"The best thing one can do when it's raining is to let it rain."

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Airplanes and Charity

12:46 was the time that my flight was supposed to get in. It was going to work perfectly.  I would get in at 12:46, I didn’t have to wait for a bag or anything, so I could just go right outside to find my lovely friend who was waiting to pick me up. We would take our quick twenty-minute ride to the Salt Lake temple and I would be super on-time, early even, to the beautiful temple sealing that was to take place at 1:40. That was the plan. I knew it was a little risky, but most flights usually arrive early and I figured with a little faith, all would work out.

I had been praying for weeks that everything would work out with my flights so that I would make it to the temple on time. Cue the “get me to the church on time” music (points if you can name that musical!). 

Initially, when the flight from Phoenix was a little late in leaving, I didn’t think too much about it. Even when they announced that there were some mechanical problems, I wasn’t stressed about it. I had confidence that the Lord wouldn’t let me miss the wedding. It would be just fine.
But, as we waited for parts and as it kept taking more and more time, I started to feel very anxious. Our departure just kept getting pushed back and back. We took off an hour later than we were supposed to and so if we arrived an hour later than planned, I was going to miss the wedding. I’m not great at math, but I had figured out that 12:46 + 1 hour= 1:46. And 1:46> 1:40. I don’t know how to express that last part mathematically, but hopefully that gets the idea across!

As I sat there fretting and worrying, the lady next to me asked me something and I think I told her I was anxious about making it to the wedding and she responded with, “Yeah, looks like you probably won’t make that.” Thank you random stranger lady for your kind and comforting words. And thank you for teaching me to ALWAYS lie to strangers on a plane when it comes to them making the wedding that was the sole purpose of their trip.

With her words ringing in my ears and the time slowly ticking closer to 1:40, I will admit that I started to feel a little hurt. I had been praying for this and asking for this to work out since I purchased the ticket. How could this have happened? Of all the flights I have been on recently, there haven’t been any problems. Why would this happen?!
Then it just kept taking forever and forever. We didn’t land until 1:30 and at this point I was distraught. I think I was on my feet before the plane even fully landed. The nearest flight attendant seemed to be so shocked by my behaviors that she didn’t even react as I was on my feet, getting out my bag from the overhead compartment before they had even given us permission to undo our seatbelts.

I very ungracefully and ungraciously shoved my way to the front, muttering “Wedding! Late!” as I shoved past people. (*I like to think that I am a fairly well-mannered individual, but I was legitimately shoving past people towards the front of the plane. Even I was shocked at my own behavior.)  I was the first person to reach the door and it wasn’t even open yet, but the second it was, you best believe that I sprinted through the airport, church clothes and all, arms pumping, all the way to the waiting car. People were like diving out of my way and I was shouting, “Trust me, I’m a limo driver!” as I ran past. Not really, but maybe some of you got the reference.

I had discovered that they were running a little late with the wedding, so there was a chance I would still make it. My dear friend drove safely and swiftly to the temple and dropped me off at the curb. I did my best Jennifer Garner as Sydney Bristow impression as I ran in my heels to the temple door. Then I let my fast-walking skills kick- in through the temple halls. I tried to keep my patience with the ancient temple worker who was having a hard time hearing my question as to where sealing room 13 was… (Are you two still living? Just kidding! I’ll probably get struck down for that one…). I fast walked to the room and the temple workers outside were unsure as to whether it had started, so one of them peeked in…

And miracle of MIRACLES! I wasn’t there until like 1:50-something, but they still hadn’t started! They let me in and within a minute or two of being there, the advice-giving time ended and the ordinance started. I made it just in time.

I discovered later that the mother of the groom had forgotten her temple recommend and that was why the ceremony was late in getting started.

Though I was super pumped up about being on-time to the wedding, it also made me feel a little guilty. Because the first moment that it seemed like I was going to miss it, when the plane problems were not being resolved, I doubted in Heavenly Father. In my head it was kind of like this, “Man. I’ve been looking forward to this for weeks and I’ve been praying for it. How could it not work out?! Why would Heavenly Father let this happen? He knew how much this meant to me. How could our plane be late?!” I let myself lose that trust in Him and His wisdom. 

In my mind, it was like I had this plan for how things should happen. The plane would leave on time, the connecting flight would be just fine, traffic would all be swell, etc. And when my plan wasn’t happening, I immediately doubted. I was walking on the water and then I wasn’t anymore. 

But Heavenly Father’s plan was maybe something like this: first plane will be fine, second plane needs to be fixed so they all don't crash and die, Daniel's mom will forget her recommend, Tara will run through the airport and she is slow at running in heels, so the sealer's advice will go a little on the long-side before the actual ceremony begins. 

Okay, so, maybe it isn't exactly like that. I don't actually know what "the plan" was and I will probably never really know. And I bet throughout my life, I will probably rarely know the actual plan. But, whatever the plan was, Heavenly Father got me to the temple in time for the wedding. 

This moment with the planes and the recommend and the Lord’s plan not being my plan all felt like this microcosmic parallel to my life and I realized that in a lot of ways, I haven’t been putting my trust in Heavenly Father like I want to. It’s like that difference between “believing in Christ” and “believing Christ.”

Over the past year, I have felt like I had all these different plans for my life. In my mind it was like, “Oh, this thing is happening to me, so I think I’m going to do this.” And then that didn’t work out, so I was like, “Okay, so I’ll try this next thing” and then it was like, “You really want this, but that isn’t what you are going to do.” Then it was like, “Go to Boston and do Teach for America,” and I was like, “Okay.” And then I started teaching and there was no way that I ever could have been prepared for the situation I found myself in. I hate saying that things are hard, but it was hard. 

And in that moment, once again, I felt a little hurt. Like, “Heavenly Father, I have tried so hard to do what was right and I’ve tried to listen to the spirit and be obedient, but why is this my responsibility? Why is this what I have to do? Why did it have to be so hard?” I had my plans and views of my life and how it should be and my trust in the Lord and His ways was tested a little bit. 

