Embracing the Mess

I wanted this year to be neat.

I remember sitting on the porch of the Brick House last year, imagining my first year in the “real world,” wanting it to be nice and tidy, with a perfectly organized and filled planner, a neat desk, and categorized binders stuffed with lesson plans.

I wanted this “neatness” to be my path towards success, because if I could somehow categorize everything into tidy little boxes in my head, I would somehow be fulfilled and an effective and liked first-year teacher. If I could anticipate the mishaps and prepare for each day way in advance, I could lessen my stress level and maybe, just maybe, skip over some of the hardships.

If I’ve learned anything from my first year of teaching so far, I’ve learned that it’s the messiest thing I’ve ever gotten myself into. My weeks are filled with bantering with my students and watching my soccer girls play with intense focus on the field and participate in ridiculous antics off the field. They’re filled with running to the copy room between periods to make extras because I misplaced the pile somewhere and long planning sessions after practice complete with ranting and storytelling. They’re filled with eating out way too often and being home for an hour most days before crashing my head on my pillow, hard, only to realize that I have no idea how I’m going to teach that lesson the next day.

My desk at school is a disaster most of the time, with random piles everywhere while my filing cabinet sits mostly empty behind my computer. I have Expo markers littering random places in the room because I always set them down when I get distracted and I didn’t open my planner for the first nine weeks. My binders, intended to be filled with curriculum plans and unit ideas, sit empty and dusty while the materials to what I have taught are a disheveled mess in file folders stacked on my back table.

What I’m realizing is that this mess isn’t as scary as I expected it to be. I’m learning that it’s ok to leave my desk unorganized after a long day, that the Lord somehow gives me the capability to improvise when lessons completely flop, and that He’s using the chaos of first-year teaching to force me to be present.

I love that the chaos of first-year teaching is forcing me to be present.

This chaos is taking up some of the space my critical voice typically inhabits and I’m learning to make quick decisions without over analyzing—a pretty impressive feat in my book. I’m learning that being an effective teacher has less to do with being organized and more to do with being present in each messy, unexpected moment I get with my students, drawing strength from the Lord who loves them a whole lot more than I ever could.

Most importantly, I’m learning that I can, indeed, trust the Lord to provide for each moment I’m not expecting or assume I can’t handle. I’m learning if I keep leaning into to this messy season filled with new things and unfamiliar obligations, I’m giving Him the space He needs to work, free from my need to keep things neat.

If you’re finding yourself in some unfamiliar spaces, seek the Lord in the midst of every moment there. Embrace the unorganized chaos and accept His grace for not having everything together. Remember that your ability to be effective where you’re at is dependent on the Lord, not your ability to anticipate and attempt to minimize the struggles ahead.

Finding Good in the Cornfields

I absolutely love everything about fall. It’s always been my favorite; I love the low, overcast clouds and cool air and changing leaves. I love the refreshment fall brings after a long, hot summer filled with activity and movement and sun. It’s a time to settle down and be cozy, preparing to move from outside to inside for a season.

Because of the way my student teaching schedule worked, I had the past two weeks off. After a short summer and my first student teaching experience, these two weeks to enjoy my favorite month were celebrated and enjoyed. During this time, I reflected on the past autumns, especially the ones I’ve spent at Taylor. It hit me how this is my last fall here. Fall in Upland is one of my favorite things and knowing I won’t be able to experience it the same way after this year feels like I’m on the verge of losing something big.

I’ve been asked before if I like going to school in the middle of the cornfields and my answer is always yes. I’ve come to love every season here, but fall in the midst of cornfields has it’s own beauty that I cannot get tired of. It’s open here, there’s space to explore and to slow down and to build relationships with those we live with and those we learn from.

This place is built around community and creating relationships with those we share space with. And during this particular fall, I am reminded of how my relationships here carry more meaning and life and joy than I realized.

I’ve felt that the past few months I’ve spent in Upland living in the brick house with some of the best women I know has been idyllic, almost like a dream. We talk together and laugh together, sing together, cook together and run together. We come from different places and have different desires, but we aim to live well and authentically, seeking to glorify God on the way.

