Friday, November 8, 2013

Can You Be Too Excited?

One of my favorite things to teach is the Book.  I get really excited and I really get into the stories.  I become a one (wo)man show. My students love it.  Then comes my favorite part...they ask questions...and sometimes we get really far off topic.  A few days ago we talking about how much the Son loves little kids.  We went off on a rabbit trail and ended up talking about heaven for about 20 minutes. 
Now, I don't know about you, but I'm extremely excited to go to heaven someday.  I think it is going to be unimaginably amazing.  Absolutely inconceivably wonderful!  I tried to share that excitement with my students.  As time went on, they got animated and their questions got harder to answer.  We were all sad when it was time for lunch.
Well, my co-teacher, Karen, came to me this morning.  "So, {insert student's name} mother came to talk to me.  Apparently he has decided he wants to go to heaven today.  She's a little worried and hopes we can tell him that living life is good too."  I laughed out loud, my heart jumped for joy, and my head sang praises.  See this little boy didn't know much about Him at the beginning of the year.  In broken English he has been asking question after question and challenging me since school started.  And slowly, but surely, I've had the privilege of watching his interest grow.  The excitement has been growing in his eyes.  He is feeling the call of His love. 
So, my question...Is it possible to be too excited about heaven?  I guess it might be if we forget to love and live the blessing of this life.  But honestly, I love watching this little boy and the others in this class fall more and more in love every day.  I hope they all chose to follow the one who brings life.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

On Saying Goodbye

It's May.  When I was young, May was a month filled with hope.  School was almost over.  It was finally warm again.  Summer was coming and that meant lazy days and fun activities.  I couldn't wait. 
Since coming to China, May has come to mean something additional.  May means goodbye.  I know I've said it over and over, but I live in a transient community.  People are always coming and going and that is just part of life here.  I've learned how to say goodbye.  During the past four years people I like very much have left and returned to their home countries or gone on to other countries.  I miss every single one of them and I was very sad when they left...but I wasn't extremely close to them.  I'd spend time with many of them and I'll stop to see them on my crazy road trips across America, but I didn't spend every day with them when they were here.  They weren't the first people I thought of when I needed a hug or wanted to hang out or wanted to rant.  But, this year is different.
This year several people I am close to are leaving.  I've been telling people for months now, "I don't want to think about it.  I'm not ready.  They still have months."  Well, I can't avoid it anymore.  Most of them are leaving in a month.  It's time to start processing.  It's time to enjoy every moment I can with them.  It's time to be sad.  It's time to talk about them leaving and be sad together.  It's time for laughter, stolen moments of joy, and sadness.  It's time for goodbye pictures, tons of meals together, and more laughter.  I honestly don't know what I'll do when these friends are gone.  A part of me will be missing.  I'll miss them every time I go to ask them over for a meal or every time I go to call them on the phone.
I do know one thing for sure though.  It will be ok.  I'll see them again (even if not on this earth) and we'll be able to keep in touch through email, Skype, and Facebook.  Thank God for technology!  What did international people do before the internet?  And thankfully, most of the people I'm close to are still here.  And they will be missing these people to.  We can do this together.
However, for now my friends are still here.  And I'm going to go make some more memories with them...

