Monday, February 17, 2020

I Wish I Could Put "Fridays at Lunch" on My Resume

On Fridays around noon, you'll find me eating lunch with my students. Our "cafeteria" is actually a second-story, open-air thatch-covered veranda filled with picnic tables. One can get an amazing view of the Indian Ocean from up there, and the breeze blows away the humidity (but not the crows, unfortunately).

Friday is chicken and chips day--standard Tanzanian fare, and the most popular menu item of the week with our students. I usually arrive around the time of kindergarten lunch, which means as soon as I sit down, I am surrounded by small children like bees to a flower. They politely push to get the seats next to me, and the ones that don't make the cut lean over the table with big eyes, shoving fries into their mouths while all talking to me at the same time, and whatever they need to tell me is very important.

I put on my interested face and try very hard to follow twelve conversations at once, all while intermittently exclaiming, Well, isn't that funny! and Wow, that's amazing! and You can go as soon as you've eaten two more bites of chicken and Please don't hug me until you've washed your hands.  

It's a highlight of my week.

I've been staring at my computer screen a lot this weekend, trying to work on a resume. Gil has already sent out about 50 resumes, so I guess it's about time that I start too. The internet says that my resume should only be one page long, which means that this principal job gets one paragraph. And I stare at the screen and think, How can I possibly describe this job in one paragraph when it takes me three paragraphs just to write about lunch on Fridays?

This job is the hardest and the best thing I've ever done, with the exception of raising my own children. The load of this job sits on my head and my stomach like a boulder, every single day, a physical weight. It has stolen many, many hours of sleep, and each of those hours has a name and a face of a struggling child, a hurting teacher, an angry parent. "Responsibility" is my strength but therefore also my burden, because I just can't let any fall through the cracks. I do anyway, of course, because being responsible for so many is impossible, and each problem I can't solve, and each child I can't help tears just a little more at my sore muscles that strain under the weight.

It's been almost exactly three years since I was offered this job. Gil asked me recently after one particularly difficult day, full of exhaustion and stress and tears, "Would you have said yes to this job if you had known how hard it would be?" Ah, ignorance is bliss, isn't it? How many of us would choose to step into the right, but hard choice if we knew in advance how incredibly difficult it would be? Marriage, raising children, adoption, missions--all are much rosier before we actually start living them out. God is merciful when he keeps us from knowing how hard things will be. We gravitate towards comfort, so think of how many amazing things we would miss if we chose only what is easy!

Yes, of course I would have said yes. It was obvious it was the right time and place and I was the person who needed to say yes. The strain builds muscle as well, of course. I was always one who ran away from confrontation, hating the hard conversations. I still don't like them, but now I've had so many that I'm not afraid of them anymore. I was just an ordinary teacher, and an ordinary stay-at-home mom for so many years. I look at myself now with a sort of wonder. Who would have thought I would be filling out performance reviews? Who knew that I would become adept at conducting interviews and offering job contracts? That I would get experience in writing MOUs or coordinating a Christmas production or analyzing curriculum? 

Honestly, I don't think I realized I had it in me. Which, in itself, has been a lesson for me. Because just as I now look back with gratitude for those who believed in me, I too have the privilege of doing the same for those I work with. I've experienced the joy of giving a job and saying, I believe you can do this! And then being a cheerleader when they succeed.

True, many days I look forward to that day in June when I finally am able to release this burden. I will be choosing not to continue in school leadership for this next season of my life. But the stretching of my abilities, the relationships, the invaluable life experiences--I would never trade them for an easier three years. And I'm confident that as soon as this burden is gone, it will leave a hollow hole I will feel for a very long time.

This job is sacred to me. So it almost feels sacrilegious to condense it down on a resume to "Responsible for hiring, training, and performance feedback of staff, curriculum development, admissions, student discipline, and professional development." I'd like to add, "Engaged in twelve simultaneous kindergarten conversations on Fridays at lunch." Because that's just as important.

Our lunch time view

Sunday, February 9, 2020

Why Am I So Surprised When Crisis Strikes?

