Coming Full Circle

We are in the final week of what has been the most action-packed Arequipa internship yet, and it was a long time in coming.  The story, as I must tell it from my perspective, started thirteen years ago.  
 
I came to preregistration at Harding University in the summer of 2000 intent on a degree in missions.  At that time my home congregation, Shiloh Road Church of Christ, had just sent a couple to Jinja, Uganda.  My summer missions experiences with the high school youth group in Mexico had been a major part of my decision to become a missionary, as well as my decision to engage high school Spanish more aggressively than I would have done, yet my imagination abounded with visions of tribal Africa as I pulled up to Harding's campus for preregistration.  My previous tour of the missions department had already made it apparent that African missions was very influential in the program, so I was quickly forming assumptions about where I would end up in the world.
 
Incoming freshmen were assigned advisors in the Bible department based upon the first letter of our last names.  So I came to meet my advisor, Bill Richardson.  Dr. Richardson was at that time an associate professor of Bible and missions.  He had spent his years in missions in Latin America.  So his eyes lit up when he read my registration documents and realized I was a missions major who had tested out of basic Spanish.  At that first meeting, he advised me to do a number of things that set the course of my life.  First, he suggested I do a Spanish minor.  Since I was granted credit for 101 and 102, it would be that much easier.  Thus, we looked ahead at the courses I would need to take each semester.  Second, he suggested I attend the Spanish congregation in Searcy if I really wanted to progress in the language.  I ended up attending all four years; La Casita was my home church in Searcy.   He also told me about the summer mission campaign in Venezuela.  At the time, it was the only Latin American option.  I went to Venezuela the summer after my freshmen year.  Bill let me in on a secret as well: Harding was working on a new study-abroad program in Viña del Mar, Chile (HULA: Harding University in Latin America).  My junior year, I did go to the pilot HULA semester.  So did Megan Bills, who eventually became my wife.  Finally, Bill invited me to attend the Latin American interest group that he hosted in his home.  Over the course of four years, that group evolved into a mission team committed to Arequipa, Peru.  In retrospect, I can describe that meeting with Bill as nothing less than providential.  He and his wife, Holly, have remained our team's mentors and friends.  
 
Those of us in the Latin American interest group at Harding swam against the African missions current.  It's hard to describe exactly why that current was so strong.  One of the reasons for momentum among students, though, was undoubtedly the phenomenally successful African internship.  A comparable experience was lacking for Latin America, where Harding internships were essentially nonexistent and traditional "evangelistic campaigns" were the norm.  This situation (in part) compelled Bill to envision a new kind of summer experience for students interested in Latin America: a research  trip.  He began preparing a group of about ten of us to travel to various cities the summer after my sophomore year, in order to gather logistical and strategic information on large Latin American cities that needed a missionary presence.  The first trip included Trujillo and Arequipa, Peru and Cochabamba, Bolivia.  A number of the participants on that trip were part of the nascent South American team that had formed out of the Latin America interest group, and on the basis of the information gathered, we chose Arequipa as our destination and became Team Arequipa.  A couple of years later, another team used the research to chose Cochabamba.  Members of the Cuzco mission team were on a subsequent research trip.  Another group came to Arequipa with Bill after our arrival and helped us with the research that launched CUDA, and some of those researchers are now part of the second wave of Team Arequipa.  Megan and I have reflected on how wonderful it has been to witness what God has done through Bill and Holly's labor.  
 
The internship this year is the latest chapter of the story.  Perhaps the last ten years of investment have had an effect similar to the African internships.  Or perhaps the Lord is calling more students to Latin America.  Or maybe some other factors are at play.  I suspect it is all of the above.  But whatever the case, this year far more Harding students sought internships in Latin America than could be placed.  Altogether, they composed a highly-motivated, unusually Spanish-proficient group of seventeen students.  To meet this demand, Bill conceived of a "traveling internship," which was a mixture of experiences including intensive language school, mission church plants, a national church plant, developmental ministry, and research.  Two weeks were spent in Arequipa, learning about CUDA and house churches.  This group crashed our regular internship, which includes four other students: two from Harding, one from Oklahoma Christian, and one from Abilene Christian.  It was a tumultuous two weeks, but we were glad to get to know these students, some of whom will undoubtedly be back in Latin America as missionaries in the future.  Our regular interns generously accepted the disruption a group that size naturally causes and even formed some meaningful friendships.
 
