Letting Go


There is a scene from Disney’s Mulan where Shang, the son of the commander of China’s army, is left in charge of China’s new recruits. He is fresh out of training, with no real experience, but lots of ideals and dreams. Before surveying his new soldiers, he has visions of grandeur. These new recruits will turn out to be the “best troops in all of China!” he says. Sweeping his arm in the air with a smile of expectation, he throws open the tent flap to see his men in a tussling pile of spilled soup and chaos.

This was me on the first day of kindergarten.

I had lofty visions of my class standing in line like little angels, listening with attention as I explained the value of six. My class would be “the best kindergarten class in all of Guatemala!”

Perhaps I wasn’t quite that naive, but when my students did cartwheels on the way to the bathroom and were growling at each other like Wild Things during play-centers, I related a lot to Shang. (I think I am going to change the lyrics to “I’ll Make a Man Out of You” to “I’ll Make First-Graders Out of You” and teach it to my students. It could be our anthem: “To be in first-grade, you must know ten plus three. To be in first-grade, you must know shapes and colors. To be in first-grade, you must start to read and write. And follow all of the classroom ruuulllleeeesss!”).

The students themselves are a joy to teach and also a constant surprise to me. One moment they are the most thoughtful creatures—helping fold blankets, picking flowers for their mothers, drawing pictures for me, telling me proudly how they helped another student—and the very next moment they are running around throwing dirt in each other’s hair and the boys are comparing who is stronger by battles of strength like gnashing their teeth and flexing their half-inch biceps. Untied shoes and making grunting noises distract them easily. I am not sure what is running through their heads when I ask them to help me with the calendar and they huff and puff as they work out what day it is. When my students are not being T-Rexes, they are very affectionate and often run up to me after recess and grab my legs, look up at me and say, “I love you, Teacher!” I also give everyone a high-five as I dismiss them for the day, but yesterday, instead of giving me a high-five, one student took my hand in both of his and gave the back of it a kiss. The school counselor came into class and talked to the children about filling each other’s invisible buckets with kind and good things last week. Since then, my students have been telling me about all sorts of kind things they have been doing to fill each other’s buckets.

This past week I have been learning that I can’t be perfect at everything. It is a hard lesson for me to learn and I get frustrated with myself for not knowing the things I feel like every other first-year teacher knows. It has been difficult for me to let go of being able to teach as well as an experienced teacher.

I had to rest my soul this weekend. I had to be still. I talked to my sisters, Jessica and Alexis, both of whom told me that it has only been two weeks and stop expecting to be a perfect teacher after teaching for two weeks. Or even near middling. I have been researching and talking to other teachers, trying to adapt quickly to new methods and teach as well as I can in all the subjects, but I am learning that I have to focus on one thing at a time. I have worked on morning meeting—a foreign concept when I arrived—and teaching math. I am going to be working on opening academic centers for reading and writing. After those things, I can focus on the other thousands of things teachers teach and seem to know. There is so much to learn, it can be overwhelming.

When I first arrived, I told Jessica that I felt like teaching was like learning to swim by being pushed into the ocean. This morning, I was listening to Hillsong’s “Oceans” and kept thinking how God puts messages in our lives at just the right moment. The lyrics go like this:

You call me out upon the waters

The great unknown, where feet may fail

And there I find you in the mystery

In oceans deep, my faith will stand

And I will call upon your name

And keep my eyes above the waves

When oceans rise, my soul will rest in your embrace

For I am yours, and you are mine

Your grace abounds in deepest waters

Your sovereign hand will be my guide

My feet may fail, and fear surrounds me

But you never fail and you won’t start now

So I will call upon your name

And keep my eyes above the waves

When oceans rise, my soul will rest in your embrace

For I am yours and you are mine

And you are mine

Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders

Let me walk upon the waters

Wherever you would call me

Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander

And my faith would be made stronger

In the presence of my savior

I will call upon your name

Keep my eyes above the waves

My soul will rest in your embrace

I am yours

And you are mine

In the ocean is exactly where I am supposed to be.

“In oceans deep, my faith will stand / And I will call upon your name / And keep my eyes above the waves / When oceans rise, my soul will rest in your embrace / For I am yours, and you are mine // Your grace abounds in deepest waters / Your sovereign hand will be my guide / My feet may fail, and fear surrounds me / But you never fail and you won’t start now…”

My soul has had to rest. I’ve had to lay aside all my notions of being perfect and accept that I will fail, but God will not. Despite all of my shortcomings, he is willing and able to do great things. I only have to do what I can with what I have, be a supple student, and listen to God’s voice—his still, small whisper. I’ve been worn out, not just emotionally, but also physically. I have been sick this week with a bad cold. I read to my students last Monday with a stuffy nose, which turned into my voice sounding two octaves lower than normal and like I was a chain smoker, which turned into a cough. Saturday morning, all I had was nighttime cold medicine left and took it as soon as I woke up and went right back to sleep for another two hours.

I told my sisters that they were like Earl Grey tea for my weariness. At home, I would make a cup of tea, take it to my room, and be revived. In Guatemala, I call my sisters and it has the same refreshing effect. They are my encouragers, pep-talkers, and therapists.

My Bible study has also been on endurance this week. I have been using a Bible study that Jessica gave me a long while ago and by the grace of God, this week has been on the topic I needed most. The memory verse this morning was Galatians 6:7-10 (HCS, emphasis mine): “Don’t be deceived: God is not mocked. For whatever a man sows he will also reap, because the one who sows to his flesh will reap corruption from the flesh, but the one who sows to the Spirit will reap eternal life from the Spirit. So we must not get tired of doing good, for we will reap at the proper time if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, we must work for the good of all…” It has been hard and wearying work, but it is good work. As Laurie Vanderpool said, “Slaves of Christ are often exhausted.”

But Anna Maria makes Guatemalan Marigold tea that tastes like Tarragon, my student’s souls and minds are growing, and my God gives rest. And it is good.


3 thoughts on “Letting Go

  1. Stacy Prestridge says:

    I’m imagining standing at the head of your classroom, facing a crowd of expectant stares. Tiny living vessels I’M supposed to fill. It’s a daunting task. Daunting is an understatement as I really try to put myself in your shoes. I commend you and I’m so very thankful there are people with your dedication and capability and love for the Lord who are rising to such challenges.

    It occurs to me also what a precious and beautiful time this must be in your life. You are a student of your students as much as THEY are YOUR students. You are teaching them WHILE they teach you… to teach. God is teaching you through His word, through your students, through your fellow teachers, and through your sisters.

    I’ve enjoyed the references you include in your posts. With your current ocean and animated movies in mind, I encourage you as Dory encouraged Nemo: “Just keep swimming!”

    Prayers for your health and your work.


    Liked by 2 people

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