Shared-ness

“Miss Olesen, would you please come look at our food?” He was standing at the classroom door, grinning in his apron. Today was their first cooking class, and he wanted me to come and see what they had done.

I had a pile of work on my desk to do. I’d just come back from vacation and was getting caught up. But I fought off the urge to read just one more e-mail. “Sure!” I said, getting up from my desk and following him to the kitchen.

A group of four boys were carrying a platter of intricately arranged fruit toward the table in the gym. They were carrying it together very carefully to be sure it wouldn’t get jostled and spill. The smiling excitement on their faces said it all: they were pleased with their work. Slowly the other groups of boys and girls were making their way out of the kitchen in a similar fashion, all with beautiful trays of fruit. They placed them carefully on the table and gathered around.

As I expressed my admiration for their lovely work, they beamed. It wasn’t just the pleasure in their work, or the fruit that they would soon enjoy. It was also the shared pleasure of the moment, of their accomplishment.

Yes, I was impressed with the fruit. It was gorgeous. But what was warming my heart just then was… them. They had done this together. They were going to enjoy it together.

I pictured them in their own homes, in years to come, living like this. Shared food, shared joy.

And I was thinking how this shared-ness of our lives speaks Christ to a watching world.

I’m so glad he invited me to share in that moment, with them.

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Singing in a Foreign Land

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The White House

 

I was in a foreign land this past week: the United States of America!  It’s amazing how foreign the U.S.A. can actually feel to a Canadian, even though it’s just across the border. Little things, from the all-green money to different names for common items, remind you that you’re not in Canada anymore.

For example, teachers have to become familiar with the American use of the word “grade”: that’s “5th Grade” instead of “Grade 5”; and as a verb, it’s “grade students’ papers” rather than “mark students’ papers”.

My destination was the state of Maryland, where I attended a teacher training conference put on by Rockbridge Academy, a classical Christian school in Annapolis. It was wonderful to meet and interact with my American colleagues! It was a week filled with both worshipping God and learning, reminding me how necessary these are to one another if we are to glorify Him.

While I am still mulling over the many things that I considered this week, and I’m sure as they marinate I will eventually be able to articulate them better, these three points stand out to me right now:

  1. Our graduates will look like our faculty. Very sobering thought for teachers! (Matthew 10:24 says, “A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master.”) We need to be passionate worshippers and lovers of God ourselves if that’s what we want our students to be.
  2. Our students should be able to hear the good news of the gospel woven in and through and underpinning all that we teach. Our discipline of them ought to be gospel saturated. It’s not about moralizing. It’s about continually pointing them to our need of Christ and His cross.
  3. Stories are powerful ways to communicate truth to our students without moralizing. We want to read them stories that help them to learn to love the things that God loves, and hate the things that God hates. That’s the goal.

Some deep thoughts, and I’m fairly certain the full impact of this week has yet to hit me!

Happily, I also had the opportunity to visit some local sites of interest. Annapolis has a historic downtown area, with many old buildings, brick streets, and a beautiful harbour.

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Maryland State House was once the Capitol of the United States

 

 

 

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One evening in the harbour we were even treated to the sounds of a jazz band made up of men in uniform. The city is the home of the United States Naval Academy.

I set aside an evening to travel to nearby Washington, DC and walk and pray through the National Mall.

Capitol Hill

Capitol Hill (United States Congress)

I love the American people! I met so many kind and generous folks on this recent trip. Just one example (of many) was the lady ahead of me in the line up of cars on the interstate in Pennsylvania. We were backed up for miles because of construction, and were at a standstill. She could see that I was melting in the intense heat without air conditioning, even with the windows rolled all the way down in the car. She jumped out of her vehicle and ran over and handed me a frozen water bottle! God bless her!

As I prayed for America this week, my heart overflowed with God’s love for the people. I thought not only of them, but of Christians worldwide who are struggling with how to live Christianly in today’s culture.

Something many Christian educators and parents around the world are pondering is how we can teach our children to be joyful and impactful Christians in an anti-Christian culture. Many might feel like hanging it up and retreating. The Israelites faced a similar struggle in Babylon:

“By the waters of Babylon, there we sat down and wept, when we remembered Zion.

    On the willows there we hung up our lyres.

