped in a room with only two means of escape? Anyway. I’m thinking more about the Christianese jargon that “if doors are open, then I’ll continue going this direction. If God closes doors, though, then I’ll know not to go that way.” Is this doctrinally sound? I’m probably not explaining it very well, but I do have some questions:

  • Should you always walk through these spiritual open doors? Just because a door is open, an opportunity is available, does that mean that God wants you to “walk through it”?
  • What if a door is stuck due to humidity? Does that mean that God wants you to give up because the door is closed? Or are you supposed to hip and shoulder check that bad boy open?
  • What if I’m actually completely missing the point and overcomplicating an analogy that was intended to simplify things? What if the important thing is to pray? Just pray. Romans 12:2—“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

Okay. Enough with the rant. Here’s the real reason why I’ve been thinking about doors and God’s will and my need to pray more:

Heading back to Niger

I’m currently applying with SIM to be a short-term missionary to Niamey, Niger, for mid-April through early-June of this year, 2015.

I agree. This is crazy. My mentor teacher and his wife will be returning to the States earlier than they had originally planned. Consequently, Sahel Academy needs a high school English teacher for the last 2 months of the school year. My visa to Niger and my yellow fever vaccine are still good through July of this year. I’ve talked with parents, boyfriend, siblings, pastor, SIM representative, Sahel representative, and a few friends in Niamey. I’m going back. 🙂

General feelings: I’m terrified. And ecstatic. And I once again have a deep awareness of my need for God. I cannot do this by myself. I should not and will not do this by myself. I need His guidance and blessing. I also need lots and lots of prayers. Feel free to contribute your prayers generously. 🙂 (Yes, eventually I’ll need cash, but we’ll talk about that later. 🙂 ) I can’t wait to see my friends and students again. It still feels surreal that I might be going back so soon. Gosh. God is so generous and good.

As I’m thinking about returning, I’m also thinking about what I’ll be walking into. Hopefully, dear reader, you are aware of the demonstrations and devastations that happened in Niamey a few weekends ago, on January 17th. In reaction to the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, groups of Nigeriens burned and vandalized many churches, pastors’ homes, and some Christian schools, mostly in Zinder and in Niamey. While this tragedy brought me to tears and to my knees here in the States, it is still deeply affecting my friends and students at Sahel. I’m humbled and honored that I’ll be able to come walk with them as they continue processing and growing through those trials.

To read more about the devastation in Niger January 17th, to see pictures, and to learn how you can pray and help, please read some of my friends’ blogs:

From the Michigander French teacher, Madame Rachel: http://racheltoniger.weebly.com/my-entries/hope

From Ms. Knox, the second grade teacher: http://hannahjoyinafrica.blogspot.com/ (Her post “From my eyes” discusses the burnings)

Continuing from here                               

One of my favorite attributes of God is His constancy. I struggle to describe it. He’s faithful, and that’s part of what I love. He never changes, and I depend on that, too. He is the same God yesterday, today, and forever. This also means that He’s the same God in Kecskemet, Hungary; in Niamey, Niger; in Akron, Ohio; in Freeland, Michigan. He’s the same, constant, faithful God. And He’s so, so good.

So really, change is not the only constant. Yes, our lives will consistently change. I’m no longer a college student. I’m only living in Michigan for 2 more months this winter before—hopefully—heading back to Niger. And I’ll only be there for another 2 months. I’m a substitute teacher, a riding instructor, and a soon-to-be long-term sub at Sahel. I can only see a few short steps ahead of me, and even those steps sometimes terrify me.

But there is one Being, one Truth, one Assurance more constant than change: God. For Believers, God is our true constant. He is my constant. I’m praying that I keep seeking Him and serving Him through the upcoming changes He has in store for me. 🙂

And no worries—I’ll keep you updated.

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Processing and Pondering Or How is October already over?

