Eternal God

It was a day when good and bad mixed in a crazy way. There was sunshine and belly laughs and sunglasses to hide tears. The day ended in a deliciously serendipitous way–choir friends crowded into a room, spilling out of chairs and sofas, beside the fireplace and on the floor. I sat on the floor, knees pulled up to my chest, sandwiched between 2 friends who sat tight beside me.

Our conductor told us stories about living and teaching in Kenya. How he would line the songs–the words and the harmonizing notes for each part–and his Kenyan choirs learned all their songs that way. And because we were a choir, and these people never stopped singing, he lined a new song for us.

Every word thudded onto my heart with each word’s weight. Tears dripped off my chin and the friends beside me squeezed my hands.

Eternal God, faithful and true, All of our longings come home to you. All of our longings come home to you.

You are our strength, You are our stay–Go now before us, show us the way. Go now before us, show us the way.

That we might have power to see God’s love so wide and deep, so strong and free–God’s love so wide and deep, so strong and free.

Eternal God, faithful and true, All of our longings come home to you. All of our longings come home to you.   — James Croegaert

Edited to add:

Several years later, I was privileged to sing this song under this director. That recording is available here: I still listen to this CD often. I’ve sung the song many times since, but the wonder is still new.

Happy, Fractured Dreams

I used to insist that Christians should be happy all the time. They’re the ones living without condemnation from sin, they have joy and peace and fulfillment in Christ, they have everything! Why should they squander a perfectly good day by talking about difficulties and disappointment?

Thankfully, I think I’ve grown up a little bit since then. Or life has knocked me around and showed me some things.

I still don’t have answers for this crazy, surprising life. I just know that when you talk with emotionally-healthy people, you can be having a normal conversation and then only a word will trigger tears you didn’t know were coming. And I’ve learned that tears don’t mean something is terribly amiss. It just reveals the fact that tears are often just under the surface, even for people who deeply love Jesus and know His joy. Maybe this is true especially for those people, because they are the ones who can be better equipped to have emotional integrity and deal with pain and discomfort and grief and don’t need escapes from that.

In others words, I can say that my world shifted when I heard a widow speak with tears running down her cheeks: “You know, life really stinks sometimes. It really, really stinks.” Then over her tears, her eyes lit up and she talked about God’s nearness and love and wisdom in her desperate grief.

So I’m trying to give up insisting that life feels good all the time. Because it’s not going to happen, but it doesn’t mean that life is all bad.

This morning I met a student for coffee. She’d asked if we could meet, and I said my brain isn’t working to have a lesson during vacation, but we could go for coffee, and we did, and it was lovely, and she wants me to come to her house next week to look at her vacation photos and eat food. Last Sat. morning I was in Ireland and met an old friend for coffee too, and I felt so loved and cared for and relaxed and happy. And it was at the end of a week with my whole family, in which we didn’t do much more than take care of little children and make food. And swim and go canoeing.

I’m living a lot of happy dreams. Of course good coffee always makes me happy anywhere, but living in Europe, meeting with women who want to meet just because they like me, having a student-teacher relationship grow to a dear friendship–this is the stuff of my dreams.

Which means that other dreams haven’t come true (because–surprise!–you can’t have everything) and my life stinks in places, and I cried pretty much every day this week.  Life is wonderful and terrible, and that’s about all I know about it, and for now, it’s ok.

School Year Superlatives

Thinking/speaking/writing in superlatives is a habit that I should maybe try to break, but at the end of a school year, it could be fitting to remember some of the best and worst moments of the year. Besides, an English teacher who teaches comparatives should be allowed to use superlatives now and then.

  •  The evening 3 teen boys came for a lesson expecting  a man teacher, not a girl who looked to them like a nun. They reacted by giggling uncontrollably but ended up being good students while they lasted.
  • The Business English lesson that I’d valiantly tried to prepare but in class I realized that I hadn’t understood the material after all. I choked down the panic and guided the discussion to something I could talk about, which didn’t include loans and banks.
  •  The  lady who spent most of the lesson talking about her problems after her baby died. She threw her arms around me twice as we said goodbye for the summer.
  •   Licking cones with two 12-yr old girls who said they like these classes and want to come back next year. Yes, dearies, I like these lessons too— particularly the ones with ice cream in them.
  •  The student friend who texted “I want to come kiss you before the summer break. When are you at school?”
  •   Holding the 7 yr old on my lap for an Amelia Bedelia story, and hearing her giggles at all the right times.
  •  Rollicking laughter during the first lesson with a girl who could be a model. I asked her why she wants to go to Italy. “Because the men are so beauuuuuutiful! What’s the word for joke? It’s a good joke!”

You don’t get the dialague unless you’re used to hearing conversations with people whose English is their second language.  But simple language and laughter helps recharge my batteries and make me ready for the next day’s lessons.

I’m endlessly thankful that the best teaching moments far out-number the worst ones. I’m tired now. My brain is barely functional. But I have  every reason to expect that come September, I’ll be ready to give my students everything I have. Which means I give them more than words. I give them my heart. Big chunks of it. Maybe that’s partly why I’m tired.

Time to go find my heart.

