Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Identity Crisis

I've been thinking about a conversation I had with my mother-in-law last week.  A portion of the conversation had to do with adjusting to a new role, especially when you've been known as one thing for a long time.  Sometimes we forget that what we "do" is not necessarily what we "are."  I know, I know.  They are so closely related for some of us that it's hard to separate the two.

For years I've lived the two as if they were in fact the same.  And although I am not physically in the classroom, I still approach things and think of things as if I were.  Children's books send off a flurry of ideas and activities in my mind.  Organization materials make me think of classroom management.  Office supplies, some of my favorite things, send me in a tizzy thinking of all the possibilities and applications for them.  My mind automatically processes things from the standpoint of an educator.  Once a teacher, always a teacher.

Except now.

I'm not teaching in the sense that I am in front of a class.  I still have the responsibility of teaching my own children and the children in my church's youth department.  Do I miss teaching?  Yes, I miss certain aspects of it.  I love the process of learning and examining ideas.  I enjoyed being with the children.  I liked helping my students make the connections between what they were learning and real-life application.  I do not miss the paperwork, administration changes that don't seem to make sense, the 60- to 70-hour workweeks, or conflicts with parents who don't feel you are doing enough or are being unfair.

So who am I?  A mom.  A wife.  A friend.

Still trying to figure out the rest.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012


I've been thinking a lot about the word "provision."  Merriam-Webster defines provision as "1a: the act or process of providing, b: the fact or state of being prepared beforehand, c: a measure taken beforehand to deal with a need or a contingency." 

When I think of provision in the sense of how God provides for us, the third meaning is the one that stands out for me at this point.  When I left teaching in June, I knew my household was going to take a cut in income.  I carried the health insurance, including dental, vision, and prescription.  I also brought home more than my husband.  With my husband's pay being reduced to now pay for insurance, I knew I would have to find something to do to supplement the lost income. We began looking at ways to cut costs and took a look at our savings.

In the span of two months, we were able to find a new home in one of our chosen districts at a savings of several hundred dollars a month, lower our car insurance, and lower gasoline costs for commuting to work since my husband's employer is literally down the road and I'm not commuting at all.  Add to that the fact I didn't have classroom costs for back-to-school preparations, several hundred dollars was saved there, too.  Not that my husband and I are frivolous spenders; far from it.  I plan my meals according to grocery fliers, spread my grocery bill out among several stores to keep it low, shop clearance, overstock, and thrift shop items when I need things, and rarely go out for movies and meals.  If the kids want a treat out, they have to buy it out of their own money.

With moving and maintenance costs over the summer, our savings have been eaten into and the pressure to find an income is mounting.  We thought we had one source of income available, but there was an issue with the process and it may or may not be available now.  I have applied for several freelance writing and proofreading jobs for education publishers.  (Side note: My first degree is in journalism, and I was a writer/editor/proofreader before I changed careers and went back to school for teaching.)  I was accepted to one company as a freelance proofreader, but it is not steady work.  I've also applied to be a writer for the same company and am still waiting the results of that application.  Additionally, I've been sent a writing test for yet another company and have applied to a fourth as an e-learning elementary content writer.  Finally, I've applied to be an online tutor for a leading tutoring company.  I'm just waiting to see what God has for me. 

I'm also learning to really rely on Him for His provision.  The old me would have run out and taken the first available thing just because it was there to provide an income, whether or not I was happy with it, and worried the entire time.  I can say that I am calmer this time, although not completely worry free.  Concerned, but still believing that our bills will be met this month.  I keep reminding myself to remember He has provided a home, people in place for my children in their new schools, a network of other moms who are of like mind, favor with my applications, school clothes and supplies for my children, food for my table, and opportunities I would not have had otherwise...all in two months.  It's a quick learning curve, but I'm hanging on.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Backstory. Part 2.

The true title of this post should be "Looking for Peace (or Happiness)."  While thinking about yesterday's post, I remembered an earlier conversation with my pastor that helped to put things in perspective.

Earlier this year, I had a spiritual crisis of sorts.  I began feeling stagnant in my walk and was having a hard time with my life at that point.  I was crazy busy, teaching full time, taking grad courses online to earn my next level teaching certificate, participating in my ministries at church, volunteering as a coach for a local girl's running program, and trying to run a successful household.  I was worn out, but I felt I had to keep going on.  After all, these were things I signed up to do.  I couldn't NOT do them.  People were depending on me. 

