Stand in awe

reflection sunrise

School holidays is now upon us and minutes after my class was dismissed on the last day of term, I was busy packing up my desk and classroom to head down south with my family. Sometimes the best holidays are just the ones where you just get to rest, reflect and stand in awe of God’s wonders. This holiday away from home may have been a short one, but thankfully, it was one where rest, relaxation and reflection filled most of my time.

sunrise boat

The morning of my birthday we rose early and walked up the headland to watch the sunrise. This is something I haven’t done in a very, very long time. Given that we are currently in the middle of winter, it was certainly crisp and cold. The dewy and slightly frosted grass seemed to penetrate through to our toes as we climbed the beautiful, green headland up above the beach in the dim light. At the top, the view was spectacular and the skies changed so rapidly I struggled to take enough photos to adequately capture the moment. Then I realised I probably had to spend some of that time just being in the moment.

sunrise headlandsunrise headland 2

Standing in awe of God’s creation is something we hardly have time for in our busy world, and as teachers we may find it even harder to slow down and breathe due to the ever-increasing demands upon our time. Even now, on my holidays, I know there is a huge list of to-dos waiting for me, many of which I will struggle to complete by the end of the term break. Yet I cannot allow this thought to overwhelm me and ruin what time I do have left to spend with my family. Every moment in this life is precious. And every moment is fleeting. Just like the sunrise that swiftly turned into daylight, so too do our days slip away into weeks, months and years. If we don’t stop to stand in awe, we will look back and regret, rather than look back and celebrate the moments that were.

sunrise birdssunrise swans 2 sunrise swans 3swans 1

In that sunrise moment, there were thousands of colours. There was the cold damp beneath our feet and the wedge of swans flying through the golden glow of the sun. There were the pinks and purples flickering off the waves as they rippled towards the water’s edge. It was as if the breath of God had settled above the waters as the waves gently crashed onto the rocks and sand. Our silhouettes against the light spoke powerfully of our small place in such a magnificent world. To imagine, that Adam and Eve really did have it all. To find a touch of Eden despite the brokenness that exists today, just might be the thing that brings us through the brokenness.

Immy Age sunrise 2 walking headland 2

Psalm 65:8 (NLT) says,

Those who live at the ends of the earth
    stand in awe of your wonders.
From where the sun rises to where it sets,
    you inspire shouts of joy.

We cannot stand in awe if we do not choose to stop and be still long enough to notice the gifts God gives us every day. Why is it that the sunrise is such a beautiful thing that happens every single day? Perhaps God knows, for those who are willing to rise with it, that it will inspire enough joy to equip us to make it through our day, no matter what that day may bring.

mist waves goldmist waves crashingreflection sunrise

No matter what our days may bring, it is important to teach our kids to stop and look for the wonder and awe in life and in creation. For it is in those moments, the wonder and awe moments, that we can be refreshed, revived and ready to do His will once more.  What better way to let that light come flooding in, than by the rays of the sunrise, which by His grace, can be freely found each morning… no matter who you are, no matter where you are.

AJ water

To be still

sleeping sparrow 3

sparrow sittingsparrow looking 2

This afternoon God sent me a gentle, small, but significant reminder to “be still” in His presence. A little sparrow took rest on our outdoor table and I noticed it as I glanced out our kitchen window. Realising it did not seem disturbed by the noise, like these little birds normally are around our place, I crept out with my camera to capture it.

When I began to take the photos, I felt as if it turned and looked me straight in the eye, not at all worried about my presence. While we often have many types of birds flittering in and out of our backyard, I knew there was something different about this one. It had a message, though at the time I did not know what it was trying to tell me.

sleeping sparrow 2 sleeping sparrow 3  sleeping sparrow

Usually when the sparrows fly around, I immediately make the connection with Matthew 10:31, which says,

“So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.”

This time though, I felt like there was more to this visit than just a simple reminder that God was watching out for us.