Somewhere deep within me, I hoped that it would get better, and I knew that Heavenly Father had a plan in all of this, but it felt like it was going to be two years of hard. With my limited view, I couldn’t possibly imagine how it would ever not be terrible. I couldn’t picture enjoying work at all.
But, luckily, the Lord kept working with me. I felt His love and support and also His patience. I felt like in a lot of ways I knew He expected me to keep progressing and growing, and I received direction as to certain areas I needed to work on, but I felt very reassured that He still loved me even though I felt like this broken person. I was not at my best and I knew that, but I also felt like I couldn't give more. I couldn't be more. I was doing my best in that particular situation and it wasn't much, but it was my best. 

In 2nd Peter (along with other places in the scriptures) there is this chain of characteristics and they all build on each other, and the chain starts with faith. All the other characteristics build on that foundation of faith, through diligence. I feel like for a while there, I was giving like the bare minimum of faith and obedience. All I could give was my obedience and nothing more. Everything else was too much. Or at least at first. But the Lord stayed with me and supported me and helped me start working my way past just mere obedience, just faith, towards the other attributes.

The little attribute chain ends with charity, “which is the greatest of all, for all things must fail—but charity… endureth forever…” And I definitely had a long ways to go to build my charity in this particular situation in my life. I feel like loving people has never been a hard thing for me, but with my students this year… they tested me on my capacity to love. They still are, actually. But I feel like I'm at least getting closer to "brotherly kindness" on the scale, if not quite charity... 

It was funny to me, because in church one Sunday, this guy mentioned in his talk about how we will pray for certain attributes or whatever and the Lord will find ways to answer that prayer. Now, I know we have all heard joking about things like that, like, “Oh, I prayed for patience and then this situation happened and the Lord answered my prayer, just not in the way I expected.” So, while I have heard that idea before, when he spoke, I couldn’t help but remember the prayers of my younger self.

When I was a little girl, like elementary school status, I remember that I prayed for charity every day. I had read in The Book of Mormon about how we should pray for that, so I did.  I don’t think I quite understood how that whole thing worked. I think I was waiting to wake up one day and be like, “Dang! I’m charitable! Look at all the charity I have! I love everyone! And not just in a loving way, but in the purest, most Christ-like way ever.” I think it is the same way that you sometimes think that your sixteenth birthday will help you get out of your awkward stage.” Like, “Oh, I’m sixteen now, so I’m not awkward anymore and I woke up acne free and beautiful.” Just me? Oh, okay. Maybe I am the only one who thought that would happen for my sixteenth birthday…

But I’m sure other people realized a lot sooner than I did that praying for charity wasn’t going to suddenly make me this charity-machine. Just as my awkward didn't vanish at sixteen years. 

Sometimes I blame my younger self for my current situation, because Heavenly Father has definitely given me an opportunity now to develop my charity. All those years of charity-asking-prayers have been answered! Yay….

But anyway… the point is, I am a slow learner. And no matter how many times Heavenly Father reminds me that He is very good at what He does, you know, “bringing to pass the immortality and eternal life of man,” and making sure we are in the right place at the right time, I forget sometimes. 

My Plan A that involves on-time planes and no traffic etc, is not always the Lord’s Plan A. But his Plan A is the best. Sometimes when I recognize that I have forgotten to trust in Him and sometimes when I don’t “handle” situations with as much faith and whatever as I would maybe like… I feel a little disappointed in myself. And it makes me want to do a little better the next time. Luckily, though, the Lord stays with me and I think He might be a little sad that I don’t trust Him fully at times, but I also think He is very forgiving and patient with that too. And you know what, those 2nd Peter attributes can be developed with diligence. Diligence always wins the prize. I'm not trying to lose this match! 

Friday, July 17, 2015

Icebreakers and Plantations

One button. Just one little button. You wouldn’t think it would be that hard to press just one, seemingly inconsequential button. “I Decline Offer.” They aren’t messing around with that button. It is simple, straightforward. But so hard to press. I think I have probably stared at that button for over an hour now. Not one hour straight, mind you, but a few minutes here and a few minutes there. It feels like some weird torture method, but it isn’t supposed to be like that—I just kept telling myself that I would just go on and press the button. It was going to be really easy. It was one of the last things I had to do before I left. But I still can’t do it. I buy stuff on Amazon all the time with one-click. But this one-click seems to be too much for me.

You would think that the fact that I am sitting in a dorm room in Massachusetts, tired from a long day of Teach for America stuff would make the button-clicking easier. It’s not like I am going to change my mind. In some ways, I feel like I couldn’t change my mind even if I wanted to. And I don’t want to, because I know I’m doing what is right.

Yet, officially declining the offer from Cambridge is harder than I thought it would be. I sincerely thought the hard part was over with that particular chapter, but apparently I thought wrong.
By the “hard part,” I mean the time when I actually had to make the choice. And I’m sure some of you are thinking that I probably should have just declined right when I decided. Truly, there probably would have been some wisdom in that. But you try telling Cambridge that you won’t be joining them after they send you an invitation to attend a “Week in Wonderland” where they will explore the works of Lewis Carroll! The owl-delivered letter was like, “We hope to see you in Wonderland, but if you cannot attend, we shall see you in the classroom the week after” or something like that. Oh, didn’t I mention that they send all correspondence via owl post? Okay, not really. But it basically feels that way. There was just something in me that couldn’t write the words, “Ope, sorry, I’m not coming to Wonderland. Don’t bother saving me any tea or crumpets.” I probably should have just operated by the band-aid method on this one—you know, rip it quick. But, unfortunately, I didn’t do that. And I don’t really know why.

At one point, I had even planned this super dramatic, over-the-top, perfectly melancholy moment to do it… I decided that once I was at the airport, waiting for my flight, I would pull out my computer and hit the button. It would be this bittersweet, super poetic, crying in the airport, climactic moment. And I would finally be able to hit the “I decline offer” button. Even then I couldn’t do it though. I will admit, however, to crying on the plane. I blame the lady at the baggage check who asked, “Is Boston your final destination?” Nothing like a perfectly normal, routine question to slap you in the face and remind you that you have no idea what you are getting yourself into… I managed to hold the tears back until I was actually on the plane, but I think the guy sitting next to me was slightly alarmed. Or completely oblivious. One or the other. I like to think that I cried delicately, but sometimes you have to sniffle a little bit…

But anyway. Still couldn’t bring myself to hit the button. The days kept passing, and still the button remained untouched. I got a few emails from Cambridge people and as I told them that I wouldn’t be coming, they all kept urging me to press the button.

