Conquered

Long have I fought to own my desperate dreams—
Rebellious serf in search of something more,
And sharpening my tongue, declaring war
And holy zeal against whatever seems
To block me. Sense and circumstance may roar,
But I have dreamed and I have fought before—
See, in the sunshine, how my armor gleams!

But who’s the enemy? My passions fade
As now at last I glimpse the Castle high
On misty hill. Why would I be afraid,
Or fight, when He has conquered all, and I
Need only yield to Him? Halt, dark crusade!
See one shy rainbow race across the sky.

Discombobulated: Portraits of a Lockdown

On Tuesday afternoon we teachers said good bye to our students as usual, and later we said, “See you tomorrow!” to each other. But we didn’t see each other the next day. Nova Scotia has entered a lockdown—two weeks, they say. So school as we knew it has ended for a time. I’m so thankful for how far we’ve been able to come this school term. Hopefully we can even come back to school again for a few days at the end of the term.

On Thursday the teachers all went to school to prepare their students’ books to be picked up and the work continued at home. Here are a few snapshots of that unusual morning.

Scenes:

  • rows of book stacks marked with yellow sticky notes
  • empty desks
  • crayons put back in boxes from the baskets they were in when they were being used
  • open file drawers
  • a bewildered teacher wearing a look of deep thought
  • rows of orange chairs awaiting the morning devotions that never came
  • books and papers strewn across my desk
  • parents arriving to pick up their children’s books for homeschooling
  • yellow, blue, and white paint collected for finishing an art project at home
  • scribbled questions for a Bible story I couldn’t read
  • left-behind socks arranged for parents to look through

Echoes:

  • teachers humming as they bustle about
  • binders clicking open and shut
  • clock ticking
  • footsteps on the stairs
  • jokes and questions thrown back and forth
  • copier clanking busily
  • drawers slamming
  • desk chair creaking
  • teacher discussion on yearbook and class photos
  • papers rustling
  • pens clicking
  • cellphone ringing

Feelings:

  • a dear co-teacher’s hug
  • a comfy desk chair I won’t use for a while
  • conversations with the moms of my students
  • heart-tugs while handing over books
  • lost looks at the irrelevant schedule in my planner
  • excitement that I still get to teach in private because it’s considered essential care for my student
  • afloat in a sea of papers: how to organize thoughts and methods and needs among them all?

The days since have settled into a new routine, and life goes on with its challenges and riches, loaded with the goodness of the Father.

According to my loose schedule, this should have been an inspirational post. So I’ll leave you with a thought that a close friend shared with me recently: “Praise God for the things He is doing in your life.” What inspired me about this was the reminder that God is at work right now, not just in some hazy future. I can praise Him for what He has done so far—as Samuel said in the Bible, “Hitherto has the Lord helped us.” Joy comes as we acknowledge and embrace the work God is doing for us, in us, and through us—today.

Of Beginnings and Endings

The final days of the school term are quickly approaching. For some reason this rather surprises me. When the term began, all was new, and I never really thought about how it would end or that it even would. Exciting beginnings never seem to leave much room for thoughts of endings.

But the end of this term is coming. Once in a while, I think about the little that I have accomplished in it and wonder: am I doing anything? These small beginnings: are they worth it? Not that I question whether it’s worth it for me—I have learned so much in the last six months and I know God wants me here—but, are my stumbles and fumbles worth it for those who are paying me?

A few weeks ago, the chairman of the school board and his wife came to school after classes to ask the teachers how we feel about next year. They found us lady teachers randomly lounging around my classroom, chatting about people’s varying learning styles and how important it is to not shove students into boxes. We invited them into the conversation and we all talked together for a few minutes.

Then the other teachers went their ways, leaving Daniel and Gladys and I to have the first interview. I pulled up chairs. We sat down to business.

Only, I don’t like to call it business. They care too much about the school and the people involved. We talked about how the year has gone so far. They listened and gave insights.

Then came the questions. I was expecting The Question: Do you want to stay and teach next term?

But before that one was another. “We’re looking for someone to teach the kindergarten class in April. Is that something you would be interested in?”

Interested? Yes! I had secretly wished that I could, but had assumed the first-grade classroom would be chosen to host the kindergarten students. But I was being asked? Why yes. Yes. I would love to.

