Documentary of a Decision

It’s Monday, February 20, 2017, Family Day Morning.  I have plans to meet a friend for brunch, but for now, I’m having my devotions and trying to ignore that sometime today, I’ll know I’m praying in my room, trying to concentrate and instead, getting this strong urge to go check my e-mail.  I push it aside.  After all, it’s only 8:30 and I told myself that I would wait until 9:00 to check.  The urge does not give up, and I do.  I pull out my laptop, log in to my e-mail, and there it is.

I grab a drink in the bathroom, look at my grinning self in the mirror, and shamelessly jump up and down.  I go upstairs and catch my dad on his way off to do some work.  I tell him the news.  Next, I show it to my mom.  They are smiling, resigned, and joyful for me.  But I’m getting ahead of myself.

In theory, this piece was going to come at the end of February, but I knew it would take a lot to write, and I had report cards to do.  Also, I got the impression that in many people’s minds, this decision made logical sense as the next step in my life.  They didn’t seem to realize that this was not my first choice and not an easy decision at all.

When playing hockey, you work hard to get the puck away from your opponent.  Successful, you look around quickly to assess where your team mates are and what the most advantageous play would be to make.  Often, you don’t make the best one.  People cheering you on in the bleachers see it all.  They see you, the puck and the placement of the players.  They may yell at you, trying to tell you what to do, but it’s lost in the din of everything else.  In the end, the choice is still yours from your limited view.

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Dedication:

This piece is for:

  1. Jasmine, the friend who was disappointed not to read about this last time on my blog. I had the chance to share with her in person what this decision took, but we both know that there is still more to be said in the silent language of carefully written word.
  2. I write it too, for myself.  I know that at points of the journey, I’ll lose heart and wonder why I’m here.  Then, I can look back and know that God led and is still leading as I seek His Heart.  This will be my Bethel.
  3. Last, I dedicate it to you, my reader, who may be facing a big decision.  Perhaps, you are young and not sure which direction you’ll take.  Perhaps, you are older and the winds of change whistle in your ears.

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When you grow up, what do you want to be?  It’s the classic question of adults thinking that they are finding a clever inroad into a child’s mind.  Maybe the child will say a fireman, nurse, or a teacher for the blind in China (like I said in grade three).  What do I, what do you want to be when we grow up?  We want to be loved for exactly everything that we are, despite everything that we are not.

As a child, I played pioneer, mom, and singer—but never teacher.

As a young teenager, I dreamed of being a famous Christian author or singer or maybe, a mother who fostered on the side and always had a houseful of happy children—but never a teacher.

Why then, did I do my high school science fair project on the effects of environment on education?  Why did I choose to research elementary education for a project in Careers?

Because somewhere along the line, I realized that motherhood might not come when I want it and besides in this day, women “need” a career.  When we filled out those forms in Careers saying our strengths and weaknesses, motherhood and missionary never made the list of career options.  But “teacher” was one, my abilities all pointed to it.

Aside: writers and musicians often get their honour posthumously.

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In my grade four year, a talented young man came to teach at our school.  We knew him as Mr. Glick.  Because of the music theory my aunt has taught me in piano, I didn’t learn much that year.

The next year, Mr. Glick tried some radical experiments—composition with a grade five and six class, for one.  I wonder if his classes today get this opportunity to make presentations out of random noises like skipping ropes ticking and desks crashing.

He taught us to find the strong syllable in poetry and put it on the downbeat in songs.  I enjoyed it immensely.

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It’s inspiring really, to be cleaning out smelling chicken pens by hand, holding a pitchfork, pushing a heavy wheel barrow, oppressed by sticky heat and crawling maggots, and hearing a new song in your heart. “Eagles wings, bear me high” would be joined by “Heard it on the news again the other day, Another baby died in the most awful way” and “A servant heart bleeds for those who hurt,” among others.

I would take these lyrics inside, write them down, and when no one was around to be bothered, put chords to them that I might play them again.  It was a secret that would take time before even my mother knew.

But in those days when “The doctor’s news was not what we wanted” and my little sister was diagnosed with cancer, I would sing the song and cry with my mom.

Aside: My little sister is in remission.  Praise the Lord!