And life moved on. We had our crazy TFA schedule to keep me busy and distracted—but not distracted enough to just give it up and decline. Also, for those of you who might not know much about TFA, the summer training that I am doing is referred to as “institute,” or “boot camp” and it’s basically like the MTC on steroids. For reals.

Then I found myself in a session on teaching English to English language learners and we were doing the typical first week icebreaker. Now, I don’t know if this just makes me a terrible person, but typically, I hate icebreakers. I get the purpose and point and all that, but if you ask me my favorite color, I will always answer that it is “black the color of my heart.” And let’s just say that the responses to certain icebreaker questions have way more “snark potential.”

By the by, I don’t actually know my favorite color, because I have answered “black” for so long and have never actually bothered to think about the real answer to that question. Maybe that is partly why I hate icebreakers. I can live my life not knowing what my favorite color is, so why should that be something that I share with you about myself? What does that actually tell you about me? Nothing. As most icebreaker questions are apt to do…

Anyway. Sitting in session, doing icebreaker activity. But something weird happened. This icebreaker made me actually start to think a little bit… We were all supposed to think about our names and give a little explanation as to where it came from and what it means to us etc.
And so I started thinking about my name. Tara. “What’s in a name?” Hmmm…

I feel like all little girls at some point in their childhood wish that they had a different name. Or maybe that was just me. But I kind of doubt it. Had I been given the opportunity of changing my name at that stage of my life, I should now be addressed as “Emily,” or “Samantha,” or some similar name. Instead, I have an American girl doll and a one-armed teddy bear that have had those names bestowed upon them, respectively.

I didn’t necessarily dislike my name, per se, but it just didn’t seem that great to me. As occasionally happens with names, especially when you have a name that isn’t super popular or familial in nature, you get asked where it came from. Obviously my name isn’t that unusual, but I also have not met too many of my people running around, and I do occasionally get asked that question. As a response to that, I share that it’s inspired by Gone With the Wind and then I throw in the additional tidbit that my older sister, Jordan, was named after Jordan Baker in The Great Gatsby. Now, I don’t think my parents had hopes that she would become like Jordan Baker, rather, they liked the name, just as with my name. The provided information is pondered upon for a moment and then I’ll get comments like, “I thought her name was Scarlett?” or “I don’t remember who that is…” That is when I get to chime in with, “Oh, Tara is the name of the plantation.” Nothing like being named after a plantation. (Disclaimer: my parents might actually have a different reason for the name, but since it is the name bequeathed to me, I have taken artistic license to share the story as I choose.)

So, I know Gone With the Wind is usually thought of as a classic, but let’s be real—Scarlett is kind of awful. After my first few encounters with the story, I just really did not like her at all, even down to the “fiddle dee dee!” There was nothing redeeming about her. At least until I watched it again in high school. I think I was a sophomore and I don’t know which events in my life contributed to my different attitude/opinions about Scarlett, but as I watched the movie again, I still didn’t necessarily like her, but I had this growing respect for her.

I mean, I’m sorry, but have you ever seen anything quite as powerful as Scarlett picking herself up from the ground, dirt smeared on her face, hair a disheveled mess—the once-perfectly-coiffed and dressed belle-of-the-ball declaring, “As God as my witness, as God as my witness they’re not going to lick me. I’m going to live through this and when it’s all over, I’ll never be hungry again. No, nor any of my folk. If I have to lie, steal, cheat, or kill. As God as my witness, I’ll never be hungry again.” And then you basically see her doing all those terrible things to fulfill that promise. But wow. Talk about determination. Gotta respect the woman for that.

Anyway, as I kept revisiting this story, the ending was (and is) always so interesting to me. And insightful. After all the hardships and trouble, Scarlett is determined to win Rhett back (but frankly, my dears, he doesn’t give a darn and that might be hard for her to do!) after he leaves. Scarlett is crying on the stairs and you start hearing these echoes of the past…          


There are just so many great things in there. But the one that has been at the forefront of my mind the past few weeks was this line: "Tara! Home. I'll go home, and I'll think of some way to get him back! After all, tomorrow is another day!" 

For Scarlett, her land, Tara, was this refuge and a source of strength. It was the thing that she loved most in the world and it was the solution to all her problems. The place that would make everything right. It was home--a safe place. 

In a lot of ways, Scarlett making that statement made me think a lot about a song from the broadway Beauty and the Beast. After Belle volunteers to take her father's place, she is led to her room and she sings this song... 

I feel like watching the scene is more impactful, but there are some truly terrible versions of that song online. So I went with a vocal version that I can live with. If you so desire, peruse at your leisure, but I warned you. I love this song and the reminder that, "Home should be where the heart is..." I also love the line where it says, "What I'd give to return to the life that I knew lately, but I know that I can't solve my problems going back." True dat. TFA people are super into snapping when they agree with comments. I refuse to snap, but if I were the snapping type, I would have snapped, cuz true dat.

With Scarlett O'Hara and scenes from Beauty and the Beast plaguing my mind, I probably (probably... haha! Who am I kidding?!) started overthinking things and I probably went way too far and things started getting really meta, because home for Scarlett was Tara, but does that mean that home for me was my name? Or what the name represents? The signifier? Or the signfied?! What is the significance of this for personal identity and identity development? Does that mean that if I am me anywhere, I am always at home? Does that mean that in each new place, I need to find the new me for that particular place? What does it mean?! I didn't draw any strong conclusions and the icebreaker activity ended and I was left with all these undeveloped thoughts. Cool. Another reason to not like icebreakers.

These thoughts, however, had to take a back seat as I was juggling all the TFA stuff. I couldn't press the button, I didn't know what my name meant, I didn't know where home was. I didn't really have any bosom friends yet. Things were looking super good. One might even say great...

And then I went to church. There was nothing all that remarkable about it, or rather, nothing out of the ordinary. It was a fairly typical church experience. But people were nice. And people went out of their way to say hi. They offered help and assistance and kindness. One might even say, "a cup was shared...." I might get struck down for that reference, but if you got it, you might too! (see this clip for more info on that... https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qDPi4buduY0).

I felt at home and I felt the peace that is a manifestation of God's love. Actually, I felt at home because I felt God's love. It wasn't in a big way. It wasn't anything overwhelming or earth-shattering. It was a gentle reminder of who I was. Who I am. A child of God, our loving Heavenly Father.