Monday, April 29, 2013

Lessons in Following Him

The last several weeks since I became a third grade teacher have been hard.  The first week was the hardest.  I really hate change.  I find that truth super entertaining with the life I have chosen to lead.  Really, what kind of sadistic idiot am I? "Hmmm...I really hate change.  Let's move to a foreign country and work in an international school where I'm not sure life will stay the safe from one day to the next!"  See, it just sounds stupid.  However, despite my hatred of change, God is good and my life here is AMAZING!  Really, it is.  I love my life.  But back to the topic I started with.
My first week in 3rd grade saw me constantly trying to pull myself out of a downhill spiral into depression.  Yep, it was that hard.  I felt unsupported and lost in the bigger change of friends suddenly returning to America.
There was one day when we had just finished a meeting and I literally could not pull myself off the floor.  I was too depressed to move.  My heart started crying to God.  "God, I just need one person.  I need one person to see me and ask if I'm ok.  Then I know I can get off this floor.  Please God!"  No sooner had the prayer been uttered than one of my closest friends turned around and said, "Hey, Keller, you ok?"  It worked.  With those few words he stopped my spiral into depression and I was able to get off the floor.  I thanked God over and over....I should probably also thank my friend, though I know he doesn't remember doing it.
A few days later things were getting better when my elementary principal called to see how I was doing.  During the course of the conversation it came out that he planned on me doing 2nd and 3rd grade parent-teacher conferences.  Now, I hate nothing about teaching more than parent-teacher conferences.  After I hung up with my principal, the depression was back.  How as I going to do this?!
A few days later, I learned that my principal hung up the phone after our conversation and turned to his wife and said, "I just pushed Amy Keller off the edge."  His wife if one of my best friends and she knows how I feel about conferences so she quickly jumped to my aid.  My principal then did everything he could to make my conference days as light as possible.  I ended up with only 5 conferences and I was able to get a much better handle on 3rd grade during those two days with the extra time I had.
The last few weeks have made things easier and easier (though it's still a hard).  Last week we had two counselors come visit our school and it was wonderful to get to talk to them.  I was able to do a lot of verbal processing during my time with them.  And a lot of that processing was that even though the last few weeks have been hard, it's been worth it.  In these last few weeks Christ has reminded me of my need to rely on him and of the love he has for me.  He has done this through the love and support of others.
Now, why am I writing this post?  To complain?  No.  I'm writing it to rejoice.  Keep reading.
There is something beautiful and amazing the last several weeks (and well, the past 5 years) have taught me.  Here are my jumbled and beautiful thoughts.
1) The Christian life is not about rules.  It is not about avoiding sin.  In fact, it had nothing to do with me.  The Christian life is about love.  Christ's love for us.  This extreme outpouring of love that we cannot explain, fathom or understand.  And if we accept that love, it will flow through us.  Suddenly the differences and issues that we have within ourselves and with each other will not seem quite so important in the light of that love.  We won't be ruled by a fear of sinning.  We'll want to avoid that sin because out focus will be on the love.  The beautiful chaos of God's love.  It's the most amazing thing I've ever experienced.  And the sad truth is we so often choose not to live in that love.  We keep trying to do things on our own outside of his grace and love.  We are back to sinning and that is the root of all our problems.
2) On a somewhat different strain of thought, I've also been mulling over that thought that the church is not a building.  The church is a group of imperfect people who have accepted Christ's love.  Our job in this world is to love each other and show Christ's love to those who haven't accepted it yet.  Yes, we will disagree and we will disagree all the time.  We will fight and we will sin.  We are not perfect.  But the church belongs to Christ.  Not to us.  It is not our job to figure it out, but to live in the love of the Savior and share that love with others.
Yesterday, I spent time with the church.  We gathered and worshiped together.  There is something about this time of year.  We are all gearing up for pain.  Summer here means pain.  It means that time of year when our friends leave and return to their home countries has once again come.  Our hearts have already started breaking in anticipation.  There were very few dry eyes in church yesterday as we faced this reality.
This is also a beautiful time of year though.  This is the time of year when our hearts are broken so we realize we can't stand in our own strength.  So often, I try to take on the world all on my own.  I tell myself that I can get through this on my own.  It's not true.  All good things come through Christ and I so often forget that.  Yesterday, I knew that I needed to rely on Christ.  My life is a mess of transition and pain right now and in that pain, I found beautiful worship.  Yesterday the Spirit moved in our fellowship.  I could feel the love, devotion, abandon, and surrender within myself and in others.  We sang together, we cried together, we laughed together, and we loved together.  This is what the church is about.  People who love Christ because he loved us first and died for us and who live that out in their lives.  The church is not a building, programs, or having the right answers.  Church is a huge group of loved sinners.  Church is the most beautiful thing in the world!
3) No to the really hard part....I have NO RIGHT to decide who is worthy of God's love.  I have found myself several times over the past few years viewing American politics from the outside.  I have seen a lot of news lately about/from Christians who are anti-gay marriage and who are bashing and boycotting companies that are.
People, we are missing the point!  Once again we are focusing on the sin and not the people in need of the Savior.  These are people who are trying to make their way in the world just like the rest of us.  They are lost.  They are hurting.  They are broken.  Some of them may even have been beaten, bruised, and crushed by the church.  That beautiful body of believers that should be pouring out Christ's love on a broken world is in fact doing everything it can to turn away those we find "unworthy."  We are doing this so wrong, friends.  Christ came to save all.  The murders, the idolators, the rapists, the homosexuals, the drunks, the abusers, the hypocrites, and everyone in between.  None of us deserve his love and forgiveness, but it has been offered freely to all.  I am no better than any other person.  And if Christ can love me, why wouldn't he be able to love them.  I'm going to let that thought rule my life and I'm going to do everything I can in my own broken sinfulness to reach out to everyone with Christ's love.  Then once they have known His love and grace, I'll leave it up to Him to convict and change them.  Picketing and boycotting isn't going to show Christ's love...just my own self-righteousness which is honestly is dirty stinking rags to Christ and to the world.
And before I end, please know that I'm definitely not trying to say I'm doing better at this than you are.  I'm writing this post as much to myself as to anyone.  I often need help remembering these truths.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

