Sunday, 25 November 2012

Annal 188: Tale from the Warcraft-Inspired Worship

I don't know when, I don't know how, I only know it happened.  At some point world views were altered and the stars aligned ever so slightly.

I have become "cool."

Yeah, I know you are all just as awed by this knowledge as I was.

It began on Monday afternoon.  I was being observed by my SA and this was the first lesson in a mini-unit I had completely designed (it was on descriptive/narrative writing).  When discussing the importance of incorporating all of your senses in writing, I described a scene from my own life.  Specifically, I described myself playing World of Warcraft.

Before I go any further I should probably insert that I was rather wary of doing this.  I didn't know these kids all that well and I had no idea what admitting such a fact would do to their view of me.  But I decided to be open and vulnerable and admitted that I played video games.

My reputation increased by about 1000 with my English 11 students.

This also led to a week where my students discovered other facts about me.  They learned that I love the Final Fantasy games but have also been known to break out The Sims 3 when I need some brainless activity to occupy my time.  They discovered that I love The Lord of the Rings and cried when Snape died in The Harry Potter books.  Upon the realization that I grew up in the arctic and a theme that has driven my life is "Stick together and don't jump in any big snow drifts," I pretty much moved into revered status in the classroom.

Maybe this just sounds like a whole lot of silliness to some of you.  But for me this is pretty huge.  I am a believer that learning takes place in a classroom where there is community, where there is a relationship between the teacher and the students that encourages trust and openness.  No, I don't believe in waving my dirty laundry in front of my students.  But I do believe that when they trust me and know me, they are more willing to try activities and lessons that I give them.  By the end of this week I didn't see a single cell phone out when giving a lesson.

This four week practicum has had some rough moments for me.  There were times when I wondered if teaching was what I was really called to do.  In the last week, however, I remembered just how much I love being in the classroom.  How much I love interacting with students.  I had a double observation on Thursday with both my SA and my FA and I cannot begin to describe how stressed I was about it.  By the end of the lesson I was convinced I had failed and that both of them would tell me to give up teaching.  That didn't happen.  My FA had nothing even remotely negative to say, and my SA had only one tiny piece of advice.  Otherwise they both thought the lesson went splendidly.

Believe it or not there is a reason I am telling you all this.

I spent the weekend with my brother and his family again (how can I say no to cuddles with the niece and nephew, decorating a Christmas tree, and a movie night out with my sister-in-law?), which means I went to church with them today.  To be honest, I found the sermon a little shallow (the pastor was talking about how we are called to love each other).  And then he came to his very last point.

He said that we love each other because it glorifies God.

The moment he said this, it was as if something clicked in my soul.

I thought of this past week, of the relationships I was developing with my class.  I thought of how it almost breaks my heart when I realize that I won't get to teach most of them next semester because they will be moving on to different classes.

I have only known them for three weeks, but the truth is I care about these kids.  I know each of them by name and I can't describe the pleasure I get from talking with them in the hallway, or watching them open up in a conversation with me.

I guess you could say I love these guys.

And today I realized that when I am in relationship with my students, when I care about them, I am glorifying God.

Sometimes it seems like so little.  Sometimes I think, "What's the point in building these relationships?  I'm only going to be around these guys for a few weeks."

Then I remember that I am created to worship.

When I am interacting with my students, I can't begin to describe how at peace I feel.  It's as if I'm fulfilling one of my purposes in life.

Today I realized that I am.

And so here's to World of Warcraft, and how it leads me to glorify my God.

Saturday, 17 November 2012

Annal 187: Tale from the Army of Cuddling

My niece decided to write a song about me last night.

Or to put it correctly, she decided to rewrite a song about me.

It goes something along the lines of, "You're an auntie, in the army of cuddling."  Actually, she alternated between putting me in the army of cuddling and the army of kissing.  Apparently this means I'm open to cuddling and kissing anyone, or so this adorable five year old put it.

Last night was one of those nights where pretty much the greatest thing in the world is to be an aunt who is hanging out with her niece and nephew.  My brother and sister-in-law went out for dinner and a play last night, so when I finished my day of practicum I drove out that way to take care of the kiddies.  Along the drive my phone rang.  After putting it on speaker phone (of course), I answered.  It was my niece double-checking that I was still coming and wanting to know my ETA.  My nephew then came to the phone and told me that he loved me and that I had better make sure I pray to God that He keep me safe while driving.