It was a reminder that I had done the right thing and He would take care of me, that He knows what is best for me. I think a lot of times when we are asked to do things that we don't really understand, understanding comes along the way. It's like this awesome treasure hunt, where you find the clues and the little hints. And one day we will find the "x" that marks the spot.

I'm still trying to figure out my new life here and figure out what I'm supposed to do, but I have learned that the idea of "being home" is just remembering who you are as a child of God. Our strength comes from recognizing that identity. Scarlett got her strength from Tara, from her land, and I will get my strength from not just my name, but remembering who I really am. As Wordsworth wrote, "Whither is fled the visionary gleam? Where is it now, the glory and the dream? Our birth is but a sleeping and a forgetting: The soul that rises with us, our life's Star, Hath had elsewhere its setting, And cometh from afar: Not in entire forgetfulness, And not in utter nakedness, But trailing clouds of glory do we come From God, who is our home."

After I got home from church, I pushed the button. And, you know, things might sometimes not be looking great, and sometimes you have to merge from the 3 to the 495 and you just don't understand how the numbers work. I mean, 3 to 495?! One time I saw an exit that was 32-31AB. I'm not even going to attempt on that one. But I digress... Sometimes your phone dies when you are driving from New Hampshire to Wellesley and you have to stop at random gas stations to get step-by-step directions. And sometimes you are teaching summer school in a new place and you only have like five students. Some days only two of those students show up... but then you go kayaking on the Charles River and watch beautiful fireworks with great company. Or sometimes you laugh on a school bus at the end of a long, non-air conditioned day of teaching and classes with your fellow teachers while questioning the bus driver's choice of music--which in this case is country. Sometimes you meet up with your newly returned missionary brother at the JFK airport. And sometimes you push a button and start to move on.

Sometimes things don't work out so nicely, sometimes they do.

But it doesn't matter. It will all be okay and we can worry about the bad stuff tomorrow--"after all, tomorrow is another day."

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Floating Lanterns and New Dreams

I have had a really hard time writing this blog. I have been trying for days and days to make it right and to get down what I have been thinking and feeling, because let me tell you, I have never quite experienced a situation quite like this.
But anyway…
To start, I’m going to tell you a story about my brother John. A few years ago, he was trying to decide which university to attend. Forgive me a moment for being one of those people, but I’m going to be a proud older sister for a moment. My brothers are all awesome, and they not only rock it on the tennis court, but they are also super smart and really hard workers when it comes to school. So John had the tennis skills and the academics going for him—enough to be recruited by a bunch of top schools. We’re talking Harvard, Princeton, Columbia, Notre Dame—and a bunch of other super legit schools.

Johnny boy went on all these recruiting trips and each time he went, he would get super pumped about the schools and he would decide, “This is the school for me.” And he would make the choice and plan on going to that school. But then he would just feel awful about it. He went through that process quite a few times. He was going to Harvard. He had decided. But then he felt awful. And this just kept happening. Finally, after all these different schools and decisions, he was finally like, “Fine. I’m going to BYU.” And that was the first time that he felt at peace and good about a decision. When people ask him why he chose BYU, he always just says, “Because Jesus told me to.”

You can’t argue with that. Leave it to Johnny Boy to just say things like they are. Jesus told him to, so he was doing it. And he never looked back. I was on my mission as all of this was happening, and I don’t think I ever asked how he felt about saying no to all those awesome schools that he dreamed about for so long. But this story will come into play a little later…

Now, as some of you may know… I’ve been trying to decide whether to go to Cambridge, Boston University/Teach for America, or stay here. 

I just can’t even tell you how many pro/con lists I have done. How many times I have tried to “picture” and “imagine” my future with the different paths. How many talks I have read about decisions, priorities, education etc etc. How many people I have counseled with and sought advice from. How many scholarships and applications I have filled out to make things work for all of the options. How many times I have tried to make a decision, but just kept putting it off…

Well, last week I finally reached a point where I couldn’t put it off anymore. This is not an exaggeration at all when I say that literally with all of my options I was given the deadline of “by the end of the week” pretty much. If it hadn’t been so stressful, it would have been pretty dang hilarious that I was forced into decision-making mode for all three options.

Now, this is where it gets a little confusing sometimes because you always hear that after you graduate from high school you enter like this “decade of decision” era. So you know that you are going to have to make tons of decisions, but I feel like there is this expectation that the decision-making gets easier. And you have people telling you things like “You’ll make the right choice” and “Heavenly Father won’t let you make the wrong choice” and “those all sound like pretty good options.” I’m not saying I don’t appreciate comments like that and I’m not saying they aren’t true. But sometimes when you are in the midst of decision-making you just hear President Monson’s words ringing in your ears that “Decisions determine destiny” and you just hope that you are doing your part to figure out what the right decision is. Sometimes you have been weighing options so long that you just get confused and start to question why you wanted to do ANY of these things in the first place.

Then you have like this little mini-crisis and start questioning your life up to this point (Kind of kidding, but kind of not!) and you start wondering what you are doing with your life… And sometimes you cry in your car. And if truth be told, you cry in your parent’s car as well. But we will get to that. Don’t even worry.

As you might have guessed, this blog is sort of my “declaration” of my decision. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not presumptuous enough to suppose that too many of you actually care and stuff. I like to think that my parents do and perhaps other relatives and friends. But just like all of my blogs, I write this more for myself. It helps me wrap my mind around the situation and sort through my thoughts and try to make sense of things that just don’t want to make sense. So just bear with me.

I feel like in order to properly tell this story, I have to give you a little background and I hope that I convey my thoughts as I would like. I know I have mentioned this before, but it really is such a defining part of who I am that I feel it can’t be left out. But when I was young, I was terribly awful at writing. Like so bad.  I was also really determined though and I was willing to work hard. I always knew that I wanted to study English and be an English teacher, so I knew that I just needed to figure out the whole writing thing. I was never interested in anything else and choosing something else never even crossed my mind. Something about literature just called to me and that was what I was going to do.

I honestly think that keeping a journal helped my writing progress in a lot of ways and I was lucky to have really good English teachers who gave me opportunities and who didn’t crush my soul too much. I wrote for the school paper and stuff and that helped me too. But, honestly, more than anything, I just had to stick with it. I just had to keep fighting. It was a battle of time and I was determined to win that battle. I am a pretty stubborn person, but being stubborn and being determined are just different manifestations of the same trait, I think. I was just stubborn enough to not give up because that was what my goal was.