True, but who was I depending on?

Truth is, I was depending on myself.  I hadn't consulted God about whether or not I should volunteer or return to school for extra courses.  It took an argument with my husband and a call from my pastor to realize that.

Okay.  So why do I keep talking about this argument?  Well, in the 15 years my husband and I have been together, I can count on one hand how many times we have had an argument.  Seriously.  When I tell people that, they can't believe it.  It's just that my husband and I really try to work on communication and have success...most of the time.  The time on question, however, not so much.

I had reached a particularly frantic time: I had a paper due, reports cards to finish, and other household duties to perform.  I was cranky, tired, and short with everyone.  I guess the last straw was a comment(?) or question(?) about something, I think.  (I really don't remember how the argument started.)  Anyhow, fast forward to some comments being said that should have been said long before that point.  In short, my husband and I were both unhappy with the extra pressures I put on the family.  Due mainly to my selfishness and desire to want to "do it all." 

So I filled out a prayer request card during Sunday service at church, basically asking for clarity on how I could improve my marriage.  The argument had been a wake-up call.  Within a few days, I got a call from my pastor.  During the course of the conversation, he pretty much told me he noticed I had lost my joy.  Funny.  I thought I was doing a pretty good job of hiding how I truly felt most days.  Sort of like Emily Freeman in her book Grace for the Good Girl.  She talks about how many women wear all sorts of masks to fit in because they are afraid of revealing their true selves.  Or more specifically, their true vulnerability.

Ah.  That word.  What self-proclaimed "made" woman/mom/supermom wants to admit she's vulnerable in areas of her life where she should be deemed successful?  Who wants to admit she doesn't have it all together?  Most of the time we go along, barely hanging on by a fraying thread but refusing to ask for help that is so readily available from our friends, our family, God.  Other times, however, we are dragged along, kicking and screaming, trying to keep up with the pace we ourselves set.

Back to my conversation with my pastor. Sure, I had not been truly happy in a long time.  I was too tired to be happy! I had so much going on!  But who's fault was it?  Mine.  Solely mine.  My pastor made me realize that by simply asking if I had asked God to take extra courses or coach.  Er, um, well...no.  I took it upon myself, upon realization that my current certificate would expire in February of next year, to begin courses so I could continue teaching.  (Yet here I am now.  Ha ha.  Good one, God.)  And that was the crux of the matter.  I didn't ask permission.  I was struggling because I was being selfish.  My pastor told me that if God deemed it, I could be successful without a certificate; He already had plans for me.  The key was trusting in Him.  (And asking for forgiveness for my selfishness from everyone it impacted.  That was hard, but it had to be done.)

So I began to look at my life and examine areas I needed to address.  The largest area was that of my family.  I was pouring so much into everything else that I wasn't giving them as much as they needed from me.  Priorities were imbalanced and I needed to tilt the scale.

I started by reading through the book I referenced earlier because she sounds so much like me.  I'm not someone with a dramatic testimony of a wayward life or habits I needed to break.  Many of the books I read about finding yourself and the calling God has for you were unrelatable.  But this.  This was the one.  While reading through the pages and answering the chapter questions I began to see myself as a master in disguise.  SO much of what Emily had written was scarily accurate, as if she herself was peeking through my blinds and hiding in my closets.  I was definitely in hiding, in fear of being "found out."  Afraid of people knowing I don't have it all together and I sometimes need help but am too stubborn to ask for it.  Afraid of people finding out my vulnerability.  Afraid of allowing God to address that vulnerability.

But with this whole experience, I'm learning to let that pride go.  I'm also learning to not be so ultra-planned in my life, to allow things to happen as God sees fit for them to happen, instead of me planning my life and squeezing God in where it's convenient.  As one of my favorite blogs stated several months back, "Life is not an emergency."

So true.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Backstory. Part 1.

As I stated in my previous entry, I'm new to being at home.  Now that school has started, I'm finding myself preoccupied with what I "should" be doing each day.  I'm so used to being on the go and being busy that I'm finding it hard NOT do be doing something every second of every day.  Which is how I ended up here in the first place.  Sort of.

We all have the busyness of our lives that seem to take up every spare second, especially when we have families and work/career.  I've gotten so used to this breakneck speed that it's hard to
s l o w
d o w n. 
Especially if you are like me, and feel that busyness equals productivity.  Trust me, I'm learning that it so doesn't.