After we had discussed that a little while, the other question came. I told them I would be happy to teach again next year, though I would have to discuss it with my parents yet to be sure I had their blessing. “I can’t see myself doing anything else next year,” I said.

And it was true. For a while I had had the sense that if they wanted me, I would teach again next term, whether I wanted to or not—that it was God’s plan for me. But along the way I realized I also very much wanted to say yes. A few days later I gave the confirmation. I felt like I was running along a beach with the wind at my back—childlike joy.

Now the last few weeks I’ve had the joy of four kindergarten students in my classroom part of the time. These three boys and one girl have already found special places in my heart. I thought life was rich with one student to love, but it just gets deeper with more. I have only two more weeks with them; let me make the most of it before it ends.

Kindergarten is an adventure. One day, one of the students in the front row toppled over, desk and all, while reaching for a dropped eraser. I set the desk upright and the tears soon faded. About twenty minutes later, another one fell out the other side, again taking the desk with him. There were no lasting ill effects, and no one else has tried it since.

We’ve had stories and played dodgeball and learned that at school you raise your hand before you talk. We’ve rolled a big colorful die and stepped along numbers laid out on the floor. We’ve practiced colors and numbers and letters. Little beginnings. The foundations for future learning.

The upper grade students come in sometimes to help out. I love watching them gain confidence and seeing their methods—as different as their individual personalities. I can learn from them too.

Last week on Friday afternoon I showed my little class how to make lilies by tracing their hand-prints on colored paper. They cut the hand-prints out while I went around to help where needed. Watch out, you don’t want to cut the thumb off. See, if you hold your scissors like this, you can cut better. Uh-oh, the thumb came off your hand-print anyway. Shall we tape it back on or have a flower with four petals instead of five?

I helped them curl the fingers around a pencil to make the petals, then we taped the edges together and attached them to sticks for stems. A few students made leaves for their flowers. One of them came up with the idea of making a heart shaped leaf.

The finished flowers are now arranged in a jar adorning my desk. Some of the petals have jagged edges, and one did end up with only four petals, while another one has its fifth petal taped back on. But that doesn’t bother me. The children did their best, and I’m delighted with the results of their efforts. They’re my students. I love to see their creativity blossom, watch them discover what they can do, and encourage every little achievement.

Kindergarten will end, but they will go on learning. First grade is around the corner.

My relationship with God is similar. Even though I sometimes feel I have only made small beginnings, He is there for me at every step. He delights in my efforts at seeking Him. He gives me courage for the work I do in His name. He rejoices to see His children learning to walk in the truth. The foundations are always worth the effort.

And often I discover that what I thought was the end is only the beginning.

After School

I am a teacher.

Footsteps echo in empty halls after students have gone home.

I pull back the curtains,
finish my lunch,
sigh at red marks on paper—
	what can I do to improve his grasp of math?

A co-teacher calls from her basement classroom, 
	“Do you have lima beans at home? 
        I need some for a science project.”

I thump down the hollow steps to chat,
sharing joys and tips.

We put our heads together,
bouncing ideas about field trips.

Back to my cluttered classroom. 

The clock ticks. There are papers to grade and collect,
words to scratch on the blackboard,
thoughts to think, plans to make.

I am a teacher, 
	somehow. Not because of me,
	but because of the Master Teacher,
Who has seen fit to place me here,
enabling me with grace.

Our day of school is over, but mine is never complete.
	I am a teacher, yet taught by the most High.
	I am His servant.

Summer Is Coming

The last few weeks have seen the dawn of spring. The snow melted, the sun shone, and birds twittered in budding treetops. After the cold and darkness of winter, who can resist the light of spring? It’s like the Son of God shining into a life, bringing transformation and then growth. The ice of sin melts under the strong light, and birds of praise start singing. Summer looks tantalizingly close.

Then last week, winter came slinking in again. The temperature fell, a raw wind blew, and the clouds scattered snowflakes. Where is the hope of spring now? What do we do when reality hits, when summer seems as distant as the snow-veiled sun?

We look for the signs of spring through the storm. Despite the wind, the air is alive with hope. The sunshine has new strength. No amount of snowflakes can alter the fact that the earth is now in more of a position to embrace the sunshine than it was during the winter. And the birds keep singing.