I think because I was so bad at it, it made me want to be so good at it. I felt this need to prove that I could do it and that I wouldn’t give up. I was simultaneously compelled by my desire to be a good English teacher and serve and help others with my education, and my desire to not just be mediocre like I had been in my youth.

I always knew that I wanted a master’s degree, but I was always torn between pursuing the literature side of things, or the education side of things. I think my dreaming heart made me want to study literature, while my idealistic side made me want to pursue the education/teaching stuff. I made the promise to myself that if I ever did do a master’s in literature, I would do it at some ridiculous, way-too-good-for-me university. It was one of those secret dreams that seemed so out of reach for me. One of those dreams that you have a hard time admitting to yourself because you are so afraid you won’t succeed and you can’t live with that kind of disappointment. Sometimes it is just easier to pretend like you didn’t want it or think about it in the first place. 

I’m not always perfect at this, but in my life, I have always tried to make the “brave” choice. When it comes to taking risks and putting myself out there, I try to always think “What is the worst case scenario? Can I live if the worst happens?” And if I can live through the worst, I refuse to let myself back down. The funny thing about that, is that the worst is usually not actually that bad. And even when it happens, you can always pick yourself back up. I could give you cliché after cliché about this idea, but let’s just say that I tried to make sure that the “fear of striking out didn’t keep me from playing the game.”

So when it came to even applying for Cambridge, the doubts crept in and the voices telling me I wasn’t good enough chimed in. I’ve kept a pretty decent GPA and such, and done a decent job in school, but even with all of that, I just did not feel like Cambridge material. Why on earth would one of the best schools want me?

But I couldn’t help myself. I got the idea in my head and couldn’t let it go. I went for it. All in. And I remember one night in particular, I was driving home from something and thinking about my life and my goals and I was thinking about Cambridge. This is going to sound cheesy, but it was a real thing. As I was driving,  I was just filled with this absolute desire to go to Cambridge. I don’t think desire captures the feeling just right. But in that moment, there was nothing more in the world that I wanted than to get accepted into Cambridge. I felt so strongly that going to Cambridge would open all these doors for me so that I could try to make a difference with the things that I have learned. I knew that going to Cambridge would help me become a better instrument in the Lord’s hands and I wanted that more than anything. There was part of me that recognized that I also really wanted to prove myself. I wanted to feel that, for once, I was good enough at something and that I had overcome my past weaknesses.

Again this is one of those clichés, but as I sat in my car, I offered a very sincere and desirous prayer.  A plea to my Heavenly Father to please help Maria Nikolajeva and Zoe Jaques (those are the ladies that interviewed me-they also happen to be some of the best in the field) see my potential and give me a chance.  I begged for the chance to learn and serve in this way. I wanted it more than anything I had ever wanted in my entire life.

So when I woke up the next morning, November 25th at roughly 6:06 am, to an email from Cambridge, offering me a spot, I had no doubts that Heavenly Father had answered my prayers. I could see myself punting on the cam and taking a train to London on the weekends. I was already picturing my Christmas in Italy.

For me, the minute I got that email, I knew that I would stop at nothing to go to Cambridge. That is when I started the applications for grants and scholarships and everything I could find. I was even prepared to sell my soul for a summer and do summer sales in Missouri. Not to stereotype or be offensive or anything, but I have pretty much made fun of the “bro” club that usually is associated with summer sales for at least the last six years of my life, but I was ready to become a “bro” for Cambridge. It was worth it to me.

This is where things get a little sticky. See, this whole time (so basically from November 25th on) I had insisted upon the fact that I was “still trying to decide” what to do. I convinced myself that I was “keeping an open mind” and more importantly, an “open heart” and all that. But I wasn’t. But I didn’t actually realize that I wasn’t, until I realized, in a big way, that I wasn’t.

That moment came for me last week when I realized that I had to make a decision for reals this time. Because here’s the thing, about a week before, I had officially declared that Cambridge was my choice and I felt great about it and I was moving forward with that. But there was something about the decision that just didn’t quite stick. It’s not that I felt bad about it, necessarily, it’s more that the decision just didn’t really seem final to me. Which was weird, because Heavenly Father had helped me find a way to make it work financially, I had actually been accepted, and it seemed like everything would work out just fine. Teach for America was a thing of the past and I wasn’t really that sad about giving it up, to be perfectly honest. But the decision didn’t stick. I still kept having options and uncertain feelings come into my mind and heart.

At this point, I was just incredibly stressed out by the whole thing. I felt paralyzed. I knew I had to make a decision, but making a decision seemed impossible. And this is where crying to my parental figures comes in. I knew I needed help and I had thought things over so often in my own mind that I couldn’t think anymore. I had literally been praying/fasting/templing/scripturing about this decision for months. It weighed on my mind every single day. Not a day went by that I didn’t think about my decision. I don’t think I offered a prayer in that whole period of time that didn’t include something about the decision. I kept asking for guidance to know which option was right. Then after I had tried to make a decision, I prayed for that confirmation and that peace that I so desperately sought. The peace that comes when you do the right thing.
I don’t like to admit this, but I was in this dark place and didn’t know what to do. I talked with my parents for a good few hours and a good portion of that time was spent with me quite literally sobbing. I cry sometimes and stuff, but this was pretty bad. I think my parents were starting to get a little concerned, and probably a little annoyed at my dramatics. We had gone to drop Josh off somewhere and so we were in the car and my dad just kept driving around because I couldn’t stop crying. I also had a cold at the time, so I was a mess.  There was some serious ugly crying going on. Finally we had hashed through things so much that there was nothing left to say, still just a decision for me to make. I think I sobbed the whole car ride home and then just sat in my car crying. It was really pathetic.

Normally, I try to pretend things like that don’t happen, but I share that part of the story for a reason. And that reason is this: that night I didn’t necessarily understand my emotions, I just knew that I was upset and confused. But later, I came to realize that I totally lost control with the crying because I knew that I was going to have to give up something that I really wanted. I knew that I was going to have to give up on my dream. And it was hard for me. I wish I could say that I was super noble and everything, but I wasn’t. I feel that my reasons for wanting to go to Cambridge were noble and good reasons, but that was certainly what I wanted. I wanted to go to Cambridge. So though I was praying and things, I might not have necessarily been listening super well. Or, rather, I was asking the wrong questions. I was asking questions along the lines of “Is it right for me to go to Cambridge?” or “I’ve chosen Cambridge, will you help me find a way to make it work?” or “Is this okay?” That was the general direction of my pleas for answers recently. And those aren’t the questions I should have been asking.