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Inside, God was doing His own speaking.  I’d struggled socially as a child, maybe still do.  As one friend put it, “Sometimes I didn’t like you. And [my brother] thought you were a priss who acted older than you were.”  I was shy, and I thought deeper than many my age.

I tried to fit in, but inside I couldn’t like the music, movies, rebellion etc. that most teenagers do.  For a season, I felt friendless.  In crying out to God, three things I heard.

“Life’s not about you.”

“Feed my lambs.”  (At the time, I thought He was talking about a struggling friend, but that door closed.  Catching on to the humour of heaven here?)

“You must seek to understand, when you are misunderstood.”

Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace!

Where there is hatred…let me sow love.

Where there is injury…pardon.

Where there is doubt…faith.

Where there is despair…hope.

Where there is darkness…light.

Where there is sadness…joy.

O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek

To be consoled…as to console,

To be understood…as to understand,

To be loved…as to love.

For,

It is in giving…that we receive,

It is in pardoning…that we are pardoned,

It is in dying…that we are born to eternal life.

-St. Francis of Assisi

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Those teen years were shaky years, when what I was becoming inside, I could not express on the outside.  I wanted to be unselfish and confident in whom I was.  I wanted to be a Christian and be accepted by the cool crowd.  I wanted to fit in my with my church youth group culture, where many of my friends ultimate dream was to get married and with my school friend’s who talked about all they would be, with marriage as I side note sometime a long time away.

My Christian friends—who wanted to go on missions but ignored those around them in their own peer groups who were different from them—confused me.  Somehow, I knew though, that my judging of the cool people and loving of the not cool people wasn’t any better.  I wrote a lot in those days.  I wrote to somehow turn the negative things I was feeling—the loneliness, confusion and hurt—into a message of hope.  Our only Hope was The Person I found.

I sought the Lord, and afterward I knew
He moved my soul to seek Him, seeking me.
It was not I that found, O Savior true;
No, I was found of thee.—
poet unknown

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It is afternoon.  I am at the daycare where the children are just waking from their naps.  Their cheeks are flushed, and they still look a little dazed.  Summer breezes come through the windows.  One of the older ones wants to play a new game.  As I get it set up and tell her how to play, my boss’s mother walks past the table.  A vivacious, wise grandma with beautiful white hair, she comments, “That’s the teacher in you, Yolanda.”

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At the end of my first semester in grade twelve, I attended Bible school and came home convinced that God wanted me involved directly in Kingdom work.  Foreign missions here I come.  Those doors never opened.  The words of my teacher that I quoted in the yearbook seem almost prophetic.  “All of us are called to be missionaries.  The difference is where you’re sent.” “Just be willing to be flexible in the hands of the Spirit.”—Craig Steiner

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In grade twelve, for a credit, a friend and I made a yearbook for our CASE (Community Assisted Secondary Education) program.  Both people who love words, the pictures were interspersed with journaling, poetry and lots of quotes.  Here are a few:

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Like any classic high school yearbook, ours had a “most likely to” for each grade.IMG_20170314_092240912.jpg

How’s that for a random prediction?

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daisy

These are the words that I took with me into my first year of teaching.  As I have written in previous blogs, I was “greener in ivy” and was doing something that I had only heard about, but had never seen done before—teaching three grades—in a community of people I had never heard about before the opportunity came to teach there.

They are also the words that carried me as I joined the team that helped start a new church school the following year.  We were a young staff and faced many decisions.   What curriculum?  What traditions?  What do you want to be the culture of our school?  And what to do when you were expecting thirty students and end up with eighty?

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In the summer of 2014, I attend Faith Builders in Guys Mills, PA for a week of workshops on education.  Sitting across from a friend of mine in the old gym, I hear all about this music theory course that was complex.  The final project is writing a hymn.  She leaves, and I am left alone at the end of a long table. Before I rise, I look up and just know.  I will be coming back here for longer next time.

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And I do come back.  After an exhausting year of trying to catch up a student who came half-way through the year, I am more than ready to sit in a classroom and be taught.  I spend the month of July studying methods of helping students with learning disabilities and of course that music course my friend introduced me too.

I learned a lot that summer.  I learned a lot about myself.   I learned that I allowed my insecurities to keep me from investing my talents and sharing them with people who needed them.  I learned that my perfectionism kept me from trying when it looked like I would fail.