I realized after the traveling interns departed that I was feeling my age for the first time: not too old to keep up but old enough to realize I needed to keep up.  Their energy was infectious, and when they left I missed it.  But their presence was also a sign of hope that I cherished.  These are students intent on serving God, many of them in Latin America.  They aggressively seek understanding and wisdom, they dream and plan, and they love the people around them in the process.  Likewise, our regular interns have taken these two months to learn what full-time mission is like week in and week out, persevering through ups and downs while learning language and culture.  These are short-term experiences meant to be long-term investments.  And that is the truly exciting thing.  I pray that God will continue calling more and more students to dream missional dreams for Latin America. 

A Solitary Place

I went to the cafe this morning to start a study of Mark with a friend.  This is a friend that was placed in my path the first few months that we lived in Arequipa.  I have prayed fervently for this friend.  I have also stopped praying from multiple disappointments and decided to place her and her situation in God’s hands.  The Spirit moves, and it is up to a person whether to accept his invitation, right?  In my walk with Christ in this foreign city, I have tried to be intentional with those that I want to invest in loving and caring for.  Yes.  God is love, and we are to love everyone around us.  But the reality is that we must choose and prioritize who will receive our time and sacrifice.  My investment is not so that I can get something from them.  I always desire to share my faith, and I hope that the other person will get to experience God’s purpose in their life, but I am not one to give up if someone seems disinterested in Jesus from the beginning.  I believe that as a Christ-follower, I am part of the body that can exemplify Christ to others.  It is my prayer that through my love and actions, someone will see Christ glorified and be open to his message.

So back to my friend.  It has been almost five years.  I went through a season of our relationship where I wanted to give it up.  I told God that if he opened the door, I would be available, but a relationship works two ways.  In the past few months, the door seemed to open.  I had several very deep, personal, and frank conversations with this friend.  And she seemed genuinely interested in studying with me in a small group that I meet with on Saturday mornings.  It also seemed to be a perfect opportunity to disciple the girls that I meet with (both are Christians) in how to start an evangelistic study with a seeker.

The Peruvians will tell you that they do not like conflict.  And because of this, many will tell you “yes” to something when they should really say “no” just to avoid conflict and disappointment.  This is frustrating to me, because it is hard to read when someone is genuinely interested.  I want to think the best of people, but I can tell you that our mission team has wasted hours upon hours of waiting for people that plan to meet with us and never show up.  Not every situation is like this, but when I get “stood up,” I always question.  This morning was the second time for me to get “stood up” with this particular friend.  And to tell you the truth, I feel like a big fat failure when that happens.

On a completely different note, I have been feeling overwhelmed with the many visitors passing through Arequipa, keeping my home in order, keeping up with relationships, and a lot of change going on with our library program.  I go through seasons of feeling this way, but it doesn’t help to be disappointed at the end of a week in the midst of this season.

My meeting with my two Peruvian Christian sisters had been postponed to later in the day, and I ended up having time to sit still and write and reflect in my prayer journal.  I also decided to read the first chapter of Mark.

I love using Mark’s version to share Jesus’ story with someone new.  But what I love even more is that I seem to fall deeper in love with Jesus and learn new things every time I go through and share the story.  And as I sat in the cafe this morning alone, I was blessed by Jesus’ example to me.  It was a part of chapter one that I have always loved reading, but I guess it hit me straight in the heart this morning.

Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. Simon and his companions went to look for him, and when they found him, they exclaimed, ‘Everyone is looking for you!’
Jesus replied, ‘Let us go somewhere else––to the nearby villages––so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.’ So he traveled throughout Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and driving out demons.
— Mark 1:35-39

 

Maybe my thoughts are jumbled, but after reading this passage, I sat back and praised God for his message.  I too often forget who is in control, and whose message I am proclaiming.  I get overwhelmed, and I self-doubt my strength and my abilities when all the while I should be relying on my God’s strength and his message.  I needed that alone time this morning.  I needed time away from children, away from interns, away from Bible studies, away from library work, away from my to-do list.  I needed that solitary place to remember the reason for why I do any of this work here.  “That is why I have come.”  But more than anything, I needed to sit still and know that he is God.  He is the one that can drive out demons, cure diseases, raise dead people to life, calm the storm.  I am so foolish to rely on my own strength, my own abilities, my own situations, my own plan.  God has a purpose, and he has a plan.  It is up to others as to whether they will follow.

With a year and a half left, I have been praying for God to bless me with one more opportunity to share the story of Mark with someone here in Arequipa.  I really thought this morning (and last Saturday morning) was an answer to that prayer.  Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t.  I would ask that you would pray for these opportunities for our team.  But most of all, I would ask that whatever we do here is for the glory of our God, and that we are relying on his strength and his power.

One Way to Look at It

I'm an introvert. I really want an inner sanctum where I can essentially back into the corner, sit down and pull my knees to my chest. I don't want anyone to see or hear me there; I want my quiet hiding to remain mine alone.
 
Yes, I'm a Christian. Which means I have invited Another to dwell with me constantly. As such, my inner sanctum is actually a stage.
 
Every time I come onstage with a desire to run away, hide, vent, I am faced instead with the decision to speak or not speak. And if I speak, as the words that swirl and bubble inside me beg to be released and known, Light floods the stage. Sitting in the audience is only One, and the simple act of turning my voice to be heard invites Him to be fully there. And He is Light. There is no way to keep this little act hidden, this performance meant only for my guilty satisfaction.
 
So I must consciously choose to speak. The Light fills me, floods my face, warming me without burning, illuminating me without blinding. I am seen. Fully and completely seen.  No shadows. No secrets. Seen. I look at my body, my arms and realize that my skin is blocking none of the Light. My blood pulses through my veins with more than oxygen, carrying the effects of each day. My heart pumps not only blood, but truth and pain and my will (which seems to be constantly in the throes of death, but never quite yielding). 
 
I fear this speaking. My mind knows that my Audience sits not as critic, but as Father, Creator, Lover, Comforter. He delights in me as I am, as He created me, and is eager to receive whatever gift I offer. He died to bridge the gap between us and yet I fear crossing it. I fear being judged unworthy of the gift already given. I fear being deemed oversensitive, beyond help, too self-centered, unimportant. 
 
If I choose to trust His care and speak, my words flow from my lips and change everything. They transform and affix themselves to my very body, clothing me in my own being, made beautiful, made new, not a problem but neither the point. My deepest pains and fears become jewels that sparkle in my eyes and hands, ready to accept the pains and fears of others. My selfish demands shrivel in the air and fall to the ground as petals fall from a flower, technically useless, but releasing a lovely aroma upon being crushed. The sharp barbs of hurts inflicted by others soften and dissipate, leaving behind a tender awareness of the importance of love, patience and gentleness.
 
In the face of this Light that lives in me, everything I offer can be used for good.

Church in Arequipa: Prayer

Sundays in Arequipa are currently focused on prayer.  Personally, I have felt convicted to pray more about the work.  Knowing the prayerfulness of some brothers and sisters who are worthy of imitation, I always feel I should be more prayerful.  The difference now is that I am feeling called, urged, prompted to pray.  I hesitate to say "more," though, as if the issue were quantity.  It is, I think, about a way of seeing the world—perceiving the need to live, think, and speak more according to the way things really are.  Prayer, it seems, is often a matter of listening and looking, hearing and seeing, fixing eyes and mind on a dimension of reality that we call unseen.  