I didn’t realize that, though, until Wednesday night, sitting in Institute. I’m sitting there, kind of paying attention, but also thinking about my decision. I have started up yet another pro/con list and along with that, I have my list of priorities. At the top of my list I have written down “Serve the lord.” And as I thought about that alleged priority of mine, I realized that I wasn’t doing a very good job of that. I was telling the Lord how I wanted to serve him. I was telling him, “Look, I’m going to go to Cambridge and then I’m going to do this…blah blah” and all that. When instead, I should have been asking, “How can I best be of service? Where can I go to best help others?” And at the same time, “Which of these options will be best for me? Which option will help me become the person that you want me to become?” I wasn’t asking these questions, but I started to that night.

When I started asking better questions, it didn’t actually take long to get an answer. But I also think that those months and months of asking the wrong questions helped humble me and helped me get where I needed to be when it actually came down to it. I think my tendency would be to berate myself a little for my foolishness, but at the same time, I had things to learn and I learned a lot from my months (and really practically a year) of indecision. I learned more about myself and I learned that sometimes there really isn’t a bad decision. I truly think that all of the options placed before me were good and I could see and feel that Heavenly Father had already helped me with each of them, and I knew that He would continue to help me. I sincerely thing that all of the decisions were “right” decisions. But this time it wasn’t a matter of “right” so much as “good, better, best.” And I guess one could argue that the “best” is always the “right.”

This brings us to Thursday. I had changed my tune a little, but I was still really at a dead end. I had just a few days left to make my decision and it felt like I was no closer. Could not think about anything. I have never quite felt so mentally blocked. I felt nothing about anything.

My parents knew I had to make a decision and, being the great people that they are, they kept checking in with me to see if I had decided yet. I was talking to my mom on the phone on my way home from work and I told her that I just had no idea, that I was completely blocked. She was about to say something and then stopped herself. She didn’t want to meddle or interfere, but I wanted to hear what she had to say and so I pestered her until she told me. What she told me was pretty simple, but she said, “You know, a stupor of thought is a real thing.” And my immediate reaction to that was, “Yeah, I know, but I have made all of the different decisions and I feel that way about all of them.” I don’t know if she was convinced, but as I hung up the phone, the thought crept into my head, “No you haven’t.” I tried to tell myself that at some point or another, I had chosen to do each of the options. But I couldn’t lie to myself anymore. I had convinced myself that I was keeping this open mind, but I never actually let go of the Cambridge choice. I was leaving no room for any other options. So sort of flippantly, I flung back, “Fine. Then I guess I’ll just choose Teach for America and see how that goes.”

This isn’t one of those moments where it stopped raining and a rainbow popped out, there was no overwhelming feeling of peace or anything. If I’m being completely sincere, it was more this regret that filled me. Regret because something about actually making that choice made me realize that this choice was going to stick. I couldn’t think about making any other choice. Teach for America became the only probability for me. I can’t properly explain it, but it was like any planning or scheming for Cambridge became impossible. The only thing that I could think about when it came to Cambridge was how sad it was that I would have to say no.

Like I said earlier, I wish that I could say that I reacted nobly to this and that I felt so great and at peace and stuff. But I didn’t.  I couldn’t even bring myself to admit my decision out loud. I don’t think I even told my parents for a few days. I realized then that deep down I truly had known since Sunday what I would choose. I knew I would choose Teach for America and that is why I completely broke down. My dream of Cambridge meant a lot to me and it was a blow for me that I had to give it up.

Sometimes I think that I have this mistaken idea that once we make a decision and it is the right one, everything is happy and butterflies and everything. Don’t get me wrong, I think I felt peace for the first time in months at having finally made a decision. I no longer felt that weight of the decision. But that doesn’t mean that I wasn’t totally bummed. I didn’t want to talk about it. Like when my super cute colleague came and showed me her powerpoint presentation about “Why Tara Pearce should go study at Cambridge University, “ I had to fight back the tears.

I would get these texts from dear friends and they asked me what I had decided and I couldn’t even answer those texts because writing it down just seemed too real. If I sent a text saying I wasn’t going to Cambridge, it would feel like I was giving up on my dream. I had never given up on anything before, and it felt like I was surrendering.

Finally I started admitting my decision, but I still had a hard time being excited about it. When I would tell people it was kind of like, “Yeah, unfortunately, I felt like the right thing was this…”

Flash-forward to this Wednesday, back at Institute. I’m sitting there thinking about Jesus. I don’t remember any scriptures where Jesus was asked to do something and he reacted like I did. I don’t remember him saying things like, “Yeah, unfortunately, instead of going to __________________, I had to go and ______________ instead.” I hope that doesn’t come off as sacrilegious or flippant. It was just this moment where I realized that I was complaining about how the Lord had asked me to do my part. I told Him that I would go wherever and do whatever, but then the minute He told me what he would have me do, I started complaining about it.  I was not being very Christ-like.

So I tried to start having a better attitude and stuff, but it has not been smooth sailing. Finally, I started thinking about Boston and Teach for America and I was talking to a friend about the situation. This friend has taught in pretty rough circumstances and has been in situations similar to that of Teach for America. He reminded me that there are kids out there who have no light. They don’t have the hope of the gospel, they don’t have the support they need, they have experienced awful things, and many of them have given up.  My friend said something that will stick with me and serve as a reminder to me. He said, “Cambridge will never need you as much as those kids in Boston need you.” That was a very humbling moment for me.  First it was a great reminder, that truly, Cambridge could care less if I come or not. And then, to realize that really and truly, there are kids out there that I can go and help and serve. There are kids who need to be encouraged and strengthened. They need to be taught. They need to be taught more than English or history, or any other subject—they need to be taught about following dreams and believing in themselves. And I can do that. I may not be the best at anything, I pale in comparison to many, but I am very desirous to use the gifts and talents that my Heavenly Father has given me. He has told me how he wants me to use them for the next two years of my life and I am going to do my very best to help lift the hands that hang down and strengthen the feeble knees. I have an opportunity to be a light. Not because I am anything special, but because I have been blessed with the knowledge of the gospel and of the saving power of the atonement.