    For there our captors required of us songs, and our tormentors, mirth, saying, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”

     How shall we sing the LORD’s song in a foreign land?” (Psalm 137:1-4 KJV)

Should we simply hang up our lyres? Or how shall we sing? Yes, for Christians there will be times of confusion and perplexity, even of discouragement and genuine grief. But in verses five and six, we are told the secret to overcoming even in the midst of those times:

“If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget its skill! Let my tongue stick to the roof of my mouth, if I do not remember you, if I do not set Jerusalem above my highest joy!”

The answer is to remember. We remember our God and His faithfulness. We remember Jesus and His life laid down for us. We remember the Holy Spirit and His indwelling, comforting, abiding presence. And we remember the Kingdom of God and the promise of the New Jerusalem! If we do not remember, it is like our tongues stick to the roofs of our mouths, and we can’t sing of His goodness and glory. But if we remember, how can we keep from singing?

But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. (Lam. 3:21-23)

Control Freak

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Image: Creative Commons

 

“Knock, knock.”

“Who’s there?”

“Control freak! Now you gotta say Control freak who?”

 

After I stopped laughing at this student’s joke, inwardly I cringed. We teachers can be control freaks. In all fairness, though, it’s kind of expected of us.

We’re expected to be in control of our classrooms. We’re expected to maintain order and not allow things to descend into chaos. We have to act as managers of many things all at once, all the time.

There’s a difference, however, between governing and dominating. Students do appreciate it when a teacher keeps control of the class, but no one wants a Nazi for a teacher. It’s one thing to helpfully guide and contain your class, and quite another to act as if you have to control every aspect of it.

It’s not healthy to regulate students so tightly that they can’t breathe. Not all, but some of the decisions about their learning have to be theirs. They need to be allowed to make attempts at things without being hovered over to ensure success.

There are times it’s painful to let them make decisions that we know are going to lead to hardship and grief. It can be difficult to let go and watch a student struggle with something, and even fail.

What can also be challenging for teachers is not to carry over the watchfulness we have over our classrooms into our daily lives and relationships. I was just talking about this challenge with a new teacher-friend this week. We agreed, sometimes it’s tempting for us to go into control-freak-mode and try to manage situations that we should be keeping our hands off of.

Why can it be so hard to shake that mind-set, “If I don’t do something about this, then no one else will”?

That mind-set reveals an attitude of pride and unbelief.

Pride says, “I’m the only one who is willing to do anything to help in this situation.”

Unbelief says, “God doesn’t seem to be doing anything about this.”

So operating in pride and unbelief, we meddle in situations we have no business meddling in, all the while telling ourselves that we are trying to help. The truth of the matter is, we’d be better off minding our own business and leaving the person or situation to God.

Yes, there are times when it’s difficult to know whether or not we should intervene and act. But something I’m learning (oh so slowly it seems!) is that I have to check my heart and my motives.

  • Is pride in charge of me? Do I think that I have the right solution, and that I know what’s best?
  • Am I harboring unbelief? Do I think it’s all up to me, and that God seems to be asleep?
  • Am I operating out of fear? Am I afraid of what will happen if I don’t get involved, and am I trying to control the outcome to make it turn out the way I’d like it to?
  • Have I made myself too important in my own eyes? Am I forgetting that God has other servants who are available to Him, perhaps someone much better suited for this situation than I am?

I also think there is a direct correlation between how desperately we desire something and how likely it is that we will try to control the outcome. The more it matters to us, the more tempting it will be to meddle.

So, what’s the cure when we find ourselves slipping into ctrl-freak territory?

The first thing is recognising what we’re doing wrong, and confessing that to God, and to those who will keep us accountable for not doing it anymore.

Repentance involves agreeing with God that I’ve been operating from a place of pride and unbelief, and affirming that He is God and I am not.

If I think that I love a person more than God does, I am seriously deluded. When we ask why God would allow suffering, though, isn’t that what we’re calling into question? So I have to repent of how I am questioning His love, and affirm that His love is so much higher than mine, and His ways are higher than my ways.

I’m in Genesis this week, and as I read again of Abraham binding his son Isaac to the altar, I was struck afresh by his trust in the faithfulness and love of God. That trust was unshakable, even in the face of what seemed like a cruel joke.

That trust in the Father’s loving character was shown supremely in Jesus Christ as He faced the cross, and allowed God to have His way with Him, because He knew beyond all insinuations to the contrary that God loved Him.