Enter May of this year.  I knew my district had been talking about budget cuts and furloughing more than 70 positions, most of them teachers.  I didn't know that in a few short weeks, I would be getting the call to tell me I, with all of my experience and time in the system, was on the furlough list.

When I got the call (4:00 on a Thursday afternoon), I was told there were some errors in the first calculations and a second round of furlough notifications was being sent out.  The call was to let me know I would be receiving a letter.  I finished my conversation, went back to my classroom, and promptly called my husband to tell him to call me in 10 minutes, once I got home.  (Side note: I lived in my school zone at the time.  My students were also my neighbors and my children's friends.)  When he called I told him the details of the phone call; no real surprise there because we knew the furlough was a possibility.  He reassured me that everything would be fine and told me this might be my chance to leave the classroom. Hmm.

See, several years prior, I told my husband I didn't see myself in the classroom in another five years.  Not out of education entirely, just not in the classroom.  Not that I didn't enjoy my students and their families.  I just wanted to do more than teach.  I wanted to influence and mentor other teachers.  I wanted to create materials for the classroom.  I wanted to have some sense that I was making a difference in the way education is presented.  (On a side note, I had also expressed to God around that time that I wanted to be home with my children--if He saw it fit, of course.  Needless to say, it wasn't the time then.)

Enter this situation.  Now, I didn't jump up right away and tell everyone I was blowing the proverbial Popsicle stand.  No.  What I did was begin praying about where God wanted me to be.  If that was in another building, teaching another grade, then so be it.  If that was home with my family, then that was fine, too.  So I prayed and waited for confirmation.  Around that time, everyone seemed to be asking about my job security for the next year because the topic was all over the local news, parents were concerned, students were concerned, etc.  Anyone who knew I was teaching in this particular district began asking questions.  Even my father, who lives several hours away on the other side of the state, began asking because our local news made it all the way out to where he lives.  All I could tell people was that I didn't know.  I was waiting on God.

Which, I can tell you, was hard.  It was a full three weeks after the initial call that I was contacted with employment options for the next school year.  During that three weeks, I really felt the need for me to be home, but I wasn't quite sure.  Not until my options came did clarity come. 

Option 1:  I could bump someone from their current position.  Basically, take someone else's job to have a job.
Option 2:  I could take a half-time position in order to fill a retirement.

After much discussion with HR, I decided not to take either option.  Even through the discussions with HR and my family, I continued to feel that I needed to be home.  Conversations with friends and family about the situation all echoed my husband's earlier declaration, without mention of it from me.  I felt such a peace about the whole idea.  So when I finally told my principal my decision, I had no fear or doubt.  I knew things would work out.  As far as my options, they were offered to other teachers.  I'm not sure what happened to whoever was offered my first option, but I know I helped a former colleague remain employed with the second.

When I told my students and parents, there were many tears from everyone.  Some parents offered to pray for me as well.  I left my building with a peace I hadn't felt in a long time.  It felt great.

Even with all of the good feelings, I still had some trepidation about telling my children.  Like I said, we lived in my school zone.  My children attended the school I taught in for so many years.  By the time all of this happened, my oldest had begun middle school, but my youngest was still in the building with me.  I just wasn't sure how they would take the news that I was leaving the classroom.

I started with my youngest, since he was still in the building.
Me: Bud, how would you feel if Mommy wasn't in school with you anymore?
Him: (Perplexed look.) Why? Where are you going?
Me: I'm planning to be home and not be in the classroom anymore.
Him: Oh. Why?
Me: So I can be home for you guys more.  Does that sound like a good idea?
Him: (Thumbs up and a smile.) 

I proceeded to explain what happened with my job and how I prayed and waited for a decision, and how my husband and I really felt this was the right choice.

During this conversation, my oldest was listening and waiting for her turn. When the time came, she simply asked, "So does this mean we'll see you more and not your back?"  (Wow. Gasp. Shock to my system.  More on that in a moment).  I told her it would.  Enter thoughtful looks from both children, followed by smiles, okays, and lingering hugs. 

They weren't as devastated as I thought they would be.  In fact, they were happy.  Which led me to think about my daughter's singular question...and led me to think about how my presence, even working on the computer in the corner of the living room, wasn't enough.  Hadn't been enough.  My children needed me, not the crazy person/blur that had been living with them.  They needed ME.

So here I am.  Learning to slow down and focus on things in front of me.  Learning to be more sane in my daily pursuits.  Learning to enjoy the view.