That music theory course was HARD!  I still remember my teacher gently chuckling a week in that now that we are through the review, we can move along.  Inwardly, I panicked.  “Review, sir?  Most of this was not review.”  My classmates posed a hurdle in themselves.  It was me, a male teacher, and two males with natural “ears” for music.  I do not have a natural “ear,” and I find girls a whole lot easier to get to know then guys!

I left my comfort zone somewhere on the opposite side of the border.

The last week I am there, I am sitting on a grassy hill, over-looking a soccer game and discussing the Faith Builders Teachers Apprenticeship Program.   I have a lot of questions. I know that this will be good for me as a teacher, if I am supposed to teach long-term, but what about my other interests and abilities: singing, music composition, motherhood, writing, and missions to name a few?  I am told that more than one girl has done TAP, gotten married after teaching a year or two, but has found her time at Faith Builders helpful to her as a mother.  I am told that I can take things like voice lessons on the side.  Any time spent studying the Bible is an investment should I ever go into missions.

Really, most of my fears are unfounded.  I am afraid of missing out on what God has for me.  What about foreign missions?

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I teach another school year, nineteen students of very varying abilities.  Some are bored out of their minds. Some are failing.  Some have an attention span of about three minutes.  I am so glad for what I studied about learning disabilities.

I write a few hymns and feel like they are actually decent quality compared to what I wrote in high school.

I receive the go-ahead from God to look into a missions trip for the summer.  (Cambodia, if you follow my blog)

I return from the other side of the world with the conviction that this will be my last year of teaching, for now.  Where to next?  I am not sure.  I am a ship, anchored in the middle of the ocean with only water and open horizon on every side.

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It’s time to do another week of teacher’s training at Faith Builders.  A week of interacting with other teachers to inspire me for my next year of teaching is what I am here for.  I walk in the door, and the secretary asks me, “Why aren’t you coming for TAP this year?”

I give her my reasons, paying off my car for one.

A friend from the previous summer is standing there.  She gives me a hug and asks, “Why aren’t you coming for TAP?  I  thought you were interested.”

I choose the workshops that I want to do that week.  As I am leaving,  I hear a voice behind me.  “Miss Lichty, I missed your application.  I was almost certain we had you convinced to do TAP.”

Ok, God.  Message received.

I apply just as the new school year is beginning.

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December 16, 2016 days before my Christmas program with my choir of blue-robed angels, I am drying dishes when I see the envelope on the counter, the stamp and the logo.  I slip it into a bag with my school books.  Like a duck paddling furiously my heart pounds, but I keep my face as stoic as I can.  When I am alone, I quickly open it.  I am accepted into the Faith Builders Teachers Apprenticeship Program.  I show it to my mom.  The next hurdle is funding.  If that does not come through, I’ll take that as a “no.”

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My board asks me to teach another year.  They are already aware of my interest in Faith Builders, and I tell them that if I receive the scholarship, I will go.  Until I know, I am not sure of my answer.  I give my classroom helper a heads up, because she is a likely replacement for me.

In the days to come, my mom hints that I should quit at Arthur.  I’ve been letting go already in my heart.  Could I really teach another year?  I tell her I have time.  The board doesn’t need to know quite yet.  Why risk anything too radical?

Bawk, bawk, bawk, bawk, buh-gawk.  I was making excuses, playing it safe to cover my fear.  Call me a chicken.IMG_20170308_210811479«»

It’s Saturday afternoon, the weekend before that fateful board meeting when the board announces who will be staying another year.   At this point, most of my co-teachers are in the dark.  They have no clue that I might be quitting.  My chairman tells me that they can simply say that I am undecided.  They can wait for my answer until I am ready.

A couple girl friends were over for the night, but now, they have gone home.  I am sitting at the kitchen table doing some school work, while my little brother plays with Legos.  I hear him whisper and look up to see him singing silently. It’s a song on the new cd he got for Christmas.

The Father has a plan,

Though it’s hard to see it now,

You feel you’re walking all alone,

But He is there, no doubt.

When the storm around you rages,

And you’re tossed to and fro,

In the midst of life’s decisions,

Not sure which way to go.

