Sunday, November 12, 2017
This is all new to me. I know billions of women do it every day, but the last time I worked full-time was over ten years ago, before I had kids.
As any mom knows, raising children is work. So I'm not implying that I spent the last ten years doing my nails and watching TV (unless you count Dora). And along with the kids, there was a lot of ministry in there too. But I figured I would eventually be able to work away from home when my youngest was in kindergarten. I thought I would ease into it. Over a year ago, I told the HOPAC director that I wanted to come back on staff this year, but only part-time.
Ha. Elementary school principal is not a part-time job. I knew that, of course, but so much for easing my way back into the work force. More like being hit with a Mack Truck. And that Mom job I was already doing? Didn't go away.
I leave the house at 7 and often don't get home until 5. Wow, that was a really busy day, I tell Gil. Now he's started laughing at me: You say that every day!
But it's been okay. It's been okay because my kids and I are all at the same place and living the same life together. I am often visiting their classrooms and hugging them in the hall and talking to their friends. It's been okay because I have a supportive husband who has been willing to do more, and he's at school almost every afternoon coaching our kids' teams. And it's been okay because I have Esta who does my laundry and mops the floors and cuts up the pineapple.
We're still eating dinner together every night. Gil and I are still reading to the kids before bed. The homework is getting done, even the "Build-a-Desert-Home" project. The boys got their birthday parties and I've made it to almost every soccer game. We still laugh a lot.
Of course, there is a cost. My meals aren't as diverse as they used to be. I gave up making kefir every day (no one really liked it anyway). The house is more cluttered. I don't have nearly the same amount of time to read or to write. I scan headlines instead of poring over news articles. My mind is instead filled with how to write an IEP and whether everyone knows the lock-down procedures and how we can get all the kids to learn their math facts. And the most significant change? We haven't had anyone over for dinner in months. It used to be almost weekly.
I miss those things. Sometimes, I miss them a lot. I love cooking and hosting and writing and those things are all shoved to the side right now.
The reality is, I can't do everything. And I am struggling with that balance. Last year, when I was at home with Johnny and doing plenty of writing and baking, I was also extremely restless. I know that restlessness alone does not necessitate a change--there were many years when I was restless at home with small children--but I knew the time wasn't right, so I fought for contentment. But with this job opportunity, everything lined up.
And I love my job. It's challenging but stimulating and I love how it's stretching me. It's significant and meaningful and God-exalting, and Gil and I felt strongly--and we still do--that this was the right time for it.
So now I ask myself: Are my children emotionally and physically healthy? Are we nurturing them spiritually? Are we a tight-knit family that enjoys being together? Is my relationship with my husband strong? Is my husband okay with how I'm spending my time? Am I glorifying God with my time and my gifts?
As long as those things are okay, then I need to be okay with letting other things go. We're still adjusting--and I sure hope that as I continue to learn this new job, I won't be quite so busy, but even then, I'm just really thankful. It's pretty amazing being a working mom.
Sunday, November 5, 2017
And of course, there's the kids who are hurting and act out and the upset parents and the teacher who had three family members die in one month. And four of my six class teachers are new to either HOPAC or their grade level, so we're all struggling together to keep our heads above water.
But oh, there is so much joy. There is joy in struggling together. There's the light in the new teacher's eyes when she sees her kids' progress from then till now. The discoveries in the storeroom: Oh, we do have that math manipulative and that resource DVD! The exhilaration of a problem solved. Toothless kindergarteners. Colorful artwork on bulletin boards. Exuberantly singing children. And truly, the most creative, faithful, persevering teachers in the world.
Fourth grade child: Mrs. Medina, will the snack bar ever serve sushi?
Me: No, no it will not.
Child: Why not?
Me: Ummm...well...because we don't have a sushi chef.....
Kindergarten child: My mom doesn't toot very often. But she does some of the time.
Me: [suppressed laugh] Yeah, everybody does sometimes.
Second grade student: Mrs. Medina! K hit E in the peanut!
Me: [suppressed laugh again] Oh...that's not good....
Fourth grade girl [with much enthusiasm]: Mrs. Medina, can you make an explosion?