So instead of feeling foolish that I turned down Cambridge, instead of feeling sad that I “gave up” on my dreams, I am going to proudly declare that I have been given a rare opportunity to go and work with kids who need me and that nothing will bring me greater joy. I really do believe that Heavenly Father knows what is best for me and He knows where to lead me. I’m just trying to have the faith to let him guide and the courage to go where He wants me to go. I’m going to move to Boston in June because “Jesus told me to” and I’m going to do it with a happy, enthusiastic heart.

In a way, it's like that moment at the end of Tangled when Flynn has been stabbed and is going to die and then Rapunzel is all, "You were my new dream." She was super excited about the floating lanterns and waited her whole life to see those. Then she found something else, something better. Different, but better. So instead of, you know, a recovered criminal with a slightly aquiline nose, I get a roomful of kids who will probably not want to learn English. Teaching them is my new dream, and I get to do it in Boston. Floating lanterns are overrated anyway. 


Saturday, January 31, 2015

Being a Katie

It is 4:37 on a Friday afternoon as I start this. I haven’t erased my whiteboard yet. I haven’t written Monday’s “learning target” on the board yet.  I did make sure that the trash is picked up and the desks are lined up properly. I have a lot of papers in the “pass back” bins that have been assigned grades and are entered into both gradebooks (paper and computer), but I also have a stack of essays in the “turn in” bins that are just calling my name. I’m probably going to “forget” about those this weekend…. My desk is a mess and I just spent almost an hour crafting an email to a parent.

As I sit here staring at my rainbow wall and the steps of the hero’s journey posted around my classroom, as I am sometimes wont to do after a long day, I start to wonder “Why?” The dreaded question of “Why?” Not only “Why?” but also a big “How?!”

When I think about the other teachers around the school—the other “young” teachers like me and the more “veteran” teachers alike—I just wonder “how?” How have they done this for so many years? Or how long are we young teachers going to make it? How long will it take before I don’t spend twelve hours in my classroom to still go home and work on stuff? How long will it take for me to get classroom management down? How do these other teachers seem to be accomplishing these great things in their classrooms while I’m pumped when all my students are on-time, ready to go, in their seats when the bell rings?! What is the deal?! (Name that movie!) I work with other teachers that are awesome.

Being a first-year teacher is an interesting experience in that way. Because I have had plenty of teachers, plenty of professors in my life. While doing my undergraduate degree, I had the opportunity to teach and work in a lot of different classrooms with a lot of different teachers. And even then, I didn’t really understand. I couldn’t see all the behind-the-scenes work these teachers were doing, and I didn’t even realize what skills it took to do some of the things they did so naturally and automatically. I didn’t really get it because I had never tried to do those same things on my own.  Sure I had done some things in their classrooms. But that is not the same thing. They had already paved the way for me and taken care of the hard parts. They had already trained their kids to do all these things so that when I came in, I just had to do the teaching part, not all the other parts. Who knew that teaching was actually wayyyy more than just teaching?!  I didn’t know. 

I don’t know if I just thought that kids automatically came in being super prepared to learn . I guess I just assumed that all kids were super worried about being on-time to class (just like I was as a student!). In my English teaching classes, they tried to warn me that some students wouldn’t care about their grades and stuff, but I don’t think I still really believed it until I saw it for myself. It was just a concept that was hard for me to comprehend because bad grades and not doing homework and stuff just was not an option in my family. That wasn’t a real thing. So no amount of preparation could actually prepare me to see that in action. That whole lack of caring thing wasn’t really something I had personal experience with, and it is still something I struggle seeing.

Anyway, now fast-forward a few hours. I’m sitting at home in my nightgown and it is 11:33. I just watched Robert Redford tie Barbara Streisand’s shoe and say “Go get ‘em, Katie” and my heart melted a little. And while I was doing that, I received an email from a fellow teacher asking me about a mutual student. Oh, you know, just Friday night and that teacher is worrying about such-and-such student.

Makes me feel really bad about my tennismatch-costavida-thewaywewere-evening. But not that bad because I get to hang out with Barbara. I like to think of her as my friend. I feel like she is a kindred spirit. As I for sure have mentioned before, my blog title is Barbara-inspired. Why is Barbara so great?

I also love when Robert is all, “Everything that happens in the world doesn’t happen to you personally,” and Barbara is basically like “For me it is” and then she follows up with “I don’t want to behave!” She wanted to stick up for her ideals and be her own person. Now, I’m not saying that I approve of the whole bashing people at the party thing she did. But just like Hubbell/Robert says to her, “No, don’t change. You’re your own girl, you have your own style.”

I love Barbara in this movie, because she was Katie. She had a cause and she was fighting for it. I have a Katie friend in real life (not my fantasy-life with Barbara Streisand and Robert Redford) who is a Katie. And a Barbara. 

I was talking to somebody that I view as a mentor at the school and I had a little situation that I was discussing with him. I was feeling a little discouraged and I think he could tell that. As a new teacher, sometimes you just get a little overwhelmed. Actually, I bet that feeling probably never goes away. You have almost two hundred students that you are supposed to be teaching. But not just teaching—you are motivating and inspiring them. Being a good example for them. All of it. Anyway, he told me a story about one of his first years of teaching and this really… I don’t even know how to describe the student. But a student that kept you on your toes. And after this particular student had left the high school and had a lot of different trials and things, student came back to visit. And he said that the student started the conversation with, “I bet you don’t remember me, do you?” The words were pretty sad in the sense that the student was sure he was so forgettable, but he said that the way the words were said made it even worse. The kid came from a world where people were forgotten and discarded and that was what he expected from this teacher. He expected to be forgotten and discarded.  This other teacher reminded me that as teachers this is why we keep at it. We keep at it for those students who don’t have anybody in their corner.

And that is why I so admire the teachers that I work with. Because they just keep at it. They keep fighting for their kids.