CUDA View

Over the past few months we’ve been able to report great news regarding the library program.  Teachers are being trained, kids are learning to love reading and recently the Ministry of Education gave our program their stamp of approval.  Receiving official government backing gives the Living LIbrary program real validity and will help us in the future as we begin expanding the program to new schools.  Lucia has really grown into her role as director of the library program and Megan is staying busy training her in the techniques she’ll need to continue the program’s success.  
 
At the end of June CUDA was sad to say goodbye to Neil Cantrall.  Neil has worked with CUDA as an expert volunteer for about a year.  With years of experience as a bilingual teacher, his contribution to the library program was invaluable.  Neil and his family moved to Lima to start a job with an international school.  We wish him the best and ask you to be praying for their transition to a new home, new school for their kids, and new ministry opportunity.
 
In other news, a new borrower group received their first no-interest loans and had their first meetings.  I love sitting through the first meeting of each group because Paty always starts at the same place.  She spends the first meeting having each borrower define what a business is, what a business does, and then hammers home the point that they are businesswomen (or men).  Having a business is something important, something valuable.  All too often our borrowers don’t see what they do as important, or as having value and that often times gets reflected back on them.  So basically our first meetings are pep-rallies not only building their pride in their work but also their self-worth/esteem.  I love getting to experience that first meeting with each group, and to see the foundation for all following meetings being laid.
 
I would like to ask that you be praying for CUDA in the area of fundraising.  This is not a plea for donations (though I won’t turn anything way) but to let you know of some opportunities that have arisen.  Specifically, we are submitting proposals to Rotary clubs both in Peru and in the US that could begin funding the library program’s 5 year plan.  We will also be applying for other grants hoping to secure long-term funding.  Be praying that both individual and group donors step in to keep CUDA running!

The Inauguration

This month is going down in the books for me. We have waited and waited to see the first Living Library inaugurated in the public school setting, and it finally happened. It was such an exciting event for me, and I was full of emotion. We have been approved by the ministry of education to offer staff development hours to the professional teaching community in Arequipa and its surrounding districts. Last year, we were seeking out schools to begin our first library setting. Alfredo told me that we have four schools already asking to be the home of our next library for next year. The principals and teachers are eager to hear new strategies for teaching reading, and it is such a blessing to take part in a program that offers that opportunity to them.

The inauguration was a beautiful event. The minister of education, the director of staff development, the Rotary and Interact Clubs, principals from several of the surrounding schools, and one of our visiting board members, David Fann, all attended the special event along with the school and CUDA staff. I was presented with a special pin from the minister of education as a symbol of his approval of the program. The school year has gone so well thus far. We are far beyond blessed to have reached this point with the Library Program. Thanks to all of you that have supported us in this endeavor. I wanted to share some pictures from the special day:

Standing with the minister of education and the director of staff development

Standing with the minister of education and the director of staff development

The minister of education handing over the signed papers to Alfredo, CUDA executive director

The minister of education handing over the signed papers to Alfredo, CUDA executive director

Lucia (CUDA Living Library director) and me posing with most of the teachers from the school from this school year

Lucia (CUDA Living Library director) and me posing with most of the teachers from the school from this school year

David Fann with the CUDA staff (Greg, David, Megan, Alfredo, Lucia, Abraham)

David Fann with the CUDA staff (Greg, David, Megan, Alfredo, Lucia, Abraham)

One Way to Look at It: He Will Wait

I'm not sure why, but airlines (or maybe it's the airports) like to schedule international flights to arrive at about the same time. It's inevitable: Every time we travel through Lima or Miami, the immigration line contains at least three flights' worth of travelers, and the waiting areas are packed with people who appear to be settled in for a long wait, somehow lounging with a body part draped over every possible piece of luggage.

In Lima, this waiting area is the food court. The area is quite large and houses plenty of seating for half a dozen eateries the ring the dining section. It's Peru, so there is no order to the round tables and lightweight chairs that end up strewn haphazardly, first grouped to a single table with extra occupants, then shoved aside to make room for a luggage cart to skim through.

It's mayhem.