What followed was an evening of legendary epicness (at least in the world of Auntie-dom).  After a supper of chicken fingers the three of us nestled in to watch How the Grinch Stole Christmas.  And yes, I am referring to the "good" one that is narrated by Boris Karloff.  We then prepared a massive bowl of homemade popcorn and I made up hot chocolate for each of us.  Upon special request I brought my all-time favourite Christmas classic, Santa Claus is Coming to Town to watch.

(I do so love a man with facial hair).

Sadly, devastatingly so, I opened my DVD case to discover that the DVD was missing.  This was a pivotal moment in the evening: would we mope, drowning or sorrows in hot cocoa and pop corn or would auntie reach into her little bag and be able to pull out other options she had brought along?

It was the latter and the result of this decision is that my niece and nephew are now completely in love with Home Alone.

Oh yes, they were making this face and screaming all morning :)

The highlight of this great evening?  My nephew didn't want to leave my side and actually fell asleep in my arms while playing with my hair.  And my niece decided to sneak down the stairs this morning shortly before seven so that she could come and cuddle with me.

I had breakfast with my family, went to a craft fair with my sister-in-law, and then drove back to my home (pretending it was not pouring rain but instead snowing).  And now I am snuggled within the folds of a blanket while drinking coffee and snacking on the rather vast assortment of chocolate in my possession (hooray for care packages from Charming).

So why am I sharing all of this?

Because all I could think of today is how incredibly blessed I am.  I just finished the second week of my short practicum and it was great.  I was teaching this week too, and being in a classroom interacting with students was fantastic.  I discovered that ninth grade boys really enjoy talking with me, and the lovely cord that hangs from the front of my car for cold weather creates a mysterious aura about me to some of the eleventh grade boys I teach.

My dad came to town this week for a conference and I was able to meet up with him for dinner.  I haven't seen my parents in two and a half months so it was wonderful to get to spend a few hours with him.

It has been an exhausting semester with several "interesting" little hurdles that have enjoyed popping up along the way.  Yet God has brought me over them all (though not without my fair share of scraped knees).  And this week has just been one where it seems like God has given me reminder after reminder that I am loved (as I write this all I can feel is my nephews three year old arms around my neck as he says "I love you so much" while pressing his cheek against mine).

I realize this isn't something deep, philsophical, or life-changing.  But this week has been filled with moments where I have been reminded of who God is.  Not because anything "big" has happened, but because of things like my niece and nephew's excitement to spend a night with me, or because the street I drive to my school everyday is lined with trees that have been lit with white Christmas lights, or because I have been able to run underneath a starry sky.

Sunday, 11 November 2012

Annal 186: Tale from the Phoenix

Something about the phoenix has always held a sort of allure for me.  Maybe it has to do with my strange fascination with various mythologies, or maybe it has to do with the fact that Albus Dumbledore had a phoenix and it was that bird that delivered the Sorting Hat to Harry, thus supplying him with the Sword of Gryffindor and aiding him to conquer the basilisk?  Who knows?  Regardless of the cause this allure exists (I had even talked with a fellow student last semester about getting phoenix tatoos... she did so, I did not).

The reason I mention this strange attraction has to do with my experience at church this morning.  I have been in this odd place when it comes to church and my devotions.  I long desperately for solidity, for truth I can really sink my teeth into and hold onto.  And I do feel like I am being fed like that, to a certain degree.  The issue is that I still feel as if I am lacking something.  I read things or hear things and while they make complete sense, they seem to lack that "clicking" feeling--that sense of resonation with my soul.

I was lucky enough to get a four-day weekend and even luckier to have my brother and sister-in-law drive into my city and pick me up to spend the weekend with them.  So this morning I went to church with them.  After the first few songs I finally had to stop.  I had figured out what was missing.

"Lord, touch my heart," became my prayer.  "Make me open."