Despite the end of the school term drawing near, I have been very busy. School demands are still present with many events planned for the last week before our holidays. At home, we have been considering selling our house and buying land to build on… all of which causes worry to some level due to the inevitable amount of unpredictability that comes with that situation. We have been spending much of our time planning, thinking, dreaming, wondering and while it is an important decision, it is just as important to let God in on that planning process. And what is one of the best ways to let God in? To just… be still.

Psalm 46:10 was one of my grandparents’ favourite verses. I remember it stitched onto a wall hanging in their house as a child.

“Be still, and know that I am God…”

My grandfather also used to have little birds visit his garden while he was tending to it, and I often wonder if God spoke to him as He has spoken to me through these beautiful little creatures, on many occasions.

This afternoon was no exception. As I took photographs of the little sparrow, I noticed it often had its eyes closed, as though it was resting briefly. When I returned home from church later this evening, I finally felt God open my eyes to its message. I had to be still… just be still and let God be God, and trust in Him.

At church we had played a clip of a song by Steffany Gretzinger called, Be Still. 

The lyrics struck my heart deeply tonight…

“Be still my heart and know, You are God alone. Stop thinking so much and just let go.

Be still my soul and rest, humbly I confess, in my weakness, Your strength is perfect.”

 

I have always loved the Bible passage, 2 Corinthians 12:9,

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.

As human beings we will always be weak. Some of us in different areas to others and some of us in different seasons of our lives. The one thing we can count on, is that Christ’s power is made perfect in weakness.  In the very acknowledgement of our own failings, His power can work and be made perfect in us. As teachers, we may strive for perfection in many areas… the perfect classroom, the perfect lesson plan, the perfect class, yet that sort of perfection will always be out of our reach. Without Christ, there is no perfection, and to experience His perfect, unconditional love, we need to first be still to receive His presence.

sparrow treesparrow tree 2

The message from my little visitor this afternoon was reinforced when it flew up into the tree that was filled with many more sparrows, all sitting still and waiting. As  I captured them in the beauty of the setting sun, I felt a peace fall upon me. A reminder that God was with me, even though I had forgotten to be still and seek Him out in the midst of my busy life.

So tonight, I pray that Christ will work in me, that in my stopping to acknowledge my weakness, of not trusting enough, of not letting go and letting God in, that through this recognition of my weakness, that He will work in mighty and wondrous ways… in all areas of my teaching and my life. As I lay my head down to rest, I know that I rest in His love and His grace, and that this is enough.

3 sparrows

 

Listen to your heart

pink purple sunset

drawing girl

The other day, one of my beautiful little Kindergarten girls stood up at her table while all the other students were busy working away in their books. There was worship music playing in the background and a good amount of conversation happening at the time. She put her hand over her heart and raised her other hand in the air to poignantly proclaim:

“Listen to your heart! You have it in you!”

While the others at the table stopped work momentarily to discuss and argue about the precise location of the heart within the body, she continued on with more determination…

“Listen to me! You need to listen to your heart and try harder and use what you have!”

In witnessing this young girl’s enthusiasm for her cause, I suddenly realised how many grown-ups (myself included) needed to hear what she was saying, just as much as the peers who had a front row seat to her heart-felt and inspirational speech.

What she was saying had so many layers of truth within it. If Jesus’ Holy Spirit resides within our hearts, should we not be listening to that voice within our hearts more often? Do we not need to try harder to do what Christ has called us to do? And should we not be using the resources He has provided for us, for His purpose and His glory?

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If Christ calls us into a place to serve Him, then he promises to provide all that we need. Sometimes we may already have the capabilities and resources inside us, but have never taken that step of faith out onto the waters to see what we can do in His name.

water imogen

If this sounds like you, then I encourage you to listen to the voice of God within your heart and try harder to do what He has called you to do, remembering that we do not have to rely on our own strength, but His. Never forget that you have the power of Christ within your reach, if you are believing in Him and following in His ways.