Girl: Because I love explosions!
Me: And you want me to do it?
Girl: Yes, so that you will get in trouble and I won't.
And one of the best advantages of being the principal of your kids' school? They can't pull any fast ones on you.
For example, you always win Mom versus Teacher arguments:
Me: Darling, go get your book. You can do your daily reading while I am fixing dinner.
Child: But Mom, my teacher says we are supposed to read before bed.
Me: Well, this is before bed. I used to be a teacher. I know what your teacher meant.
Child: No, Mom, she says we are supposed to read right before bed.
Me: Darling child, I am the principal. I am your teacher's boss. So if I say you need to read now, then you need to read now.
Bam. Win for Mom. End of discussion.
Here's some of the joy in pictures. (All pictures below taken by Rebecca Laarman)
|My fifth grade teacher and her middle-school-teacher husband.|
|The charming face that greets me every morning in the office.|
|Two other co-workers. We have fun around here. Enough said.|
|One of our team of gardeners that keeps HOPAC a haven.|
|Our new library, less than a year old.|
|The outside of the new library.|
|HOPAC kids are reading kids.|
Sunday, October 29, 2017
But really, it wasn't that hard to blog about it. Rather, the most difficult moment came a few weeks prior to writing that post, when I had to admit to my teachers that I was not coping well.
If I had to pinpoint the main source of my anxiety before that moment, it would be the fear of letting my teachers down. I had been hired as their principal, as the very person they were supposed to depend on--and I couldn't do it. It was my greatest fear, and the anxiety of that fear became self-fulfilling. I was so afraid of failing that then I failed.
Admitting to them that I wasn't coping well--that Anxiety and insomnia had made me literally physically ill--was one of the most humbling things I've had to do. But it also was one of the most freeing things I've ever done. And as I look back on the last several months--now after a few weeks of feeling almost completely normal again--I see that moment as the turning point for me.
Why is that? Why was I so desperately afraid of vulnerability, of imperfection, of failure?
Pride, I guess, if I have to be honest. I never realized how much of my fear was really about me until I came to the end of myself. But I did come to the end, and suddenly something flipped in my soul. I stopped worrying about my own failure and what that meant for myself and my reputation, and instead started focusing on how I could serve. Anxiety still made me totally and completely overwhelmed for a while, but I started thinking about what I could do. How can I serve today, even in my weakness? How can God show himself through me today? What small things can I thank God for today? And slowly but surely, joy started breaking through.
"[God] said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me." (2 Corinthians 12:9)
I will boast in my weakness.
I will boast in my weakness!
Shouldn't that be the mark of me as a Christian? Aren't I one who already realized, long ago, that I can't ever be good enough, that I can't ever be enough of anything on my own? Wasn't it Jesus himself who said, "Apart from me you can do nothing?"
So why then am I so afraid of failure, of weakness, of humiliation? No indeed, Amy! It should be my boast!
Protestants everywhere are celebrating Martin Luther this week. He looms large in our history but was certainly far from perfect. This morning, I heard that his last words were, "We are beggars. This is true."
Yes, my friends. I am a beggar. A beggar who has found the Bread of Life and the Living Water that will never run dry. And the more I taste it, the more I want to share it with others.
I boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.
Friday, October 20, 2017
Several weeks ago, Alyssa came over on my darkest day. I was physically, emotionally, and mentally at my lowest point. I had stayed home from work. I felt like a failure--helpless and hopeless. I was completely overwhelmed to the point where even picking up a sock on the floor felt beyond my capability.
She cried with me. She listened. And listened. And listened some more. She asked lots of questions.
Over the next couple of days, Alyssa continued to come over for several hours a time. Sometimes she just sat with me. Sometimes she made me laugh. Sometimes she nagged me to eat.
Towards the end of that particularly low week, we were in my kitchen, and I was fretting about the various ways I was trying to fix myself. Should I try [this particular method]? I asked her.
She paused for a moment. Then she looked me straight in the eye and said, Amy, before you try anything else, I think you need to stop believing lies. About yourself. About God. Then she listed them for me. You know what is true, and you need to start believing it.