-Stand still and let God move,

Standing still is hard to do,

When you feel you have reached the end,

He’ll make a way for you,

Stand still and let God move.

“Why don’t you sing out loud?” I ask him.

“Mom’s resting and she told me to so she can sleep.”

“O-kay,” I reply.  It’s the song I’ve been singing.  I even taught it to my school at our previous school choir

The answer will come, but only in His time. 

Stand still and let God move.

The Isaacs

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Hours later, Mom tells me again.  “I really think you’re supposed to take a leap of faith.”

Playing it safe makes sense.  Taking the leap does too.  I ask God to direct me and show me if I am supposed to be giving a straight “No” Monday night.

Sunday morning, our song leader leads the hymn “I Would Be True.”  (H. A. Walter, J. Y. Peek) The first stanza ends with the words “I would be brave, for there is much to dare, I would be brave for there is much to dare.”

That afternoon, I am reading Susie Larson’s Your Sacred Yes, a book I have been nibbling on for over a year.  In chapter 9 entitled, “When God Redirects,” she writes, “A doctor friend of mine once said, ‘Just because God directs you to go to nursing school doesn’t mean he intends for you to become a nurse.’ ….It’s far too easy to presume upon God and go on autopilot when it comes to our commitments….Far too often we continue to say yes long after God’s grace for the task has lifted….Do you feel the winds of change starting to blow? If you sense the Lord urging you to move… you’d best be on your way.”

What was my answer to the board?  I scribbled down two lines and showed them to the co-teacher beside me.  “Sometimes faith is a steady faithfulness right where you are.  Sometimes it’s leaps into darkness.”

Not only did it seem clear that God wanted me to quit, but I also realized that He might have led me to apply for Faith Builders, not because I was to go, but because I was to be ready for what He had next.  Would it be Faith Builders, teaching in Grenada, moving to Toronto to help an inner city mission, moving to Cambodia to join in the ministry I’d visited in the summer, or working in a local deli?  Suddenly, I saw open horizons before me. open-hand

I was excited, but this season of life felt foreign, when faith and trust replaced hope.

February 9, 2017 “Let me ne’er forget this season….The joy of trust, the strain of faith, leaving my heart too full for anything but silence….I taste sweet joy and salty, longing sorrow.  Bittersweet? No, sweet and salty.”

February 18, 2017 “God, am I supposed to hope? Do I wait with no desire but Your Will?  Am I not hoping, because I’m trusting Your plan?  Am I not daring to hope, because I fear the pain of having hopes dashed again?”

So, back to my introduction.  I expect that now you know what I found out when I opened my e-mail that Family Day.  God provided for the place He was calling in the form of a scholarship for the Teachers Apprenticeship program.  There will always be part of me that is a little disappointed that the call wasn’t to foreign missions or motherhood, at least for now.  But I’m choosing to embrace where He has called.

Afterword:

I’m sitting on a red subway seat, surrounded by people of many nationalities, listening to a friend share about her time in Asia.  She describes some of the sights and sounds.  Then she exclaims, “Sometimes I get so frustrated that no one will ever fully understand my experiences.  People listen, but they can’t know, because they’ve never been there.”

I understood.  Like her, I am telling you my experience, but I don’t expect any of you to completely understand.  That’s got to be okay.

Most likely you too, have experiences that I can not relate with, but if you want to share your journey of faith, I’d be willing to “listen” in the comments below.  It’s not about the road it’s about the Guide.  He is ever faithful and worthy of trust

 

 

 

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4 thoughts on “Documentary of a Decision

  1. Yolanda, reading this felt in so many ways like reading my own journal of a year and a half ago. I understand so much of that struggle and surrender when navigating uncharted waters. When you wonder exactly what God is trying to tell you or whether His will is a specific “go here and do this” or a more general “bless those around you by showing my love”. I am so happy for you as you follow His leading and take one step after another down the road of your future surrendered to Him. Blessings and life change await!!!!

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  2. Oh, Yolanda. This is such a beautiful documentary of your decision and an encouragement to be willing to follow God. I admire your courage. I admire your desire to be led by God. I wish you many beautiful teaching AND learning moments in the coming year. (And the rest of your life, too, of course!) You are an adventurous soul. Thank you for sharing your heart through this post.

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