On Friday, just when I was convinced I was done wearing winter clothes for the season, I woke to a world of snow. That morning it was hard to find traces of spring. The air was cold. Clouds hung low, hiding the eager sun. Even the crows seemed to have gone silent.

But by noon, the sun had conquered the clouds. By two-thirty, the downspouts were singing their drippy music and in places where the snow had been partly cleared away, the ground was thawing.

Everything kept on thawing; the sun kept shining, stronger and stronger.

The last few days, it feels as if summer is almost upon us. The children at school go barefoot and slip in the mud during a game of Get the Sticks, and I’m sweating when I come inside even though I haven’t been wearing a coat. The piles of snow in the corners of the schoolyard are mere gray shadows of their former mountain appearance. The leeks my brothers planted in flats have sprouted.

They say that cool weather is soon creeping back for a few days. There will be clouds that block our view of the sun. There may even be snow.

But I will breathe the transformed air, sing with the birds, and turn toward the sun.

Summer is coming.

All in Eight Days

I decided to share a diary-style chronicle of a recent week. Enjoy=)

Sunday, February 21, 2021

The church service was a rich tapestry of praising God in song, a thought-provoking Sunday School discussion on the topic of love, and a message by brother Arthur Penner inviting us to the deeper things of the love of God.

We had invited Arthur and Tina for lunch. What a blessing to visit and to hear the wisdom of the elders.

After they left, we youth—Selema, Judith, Jesse, Caleb, and I—went over to Ervin and Doris’s house. They had invited the youth for Yujel’s 16th birthday. Ervin met us at the door, saying, “You’re just in time for the game!” We joined the circle and were soon deep in a game of Occupation. There was plenty of laughter and hard thinking and collaboration as we tried to discover the identities of the mink farmer, the preacher, the cloud seeder, the art director, and many more over the course of several rounds of the game.

Then we sat around talking and eating Doris’s good taco salad and the birthday cake Julianne had decorated.

There was hockey that evening, so after supper most of the youth hurried off for that. My siblings and I didn’t go this time. As I got out of the car at home, I saw the brilliance of the stars. So I soon slipped out of the house and went for a walk alone through snow and starlight, over the field and into the woods. The moon shone full. I savored the peace and the chance to commune with God.

Monday, February 22, 2021

After breakfast, I left for school as usual. I had rearranged things at school and given CJ a desk of his own instead of having him work at the table beside me. “I have a new desk!” he said in wonder when he saw it.

My school day was short; CJ’s parents picked him up a little before lunch for an appointment. I cleaned up my classroom, did some preparing for the next day, and went home for lunch.

That afternoon I worked with Caleb on removing the stitches in his leg. He had been slashed in the leg by a male pig a week before, and now the stitches were almost growing into the wound as it healed. I had gotten one stitch out on Sunday morning. There were two more to go. With sharp instruments and perseverance and Judith’s help at holding a light, we finally got another one. The wound was swelling and the last one evaded our efforts. We put on a poultice, deciding to try again later.

I worked on some writing projects that afternoon, and studied for music class the next day.

After supper my siblings and I gathered in the dining room to sing the songs from a program some of us were part of last summer. The blessing of shared music!

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Both Judith and I needed to get ready to leave this morning—Judith works for Brian and Mary Barkman (from the church here) on Tuesdays.

With Dad’s help, we got the last of Caleb’s stitches out before I left. We had to do it differently than the doctor had told us, but it worked.

With that finally taken care of, I was ready to face the day. The parking lot where my student and the grade one class were playing for recess was slushy that day, but we still had fun playing Twenty-three Skidoo. It was a good day of school. In the afternoon I taught the first grade music class.

After school I took some photos of the misty North Mountain and talked with my co-teachers in the sunny school hallway before doing my school work.

When I arrived home, Selema told me they had butchered roosters that afternoon. I was not sorry to have missed out.

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Lynette Horst showed up at our place bright and early to pick up Selema. They wanted to go visit and clean for a lady near Antigonish that day. I went out to talk with her a little, in the invigorating morning air.

It was another good school day. Not without its challenges, of course, but God’s grace always makes a way. I was excited to see how independently my student participated in our game at the noon recess.