She was direct. And firm. And it was exactly what I needed to hear.
Two years ago, I wrote a blog called When I Am Not Sane. At the end I wrote, If I ever get to Ground Zero again, I will get help a lot sooner than I did the first time. But my first line of offense would be to get others in my life to help me fight the battle for what is True.
Emotions can be untamed horses. They can define our universe. They can overwhelm us with lies and conquer rational thought. And sometimes, it's not a battle we can fight on our own. We need those friends who will battle it with us, and pound the Truth into our heads. Even if it hurts.
This goes against our instincts in friendship. We want to make each other feel good. Oh, of course that dress doesn't make you look fat! Of course you're not a terrible mother. Of course you had every right to say that to your husband. We fish for compliments and vindication and our friends happily oblige. That's what makes a good friend....right?
Except, sometimes what we want to hear is not what we need to hear. If I had a brain tumor, I wouldn't want the surgeon to tell me, Oh don't worry, you look great! Just ignore those pesky headaches. I'm sure you will be just fine!
No, no! I would want him to shave my head and cut me open and remove the alien mass from my head. I wouldn't care if it left a scar, or if it made me feel miserable, or if I was in pain for days. I would want it out.
Proverbs says, Faithful are the wounds of a friend. Sometimes, we need friends who will be that surgeon. Not just someone to hold our hand or whisper soothing words, but someone who will confront the tumor and battle with us to destroy it.
I say this carefully. Many have been unnecessarily wounded by well-meaning people who make the problem worse, not better. Quoting Bible verses glibly to a person in pain or grief is certainly not helpful. There is a time for prayers, physical presence, and silence. But Alyssa did it right: She already knew me very well, she gave me her time, her compassion, her help, and when the time was right, she told me the Truth.
She wasn't the only one. Gil has been a faithful speaker of Truth into my life (and incredibly patient with me) these past few months. There are many others--I started to list them, then was afraid I would miss someone--but they know who they are.
It's hard to know for sure, but I think I'm on the upward slope of this season in the desert. And I owe so much to the friends who were willing to walk with me, encourage me...and wound me. I want to keep friends like that in my life. I want to be that kind of friend.
Sunday, October 8, 2017
And to that I say Amen. Glory Hallelujah. Give me that crutch. Because I am crippled. More like paralyzed, actually.
William Ernest Henley wrote, I am the master of my fate; I am the captain of my soul. Yet he was a man who grew up in poverty and had a leg amputated as a result of tuberculosis. Ironically, the poem was also chosen as the last words of Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma City bomber, before he was executed.
I would love to know: Did they really believe it? Or just want to? Did Stephen Paddock believe it as well? Or any of those he killed? Or those who died--or lived--in the fury of the hurricane?
Should we believe it? Is it really a statement of courage? That those of us who came from dust and will inevitably return to dust actually are masters of anything?
I haven't written in this space for three weeks. In my ten years of blogging, that's a record for me. And that's because in these last weeks--months really, but mainly these last weeks--have been spent coming to grips with my dust-likeness. That I am not the master of my fate. That I am most certainly not the captain of my soul.
Sixteen years ago, I went through a season of Anxiety. And I say it with a capital A, because there's no other good word to describe it. You can say, I'm anxious about that interview. I'm anxious about the bills. But that's nothing compared to Anxiety. It's like equating "feeling down" with Depression. You just can't compare the two. Anxiety is all-encompassing, life-consuming, soul-sucking.
That was sixteen years ago, and after two years I had victory. Then it entered my life again a few months ago, and has sought to control me these last weeks. My life circumstances, ironically, are going great. My kids are all thriving. My husband is incredibly supportive. I'm doing my dream job. I'm not over-stressed. But as anyone who has experienced it knows, it doesn't matter what's really real, Anxiety becomes the center of the universe.
I'm fighting hard, from many different fronts, and I have tremendous support. I'm also managing to stay functional most of the time, even if "functional" sometimes feels agonizing.
