April 2013

Making Connections

We have now been in the boys school for the month of April.  It is so exciting to see the library space actually become a reality.  We bought colorful furniture and curtains, had the walls painted white, and arranged a large carpeted area for the kids to be able to sit down and read.





I am thoroughly enjoying my work with Neil and Lucia.  Neil is a fellow missionary with a background in bilingual primary teaching.  Lucia is the new CUDA staff member of the library program.  We seem to have a good time together and compliment each other's gifts.

The teachers are excited about the program.  We kicked off the first Thursday of the month with our first staff development meeting.  Counting the after-school staff meetings, the modeling time on Thursdays and Fridays in the libraries, the additional library scheduled hours, and observation lessons (CUDA staff observing teachers’ use of strategies), the teachers will be able to earn up to 100 hours of staff development this school year.  Increase in salary is an incentive to teachers that earn staff development hours throughout the year.  We hope for the ministry of education to put their stamp of approval on our plan and seal the deal with an inaugural signing very soon.  It is in the works.
This month we are teaching the strategy “Making Connections.”  The children are catching on (though we are spending a lot of time on procedures and routines of the library space).  As for the days that I work with first through third grades, I have read-aloud, organized several group activities, incorporated the teachers into helping model the strategies for the students, and allowed time for the students to read on the carpets.  The free-reading time is my absolute favorite.  First and second grade still skim through the pages.  They love the colorful illustrations.  But the last time that I taught the third grade, it was like pulling teeth to get them to put their books away to get ready to leave.  The picture of those boys immersed in reading and enjoying it is what makes this program completely worthwhile to me.

I recently read a quote that I would like to share: 

I was born in Bayonne, New Jersey. I grew up in the projects. I never went anywhere. But I have lived a thousand lives. I have loved a thousand loves. I’ve wandered distant worlds and seen the end of time because I read.
— George R. R. Martin

The location could easily be changed to Arequipa in this quote.  It is my prayer that many of our students can make the same statement one day about their experience in the Living Libraries program.

One Way to Look at It: Making the Grade

My 8th grade algebra class hated me.  My teacher, Mrs. Marchesault, had a standard policy for grading all tests and quizzes: She set the second highest grade in the class to 100% and adjusted all grades accordingly.  As a high-achiever and someone who enjoyed algebra, I often earned one of the top grades.  “You are killing the curve!”, my classmates would complain, pushing me to answer incorrectly on purpose in order to close the gap between those of us who were doing well, and those who were struggling.  
They felt that my success made them look worse, and they didn’t like it. The focus wasn’t on better actual performance, just on a better grade.
We do that, don’t we?  We worry that the shining success of others is killing the curve.  We think that if an individual or family truly attains some measure of faithfulness or happiness, it highlights our own shortcomings in that area. There’s something that makes us feel that if nobody really knows all these answers, it’s okay that I can barely muddle through it. Then suddenly someone “gets it” and we’re back in the lower bracket, clawing for our sense of self, desperate to close the gap, even if it means damaging someone else to do it.
Surely you have seen this, probably online.  Someone makes sense, for themselves, of a Big Question and finds peace in how to live it out.  Suddenly there is an uproar of reactions ranging from “Just because that is true for you doesn’t mean it’s true for everyone else” and “Don’t presume to tell others how to live their lives” to “You thought that through completely wrong and therefore your conclusions are useless” to “No one wants to hear what you have to say anyway so keep it to yourself”.  It can get ugly, and fast.
It makes me sad. We are terrified of having our struggles made obvious and of proving to be less capable and polished than we are desperately trying to appear. In our panic, we tear down someone who is striving to get one more right answer because they know they have it in them.  We take a stance on every. single. thing. people. say so fast that we rarely stop to make sure we heard it right, or to consider if we should learn from it.  We fear that if they show God more faithfulness than we can muster right now, that God might suddenly realize how weak our faith truly is and all our efforts to keep Him dazzled by our performance will fail.
Oh, yeah, except they already have.
Want to know what I think the answer is? 
Stop caring about what other people think (which is what we really stress about when this whole comparison game starts blowing up).  Embrace the truth about yourself and then it won’t matter if anyone else strays from (or nails) an ideal formula, since you’ve already ditched it as a possibility.  
For example, here’s some truth about me:
I’m great at algebra and epically terrible with history. When asked who was President during the Civil War, I guessed Jefferson. No, I am not kidding. My brain just will not keep relevant pieces of historical information linked. It’s nuts.  But I can name characters in books that I read when I was a child. I’m weird like that. I keep my head on straight during a crisis, but you better do what I say because I start barking orders like nobody’s business. But throw me in the thick of clingy baby + 6 yo asking unending questions + 3 yo crying about glue on her fingers from homework and at best I’ll have clenched teeth and deep breathing; at worst I’ll be bellowing that everyone better calm down and get it together...you know, to make it easier for me to calm down and get it together.  Yeah, regular life is what gets to me. Oh, and I’m particularly organized and make lists and schedules, but send me into the store without my plan (even if I have spent hours looking over it) and my brain grinds to a halt.  I could have planned to cook hamburgers for lunch that same day and I’ll walk out the door without buns, only to realize it at the exact moment when I’m too far gone to turn around and go back.  And believe it or not, being a missionary doesn't magically make me all spiritual and shiny. I still go through a whole day without cracking open my Bible, and if I do take a moment to pause and attempt a focused prayer, it's likely that my brain will somehow end up strategizing how to most efficiently accomplish my tasks for the day…even though my three small children will inevitably derail any ideal plan I might concoct.
I don’t need anyone else to show me how I fall short.  I know that full well. I don’t need any reminders that I am in imperfect person in a broken world who is slogging through it all under the weight of daily life. What I need is a pat on the back and a reminder to keep pursuing Jesus through my flaws.
What we need is to live in grace, first recognizing it from God, then granting it to each other.  It is no longer about earning the best grade; none of us can anyway, so competition is pointless. God accepts imperfect attempts; let's be glad of that, for ourselves and each other.