When we trust in the Father’s loving heart and allow Him to control us, then we can respond in faith to His promptings and obey Him in what He is asking of us in regard to others. We let Him be in control and with an attitude of trust and faith, we release the outcome to Him.

There’s a little song I learned this year at our school musical, and the lyrics are so appropriate:

God is in control

God. is. in. control.

God is in control

My God is in control…

The God who is the very definition of love is in control, so I don’t have to be.

Love Thy Neighbour

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“God is calling us to so greatly love others that we do not desire for them anything that might separate them from God.” – Rosaria Butterfield

 

This quote not only speaks to how I ought to love my students and coworkers, but how I ought to love everyone who crosses my path. It’s a challenging quote, because it calls me to sacrificial love. It’s a love that puts the good of the other ahead of my own comfort.

I’ve been contemplating the meaning of friendship lately. I think my biggest question in relation to my friends is, how do I best love this person? Rosaria’s quote above really speaks to the meaning of love and what I desire for my friends.

To love someone well means relying on God for wisdom, even to know what love is and what love demands in each circumstance. I am continually confronted with the reality that I do not know how to love. My love is often confused with sympathy, or tainted with my own selfish desires.

So often I’d just like to have a set of rules that tells me how to behave. I’ve had this old book on Etiquette for years, and there’s something tempting about reading it and knowing exactly what the “polite” thing to do is, and how to behave in a socially acceptable way. But then I am confronted by Jesus with the woman at the well; Jesus accepting having his feet washed lavishly with perfume and long hair; Jesus eating with tax collectors. While He didn’t necessarily set out to break all the rules and offend people, He certainly didn’t let social conventions stop Him from loving people.

In my sermon notes from June 12th, I wrote this: “Christ is the love of God embodied in a person.” (I don’t remember if that was a direct quote from Joe or not?) Then later, I wrote this down: “Love means we obey God with respect to the person.”

Those two truths really say it all when it comes to love, don’t they? Christ is the very definition of love, and by walking in obedience to God, we are being conformed to His loving nature.

So, does love confront sometimes? “In the gospels, Jesus seemed to be confronting and rebuking His disciples and others with an extreme forcefulness. Jesus was driven by tenderness and compassion to deal forthrightly and convincingly with any issue that might have separated His loved ones from Him.”[i]

I’d rather avoid lovingly confronting someone because it’s uncomfortable and I don’t want to deal with their potentially negative response, or experience rejection. But if I don’t do it, then I’m failing to love that person.

How do I receive it when someone confronts me? As uncomfortable as it may be at the time, and although my initial feeling might be anger or annoyance, if I’m wise I will dismiss those feelings quickly and consider their words carefully. Mostly when this has happened, what I actually end up experiencing is gratitude that the person loves me enough to risk being honest with me.

Love is a risky thing. As C. S. Lewis said, “To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.”

It’s riskier not to love.

 

 

[i] Intrater, K. (1989). Covenant Relationships. Shippensburg: Destiny Image.

 

The Hardest Part of Teaching

Image: Creative Commons

Image: Creative Commons

 

By Tina Olesen

Sometimes I’m tempted to think that the hardest part of teaching is having to keep the pressure on your students to do the things they do not want to do.

You don’t get a lot of thanks for continually telling your students to “focus” or “finish your job” or “quiet down”.

When your students seem to be hard of hearing and they are ignoring you…

When you’ve told a child something for the tenth time that morning…

When your students have to do something hard, and they are whining, and you feel like whining, too…

This is the least exciting part of being a teacher, and one I have to discipline myself to do! How much easier it would be to let my students off the hook, to let them fool around, to let them disobey me. Yet, I would not be serving their best interests.

How do you keep at it?

When I was a beginning teacher, my assigned teaching mentor recommended that I set up a “token economy” in my classroom, so my students would get “points” for compliance, which they could trade in for rewards. She argued that we have to motivate them to obey. I found out quickly that it only resulted in the children becoming increasingly selfish. When I would ask them to do something, they would say, “What are you going to give me if I do it?”

If we pay our students to comply, they aren’t going to learn how to make themselves do the things they don’t want to do, even when there’s nothing in it for them.