But if there is one thing--one gigantic Truth that has ground me to the dust--it is that I am not in control. Any sense of being master or captain of myself has dissolved into a blubbering mess on the bed. I am nothing but a few molecules surrounding a soul. That flesh has no real power, and that soul has no control over what happens to me.
And when I'm there--here--I have three choices.
1. Live in denial; convince myself that I am in control even though I never will be.
2. Live in anger and frustration that there is a God, but he doesn't care.
3. Trust that there is a God who is there and is not silent.
The last time I went through this, sixteen years ago, led to a Crisis of Faith. I had been raised to know Christ--and I had personally tasted of his goodness--but my foundation was not strong enough to endure the bottom falling out of my world. It led to an intensely personal quest for Truth. True Truth. Like, historical, scientific, philosophical Truth. Not just something that made me feel better.
It was excruciating, but I found it. I found it in the Jesus of the gospels and the words he left behind for us. The foundation was solid underneath me and my fear slipped away.
So this time around, that foundation has remained secure. I am not questioning the existence of God and his Truth, as that is settled for me. But this time, my question has been, Does he care? I am weak, desperate, helpless. Will he show up?
Yes. That is what he has been doing. Quietly, gently, slowly. He is asking me to be patient. But I am tasting the promise of manna. His daily provision of what I need. How what I think I need is not necessarily what he knows I need. How the knowledge of his presence is more important to him than my productivity.
If you had asked me before Anxiety if I believed all of that, I would have assured you that I did. But really, I've been living my life as my own Captain, a lot of the time. It feels good to live that way--secure, confident, comfortable. Sure, God is there, but it's nice to have a contingency plan.
So I've got to tell you--this is scary. Really, really scary to thrust my trust and my hope and my life into the belief of an invisible God. Because do I really, really know that he will come through? That he will deliver me? That he will never leave me?
I think that's exactly why he has brought me to this place. Because I have no other place to go. I have no other options. I have no other hope. That's exactly where he plans to show up. And he is. Oh, my friends, He is!
I don't like writing this way, from the middle of the hurricane. It's a lot easier to write from the end and wrap up all the details and praise God for how he brought me through. But here I am, holding on for dear life, not knowing the ending. He was there yesterday, so I'm going to cling to that crutch--that blessed, sturdy, life-giving crutch--that he will be there tomorrow.
We attend an all-African church, and the preacher this morning was a friend of ours from Cameroon, who is also the French teacher at HOPAC. He read aloud these words from Deuteronomy in his rich French accent, and they filled my soul.
And you shall remember the whole way that the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart....And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna....that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.
Know then in your heart that, as a man disciplines his son, the Lord your God disciplines you....For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land....in which you will lack nothing.
Saturday, September 16, 2017
A few nights ago, Mama F came to me terrorized, begging and screaming for a certain plant in our backyard.
I've lived in Tanzania for almost 14 years now, but there are still stories that blow me away.
I have a good friend, Allison (name changed), who has lived here as long as Gil and I have. I don't get to see her often, as she and her husband live several hours away in a remote village in Tanzania. We may be living in the same country, but her life is very different from mine. While visiting us this week, Allison told me this incredible story.
For a long time now, Allison had been sharing the gospel with Mama F, one of her neighbors. And just a couple weeks ago, Mama F declared faith in Christ and started attending a Bible study led by Allison and her team. They all praised God for this, not knowing that the story was just beginning....
This is how Allison tells it:
"A few nights ago, Mama F came to me terrorized, begging and screaming for a certain plant in our backyard. Of course, I let her in to grab the unknown plant she named. I soon saw that something had taken hold of her precious four-year-old daughter. She was writhing and gurgling, clenched in her mother’s arms, and foaming at the mouth.
Hearing Mama F’s cries, other neighbor women were coming to aid and we all followed as she ran back to her house while smearing my basil plant all over little F’s head. The father had run for the witchdoctor to buy emergency witchcraft to ward off the attack. Mama F would not accept my westernized offer to take them to the hospital.