I was just talking with Hannah about whether or not we cried much when we were little kids. I mean, my parents probably remember better than I do, but I don’t recall being an especially tearful kid. I don’t know when the transition happened. Maybe it was when I began seeing more of the pain and destruction in the world. Maybe it was when I began to see all of the disastrous pride, selfishness, and sin in my own life. Maybe my hormones simplpy decided to take over my life and overflow my tear ducts.

Regardless of when it happened, I’ve somehow become a bit of a crier. In fact, that’s one thing that I’ve done consistently well here in Niger: cry. 🙂

But please don’t assume that I want to be on a plane heading Stateside. On the contrary, a few of my recent cries have centered on the paradox of wanting to be home while really, desperately not wanting to leave this place or these people. Other times, I’ve cried from feeling overwhelmed or simply at a loss. Truly, I don’t always know why I’m crying. For me, my tears seem to signify a few very significant recognitions:

  • I’m weak.
  • I’m imperfect.
  • I don’t have the answers.
  • I still, always need saving.

God has been reminding me of these truths, along with many other less depressing-sounding realities. He is all-sufficient. Maybe, someday, eventually, I’ll live as though Christ is all that I need. For now, I say it, I believe that I believe it. But I’m clearly re-learning this life-altering truth: God loved me when I was still a sinner, He loves me now, and He is all that I need.

I guess in the same way that I needed to do some re-teaching for the Theme and Organization lessons in my World Literature class, God needs to re-teach me about His sufficiency.

In other news and since we’re all mostly interested in the happenings and goings-on in Niger, West Africa, here are some specific situations where God has been humbling me and proving himself faithful:

edTPA: Accomplished

The edTPA is done!!! Last night around 2am Niger-time, I was fighting the temptation to quote way-too-important quotes in slightly irreverent ways: “It is finished.” Or “Free at last, free at last. Thank God Almighty, I’m free at last.” (While I resisted the temptation last night, I clearly did not resist the temptation just now. C’est la vie.) Due to the support of wonderful Cedarville professor and Sahel colleagues, the prayer and patience of so many friends and family members all over the world, and they grace of a works-in-the-details Savior, I submitted my final assessment for my undergraduate studies. My other obligations for student teaching include: being observed at least 1 more time; teaching moderately successfully for the next 4 weeks; generally not ruining students’ lives. Due to God’s faithfulness and his sovereignty regardless of the outcome, I’m learning to trust him for those final responsibilities. And I’m feeling soooo good about being done with the edTPA. 🙂

Hippo sighting

I got to see hippos. Yeah, it was really cool! Mostly, though, riding in a boat on the Niger River was truly wonderful. A couple of weeks ago, a group of about 9 of us Sahel staff/missionaries and visiting family members went on a guided Hippo Tour. We ended up seeing about 6 hippos all hanging out together in the middle of the river, a very safe distance away from us. 🙂 The hippos were big and a little intimidating. The time on the river? A beautiful, peaceful, breath-taking view of river-life in Niger. Pictures are on facebook, although they hardly do the trip justice.

Alambaré Outreach

A week ago from right now, I was sitting on some wooden benches in the Nigerien village of Alambaré, after eating a meal of peanut butter and jelly on baguettes with 11 of my students and 3 other adult supervisors. Sahel students go on weekend-long outreach trips to Alambaré at least once a semester. While we were there, we played with the kids from the village, told them Bible stories (the students spoke in French and the local pastor translated into their tribal language), and enjoyed a weekend away from Niamey, sleeping in tents or in the open. (I was in a tent, although apparently outside the tent was pretty nice, too: not too many mosquitoes and gorgeous stars.) Although I did not anticipate the fact that I would be an impromptu leader for the Alambaré trip, I had a great support system and we had a really awesome weekend. I loved spending time with the kids in Alambaré, hearing the Gospel presented in 3 different languages at least 5 different times throughout the weekend, and seeing our Sahel students really step up and step out of their comfort zones. I’m still processing from the trip (which will not surprise many of you), but I’m also undoubtedly glad that I went on it.

