Grace for Today

Yea, you were so happy every day in 4th grade! He says, glancing over from the corner, the computer screen glowing white before him.

I smile, laughing a little.

But then I pause, my head against the wall behind my rolling chair, and the words settle into my heart, heavy.

I don’t compare- I really can’t compare- between 4th grade, my home for 14 weeks, and kindergarten, where I’ve been for less than two weeks.

But he’s right; it’s true. These past two weeks have been so much pouring out, so much planning and working and corralling.

I smile when I don’t feel like smiling and I speak gently when my patience is thin

and I look out every morning at thirteen sweet, tiny souls who I have the privilege of loving and teaching every day,

and it is hard work.

It’s only Wednesday but it’s also already Wednesday,

and I have work to do yet this evening,

and I’m drinking in praise music like life itself,

and I’ve so many other things on my mind, my heart,

but tomorrow I get up (6:10- a sleep in day!) and I want to be ready,

I want to be full,

I want to be able to give,

because these weeks- oh they have taken out of me.

And I don’t know what tomorrow will be,

I don’t know what crises will occur,

what joys there might be,

but tomorrow has enough worry of its own,

and today has grace enough.

So I hold onto that,

take a breath,

and take another step.

~Natalia

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Week Two

Week Two of kindergarten begins tomorrow.

It’s humbling, I’ll tell you, to be a full-time teacher.

Especially when I’ve not yet even walked the Moody Church stage in cap and gown,

not yet even received my diploma.

And I’m there in the classroom, with the reading center

and the four low tables

and the rug with the fish, where we sit in front of the board,

and talk about adding 10 to a number,

and learn new vowel teams and sight words.

It’s humbling because there is someone there, an aide,

whose job it is to help me do my job,

and I’m so grateful for the support.

It’s most humbling, though, because I got here,

but really, I’ve been put here, placed here on purpose,

by the Lord.

And it’s His strength, His mercy, His patience, that keeps me here,

and keeps me loving and giving and working and serving.

And that is a humbling thing to be a part of.

~Natalia

I’ll Just Say

I’ll just say that I became a kindergarten teacher yesterday morning.

And they are sweet and they are busy. 

And life of mine, of following Him and doing, enjoying, relishing these things a He’s set before me? 

It’s a busy one. 

But it’s a good one, too. 

Because He gives strength

And He gives energy 

And He gives joy. 

~ Natalia 

Going On HereĀ 

One part that I hate about semesters, jobs, student teaching placements ending,

Is that not only are you saying goodbye 

To a life and a routine 

And all the people that come along with it, 

But you’re also working hard to finish well; to turn in paperwork, and write goodbyes, and attend farewells. 

And not only that, 

But you’re also preparing for whatever it is that comes next. 

So in all the working and the finishing and the preparing, 

Sometimes the just being, and the savoring gets lost. 

I hate that. 

Because you get to the end, to the finish line there, and the past days, the past weeks, the past time, has gone by like the blink of a eye. 

And I know I’ll look back next year, next transition, and relish the memories of this one. 

Just like I look back on the end of last semester, last year. 

But still, just right now, that’s not comforting, yet. 

Because right now, I’m just goodbying and working and moving and preparing, 

And it doesn’t really feel like a lot of savoring and remembering 

Are going on here. 

~Natalia 

Tornado Just Fine

I warned my kids today, nineteen nonchalant 4th graders, that there was the possibility of a tornado warning during school today.

It won’t happen, at least not during school, I told them from the front. But I want you to be prepared, just in case.

And of course, it didn’t happen, at least not during school. We stood in the outdoor pick-up line in the spitting rain, laughing as we huddled under two near-superfluous umbrellas.

And then, thirty minutes later, I drove home with the window down, the sun shining hot on my knees. Sunglasses misplaced somewhere in my backpack, I swiped my arm randomly around in the backseat at every stoplight, hoping somehow to locate my bug-eyed shades. But no such luck.

Tonight though, we’re four in the house, three adults and the tiniest of three-year-olds, when the sirens begin to go off. I’m already in the basement, working on organizing the room I’ll soon leave, when the others appear at the top of the stairs; the professor clutching the towel-clad preschooler he’s just pulled from the bathtub.

And at first, it’s barely a warning, and we’ve dispersed again after a mere 20 minutes.

But then, not an hour later, there’s the sirens again, and now the whole family is home. Outside, the lightning flashes in the sky, now eerily and prematurely dark. So we gather once more in the basement TV room, six together, while the guinea pig rolls gently in his plastic ball in the hallway.

And the kids play Temple Run while we follow the storm’s path online. And we sit in the desk chairs, on the floor, on the couch, and conversation is light, sprinkled with laughter, as outside, the hail pounds the windows, plinking sharply off the cars in the driveway.

And then the professor and the new upstairs guest are playing FIFA, and we’re watching, working, joking, and the mother of the house- herself a professor- is reading aloud the weather updates, adding her own dramatic flair.

And the storm is wild, but not yet destructive, and we’re cozy, comfortable, tucked into the warmth of the basement, and it’s not at all how I imagined this evening might be. But with the safety of the house, the protection of its walls, and the safety of home and this McHenry family, our evening passed just fine.

~Natalia

I Might Miss Something

In the late evening hours, when the second floor has fallen silent, and my basement home seems to shift with the creaking of the old McHenry house, and the bubbling and thumping of the water in the pumps punctuates the night quiet, I sit on my bed, pillows piled high behind me, and open my little yellow notebook.