If we want to see our students grow up into men and women who will do the right thing, not because there’s anything in it for them, but just because it’s the right thing, then we won’t bribe [1] them to do it. But that will mean patiently dealing with resistance on the part of our students.

There is always the temptation to try to gain the hearts of our students by buying their affections. We want to feel good, we want to be liked. These affections are shallow, though. What runs deeper is when a child can look in your eyes and know that you love him enough to hold him accountable and voluntarily (even cheerfully) suffer his apparent hatred.

And so teaching is a vehicle for dying to self. Will I do the right thing by my students, even when it means willingly suffering their complaints, ingratitude, rebellion?

The question is, doesn’t Jesus suffer mine?

The hardest part of teaching is not dealing with the monotony of repeating the same instructions over and over again, or forcing myself to be faithful in the little things of child training.

The hardest part of teaching is looking into the face of your little rebellious student and recognising yourself there. It is continually coming face to face with my own pride, my own impatience, my own sin. It is agreeing with Jesus about it, and facing the fact that I am helpless to do anything to change it. Pride does not want to acknowledge that Jesus shed His own blood so that my sin could be dealt with.

So, I turn my back on my pride, and I come to Him. Perpetually. Humbly. Desperately. I let His love convict me. And He is right there, to cleanse, to forgive, to heal.

This is the glorious truth I can offer my students: the truth that although we are all rebellious sinners (myself included), Jesus came to save us from ourselves.

Last week, the seniors of our church were having a meeting together in the room beneath my classroom. I heard them singing and I paused for a moment and joined my heart in song with theirs:

 

Out of my bondage, sorrow, and night,

Jesus, I come, Jesus, I come;

Into Thy freedom, gladness, and light,

Jesus, I come to Thee;

Out of my sickness, into Thy health,

Out of my want and into Thy wealth,

Out of my sin and into Thyself,

Jesus, I come to Thee.

 

Out of my shameful failure and loss,

Jesus, I come, Jesus, I come;

Into the glorious gain of Thy cross,

Jesus, I come to Thee.

Out of earth’s sorrows into Thy balm,

Out of life’s storms and into Thy calm,

Out of distress to jubilant psalm,

Jesus, I come to Thee.

 

Out of unrest and arrogant pride,

Jesus, I come, Jesus, I come;

Into Thy blessèd will to abide,

Jesus, I come to Thee.

Out of myself to dwell in Thy love,

Out of despair into raptures above,

Upward for aye on wings like a dove,

Jesus, I come to Thee.

 

Out of the fear and dread of the tomb,

Jesus, I come, Jesus, I come;

Into the joy and light of Thy throne,

Jesus, I come to Thee.

Out of the depths of ruin untold,

Into the peace of Thy sheltering fold,

Ever Thy glorious face to behold,

Jesus, I come to Thee.


 

[1] (Yes, of course there are times I give my students treats, to celebrate together. I’m not knocking that! It’s just not tied to performance. It’s a free gift.)

 

The Faith of a Child

By Tina Olesen

Have you listened to seven-year-olds pray? There is no hesitation, no holding back, no posturing, no self-consciousness. Just simple faith, and often a boldness that we adults shy away from.

One of my favorite subjects to teach is Bible. We have our daily time where we gather on the carpet, and begin with prayer.

This week in Bible we have been focusing on the cross of Christ. In one of our conversations about it, a student asked, “Why did the disciples leave Jesus when He was on the cross?” (Sometimes they ask me even tougher questions than this!)

One of the other students wanted to answer, so I let him. “They were scared.”

“But why were they scared?” came the incredulous reply. “They had God on their side!”

Another student interjects seriously, “But there were Roman soldiers. Those are tough guys.”

They all paused to consider this, some nodding in agreement.

But nothing could move this little man of faith. “They still should have done something!” he insisted earnestly.

We paused to consider that for a moment. Then I said, “You know, you’re right. As followers of Jesus, we are called to be brave. Even if it means dying for Jesus’ sake.”

“Yeah, and it doesn’t even matter if we die, ‘cause we’d be with Him anyways!” came the bold reply.

I looked at his face. He was dead serious.

So I told him, “This is what Jesus meant when He said that we should have the faith of a child. He wants everyone to have faith in Him like yours.” He beamed!

