I’m doing a Gratitude Writing Challenge in lieu of NaNoWriMo this year.
What a fitting four categories to be grateful for all at once: memory, work, change, peace.
Memory // Work
I remember when the life I have now was a life I dreamed about. I remember dreaming not so loudly about being an administrator. I wasn’t sure I had the chops or the education or the desire to put in the work required. I wasn’t sure I had the Christianly reputation or the unblemished-by-satan’s-tattoos skin to be seen as an authority figure in this country.
I remember studying to be a teacher with such a chip on my shoulder, such an attitude, such pride. I remember studying to be a teacher in the classroom while studying to be a teacher in my workplace and reconciling the two spaces and educations. I remember moving to a brand new country to develop a brand new English program for a school and community I knew nothing about. I remember being trusted to do something I wasn’t sure I could do and then showing up and doing it anyway, surprising myself if nobody else.
When I was 11 I went to Mexico. It was my first trip on an airplane, my first time out of the United States. I connected with a woman and her two-year-old son. I wanted to be around them all the time. I wanted to be with these little Mexican children as much as possible. I remember sitting in someone’s living room with this little two-year-old, Samuel if I remember correctly, who I had grown to love in such a short time. I remember being aware of my need for a shower (Mexican summers are no joke) but not wanting to leave. I remember in that moment hearing God’s voice clearly for possibly the first time in my life. This is what I have for you.
Sometimes people ask if I’m a missionary. Or they ask if they can use my name and my “ministry” for a Sunday school class or school project. I always feel the need to clarify. “I’m not sure I’m actually a missionary. I do not receive routine financial support and I’m not here with the support of a church or mission board. I’m just a teacher. Just an administrator.” The only thing different between my life and the life of the person asking me that question is that I am living it in the Dominican Republic, a country I was not born and raised in.
People usually assure me that I am a missionary and I usually follow up with some kind of, “Why?” because I’m genuinely curious about words and their meanings and labels and the boxes we put ourselves and each other in. If I’m a missionary, isn’t everyone else?
My “work” (like the stuff I get paid actual money to do) has always been very closely entwined with (if not identical to) my “ministry” (the stuff I’m doing to love people and usher in the kingdom of God to the best of my terrible ability). I try to obey when God asks me to do something, and oftentimes what God is asking me to do is meet a need that someone has and is willing to pay me for.
Change // Peace
This school year I decided to do something radical for me and only have two jobs. That’s it. Two jobs. No designated “ministry” or Bible study or even church commitment.
Okay, now that I think about it I guess I have more than two jobs. At Jarabacoa Christian School I am currently an Academic Coordinator and 3rd grade teacher. At Jarabacoa Mountain Hostel I am a part time manager/receptionist/spreadsheet-filler-iner. I also manage my house which is a job. It’s a job I’ve never given myself credit for until recently, but it’s a job! I make sure the bills are paid and things are working and the animals are all fed and healthy and WhatsApp the electrician periodically to see if we’re ever actually going to have a working invertor ever again.
But this school year I decided to give up my work and ministry of teaching English in my garage. I also decided to no longer be a Young Life volunteer. These were my ministry. These were supposed to be my extras. My ways of loving the young people around me that were surely put into my life because I had something for them to hear from the Lord through my words and life. (That’s mostly sarcasm, because let’s be honest, my time with Young Life gave me WAY MORE than I put in. And children always teach us more than we teach them – that’s old news.)
The thing is. I’m tired. And peace? I’m not sure I had known it as an adult. Now that the constant worrying is gone I don’t miss it but I realize I had been missing peace.
I was convinced that my duty and my responsibility and my work were to be as busy as physically possible all of the time doing whatever was within my power to DO and WORK and CHANGE and TEACH.
Turns out I was ignoring what was mentally possible and spiritually possible and emotionally possible and I was, like way too many of us, spreading myself too thin, thin to the point of stretching and breaking. Breaking over and over again. Only to throw myself back in to the doing and working right away to start the stretching again.
The change of downsizing my responsibilites had been that now I can spread my arms and my focus and my education and my experience and my gifts and talents WIDE at my school instead of stretching myself across many venues and disciplines and relationships. Now instead of stretched to breaking again and again I am stretching gently (not always gracefully, forgive me coworkers) ever and always becoming more like the person I was meant to be, bit by bit, little by little every day.
Memory // Work // Change // Peace
I remember when I thought I was living my very best life (yesterday, last month, last year, last decade) and I was absolutely right. But as I grow and change in my work and in my life, I am forever living my best life. Every year gets better and better, brings more fulfillment in my work (which is my ministry – they’re one in the same and always have been), more sustainable change, and evermore peace, praise God.
Mindy Kaling posted a Rihanna meme on her Instagram yesterday. It says, “I’m so excited to become even more obsessed with myself as I evolve into an even badder bitch.” And like, isn’t that what life is all about? Being even more excited about who I am becoming?
Memory. Thank You, God.
Work. Thank You, God.
Change. Thank You, God.
Peace. Thank You, God.