A mini-Cedarville Reunion

About mid-October, I had the chance to sit down and talk with one of the missionary couples here at Sahel. Of course, I get to enjoy many spontaneous conversations with a lot of amazing missionaries here in Niamey, but this was a more of a planned event. I had seen some similarities between Stephen’s and my story and Coach and JJ’s story. (He’s the PE teacher and the softball coach; naturally that has become his first name.) Both Coach and JJ attended Cedarville, studying to be teachers. Coach played soccer at CU. JJ currently teaches middle school English and helps coordinate all of the new middle school, partially due to her capacity for organization and long-term planning. (Yeah, I’m not sure why I see similarities between this really great couple and Stephen and myself… Bazinga.) Kathy invited their family over and we had a great dinner with Coach, JJ, and their 4 kids. Then the kids walked back home—they also live here on campus—and we just sat and talked. About life, missions, support-raising, teaching, married life, waiting on God’s timing, knowing God’s will, trusting God completely, etc. We just sat and talked, 3 Cedarville alums and my wonderful roommate chatting about life until about 11pm. Of course, I then started on lesson plans for the week, but the nighttime work session was totally worth the previous time of enlightenment and idea-exchange. And encouragement. I sincerely hope that I can be at least minimally as encouraging to others here as they are to me.

Thinking of Hungary

I helped to FSL last Thursday. That’s right. You may have heard of ESL, but have you ever thought much about FSL? French as a Second Language. I, a second-language French speaker, got to help teach French to Zarma-speaking Nigerien women last Thursday, and it was so much fun! It reminded me a lot of my time in Hungary teaching English to Hungarian speakers. I don’t know any of their native language and I’m basically trying to somehow impart at least some French to them. Of course, when I taught English in Hungary, at least I feel pretty confident in my English-speaking. But still. I liked the flexibility, the vulnerability of language learning, the risk-taking and smile-sharing that happen when nobody is that great at French. I went with the fourth grade teacher at Sahel, and the two of us worked with about 10 young women who attend a sewing school here in Niamey. They may or may not be literate in Zarma, and they are at various stages of literacy in French, the language of the government and the educated here in Niger. Unfortunately, I’ll only have 2 more Thursdays when I can help teach French. But I’m already looking forward to those days.

Afraid of the lasts

I’m going to be a mess. That’s funny. I’m already quite a mess. All I have to do is look at a calendar and I start freaking out. Here’s the issue: sometimes November looks like the longest month ever and I don’t know how I’m going to last or what I’m going to teach or how I’m going to stay focused here instead of just thinking about getting home and seeing my family and seeing my boyfriend and being done with student teaching.

Other times?

Other times November looks painfully, frighteningly, unreasonably short. I still have souvenirs to buy. I want to see the giraffes. I really don’t want to exchange this weather for snow. And I’m not ready to say goodbye. To this place, this school, these people. And how many lasts am I going to have? My last day at church. My last day teaching yearbook. My last time seeing friends who don’t teach here at Sahel. My last time talking with each of my students. I don’ t know how to legitimize my sorrow and my reluctance to leave without becoming a self-important drama queen. I don’t know how to honor God through this process. Which is probably why He has me here, huh?

The last few months have been so brilliantly amazing while also feeling like a rather “normal” possibility for how life could be. The next few weeks are terrifying and daunting and going to come whether I’m ready or not. Because I won’t be ready, and I don’t have to be.

What Hannah reminded me of earlier this week:

The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.

Exodus 14:14

What God reminded me of just now:

And I will lead the blind in a way that they do not know, in paths that they have not known I will guide them. I will turn the darkness before them into light, the rough places into level ground. These are the things I do, and I do not forsake them.