And it hit me afresh how it’s our faith that pleases God. Not the fancy words we try to use in prayer. Not the things that we do to try to get into His good books or impress Him. It is faith in His character that makes Him well pleased.

As I pondered this conversation, and how I am going to follow it up next Bible class, I thought about the disciples after the resurrection and after they were indwelt by the Spirit of Christ. What a radical difference there was in their faith! Then they were ready to lay their lives down for His sake, and by the power of His Spirit, they did.

This truth goes deep. It is the faith we display in His character, despite our circumstances, that proves to the watching world that Jesus is real, and that He is worth risking it all for. In doing so, we experience the sweet pleasure of God in our faith.

Sometimes it is overwhelming to me to think about the world that I am preparing my students to live in, but then I remember that it is in the times of the greatest challenges to the Christian faith that followers of Christ most display the faith in Him that proves He is worthy of our very lives.

“Yeah, and it doesn’t even matter if we die, ‘cause we’d be with Him anyways!”

 

 

Bloom Where You’re Planted

Toronto skyline By Tina Olesen

Almost two years ago I visited Toronto for the first time. I remember feeling an odd sort of sadness as I lifted off from Pearson and watched the city slowly disappear from beneath me. It was huge, brown, and kind of ugly looking; yet I felt something tugging at my heart. I didn’t know exactly what it was. A few hours later I looked down over the green expanse of Vancouver with the ocean beyond and the contrast was remarkable. Home again. Or was I?

Fast forward three months. I have all my most important possessions crammed into an aging but trusty Toyota, and I am headed east. This script is replayed over and over again:

“Where are you headed?”

“I’m moving to Toronto.”

“Toronto?! Really? Why?!?”

I don’t know if it’s because people from Toronto who retire out west tell horror stories about the winters, but Toronto seems to have a bad rap in those parts.

My first winter here made their “Why?!?”s echo through my head. I had never before in my life scraped ice off the inside of my car windshield…

I nearly had a breakdown over the traffic. Why are people allowed to park in the right travelling lanes? Enough said.

Adjustment comes in phases. First the excitement of meeting new people and making new friends. Then the longing just to sit and talk with someone who knows you, who has known you for years, and not to have to give your background all over again. Then, surprisingly, your new friends begin to feel like old friends. You feel like you would miss them just as terribly.

Missing my loved ones and the land of my birth comes in waves. Sometimes I long for the sight of the ocean. Some days I want to lift up my eyes to the mountains and all I see are high rises. I stood washing dishes in the kitchen one day and ached for the sound of rain (I never would have believed that I would miss the rain, but I do!)

The beauty may be subtler here, but it’s here. I’ve had endless wonderful surprises from a loving, caring Heavenly Father. The first snowdrops after a long winter. The unexpected lily of the valley and lilacs that I had no idea were buried beneath all that snow in the yard. The robins who came to play in the sprinkler in early summer.

I still feel somewhat like a transplant, but one whose roots are growing and whose leaves are stretching up towards the sun.

In the 90’s when I was at UVic, the education students in my cohort were all crammed into an auditorium one afternoon, listening to the head of the Faculty of Education. She was giving us a pep talk before we went out to do our practice teaching, some of us to some pretty far flung places in BC. I’ll never forget her commanding but warm words urging us to “Bloom where you’re planted!”

Lately I’ve been thinking about her words again. What does it take to bloom where you’re planted?

For me it has taken a lot of tender loving care from God’s people in Toronto. They’ve embraced me. They’ve nurtured me. They’ve loved me.

It also takes a quiet heart. As the Psalmist says, “But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child is my soul within me.” It takes trust in the character of the God who led me here, and who continues to provide for me.

It takes a sense of adventure in exploring a new place, and accepting and embracing it for what it is, instead of continually comparing it with what you know. The possibilities of discovering new territory here are pretty much endless.

The best new territory by far, though, has been the realm of Christian Education. As I stepped into my new classroom that very first day, I experienced the freedom of being able to speak openly about Jesus Christ and exalt Him as Lord and King. I had the whole Bible at my disposal as the teaching tool that can address all of life. I was able to pray with my students, leading them to the One who can bring hope to any situation.

I have the blessing of watching my students grow as they soak in the water of the Word of God and bask in the warmth of His grace and love. “Whoever brings blessing will be enriched, and one who waters will himself be watered,” promises Proverbs, and it’s true.