My Life in Transition

There is so much change in my international life.  The students I grow to love each year may leave my class/our school with only a day's notice.  I am constantly making and losing friends.  Transition makes you feel slightly off balance, but eventually you learn how to embrace it and live a full life with it.  One of the ways I do this is by holding firm to the constants in my life.  I am a single twenty-six year old American woman who teaches second grade.  Yesterday one of those constants was challenged and I wasn't just thrown off balance.  I was bowled over.  And no, I don't have a boyfriend so stop thinking that.
It all started when a friend found a lump.  She immediately went to the doctor and then back to America.  Yesterday they confirmed she had breast cancer.  Our community has responded to this whole situation on our knees and I love that.  When she found out that she did, in fact, have cancer, her husband started making arrangements to travel back to be with her.  Her husband is one of our third grade teachers.  *Transition #1
Yesterday afternoon our elementary principal came into my class and asked either myself of my co-teacher to step up and teach his third grade class.  Second grade this year is very small and manageable in one class.  Third grade is not small and they need two classes.  He left us floored.  Either I lose my favorite co-teacher to another grade or I lose her and my class.  What do I do? *Begin Transition #2
We talked.  We felt numb.  We cried.  We fought the transition.  We came to a conclusion. 
Today is my last day (this year) as a second grade teacher.  In one and a half hours I'll said goodbye to my class...a class that has stretched me, driven me crazy, made me cry, made me laugh, made me proud, and who I will just plain miss and I will become a third grade teacher for a quarter.  All of us cried off and on for the entire time before school ended.  I sent every one of my students home in tears.  We finished a box of tissues and got another.  The third grade class also came down the stairs clutching crumpled tissues.
Now may be when you are thinking, what is the big deal?  It's one quarter and she'll be back in second grade.  They are just changing teachers.
The big deal is as a teacher you build your life into your students.  For those 9 months they are in your grade, they are your children.  You teach them facts, how to take care of themselves, how to be a friend, how to have manners, how to love, and so much more.  You are a parent.  The big deal is that I have to shift my focus from building into these students every moment to building into others.  The big deal is that I'm leaving a co-teacher I know inside and out and teaching with a friend that I've never taught with before.  None of these things are bad.  In fact, I'm excited about some of them, but first I need to give myself to mourn the end of my school year.  I need to be sad about not seeing my second graders each day and start being excited working with someone new and teaching some students that I gave my whole heart to last year.  I usually have so much more time and warning to mourn my class.  I'm so tired and I've never had a headache this bad before.  However, I'm going to focus on the positive.  Tomorrow, I am going to Xi'an to see some Terra Cotta Soldiers and more.  Then I have one whole week to process this....
God please help us all to thrive in this new change.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Another Funny Taxi Story

Today I went to see Les Miserable with two fabulous girlfriends.  It's the first time I've seen it on the big screen and it was an amazing, beautiful, and emotional experience.  However, this blog post is not about the movie.  This blog post is about how we got to the movie and then how we back home from the movie.
This afternoon my friend, Amy, and I grabbed a taxi outside of our complex to get into town.  We were meeting our friend, Karen, at the theater.  Our taxi driver was very nice and started to talk to us a bit.  However with two introverts in the back seat, we didn't get so far in that conversation.  However, he did ask us what country we were from.  When we told him, he proudly proclaimed "Obama!"  I think it is funny that Chinese people seem to be more proud of America's president than we are...but that has nothing to do with anything in this post.
We made it to the theater somewhat slowly...rather odd for a taxi driver..usually they drive like maniac race car drivers.  As the movie started and I spent time with two such great friends, I completely forgot about our taxi driver. 
After our movie, Amy had a date with her husband so Karen and I grabbed a taxi home together (yes, I ride in tons of taxis).  Because she gets car sick, Karen rode in the front with the driver and I am SO glad that she did.  The taxi driver was completely enamored with Karen the entire ride home.  He laid on the flirting nice and thick and barely acknowledge that I was in the back seat at all.  His world was centered around my beautiful friend in the front seat.  At one point he asked where we were from.  Karen replied, "Meiguo" (America).  He proudly proclaimed "Obama!"  All I could think was NO WAY!  This was the exact same taxi driver I had just four hours before.  I was shocked...however, due to the crazy amount of flirting going on by the taxi driver, I couldn't get in a word to tell Karen this fabulous development.  I shouldn't have worried though.  Halfway through our ride (which I'm pretty sure I could have walked faster through...he was really enjoying flirting too much to drive), he turned around and in Chinese told me "I drove you into town earlier.  But not with this girl...with another one.  She had long brown hair..." He went on and on.  He told me all about our ride earlier in the day.  When I laughingly confirmed this fact to both him and Karen, he smacked his head and said "Oh my God!" in perfect English.  He then turned back to Karen and continued to flirt.  One street before we got home, he pulled the car over, pulled his phone out of his pocket, and asked Karen for her number.  Poor thing gave it to him...yes, he has already texted fact, he texted her within five minutes of us getting home. 
What a fun way to spend a taxi ride home! Sorry, Karen.  Oh, and there was an added perk.  I understood everything that was said in the conversation tonight!  Usually I'm stuck within the first five minutes and they give up trying to get me to understand, but tonight, I made it through all 20ish minutes of Chinese.  So either my Chinese is improving or he knows how to speak foreigner Chinese.  I'm going to go with the former and feel good about all the hours I struggle through Chinese lessons. What a fabulous day it has been!