Isaiah 42:16

Ways we can praise

  • God’s faithfulness and patience with me
  • The edTPA is done!
  • I still have a month left, thankfully. 🙂

Ways we can pray

  • That God will keep watering the Gospel seeds that Sahel students helped plant in Alambaré
  • That I will finish well—with student teaching and with my time here in general
  • That I’ll keep learning what God’s teaching me

Learning to be a teacher Aka The emotional roller coaster Aka Choosing joy

Teaching is hard. It’s also amazing and fun and exciting and fulfilling. But it can just be hard, too. Also, teaching for the first time, with only 4 years of theoretical “experience” is pretty rough. Add to that being away from home, learning to exist in near-constant heat, and constantly battling internally over whether or not I’m “experiencing the culture” enough—then teaching becomes très difficile.

To give you better, clearer insight into my emotional roller coaster, as my sister and I have labeled it, here are a few categories of my life from the last few weeks:

Category 1: Reasons I’ve wanted to cry.

  • Mondays and Wednesdays have been pretty draining recently. I teach both English classes on those days. And when I have my 9th grade class, after lunch, sitting and reading for at least 45 out of our 90 minutes—it can get exhausting managing the chaos. Unfortunately, I’m still learning how to channel the chaos, using it for the greater good instead of allowing it to fuel my desire for a nap. Thankfully, Dietrich, my cooperating teacher, is very sympathetic and helpful in the brainstorming-for-ideas-that-will-make-this-class-more-enjoyable area. It’s a work in progress.
  • I’ve allowed the edTPA project that I need to do for Cedarville trap me with fear. It sounds so stupid, even when I say it to myself. But I’m so scared of skipping a step, or misunderstanding something, or just doing a bad job. Also, there’s a selfish, lazy, scared, sinful part of me (sidenote: I think there are quite a few of those sides within me) that just doesn’t want to do the project. Now, I know that this isn’t an option. Trust me. This achievement-driven, recovering perfectionist knows that “I didn’t want to” doesn’t cut it for missing a due date. I know that I need to do my edTPA. And I will. But first, I need to overcome this irrational fear. (Good joke. I need to listen to truth and allow Christ to eradicate my fears. Just sayin’.)
  • There are days when the last bell rings, my students escape from my sweltering, stench-filled classroom, I begin gathering my teacher-y stuff, and all I can think is this: “Did I actually teach them anything today?” I question my effectiveness as a teacher. Did I just babysit my students for 90 minutes at a time, giving them meaningless “activities” to keep them busy? Is my assessing actually influencing my planning that is truly turning into my teaching that is legitimately leading into another assessment? And the only logical answer I have at that point is: I want to nap. (Clearly, sleep is my escape. I already knew this, but it’s solidified now.) I don’t always have a happy-ending answer to those questions. All I know is that I need to keep asking them and keep responding to them as long as I keep teaching.

Enough of the depressing.

Category 2: Reasons I immediately praise God.

  • A box from my mother, packed full with not 1 but 2 new journals; mints so that I don’t kill my students with coffee breath; enough Mio flavoring to last me at least a year; and other various forms of encouragement.
  • My students send me to God with thanksgiving. Of course, at times they drive me nutty. But other times, one of them asks if I would meet with her some mornings before school to pray together. “I would love that,” I quickly respond. Another student offers me the beginning of a story that he wrote, “So that you can let me know what you think. But you don’t have to read it if you don’t want to.” “Oh please. I would love to read this. Thank you!” Another student asked me what I’m going to do after my internship: “Adjust to cold weather again.” “No, after that. Like, where are you going to work?” “I’ll probably substitute teach for a semester.“ “You could always come back here. Sahel pays real good.” The irony is funny. The sentiment is huge.
  • A letter from my boyfriend, the same week that the package came from my mom. Such a surprise and encouragement and blessing. And the pictures that he sent me are already on my wall. 🙂
  • Last week I went out to eat twice with different groups of friends from Sahel. It was so fun and so encouraging. And so yummy. 🙂 God has blessed me with such a rich community of my peers here in Niger. It’ll probably be harder to find this kind of friend group in Saginaw, Michigan, than it is to find it here. Also, I tried minced camel. It was pretty good!
  • I French-braided my hair, successfully. For the first time. In Africa. What more could I ask for? (Of course, I didn’t take a picture. But I swear that this event will be repeated, with photographic proof.)