As Psalm 73:26 (NIV) reminds us,

My flesh and my heart may fail,
    but God is the strength of my heart
    and my portion forever.

pink purple sunset

If you want to apply the words of my dear, little Kinder student to your life, then all you need do is follow these three steps:

1. Listen to God working in your heart

2. Try harder, especially when you do not feel like it. 

3. Use what you have.

God has given each of us different gifts for different purposes. In order to honour God in our lives, we need to use those gifts and never let them go to waste.

Empty again

heart

What do you do when reports are done and the term is slowly (yet somehow rapidly) drawing to a close? What do you do when you forget to stop and be still with our Creator?

heartjournal

After a much awaited long weekend, I suddenly realised I had been focussing on significantly less-meaningful things than God. I had neglected my precious time with Him, and in doing so, did not feel equipped to enter this teaching week ready to spread His love and passionately teach the eager little hearts in my care. Sometimes we need that wake-up call… something to remind us to go back to Him and His Word. My wake-up call was the realisation that I did not feel contented in my situation. I somehow felt that I needed to do something drastic, like move house, buy acreage, or go on a longer holiday in order to feel right again.

While these enormous self-created holes in my life kept enlarging, I suddenly, and thankfully, realised that I had simply become lost. I had wandered off His path yet again… and I just needed to seek His light to find my way home once more.

sunlight tree 2

While I am usually an avid reader of Ann Voskamp’s blog, A Holy Experience, I had even let that slip to the wayside in the midst of reporting season (and then the recovering from reporting season!). This morning I felt led to read a recent post entitled: How You Can Do A Reset in the Middle of the Year: June’s The New January. There was something in the very title I identified with. I knew I needed to change my habits and allow God to help me form better ones. There were a few statements by Ann in this post that very much hit home for me.

1. When you work faithfully, creativity comes faithfully.”

Each and every day as teachers we need to work faithfully. And some days more than others. When the deadlines are looming, when the parent queries are constant, when the students are pushing the boundaries, you need faith. Faith that the moment will pass. Faith that you are growing through the experience. Faith that there is a greater purpose to all that you are doing, and at the end of the day, you will make a difference in the life of a child.

2. “Keep showing up – because this is how you never, ever give up.”

feet

Sometimes, to be faithful you need to step out, even when you are not even sure where you will land. When I was about to begin teaching full-time after having my own children, a dear friend sent me this quote:

“When God leads you to the edge of a cliff, trust Him fully, and let go. One of two things will happen. Either He will catch you when you fall, or He will teach you how to fly.”  - unknown.

I can say without a doubt, over the last three or so years, I have done a great deal of both falling and flying. I could not however, have taken a single step without God beside me, gently and sometimes firmly, pulling me through. Teaching is not an easy job, but if you love it, the hard work will always be worth it. And one thing I’ve realised is, I could not even contemplate my role without God’s help.

skies

While the statistics on teacher burn-out grow higher and higher worldwide, it is not surprising that so many teachers are leaving the profession disillusioned. The thing we teachers need to understand is, the job will drain you. It will empty you, but you are not meant to remain empty. If you are working faithfully, always starting your day with God, then He will refill you. He promises to do so.

2 Corinthians 12:9 from The Message says,

My grace is enough; it’s all you need.
My strength comes into its own in your weakness.

Acknowledge our emptiness and acknowledge our weakness, so He can restore us (His broken vessels) into something to be used for His Glory.

 thank you for the things I have learned

My remedy for a difficult start to a teaching week? An entry in our class prayer journals…

Dear Lord, thank you for this day.

Teaching Resilience

Imogen walking 2

If you are a teacher, you have probably had to learn resilience very early into your job. Either that, or you will have very quickly moved into a totally different profession. Lately our school has placed a greater focus upon teacher well being, knowing that ultimately, our students are going to be better off if they have a teacher who is well-rested and able to cope with the demands of the job. Mental illness impacts more lives than we may even realise and children often fall victim to its presence, whether it be through the life of a family member who is struggling, or their own feelings of inadequacy.