After school, Kathleen (the first grade teacher) and I drove to nearby Berwick to return some library books we had gotten to teach our students about other countries. We had fun shopping at Bargain Harley’s together yet. Then I took her back to school and went home. At supper, Mom told a little about the small ladies’ gathering she had been at in the afternoon.

That evening there was clothes packing for CAM at Larry Kornelson’s place, for any of the church people. (We have it every other week in the wintertime; Dad is on the board for taking care of its operation.) A nice-size group of people showed up, and it was the normal hubbub. People talked as they tried to decide if a certain article was fit to send overseas or not. Conversations on any random topic swirled about. The children ran around to pick up garbage and try on the discarded clothes—they were thrilled to find animal costumes, and for a little while, one of them was running around holding onto the tail of a fleeing ‘lion’. The men tied up the finished clothing bundles, kneeling on top to pack as much into one bale as possible.

Thursday, February 25, 2021

I began the day feeling a bit flustered and behind, but God was in the day.

The morning’s classes went quite well. After lunch I taught music class again. We tracked the beat of simple songs on heart icons that CJ had helped me put up on the wall. The whole class enjoyed it—and my student did as well as any of them. How exciting to see the progress of their understanding—and that perhaps I’ve been able to teach them something after all.

My second joy-joy moment came a little while later when a ten-year-old with shining eyes slipped into my classroom (for a few minutes of extra practice) and handed me a note she had written. Every time I glanced at that note for the remainder of the afternoon, I smiled. And kept smiling. Small tokens of appreciation can do so much!

After school, Kathleen and I put away some new books in the supply room. This room is just off from the playroom; when we were finished, we took a notion to do something we’ve never done after school before: play a little ping-pong. Neither of us is a pro, but it was a fun way to unwind from the day.

When I drove home, the sunset was a wild glory of torn gold in the west behind the edge of the mountain.

At home, I made a poultice for Caleb, checked email, had supper, and showered. Selema and Judith told me they had been at the clothes packing place again that day, helping finish things up.

Then we girls drove up the mountain to Julianne and Lynette’s house for a girls’ Bible Study and tea party. We sat around their cozy living room, sang, shared hearts, drank tea, and ate shortbread cookies. The evening was too short—as those evenings always are.

When we left, the moon was shining and the wind seemed to want to blow us off the edge of the mountain. Far below in the valley, lights twinkled. We drove down to our valley home.

Friday, February 26, 2021

The school day began beautifully with brother Philip Penner leading in devotions for the whole school. He had a list of Bible trivia questions for the students and got everyone engaged.

The rest of the day was a challenge that kept me begging God for wisdom and grace. Art class lightened things up—we worked on balls made of colorful paper circles.

After school I dashed about to clean up my classroom, then sped home to get cleaned up myself, for a massage appointment. (At home, things seemed a bit wild too. Mom and Selema were away, helping a lady who has come to church sometimes. Dad was selling frozen chicken to someone and getting ready to go pick up some hay with the van and trailer.)

Judith went with me; she had a massage appointment too. While she had hers, I took the chance to relax in the car and do some writing and editing. The massage was wonderful—Friday evening is the perfect time for a teacher to get one=)

Before we headed home, Judith and I picked up Louise Horst (the massage lady lives next door to their place). She was going to spend the evening with Mom while her husband and son played hockey with some others from church. Dad and the younger boys left for the hockey too as soon as we got back—their skates had been left in the back of the car I was driving.

After a quick supper, we youth left for a youth singing at church. We sang hymns, practiced choral songs (in preparation for a program), tried to define words the way a mom would, and talked over snacks—a delightful evening.

Saturday, February 27, 2021

As usual for Saturday, we bustled about early to get Dad and Judith off to Halifax for the market.

My morning filled up quickly with writing, teaching preparations, doctoring Caleb, and practicing the choral songs from the evening before with my siblings.

As soon as Dad and Judith came home from Halifax, Dad got ready to leave for Yarmouth to pick up a wood chipper he had bought. Caleb went with him.

That afternoon, the ten-year-old girl who had earlier made my day by her note came over. I had a wonderful time with her—we went to see the bunnies, played educational games, read a story, and baked a chocolate cake together.