Saturday, February 23, 2013

I Used to Write Him Letters

When I was 15 years old, I started writing letters to my future husband.  They were nothing special, but I wrote to him every few months about thoughts I had, how I prayed for him, how I couldn't wait to meet him, etc.  Super cheese, but really liked doing it. 
When I was 19 I fell in love for the first time.  When we got engaged, I started writing my letters to him.  I poured my love for him into those letters and I wrote him all the time.  For various reasons (that I would be happy to discuss with you if you ever want to ask), I broke off our engagement.  The major reason was that I knew that I had to choose in that moment to follow my heart and my desires or follow God and what he had planned for my life.  I decided to follow God and I stopped writing. 
At first I stopped writing because it took a while for my heart to heal.  I didn't regret my decision to follow God, but my heart was broken.  The letters got "lost" at some point during this time.  Later when my heart had healed, I still didn't write.  I knew that when I chose to follow God, he might choose to never give me a husband.  At first I acknowledged that truth, but I wasn't ok with it.  Now years later, I can honestly say I would be ok if I never had a husband or family, but I really really want one some day.
When I fully embraced the truth that I might always be single, I put my heart on guard.  I am a firm believer that the guy should make the first move.  However, when I was younger, I was too free with my love.  I was happy to fall hard for any guy that I decided I liked.  It got me hurt several times...and there is nothing worse than a good friend hurting you and never knowing.  When I chose to follow God, I put my heart on guard.  I truly try hard to see every guy as a friend and a brother in Christ and I don't usually let myself go beyond that.  Sometimes I'll develop a crush, but I treat him just the same and I won't act on it unless he tells me has feelings for me.  At that point, I'll really think hard about my feelings for someone and if I want to be with that guy, I guarantee I'll fall hard and fast.  I love with my whole heart and hold nothing back.
So, why am I boring you with this sappy post?  Because I've been thinking about this a lot lately.  Some of my friends are trying to set me up both here and in the States.  I secretly love the attention, even if it is super embarrassing sometimes, but I have to be honest in telling you that despite all your efforts, unless the guy tells me outright that he wants to date me, my heart will be on guard.  He has to act first.
And in the meantime, maybe I'll start writing him again...I'll have to think about that a little more though...and whoever you are, I can't wait to meet you and love you.  And if my husband's parents decided not to have kids...well then I'll rest in the arms of the Lover of my soul and I'll be perfectly happy.  He really is all I need and his grace is sufficient.
Now I must go gag at my sappiness. :)

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

On Trying to Sleep In and Crazy Cats

During every break off of school, there is one or two days that I will sleep 12 hours.  It is a great way for my poor body to recover from my highly busy and somewhat stressful job (which I absolutely love).  Last night, I decided I was going to sleep for 12 hours. :)
I went to bed at 10:30pm as tired as could be and fell asleep immediately.  My first 8 hours were easy to get through, but then the disturbances began...
At 6am, I had to go to the bathroom...sad reality.  When I got back, my cat decided I was up so it was time to pet him.  That didn't last long.  I was out again in 5 minutes.
8am, really loud fireworks scared me to death.  My cat decided I was up so it was time to pet him.  Lasted a little longer this time...maybe 8 minutes.
8:15am, another volley of fireworks scared the living daylights out of me...still too out of it to remember I have ear plugs, but my cat decided I was up so it was time to pet him.  Again, that didn't last long.  I was out again in 2 minutes.
At 9:30am, I was sleeping quite peacefully with no fireworks when BAM!  I had a ten pound cat land on my chest and demand to be pet right that instant and no he was not going to let me sleep anymore.  This was his time!  Since he doesn't usually do this (just sometimes) I wondered what was up...that and the morning is unusually dark.  I walked out into my living room and saw that it was snowing.  That explains it.  My cat LOVES the snow and goes totally crazy when it snows.  So here is to the fifth or sixth time it has snowed this season (it usually snows once or twice) and to the cat who is now sleeping in my bed which he forced me to leave less than 30 minutes ago.  You win, Nacho.  You win...