Imogen walking 2

While a great deal of learning will naturally happen through modelled teaching, how else do we teach and equip students with the skills to cope when the world around them causes them pain or stress? How do we help them to even identify the warning signs? With very little time allowed for Personal Health and Development in the school curriculum, how do we embed this sort of teaching into our day-to-day routine? As much as students are in our class to receive an academic education, they will walk away with more social and life skills than we will ever realise. Every moment of the day is opportunity for them to learn a life lesson. And this will often occur, whether you plan it into your schedule or not.

The first thing I believe we can do to teach students resilience, is to encourage thankful hearts. This process of thanking God for the little things each day, will eventually assist them to focus more on the positives than the negatives within a situation. Even if you do not work within a Christian school, you can still draw students attention to the blessings in their lives and make them aware of the things they may naturally take for granted, such as hot running water or an education.

Another important question to ask is, ‘What should we do when we feel sad or afraid?’ While I would suggest first and foremost that we pray to God when we are feeling upset, we can also encourage students to talk to someone special in their lives. It may be their mum, dad, a school friend or even you, their teacher. Whoever it may be, the vital part is that when they are feeling overwhelmed, they know there is someone they can go to to share their worries with. Often, this someone will offer them just the right amount of comfort, support and encouragement, to lift them out of the place of darkness they may have stumbled into.

Children also need to realise that one way of increasing their resilience is to do something kind for the sake of another. God made us to love others and share His love with the world. The simple act of caring for another human being, by doing something nice for them, blesses us as much as it blesses them. It is almost a form of healing. Some of the most beautiful and giving people I know have experienced a lot of pain in their lives. Yet despite this, they have moved through it, loving and blessing others as they go.

I once had a class who were frequently involved in a high level of social incidents to do with unkindness. In my frustration in dealing with what seemed like the same incidents every day, I created a ‘kind-o-meter’ to measure the level of kindness in my class. While it was nothing fancy, starting purely as a drawing of an empty vase on my whiteboard, it became a focus point for the class very quickly. Whenever I noticed someone saying or doing something kind, I would begin to fill the vase with small amounts of water. Once the vase reached water capacity, flowers would then begin to appear with each kind deed I saw or heard about. Students were encouraged to tell me if someone in the class did something kind for them in the playground and if so, this would be added to my vase. It was a matter of creating new habits, and it significantly reduced the amount of negative social incidents I was battling with at the time.

vase yellow flowers

Speaking of nature, being outside in God’s creation is a wonderful way of coping when you feel overwhelmed. Having suffered with depression myself, I know that I am a better, healthier person when I have spent some time outside in a field, a park or even just the school grounds reflecting upon the wonder of God’s beautiful world. Every sunrise and sunset is a gift freely given to us by God. Often just taking your students outside for an art lesson can be a truly rewarding experience which can teach them to step outside more often.

sunset

Children also need to be reminded that they are unique, loved and of value. They need to feel that there is a reason for their life on this earth, even if they have not uncovered their specific purpose yet. Hope will keep you more grounded than you could imagine if you believe there is something special that God intends for you to do, even if you are not exactly sure of what that me be. Children who are regularly reminded to trust and believe in this, will hopefully turn into adults who will remain calm in the midst of the inevitable storms of life and keep pressing on towards their goals.

As Matthew 6:25-26 reminds us,

Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?

sparrow2

If students feel they matter, that their thoughts, their words and their work matters, then they will better equipped to face the unexpected hurdles of life head on.

The other thing to remember is that when you open up your heart, children will listen. When you admit that you are human and vulnerable by sharing the ways you have made it through hard times, these moments will remain in their minds for a long time to come. The advice you give today, could be the very advice they draw upon to help them get through the stress that their adult life (or even childhood life) will bring them. If we realise and embrace the fact that teaching is not just about academics but also about teaching life skills such as resilience, then hopefully we stand a better chance of impacting more hearts in a positive and life-changing way.

drawing hearts