I often have to walk my young daughters through the chaos to access the bathrooms that are located farther down the hallway. I often do that parent thing where you grab a small child's hand and pull them in right behind you so that they have a clear path to follow directly in your footsteps, while you can still snatch them to either side to avoid a collision if necessary. In this scenario, I take responsibility for seeing our table and navigating the crowd and furniture to get my kids there safely. They cannot see where we are going, but they trust that I will get them there, even if I am pulling them hither and yon in the process. They know to stick with me.

It struck me as this happened yet again just recently that I am sometimes not a very good daughter. I know cognitively that God does this same thing with me, leading me where I cannot see, sometimes jostling me in order to protect me, but I struggle so very deeply with trusting. I figure that if I'm responsible for much in my life, I can just take the reins on the rest and give Him a break. After all, He has plenty of other stuff to deal with, right? I don't want to be a burden. It's one thing to just live that way and never think about it, not really.

It's another thing to realize just what I am doing, and I am saddened by how weak I want Him to be. I don't want Him to take control of my life. I don't really want Him to lead me to big, scary things. I don't really want Him to change me in ways that might hurt, might break down the things I value in myself. I don't really want to experience things that stretch me beyond the point where I can still make it all look good. I prefer to stand still in the bustling crowd and pretend that's where I really wanted to be all along, even as He stands beside me, holding out His hand to lead me toward better things, patiently waiting for me to want that, too.

My daughters have learned to trust me more than I have learned to trust God. The only reason is that I have required it. I have pulled them along with me. I have given them no choice, have not waited patiently for their cooperation. By necessity, they were forced to experience my care so that they would come to trust it. I think that's okay; it's the nature of my task in their lives.

But it makes me very different from God. And even as part of me wants to resist and stay in charge, another part of me kind of does wish He would just sweep in and force my hand. I could protest a little while I secretly rejoiced in not having to choose, not having to take responsibility for my own laziness or fear or pride. I'm sure He would develop a much better version of me than I have so far.

But He waits patiently, holding out His hand to lead me toward better things, because I have to want that, too.

And as much as my experiences as a mom have taught me more about the heart of God, in this I continue to struggle - He will wait. He loves me deeply and fully and with absolutely no demands, but He will take nothing from me that is not freely offered, so He will wait.

In the face of the rushing demands of daily life, all too often, I leave Him waiting. Other things are clamoring for my attention, but He does not, so I'll get around to Him after other things are stilled and quiet, right? That never happens. Instead, I have to continue to learn, one moment at a time, to lift my gaze to Him, purposefully choosing to seek His direction, in the middle of this whirlwind of a life.

Recent Developments

CEDETE

We're through a third of the first trimester in the Basic Theology program of the Theological Development Center.  Abraham and I instruct four students—Cirilo, Emilia, Paty, and Alfredo—three afternoons a week for an hour and a half.  This trimester is an overview of the Old Testament, with a focus on the spiritual disciplines of prayer and study, as well as various techniques for reading comprehension and critical thinking.  Megan asks me how class was every time I come home, and my response has been, "Fun."  I'm having a blast.  More importantly, the students are really engaged, and I think the focused, intensive learning is already making a difference.  I was moved to hear Alfredo apply some our first lessons in his speech at the library inauguration.  Likewise, Emilia has been immediately sharing her new insights in her weekly small group with Megan and Areli.  I thank God for these Christians who are sacrificing time for class and homework in order to become better servants of God's mission.

Community Development

The flood relief effort has given us just the opportunity we were looking for.  By focusing relief on a particular area, we've been able to form more substantial relationships than a less selective approach would have allowed.  Abraham in particular has led the effort.  The outgrowth of this relationship has been the formation of an action group consisting of mothers from the cluster of neighborhoods where we distributed the relief.  We are helping to organize and equip them to mobilize their resources and abilities for community development.  If things go well in the next few weeks, we should be celebrating an official agreement between their newly formed organization and CUDA.  They have already brainstormed some initial goals, such as the formation of a community daycare or a kitchen for subsidized meals.  There are a lot of possible obstacles ahead, so pray for our work in this area.

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.

Before

Before

After

After

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.