Sometimes I wish that I could forget about my students and discard thoughts of them. When I am up late, unable to sleep because I don’t know how to get so-and-so to actually turn in their homework. Or when I can’t quite figure out how to involve reticent-student in the lesson, or help troublemaker not get into trouble… all of these thoughts just torment me sometimes. While at the same time, when normally-bored-out-of-his-mind-student is actually super excited about the lesson, it puts a big, ol’ smile on my face. Or when normal bad-attitude-girl says while walking out, “Today was actually fun” in a surprised tone, I feel a sense of accomplishment. This week one of my proudest moments was probably when one a kid who NEVER pays attention actually payed attention to a question that I asked AND answered it. I wanted to give him a standing ovation. Don’t worry, there were plenty of not-so-awesome moments that left me wanting to bang my head against a wall. Like when I had this really great heart-to-heart with one kid about his behavior and I thought we were making progress.. and then BOOM. Acted worse than ever before. Good times.

Sometimes I wish that I could forget and discard… but, I don’t actually wish that. Because I want to be a Katie.

Right after Hubbell (Robert) tells Katie (Barbara) that she has her own style, she says, “But then I won’t have you. Why can’t I have you?” Hubbell answers that by saying, “Because you push too hard, every minute. There’s no time to ever relax and enjoy living. Every thing’s too serious to be so serious.” To which Katie responds with this beautiful speech, “If I push too hard it’s because I want things to be better, I want us to be better, I want you to be better. Sure I make waves, I mean, you have to. And I’ll keep making them till your everything you should be and will be. You’ll never find anyone as good for you as I am, to believe in you as much as I do or to love you as much!”

Wow. Just wow. Barbara does it again. I’m going to take that and change it a little bit and reduce it to, “You’ll never find anyone to believe in you as much as I do, or to love you as much.”

Isn’t that such a beautiful idea? Or, rather, a beautiful ideal? That is what teaching is to me and that is what I see in so many of the teachers around me. That is what I am working for as a teacher.

The fellow-teacher I was talking with today was talking about how teaching has this ability to change you and really sink into your soul and change the way you treat the people around you.  The ideal of teaching is never giving up on any students, but I want that ideal to be part of me not just as a teacher. I want to be a friend that always encourages people to succeed and achieve. I want to be a family member that always helps people see their potential. A wife, a mother, a grandmother, an aunt—every title you can think of!—I want to be a Katie in that role and be able to say, “You’ll never find anyone as good for you as I am, to believe in you as much as I do or to love you as much!”

Katie was the type of woman that made Hubbell reflect with: “You hold on and I don’t know how. And I wish I did. Maybe you were born committed… I can’t get negative enough. I can’t get angry enough. And I can’t get positive enough.”

I love that conflicting portrayal of characteristics—the idea that commitment can stem not just from one thing, but an inner “anger” or “positivity.”  I love that these same things are just another way of saying passion. I’ve always kind of thought that our greatest strengths and weaknesses are just two sides of the same coin. Sometimes we just beat ourselves up over those weaknesses, too, but one of my other great colleagues shared a really great insight with me about weaknesses. She talked about how often when we think about the story of Joseph in Egypt, we talk about how well he handled his situation and the faith that he showed with that.  We attribute all the “bad” things that happened to him as being the fault of other people. His brothers were jealous, Potiphar’s wife was scandalous etc etc. Joseph didn’t necessarily “sin” or do anything “bad,” per se, but he maybe didn’t show a ton of wisdom or smarts in how he spoke of his dreams and such. His youthfulness maybe led him to not quite understand that you don’t necessarily go parading around saying, “One day, I’m going to rule over all of you” to your older brothers. Now, again, I don’t think that Joseph intended it like that. But maybe he had a little weakness in how to deal with his relationships. Was that a bad thing? Not necessarily! Because it still helped him get where he needed to go. Had he not been so naïve/innocent and talked about such things, his brothers maybe never would have sold him.

I loved that insight. With good intentions, Heavenly Father can even use our strengths, but also our weaknesses to help us get where we need to go. As I reflected on that a little, I could see where certain weaknesses of mine led me to develop certain traits, or led me to certain decisions that have been exactly what I needed. Just like Joseph, we need to stick with it and stay positive. Even when things aren’t looking so great.

At the end of the movie, Hubbell says, “You never give up, do you?” and Katie says, “Only when I’m absolutely forced to. But I’m a very good loser... I’ve had.. more practice.”

I might not be a Katie in a lot of ways, but I feel like in this small way, I have had Katie moments. Where I have given up only “when absolutely forced.” Like this week one of my students came to me and gave me back his book club book because he is moving. He has been one of those students that has stretched me and pushed me. I have tried so hard to get him involved and engaged with class and this week he actually volunteered to read his writer’s notebook entry and I was so excited. I felt like we were finally making progress, but now he was moving away and I had lost my chance. It felt like I was giving up, but I didn’t really have a choice in the matter. Part of me recognized that maybe I should just feel relief that I had one less difficult student to worry about. But that isn’t how I felt at all. I lost my chance to fight for that student. I was forced to give up.

But there are some things I just can’t give up. I think we all have those things. We all have our things that we just won’t compromise. Like when Hubbell says, “People are more important than their principles” and Katie gives the response, “People ARE their principles.” We all have our principles and guiding actions and sometimes we have to stick to our guns to be us.

I could give a laundry list of some of these “things” that I refuse to give up. They would range from trivial (like the fact that I refuse to give up looking at the night sky because it reminds me that even in our darkest moments, there is beauty to be found) to silly (like my commitment to getting overly excited about small moments just because it makes life more interesting sometimes) to irrational (like parking as far away from other cars as possible because old habits die hard) or maybe more sentimental (like never giving up the belief that literature can change lives and that people have such a great capacity to change).  Potentially, this list of “things I won’t give up” could get pretty long and I could elaborate greatly on the subject. But I shan’t.

Instead, I’ll just end by saying that sometimes I find myself questioning my principles and I feel a little bit like Hubbell asking “Are you really so sure of everything you’re so sure of?” And sometimes the answer I think is a “no.” No, I’m not so sure of everything I’m so sure of. But that is the adventure, no? That is when the Katie in us can rise to the occasion and declare, “No. I’m not sure… but…. You’ll never find anyone to believe in you as much as I do.” Because at the end of the day, believing in the changing human heart is one of the best causes we must never give up on.  I am really grateful for all of the Katie-type people in the world who have believed in me and who haven't given up on me. I'm grateful for the Katie-people that I work with. And I'm working on being a Katie.