The community I’ve experienced with my housemates is safe and challenging, fun and peaceful and alive. In the midst of excitement from the change to come, my heart hurts while I think towards graduation, moving somewhere new, and leaving this space with these people.

It’s hard for me to imagine a community quite as good as what I’m experiencing right now.

I think back to how I got here, to this house with these four women. God provided. God provided so well in the best way possible. I’m happy here with these people. I’m learning from the way they live and the way they see the world. Living with them pushes me to love better, to laugh fully, and to think about myself less.

Sometimes it’s hard to be fully present in all the good. I sit on our porch or in our living room or at the table with my people and wish these moments wouldn’t end, that I wouldn’t have to stop living them after this year. I think about the longing I’ll experience for this community once we graduate and live in different corners of the world.

But thinking this way, thinking about future longings robs me of the ability to be present and soak up all the beautiful things happening right now. I don’t know where I’ll be after graduation, but I do know that God will provide me with a space to live and a community to share life with just as He has this year.

I don’t want to look towards my future with disdain and fear because of what I may or may not experience again. God is too good for that. He promises us His best, to think He won’t provide His best again in a different space with different people creates this limited box in our minds of His power and plans. We have to trust that Jesus will provide for us tomorrow just as He has today. We have to start waking up every morning in thankfulness and rhythmically be reminded of His love and grace and ability to provide for us in every moment.

Right now, as I sit on my porch and look up at the changing leaves and overcast skies, I’m thankful for where I’m at because I’m happy here. I’m safe here, I laugh here, and I love well here. I’m grateful for the women I live with and the amount of joy they’ve brought to my life. I’m thankful that the Lord has given me this year with these people to learn and to love and to live life together.

Give thanks for the people the Lord has given you and live well in that community, investing in your friendships and trusting that Jesus has tomorrow covered, that He promises you His best even when you think it may end.

presence.

God is big. We know that, right? He is constant and Holy and sovereign, His presence fully with us always.

But how often do we forget about his presence? The fact that He goes before us in every circumstance, struggle, day of work, and conversation. A dear friend of mine from school who is working in Memphis this summer called me over the weekend. As we chatted and caught each other up on our summers, she expressed her realization that God is already working in the schools she is working in, despite the challenges and fallenness. These were such refreshing and needed words to hear, how God is before us and already working in the places we are,  the places we long to see redeemed and fulfilled through truth and salvation.

I started to think about how different my time at work and interactions with my coworkers, my main community at this moment, would be if I walked through the doors everyday knowing God was already there, working in ways I couldn’t begin to imagine. How differently would my conversations look? How differently would my attitude be knowing that it wasn’t my responsibility to bring the presence of God into whatever space I occupied because He was already there?

God calls us to be in the world and not of the world, to engage with those around us and create community where we are in hopes to share the life and truth of the Gospel. I feel like so often I take this command to be and share the Gospel as the responsibility to bring the presence of God into whatever space I’m in during that moment. I forget that God already fills that space, that he is fully aware of the work that needs to be done. I simply need to recognize and submit to the work already happening from a Power much higher than I.

One main way to recognize and engage in God’s presence is to be present. I believe He calls us to be present where we are at and to engage in the understanding that He is working. This concept of being present is simple, but significant. It can cause us to let go of our bitterness towards a corrupted environment motivated by our perceived responsibility to save. It can cause us to take a step down into reality, to love others without grumbling, and to bask in the reality that God’s presence is there. Once we start believing that it is not our job to save others or our responsibility to make sure God’s presence surrounds the places we are at, we can then lean into the reality of God already working and do the transforming work we are called to do, love others.

We live in a fallen world filled with sin, corruption, death, and emptiness. I promise that I don’t know all the answers. But I do know that God is here and He has significantly more knowledge and understanding of the happenings of this world than we could ever begin to fathom. I know that He is working and that He takes the responsibility to fill every space with His presence, it is simply up to us to be present and love those he has placed around us in the hopes that they, too, will recognize the perfect, beautiful, healing, and glorious reality of God.