I have said this before--I grew up in more charismatic churches.  As a result I grew up seeing a lot of dependence in these churches on emotionalism--something was an act of God only if it was accompanied by shouting, dancing, jumping up and down, or copious amounts of crying.  I don't resent this.  It has allowed me to crave the solidity I crave now, but has also created an appreciation within me for the more emotional side of following Christ.  To follow Jesus is a decision that encompasses your entire life, and thus your heart as well as your mind.  I have been in churches that tend to hover over particular sides: some are great at feeding your intellect while others dwell wholly on tapering to the emotions.

Today I saw how I had been leaning to one side in the hopes of feeding my whole.  It doesn't work that way.

Almost immediately after I prayed the above prayer, the music team started singing "Our God" by Chris Tomlin.  I love the words of the second verse of this song.

Into the darkness You shine,
Out of the ashes we rise,
There's no one like You,
None like You.

In order for a phoenix to be reborn, it must first die.  Once it has been burned up, a new life can form from the ashes.

As I have said in my last few blog posts, I sometimes tend to forget who God is.  I sometimes forget that He is the almighty Creator.  I sometimes forget that He made the ultimate sacrifice for me.  I sometimes forget who He is.

On Tuesday morning I went for a run.  It was one of the first clear days in a long time, and for the first time I was able to see the stars shining as I ran.  The only word to describe what came over me was awe.  It seemed as if my Creator had taken time to remind me of His greatness that morning.  I could have sworn those stars were shining just for me to see.

I also had my financial situation worked out.  My overaward was reversed and I was reassessed for this semester (which means they decided to give me more money).  I also just had the part of my student loan that had been deducted in September deposited into my student account.  My money situation wasn't just resolved... it seemed as if it worked out to be a miracle.

And yet sometimes I forget who God is.

This is where the chorus to "Our God" starts playing through my head.

Our God is greater,
Our God is stronger,
God, You are higher than any other.
Our God is healer,
Awesome in power,
Our God, Our God.

Sometimes life doesn't turn out smoothly.  Sometimes things are left unresolved and we don't get the answers we want.  I have never received the resolution I wanted to the whole situation with my old church.  But I have learned what it means to forgive and have learned to live with the truth that things don't always work out the way we want them to.  But that doesn't mean that God is not all-powerful and in control.  He worked that situation out, not in a way that made me "happy," but in a way that taught me more of who He is, that showed me His character, and that stretched me to grow more like Him.

And then there are situations where it seems like the miracles you wish for actually happen.  I needed a financial miracle in order to stay in school for next semester and I was able to receive it.  It seemed like I kept hitting road block after road block these last few months when it came to money.  I was tired of fighting.  I wanted to give up.

Then, in one movement, all of my road blocks were demolished.

Yet sometimes I still forget who God is.

I'm sitting here and all I want to do is weep.  I am truly an ungrateful wretch.

And then I see that image of the phoenix.  I think of the burning that is required before the bird can be reborn.  And it is not reborn into its full glory.  It still has to grow.

Burning aches and growing is painful, but both are needed to achieve maturation.

I know I am a wretch, but I also know of the amazing grace that has saved me.

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Annal 185: Tale from the Relational Way

I'm currently in the process of threatening a cat I have only ever met via Skype.  This does not bode particularly well for my sanity, does it?

So this week I start the short practicum of my degree.  I get to spend the next four weeks with my SA getting to know the students and teaching a few English 11 classes.  I have spent the last week designing lessons on narrative writing based out of Lord of the Flies (which means I had to reread the novel... ugh).  After sending my first few lessons to my SA he responded with feedback so I have been spending this weekend revising them (in my head, anyway).  When not doing that I have been playing World of Warcraft with either my brother and sister-in-law, or my father (this would be why Charming refers to me as his "Geeky Girlfriend").  Oh, I have also made up some Christmas cards, watched cheezy Christmas movies, and looked into applying to the Ontario College of Teachers for when I move out that way next year.

All in all, I would say it has actually been a relative productive weekend.  But also relaxing, which is nice given the gnawing stress and tension in the pit of stomach with heading into my school!

This last week I spent a few days at home (by order of my FA--and yes, I know the acronyms are a little much... trying being in this program!), and spent some of that time working on the rough copy of my teaching credo which I will have to present in January at some point.  As student teachers our credos are our belief statements about education and are supposed to be driven by our passions.  For some people in my class, this is social justice while for others it is music.