Nobody Knows the Trouble

I was telling a friend that I think that if any five of us were standing around the table, and we had our problems in our hands and put them all–ALL of them– out on the table for each other to see, we wouldn’t choose anyone else’s problems. We’d take back our own again.

She wasn’t so sure. She said she wished she had her friend’s problem instead of her own that were consuming her energy.

It made me think of other scenerios. A girl complaining to her friends that she had no free day to pack for her 2 week vacation to a Greek island. A bride trying on her dress and saying that her shoes weren’t what she really wanted. A homeowner complaining to a homeless man about the heating bill. To someone on the sidelines looking in, these all look like good problems to have.

I maintain that if we knew everything–everything– about our friends’ lives, and saw all their troubles, we would take back our own.  But I am young and my life is good. I have problems and issues that make me sad and cry, or that I tell to only the closest to me, but most days, my life isn’t defined by problems.  When I look at my friends who appear to have beautiful, enviable stories, I am jealous for half a second before I remember that they have problems that would have completely derailed me.

There are surely people who wouldn’t take back their own troubles if they were out on a table. I think of the widow raising eight children. My lady friends whose husbands have betrayed them on every level, week after week, year after year. The beautiful girl with cancer, another friend with Chronic Neurological Lyme Disease. Life is not fair and trouble is spread wide and without respect to age or talent or wealth.

Friends walk with, support, believe in each other. So her problems look silly or petty to you? They might be, but to her they’re huge. It’s really ugly when friends get together and compare their troubles and try to impress each other with the amounts of pain each is suffering. Sometimes we can give each other a splash of reality or perspective but most times it’s best to listen and not say much. So I’d love to be going to a Greek island, and I wouldn’t complain about having little time to get ready for it.  But, well…

There’s a difference between stuff you complain about and serious life experiences.  Maybe I’m naive, but isn’t it generally true that at the end of the day we’d still choose our own troubles?

Make the World More Beautiful

One of my favourite things about teaching English is all the variety I can implement in the lessons. I can get bored pretty fast, and a bored teacher equals a bored class.

I love reading stories with my classes. It gives them vocabulary and usage, plus some concept that I hope goes with them. Last week I read Miss Rumphius to my two 12 yr. old girls. I completely identify with Miss Rumphius in her life goals: to travel to far-away places, live by the sea, and make her world more beautiful.

This post inspired me to do something with the girls to make their world more beautiful. So I told them to bring some small stones to the next lesson. We painted them with little postive messages (this is an English lesson) that they came up with. Never say never. Smile! Hi, sunshine! Someone (heart) U. Tomorrow is another day. 

Today we took the painted little stones and a tube of glue to the train station, looked for deserted places, because we didn’t want too many people to watch us, and glued the stones here and there. On a cement trash can. On a curb by the stairs. On a planter.  The girls took great pride and thought in where they placed them, and we had fun, funny conversations the whole 45 min. as we walked and laughed in the sun. Part of the assignment was to talk in English the whole time, and they complied perfectly.

Then we walked to the ice cream kiosk for cones, which completed the lesson. We talked about our lessons finishing in five weeks, and they said they want to come back next year because they like lessons here, and their English is improving. Words this teacher fairly purrs at.

I want to see if the stones are still there in a week or two. Someone could easily kick them away if they wanted. But it doesn’t matter because I think two young girls know the phrase “make the world more beautiful” and that’s why I love stories.

Hope, A Thing With Feathers

She was one of my teen students last year and wanted to interview me now for her school project about the political conflicts in Ireland. But most of the time, while we walked to the coffee shop in wind and dust, and while we sat inside, over my hot chocolate and her (healthier) fresh orange juice, we talked about everything outside of Ireland.  The stuff that girls talk about when they’re relaxed and happy: life and love and dreams.

“I’m scared of my future. I don’t want to grow up and make big decisions.”

You don’t have to make those decisions now, I said. Enjoy today. And you can always be a little girl inside. You know how old I am, and you know what? I still feel like a little girl even though I’ve done some adult-sized things.

“I know, that’s why I feel you can understand me, and really, you’re cute!”

Never mind that her command of English didn’t let her know how to use ‘cute’. Hearing it from her was priceless.

“Do you believe in true love? Like Romeo and Juliet?” Smarting after a break up that was friendship but not love. “I think we’re too young for love now, but do you believe in true love?”

Yes, I do! I don’t know know if Romeo and Juliet had real love, but I believe in true love and that it is commitment. Do you know this word?

“No.”   It’s a long word for a language student.

Maybe love can be like Romeo and Juliet. I don’t know, because I’m still waiting for true love. But I think true love is commitment. That means he loves what’s inside you, your heart, not only your hair or your face or body. And it means even when you are disappointed, or angry or impatient, you will love him, and he will love you. That’s real love.

“Yes, because when I’m old, I won’t be beautiful. True love, commitment, that’s what I want.”

I finished my luscious chocolate and we walked back to her street in gusts of wind, and I was happy beyond words that being an English teacher gave me the chance to have this conversation with this beautiful, thoughtful young lady. I was glad that even if I didn’t have a colorful, amazing story to prove something, I could tell her with confidence that true love does exist. If I couldn’t give her anything else, I could give her hope.

Sometimes this is the most one person can give another.