These days, I’m tired of being in crisis mode. Seriously, enough already.
My husband and I have spent the last two years fretting about visas. We’ve watched our team evaporate, one by one, due to visa issues. A couple of times, my husband got very close to needing to leave the country. For months and months we kept thinking, This is all going to work out, right? Doesn’t it always? And we were surprised to discover that actually, it doesn’t always work out.
On top of that, the last few months have been some of the most stressful of my life. 2020 came in with a bang, with almost constant crises hitting me from all sides. Thankfully, my family is fine (crisis is different from tragedy), but I’m an administrator at a school where it feels like the next wave of problems comes rolling in before I can finish with the previous ones. Many days I am just gasping for breath. Taking the next step. Focusing on the dozens of tiny fires so that I don’t have to face the inferno that could be looming in the future.
Anyone else out there feeling like that these days? With the recent trend of countries closing in on themselves and locking out outsiders, travel bans, tensions rising between nations, and well, that little virus that’s affecting an entire continent of billions of people….I’m guessing that many of my fellow overseas workers might be in crisis mode too.
And I sit here and I just want it to go away. Kind of irritated, actually, that God doesn’t just let up. Maybe because I’ve bought into the American dream or maybe because I’m just plain selfish, but I have this ingrained expectation that I deserve a little peace and quiet every once in a while. Like, I’ve met my quota for stress, God; you owe me an easy ride from here on out.
Why are we so often surprised by what’s happening in the world? Nations rising up against nations? Economies collapsing? Epidemics circling the globe? Plagues of fire and floods?
What has been will be againwhat has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.
Yet, we’re astonished when the crisis hits us. No wonder every generation believes they are living in the End Times. All of us think, Certainly no generation has ever faced what we have! Which means we probably just need to study more history. Or maybe live overseas for a while longer, observing the lives of our non-western brothers and sisters.
Peter wrote, Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.
We read this, yet still we are surprised. When pressed against the wall, in crisis mode for week after month after year, we think something strange is happening to us. No, God, my life is not supposed to be like this. Not for this long, anyway. Why aren’t you fixing it?
We are surprised because we are forgetful, aren’t we? We forget that Paul was in prison when he told his readers to Rejoice in the Lord always. We forget that Jesus told his disciples that the peace He gives is not dependent on life’s circumstances. We forget that this life is just a blip on the screen of eternity. Yes, one day all things will be made new, but until then, we forget that we aren’t supposed to find Heaven here on earth.
The chaplain at my school, Sheshi Kaniki, recently exhorted our staff as we are passing through these times of crisis. He told us, “Nothing you experience will ever be worse than what you have already been saved from."
Amen. Maranatha.  
Passages cited: Ecc. 1:9, I Peter 4:12, Phil. 4:4
This article was originally posted at A Life Overseas.

Sunday, February 2, 2020

These Four

We live in a city of five million people, but it's amazing how often we run into our former students from Haven of Peace Academy. I'll be looking for a new showerhead, and she's the owner of the hardware store. We'll be eating dinner at a nice restaurant, and discover he's the owner (Yes! Dessert on the house!). I'll run into her in a meeting--the lawyer in the professional suit. Often we don't recognize them--they've grown beards or are holding children--but when I hear "Mrs. Medina!" I know it's one of them.

The first graduating class was in 2008, so there have been many since then who have gone away to college and finished college and have come back to Tanzania to make their world a better place. And it is such a joy--always, always, such a joy, to see them again.

A few weeks ago, though, we had a particularly extraordinary joy because we just happened to discover that these four girls were all in the country at the same time--which is a thrill that hasn't happened in....maybe 10 years?

These four have always been exceptionally important--they were my students in fifth grade, then sixth grade, then they were Gil's students all through high school. They were a part of every youth group and youth camp and Gil coached them football for four years. They babysat our kids and came to Grace's and then Josiah's first birthday parties. We visited them when they were in college in Minnesota. Over the years, we've seen one or two of them here or there, even had them visit us every now in then, but to have them all together again for an evening....that was a beautiful gift indeed.

They are all grown up now and very smart and very educated and they've had so many life experiences that make them absolutely fascinating to talk to. And when you consider that Gil and I had the privilege of being a part of their growing-up years, which makes our conversations with them filled with memory and laughter, was a very special night. Especially considering our time in Tanzania is coming to a close.

So here are "my girls," and if you go back in the archives of this blog, you'll find some of their history there. (Though they might prefer you don't do that, actually!) But they gave me permission to share a few pictures of our memories, so rejoice with me in the fun and blessing of students who have become friends.