I write in spurts; three days in a row, then the notebook rides, untouched, in my backpack for three weeks. Sermon notes on an occasional Sunday, and then back to the backpack, to the purse, to the table beside my bed. But I always have it nearby, always available, and tonight, I’m going to write once more.

But before I do, I let the book fall open in my hands, begin to read where my eyes land. I read thoughts, prayers, from January. Read how I began to settle into life in McHenry, getting to know my 4th grade loves, haphazardly navigating weekends home, lesson planning, and letting go of my life at Moody. It’s an odd, near out-of-body experience to read emotions, prayers, conversations with God from months prior, and I sink deeper into the pillows as I flip further back, moving backwards past Christmas Break, until I open a page written during my last days living on campus.

I’m worried, I had written, that I’ll miss something. That in all this rush and work of final projects, I’ll forget to savor the last days- the last hours- that I spend in this downtown home. And then, as often happens, God’s gentle prodding, His guiding words, appear on the page, reminding me of rest and sovereignty and that what I can give is going to be enough.

I keep reading for a bit longer, soaking up His wisdom the same way I had when I first heard it. And then, eventually, I turn to the newest clean page, put pen to paper, and begin to write. And it’s not until this afternoon that I think again of those early December words of grace.

Because I’ve two more weeks in 4th grade- counting this one- and I’m beginning to feel that pressure, that worry, creep into my heart once more. I don’t want to miss anything. I want to savor the time, hold onto the moments. I want to be caught in each day, relishing the tiniest mundane details, because these will not be my details for very much longer.

But there is grading to be done, and a portfolio to be compiled, and a Redbook of InTasc standards to measure up to, not to mention the fact that I’m speaking in upper school chapel on Friday, and haven’t finishing planning English for the week… and I start to wonder how I might balance all this living in the moment, fully participating in each conversation with all these precious treasures, with all of these real life tasks.

I might miss something, I worry.

My time here is ending (as the student mournfully remind me) so very soon.

And yet, at the end of the day- and the beginning, and in the middle- I know that the God who put me here is sovereign over each moment, just as He is sovereign over these past four months of teaching. I know that He is using my time here in ways that I cannot even imagine now. And I know that, in two weeks, when I hug goodbye, say see you later, the time that I had, the conversations and the work and the memories, will be exactly what He intended for me, exactly what was His plan all along.

And with that peace, I continue to pour myself into what I do and what I love and what I teach, because there’s trust in that, and there’s also worship- which is exactly how I’m supposed to respond to all this grace.

~Natalia

The Wide World

I’m in the living room, shuffling about inside our first story fish bowl, when the movement catches my eye. It’s 10pm, dark outside, and the street below, dividing this line of red brick apartment buildings and the opposing line of vine-covered sorority houses, is deserted.

No cars roll past, despite the advantageous location of this particular street, or the way traffic parades- busy, but never crowded- up and down, east and west, all day long. No headlights, no tires rolling. But across the street, in the shadows of the buildings beyond, a lone man walks.

In the living room, I stop my cleaning, straighten my back and watch him, for a moment. He’s wearing a blue sweater, the hood bouncing behind him as he moves. His steps are fast, faster than usual walking pace, and I lean on the window sill for just a moment, until he turns suddenly, quickly, and disappears into the walkway between two of the towering stone buildings.

I remain at the window for a moment longer, after I’ve lost sight of the man across the street. I did not recognize him, but something in the pace, the direction, the blue sweater, caught my attention, and I’m not ready to return to my cleaning. Not quite yet.

My head just barely touching the cool glass, I watch the street, my eyes wandering up the dark asphalt. I take in the cars parked neatly along our side of the street, the distances between cars an indication of either poor parking abilities or an excess of space. I watch the corner of the alley for a moment, half-heartedly curious if someone else will appear on the empty street.

After a time, no one else has appeared, but I realize as I stand there with the half-clean room behind me, watching an empty street on a quiet night, that it’s not the man that held my attention, but rather his movement, his apparent preoccupation. His Saturday night rush up the street has drawn my mind, my thoughts, outside of myself. It’s a little thing, to watch a man hurry up the street, but it’s a big thing for his very existence to be a reminder of the billions of people, lives, stories, beyond my own, and the God who is sovereign over them all.

And when I pause to think about it, I realize I’ve been doing this all weekend long. Standing outside for two hours this afternoon, loosely supervising the playtime of six neighbor kids, I find my gaze wandering to the intersection just yards away. I watch the cars, the bikes, the pedestrians. And I see in every one of them- in their very existence- the vastness of the world. I wonder at their unique heartache, their fascinatingly individual life, and yet alongside the differences that separate my story from hers, his struggle from mine, I know there lie so many similarities. The human race is like that.

Maya Angelou said We’re more alike, my friends, than unalike, and I don’t know to whom she was speaking, or to what she was referring, exactly, but I will tell you now that I believe her every word. Because I may not know the thoughts behind the eyes of every heart I saw walk past our kid-filled yard this afternoon, but I know Who does. I may not empathize with, or every understand, what each heart needs, but I know He does.

And every time I tumble head over heels into the things that I think and the things that I feel and the things that worry me, I come back to all those people, and the wide world we inhabit, and the One who created it all. And in that, I find comfort, peace, and the grounding of a perspective beyond my own small world.

~Natalia

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