We women entered into her home, trying to be of help in any way we could. One woman shook and rubbed a live chicken over little F -- spraying who knows what all over her. Another brought a pouch with herbs to burn and handfuls of a certain type of dirt to make a mud mixture to smear over her disrobed body. Mama F frantically gulped a liquid from a cup and spewed it onto her daughter. Then she placed knives under her armpits and behind her neck, wrapped F in banana leaves and tied a new black cloth charm around F’s wrist to join the others that fruitlessly encircled her body already. The ladies began to burn the weeds gathered so that smoke filled the room. All the while, F was writhing and foaming, enveloped in darkness.
A long time ago, the Lord compelled me into these neighbors' lives and now--as I walked that night with these women I love who were so fear stricken, so desperate to save this child in the only ways they knew of-- I prayed silently and out loud for His Light to shine in the living nightmare. Then He enabled me to speak simple, childlike words in this dark chaos of fear and despair. 'God is able to help and heal F. This witchcraft will not work. May I pray for her in Jesus’ name? May I hold her in my arms and pray for God’s healing? I can ask for help from Almighty, Holy God because I believe Jesus shed his blood to pay for my sin so I am forgiven. Please let me pray for her.'
Miraculously they agreed!
But I knew there was more needing to be said. 'Mama F, because God is holy and only He deserves glory, you have to stop this witchcraft. He wants you to see it is by His power and grace alone that F is healed. Please remove the knives, the leaves...'
Miraculously they agreed and placed her in my arms!
I squatted down on the dirt floor, holding that precious, terrorized little girl in my arms and I prayed. As I prayed, I felt the conviction of the Holy Spirit that this was not just a physical need for healing, but spiritual. So, in Jesus name, I prayed against the powers of darkness over this little one. In Jesus' name, I rebuked satan and told him to leave. In Jesus' name, I entrusted F into God’s arms of healing and protection.
And God heard and answered! As I prayed, the convulsions and foaming and gurgling ceased and F laid peacefully in my arms. I heard the women’s voices declare, 'Wow! The prayer is working! God Heals! Jesus Heals! God hears the prayers of Christians! Let’s go find more Christians to pray for her!' So we returned to my house where my teammates had been waiting and they too surrounded F with prayer and praise to God for her healing. And with F still in my arms exhausted, but at peace, my teammates and I lingered with our neighbors in our front yard and on our front porch, praising God for His healing in word, prayer, and song."
But the story is still not over. Allison sat in my kitchen Wednesday evening, telling me what had just happened the night before.
"Mama F had attended the ladies prayer group in our home again and gave praise to Jesus for his healing in her child. Then a few days later F came to our home to play, wearing her charm necklace again.
I spoke to her Mom that God does not share His glory with another and F does not need the charms for her health and protection when we cry out to the one true God through Jesus Christ. She agreed, but the necklace charm remained. I also shared that with believing in Jesus Christ as her Savior, she is now a daughter of the King and she herself can ask her Father God for anything in His Name! There is no need to fear, nor appease the forces of darkness. But the necklace remained.
Tuesday evening, the terrors came again to F. Since we were here in Dar when the attack came on, little F's family sought the help of our team (Tanzanian and American) who together prayed and read Scripture over her, but this time she was not responding and they agreed to take her to the clinic in the neighboring village.
When I received word of this, I asked if she was still wearing any charms. And she was still wearing her charm necklace. My husband called Baba F and exhorted him to remove the charms as God will not share His glory with another. Meanwhile the doctor was not able to help F and so they brought F to our local evangelist where they cut off her charm necklace and began to pray for her again. She was immediately restored to normal!"
Glory be to God!
It is, indeed, truly a remarkable story--especially for those of us who assume that this kind of thing ended in the New Testament. But it would be a shame for those of us from westernized cultures, who scoff at magic charms and witchdoctors, to think that God isn't trying to teach us the same lessons that he was teaching little F's family.
He wants the glory alone.
And his glory is never evident in contingency plans.
I've thought about this constantly since I heard Allison's story. How often do I have a contingency plan? How often do I say the words that God is faithful and God is good, but in the back of my mind, have my own little plan of what I'll do if God doesn't show up?
Sure, I say I believe in heaven and that it's forever and that life here is only a shadow of what's to come. But really, I want to enjoy that shadow with as much comfort as I can muster and as much pleasure as I can hold onto--just in case heaven doesn't come.