I worked on writing projects after she left. My sisters cleaned the house.

After supper, not long after Dad had gotten home, he went off again to the clothes packing place with Jesse to help unload a shipment of clothes to be sorted.

I took a long soak in the bathtub, accompanied by a charming book called The Door in the Wall.

With sisters and friends at the shore…

Sunday, February 28, 2021

There was the usual whirlwind of getting everyone ready for church—baths, last-minute tidying up of the house, breakfast, chores, putting together a casserole for lunch. But we made it to church.

Brian Barkman’s message was titled The Two Kingdoms. His clear presentation and examples from history clarified the reasons we don’t vote and shouldn’t campaign politically. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t support the government—we need to support them in prayer, and seek first the Kingdom of God.

We had Peter and Lena Barkman over for lunch. I stayed at their house for a month or two last fall, so it was extra special to have them in our home now, to show them around and just visit. They’re a little like grandparents to me.

The day was mild and sunny. After Peter and Lena left, I said, “I have a hankering to go to the shore.” Judith agreed.

So we girls drove over the mountain, picking up Adrianna and Jelana Barkman on the way and going down the other side to the Bay of Fundy shore at Black Rock. Down by the water, a brisk breeze blew. We ran across rocks in the sunshine, talked, took pictures, and watched waves break on the shore. The massive icicles hanging over the cliff edges were melting. The sun dipped lower in the sky, casting a path of gold across the sparkling water. Friendship and the Fundy shore—perfect combination.

We took the girls back home; they had invited us to stay for supper, so we had an enjoyable evening yet at their house. The lively supper conversation included stories about dangerous animals and a discussion about creation and evolution. And after supper we played some games.

It was another day of God’s blessings… what a privilege to be able to gather with believers and enjoy God’s great creation.

Life is an ebb and flow; seasons of charm and change. And always, amid the whirl of life, God’s light is waiting if my eyes are open.

(All photos are from the Sunday afternoon ramble at the shore.)

Turning Point

  My God, my God,
 why  
 have I forsaken You?
 —fleeing from the cross,
 nothing but my odious self within my sweaty hands,
 thirsting after bitter pleasure,
 running—blind—into the city,
 where my undoing surely
 will be finished?
 
Why would I continue to
 refuse Your love—
 the lesser agony of surrender—
 for such a shattered state?
 My God, my God,
 why
 have I forsaken You?
 
 
 Lord, forgive me, for
 I knew not what I did. 

The Author and Finisher

One Sunday afternoon my siblings and I played a story game with some friends. Everyone wrote a sentence on a sheet of paper, folded it over, and passed it to the person next to them. Each person read only the previous sentence before adding one of their own to continue the story.

As the game progressed, there was no way of knowing what had been written that was now under numerous folds of paper. Sometimes we could add a next sentence right away, but more often we shook our heads or laughed. How to coherently take on someone else’s thought when we had no idea what the beginning was?

And even harder—how to write a satisfying ending? We took our best guesses and engaged our creativity.

When it came time to read the completed stories, everyone took a sheet and unrolled it to read to the rest. The varied handwriting and pen colors told the tale of a multi-authored story. Hearty laughter erupted at the odd—and mostly inadvertent—twists produced by the passing on of words and imagination from one person to another. Characters switched names halfway through, a windy hilltop became an ocean, a frog was banished to an insane asylum.

Amid the fun, I thought of a song I had listened to not long before: “If all things start and end with Him/ then we can believe / His word comes true.”

I have heard countless times that God is the Author and the Finisher of our faith. But suddenly I understood its significance more than ever before. He does not merely begin the story, then pass it off to us to do as we please with. Nor does He make us write the beginning and start stumbling about for a while before He steps in to complete the story with a nice stock ending.

Nothing of the sort will do for the beautiful stories God wants to write for our lives. He begins our stories with His own hand, a new beginning every time. He labors over the writing as only love can do. He walks us through the painful process of editing and shifting about of sentences. It is the same handwriting all through, sure and stately.

Granted, the story will most likely unfold with surprising plot twists. But it is God Himself who gives meaning to all the scenes. And it is God Himself who weaves the most profound and beautiful ending possible, opening out into the glory of His everlasting Kingdom.