At this moment in time, my driving statement is: "I believe in life-long learning based in thoughtful collaboration."  Sounds hokey, I know, but coming out with this point and several supporting statements has helped me realize something.

I like a lot of things.  I love to read and write or to act, and I thoroughly enjoy video games and music.  But I am passionate about meaningful relationships.  When I taught grade 5/6, my classroom became its own community and it was incredible.  I made so many mistakes that year, and if I could go back there would be so much I would change.  But I wouldn't change the relationships I was able to forge with my students.  They could be completely honest and transparent with me, and I could be quirky and honest with them.  Because of this relationship they were willing to learn from me.

Realizing this annoyed me a little at first.  See, there are two universities down here that offer Teacher Education programs.  The one focuses a fair bit on curriculum.  The other focuses on the students and on forging relationships that will allow you to understand how best they learn so that you can better help them understand the curriculum. 

I am in the latter of those two programs.  And it has a reputation for fluffiness.  I have spent most of this semester better understanding myself and how life has shaped me so that I can understand how similar forces shape my students.  I have done a lot of chalk pastel drawings and spent far more time in reflection that is probably healthy (yes, I am saying all of this with a touch of sarcasm in my voice).  And sometimes the fluffiness drives me nuts.  That's why, when I realized that relationships and community were the driving force behind my credo annoyed me because I felt like I was simply spouting off the program line.

By the end of this week I had started to respect that this was, indeed, my passion.  Then I read something interesting in my devotions today.  I finished The Everlasting Man by Chesterton last weekend and started on The Jesus Way by Eugene Peterson this week.

I am almost done the first chapter which touches on how Jesus in the Way with reference to his temptations in the desert.  I want to share with you an excerpt that really struck me.

"Each of the devil's temptations has to do with the way that Jesus is the way, the way he will go about his work.  Will he reduce and depersonalize the way by imposing his will on the rocks, using them to provide for human needs, first taking care of himself and then feeding a lot of people?  Will he put on a circus spectacular, demonstrating the miraculous, ever-present providence of God to the people on the street by never dealing with them as persons?  Will he rule the world by means of a faceless bureaucracy, efficiently enacting justice and prosperity without getting his hands dirty?

"Jesus said no to each one in turn.  Jesus gave a definitive, Scripture-backed no to each temptations.  And why?  Because in each case it would have been an impersonal way, a way abstracted from relationships, a way disengaged from love, a way imposed from the ouside.  It would have been a way ripped out of the comprehensive story of salvation, and therefore ripped out of participation in people's lives... The way of Jesus is always exercised in personal ways... It is never an impersonal interference from the outside."

At another point, Peterson states that "Jesus is not interested in diverting us from life, but in revealing the "more" that is in life beyond what we can cobble together on our own, dimensions of beauty and challenge, depths of gladness, our mouths 'filled with laughter' (Psalms 126:2).  What is more impressive than the miracles that Jesus performed is that he performed so few of them... The way of Jesus is not a sequence of exceptions to the ordinary, but a way of living deeply and fully with the people here an dnow, in the place we find ourselves."

Jesus is passionate about relationships.

Today the pastor in the church I have decided to attend spoke on unity among Christians, about being united in purpose and caring for each other.

Sometimes I so utterly fail at this.  As passionate as I am about relationships, I still fail... a lot.  Like yesterday afternoon.  I went for a walk and was quickly turned around by the vast amounts of rain.  On my way back I passed a girl who was also making her way along the same path, only she was doing so on crutches.  Now I realize I couldn't have done much to help her aside from somehow carrying her and her crutches.  But I could have offered my umbrella.  And, to be honest, I felt like I should have.

But I didn't.

Instead, I kept right on walking because I was too embarassed to ask if she wanted to share my rather large umbrella.

And the rest of the way home I felt horrible.

But I didn't turn around.  Because that would have been even more embarassing.

I want to follow the Jesus Way.  And to do so, I need to follow the way Jesus did things.  Jesus cared about people.

I don't want just my career as a teacher to be a reflection of the ways of Jesus... I want every part of my life to be an image of that.  Even if it means stepping out of my comfort zone and offering my umbrella to a stranger.