In general, I’m realizing that I’m living in a paradox. Student teaching is really hard, but there’s nothing else I’d rather be doing right now. I miss my family and my boyfriend, but I don’t want to leave here. Sometimes I feel so anxious about teaching and my Cedarville assignments that I begin to use journaling and praying as an excuse to avoid work. Other times, I actually learn to dwell in the peace and confidence that God gives me, knowing that I am in this here and now, in Niamey, Niger, at Sahel Academy for this time to serve God and to draw closer to him. I just started reading in Esther yesterday, and you know what? Even though I can’t see the whole picture and I don’t have a wise uncle guilt tripping me into advocating for my entire people group, there is part of me that thinks I might be here “for such a time as this.”

That realization goes under the “Reasons I immediately praise God” category.

Thank you for joining me on this journey, listening to my woes and my joys. Thank you for praying with me and for me. God uses the church, His body, to encourage and edify and lift up in amazing ways. Thanks for being a part of that.

Ok. Enough avoiding lesson planning. And no more naps. At least not today.

What if…?

My Irrational Fears in Writing

What if I get lost in the Charles de Gaulle airport? Wait, what if I get lost in the JFK airport?

What if I have completely forgotten all the French that I ever knew?

What if I destroy my EdTPA project? Because then I won’t officially graduate from Cedarville. I won’t even be a legitimate teacher. Naturally, I’ll also be irrationally frustrated with myself.

What if I’ve completely forgotten how to teach English? I might get into the classroom and completely choke. What’s a participle? I don’t understand what you’re saying: what is this characterization and plot development that you speak of?

What if I’m a wimp when it comes to the heat? I might end up complaining more than my colleagues care to tolerate. I mean, Niamey is hotter than Freeland, MI, but I’m not even going to be there for the hot season.

What if I’m completely awkward and ignorant when I try to interact with my students and the various backgrounds and experiences that they bring to my classroom?

What if I get lonely and overwhelmed and frustrated and all I want to do is hide in my apartment? What if this “adventure” that I thought God was calling me to ends up shutting me down instead of opening me up?

What if I really did mis-hear God? Maybe I put words in His mouth, pushing my own agenda of traveling and adventuring and attempting to be brave. Maybe.

But what if I actually trusted God? He has been so faithful to me directly, to my friends and family, and repeatedly through Scripture. If I truly trusted Him the way that I say I do, the way that I so want to, then would I really be sitting here iterating the misfortunes that might, maybe, possibly occur in the next four months? I do want to trust Him. I’ve recently been reading through Isaiah, and God has overwhelmed me with His promises, His faithfulness, and His redemption. This verse in particular has comforted and quieted me in my more rebellious, fear-filled moments:

Isaiah 42:16 (ESV)

16 And I will lead the blind
in a way that they do not know,
in paths that they have not known
I will guide them.
I will turn the darkness before them into light,
the rough places into level ground.
These are the things I do,
and I do not forsake them.

Yes, I’m the blind one in this situation. And God knows that, yet He still chooses to use me. Even though I possess a potential to fail. Miserably. God still wants to use me as a tool to make His name great. Because He is a God who uses the weak to shame the strong.

When I get overwhelmed with my ridiculous “What ifs…?”, I have found three main ways to find peace.

  1. Dwelling in God’s promises, like Isaiah 42:16.
  2. Listening to truth that God gives me via my close friends and family.
  3. Praying for other people.

So these last few days (yes, days) before I board a plane for Niamey, I have been praying more for my future students, colleagues, roommate, and friends at Sahel. Besides humbling me, my fear has done at least one beneficial thing: it reminds me to pray.

Also: I leave in three days.

Disclaimers: Mme. Grandouiller, I’m sure that I’ll remember more French than I think. And to my future colleagues, I’m certain that you are more patient and gracious than my fears are telling me. To my education professors at Cedarville, you have adequately prepared me for the EdTPA. To Mrs. Messer, I assure you that I do still remember how to teach English.