Sure, I know that God is the rightful king and sovereign over the universe. But I'd also really like to be under a government that is just, safe, powerful, and holds to all of my values--and I'm distressed if I don't get that.
Sure, I believe that God is the source of all peace and healing. But my first instinct in times of pain or sickness or fear is to turn to doctors and medicine, not to prayer.
Sure, I believe that Scripture tells me that God will provide for all my needs. But I want that savings account to be steady and that income to be regular, just in case.
I know there's a balance here, because I need to be wise and prudent and God's gifts to me include homes and medicine and savings accounts. But where is the source of my trust? Am I really trusting in God, or in my contingency plans?
And sometimes, God might just be waiting for us to cut off the magic charm. Because He will not share His glory with another.
Saturday, September 9, 2017
We humans have a tendency to forget we that we are not God. We would like to be, of course, starting way back in the Garden. You will be like God was whispered in that first temptation. Ironic, since that was the temptation that the Tempter himself had succumbed to: I will make myself like the Most High.
And the rest is history. The battle continues in the hearts of each of us, wrestling with God for control.
As image-bearers of God, we are indeed powerful. Capable of creating (and destroying) cities, splitting atoms, rocketing to the moon. Subduing the earth, making the land bow to our wishes, growing new people inside our own bodies, snuffing the life out of others with one bullet or sometimes even just one word.
In America, where we celebrate, encourage, and nurture that power, we are given an illusion of control. We buckle our children into their five-point harness car seats; we buy alarm systems for our homes; we build shiny fire trucks; we put sand under the monkey bars.
Yet we are not God. And despite billions of minds at work and thousands of years of history, we can't control the hurricane. Despite $1500 a month in medical insurance, we can't control our health. Despite years of homeschooling or thousands invested in the best schools, we can't control our children.
We keep grasping for control, and God keeps showing us that we'll never get it.
When God's people were wandering the desert for 40 years, he fed them with manna. Each day, every day, and only enough for one day, he sent them bread from heaven. They weren't allowed to store it up. They just had to trust that tomorrow it would come again.
We have no concept of Give us this day our daily bread, because our pantries could easily feed us for a month. In fact, we may decide we're not even into bread, and we eat quinoa instead. But God always gets around whatever system of control we construct. We try to store up our health by eating well, but we still will eventually get sick, and eventually die. We try to store up our wealth, but eventually the bubble will burst or the hurricane will come or the car will crash.
Even in--especially in--sleep does God assert his control. You can't store up sleep; even after a good nine hours' rest, you'll still be tired again another fifteen hours later. Frustratingly, sleep is one of the few things in life you can't accomplish by trying harder. Sleep is surrender. Sleep is trust. It is the direct antithesis of fear and anxiety. And it's necessary for life itself. Did you get that? God programmed the necessity of surrender and trust into our DNA. We can fight it, but we won't win.
I am anxious when I am not in control. Yet I am never in control, I only deceive myself into thinking I am. Which is probably one of the reasons why God continually puts things into my life to remind myself of this fact. Like the Israelites in the desert, often I don't trust the manna will come the next day, even after years and years of experiencing it. Even though he's promised it. And proven himself trustworthy.
Like millions of Christian, English-speaking children, the NIV version of Proverbs 3:5-6 was embedded on my heart at a young age.
Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.
Last week, I was working on the list of Bible verses that all primary students at HOPAC will learn this year. When I added Proverbs 3:5-6, I was surprised to see that the new version of the NIV changed one word.
....in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.
I can't read Hebrew, so I don't know why the change was made--especially since just about every other English version uses acknowledge. But I've found myself reflecting a lot on that word this month: Submit. There's something a lot more profound and meaningful about submission versus acknowledgement. It's what I desire for my life with God. Because I am not in control. He is. And the more I submit to that, the straighter my paths will be.
Submit to him, and gather the manna for just today. Trust that tomorrow it will come again.
*Many of these reflections, especially about manna, come from my current re-reading of Running Scared: Fear, Worry, and the God of Rest by Edward Welch.