Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Mosquitoes, Early Mornings, and Humility

:::First Day Of School:::

I have found that most days I have an ongoing dialogue in my head. Life here in Mississippi has made me very aware of my surroundings and myself. It is almost like all of my senses are constantly working to take everything in. Maybe I have developed this habit because I only know a few people here and so I need someone to talk to, which most conveniently and somewhat embarrassingly has become myself. Either I am becoming more independent and self-reflective or just plain crazy. It is still too early to tell.

Currently I am on the bus riding to Quitman Elementary for my first day of summer school. There are only a few perks to waking up at 4:45am every morning. I have experienced some of the most vibrant sunrises I have ever seen. This part of Mississippi is very similar to Nebraska: flat. This morning sent a special fog over the endless cotton and rice fields, which reflected the pink and purple sky, which made the 1 hour bus ride manageable and it almost caused me to forget what unknown territory is ahead of me.

The next five weeks I will be teaching a group of 24 hopeful first graders. Most of them passed kindergarten but some are attending summer school to “work hard and get smart”, one of TFA’s famous sayings/beliefs. I will be sharing a classroom with two other TFA corps members. We each have our own blocks in which we teach the classroom by ourselves however we also work together to help fine tune lesson plans and develop classroom management.

Last week we spent most of our time learning more about how to create the ever so infamous lesson plan. I can say with humility and passion that I already to not like very necessary lesson plan. The past week has been full of a lot of work and little sleep.

With late night Wal-Mart runs and early morning shuffles to the cafeteria to eat breakfast and pack my lunch I find my self with little room for “me time”. The only thing that keeps me going is the strength of the Lord and the daily laugh that comes from my own inner dialogue.

:::Just Have To Laugh:::

For example, I sat down the other day for breakfast and nicely piled next to my cereal bowl was a stack of six killed mosquitoes. It was the first time I had ever seen something so disgusting yet worth rejoicing. I laughed for a good three minutes at the sight. The mosquitoes here are more intense than anything I could have ever imagined. The campus sprays every night so usually the evenings are not too bad, but in the mornings the air is thick with the things and they flood every nook and cranny they can find, including the dinning hall.

The first day we loaded the bus to visit Quitman Elementary was quite the surreal sight. Here were forty intelligent aspiring teachers, rushing across campus loaded with their backpacks and lunch boxes, each possessing a tinge of fear in their eyes that they may miss the bus. Once all were settled in on the bus, I looked around to take in the scene. Most of my peers were sleeping either with mouth wide open, curled up in a ball on the seat, or with head bobbing up and down at each bump in the road.

:::Catfish Fry:::

The community has been so welcoming. At every turn there are signs welcoming Teach For America members. The surrounding towns have been so supportive and I am so thankful that I was placed in a rural region. The first Friday we were here a nearby town held a catfish fry. They set up a large tent right next to the Mississippi river, had a live blues band and cooked for us. It truly felt like the south.

I have gotten used to being sticky and realizing that people just don’t look too good in their clothes when they are outside. The humidity is so heavy here people sweat just by standing still outside.

:::Chocolate Mess:::

Having your birthday a few weeks after you move to a different state usually isn’t highly preferred. So when I found out two of my Delta friends had birthday’s just a few days apart from each other I volunteered to make them a cake. It proved to be a humbling yet yummy experience. We have a kitchen in the main living areas of the dorms, however no microwave (that I have found) and I do not have any cooking pots or pans. I started my ice-cream cake with excitement and a spirit of innovation. I was going to get this done and was going to do it right. Things were going smooth: -layer of angle food cake “check” -layer of crushed up Oreos in a torn Wal Mart sack “check” – Peanut butter “Check” –Ice Cream “Check” –floppy pan “check”. But then came the time to melt the fudge. I decided to melt the fudge on the stove top of the olive green electric stove. . . in the glass jar. Things were going well until I hit the jar with a knife and broke the fudge jar. Brown-gooey-goodness filled the inside of the burner. So they layer of fudge was out of the picture. So moving on I went to make the peanut butter ice cream layer. I bought a $4 mixer just to mix the peanut butter and ice cream together. Well, that little thing didn’t know what hit him. It was smoking within the first few minutes. People kept stopping in and saying, “Wow, it smells good in here, kinda burnt but good?” I just had to chuckle and nod.

A group of people got together to pray that Thursday night and we sang happy birthday and ate the beautiful ice cream cake. People said it was good, I guess you just can’t screw up something lacks so significantly in nutritional value. It was so refreshing to be around others and study the Word with them. These people have such a positive outlook and I was so encouraged. We talked about humility before the Lord and what it looks like to repent and be in awe of His love for us.

:::Back In Nebraska:::

I flew home on Friday out of Memphis, Tennessee. I woke up an hour after my alarm but managed to get myself to the airport on time. Driving, parking, checking in, and boarding all by myself made me feel so grown up. Teach For America sort of forces you to being grown up. It doesn’t really give you an option.

Either you are going to rise to the challenge or you are not. Flying by myself was just the icing on the cake. (Even though Sara booked my flights for me – I am still going to count it as a step towards independence) The flight from Memphis to Omaha only takes 1.5 hours. Quite the difference from the 14 hour drive. Saturday was my brother’s wedding. I got to hang out with my new sister-in-law as well as see a lot of family. It was such a beautiful wedding and I am so thankful I got to leave the TFA bubble for a weekend.

I broke down crying on Sunday night when I realized just how much I missed my family. There are so many days I want to quit TFA and move back to Nebraska. I miss my Dad’s hugs and my Mom’s laugh not to mention my grandparents, actually knowing people, my friends, and the security of my house. It was an emotional weekend. From the wedding to saying good-byes then coming back to TFA world to prepare for my first day of summer school. Oh, I pray the Lord gives me strength and joy for the last few days have been hard.

:::No One Is Good, Not Even One:::

This is what I have been learning. It is a look “under-the-surface” of the last few weeks. I will try to keep it short and sweet.

On the plane ride home I sat next to a nice man named Mike. Mike made the comment a few times that he thought what I was doing with TFA was generous and that I must be a really good person. All I could think about was that no one is good, no not even one (Romans 3:9-11) and that all my good deeds are actually like filthy rags in comparison to the Holy God that created me (Isaiah 64:6).

So, I started to think that this life is really all about humility. About being washed in grace. Knowing that I can’t do it and I don’t have to because He did it all. I do not do good things to be a good person. I continue to try to live a life that is pleasing to the Lord not FOR Him but BECAUSE of Him. Because He created me to be loved by Him and to rest in His peace. But that doesn’t mean that I continue to live the way that I did. If I really encounter the Crazy Love of Jesus I should live changed. I should be most satisfied when I am in His presence. It is just hard to remember this truth sometimes when the world is screaming at you and telling you to join in. Most things seem harmless but really are not in alignment with what the Lord has for me. If I have to choose an experience from the world or being satisfied in the Lord, I pray I choose the latter.

I heard a quote that if you leave somewhere after you “preach” the gospel and they still like you – you should ask yourself if you really preached the true Gospel. So I had to ask myself what is the gospel? Well, I am still trying figuring out how to put such a loaded question into words. I know that I have experienced a change and feel His hand on my life. So, this is what I have been thinking. This Holy God created us to be in a relationship with Him. But we continue to run from Him to things that cannot and do not satisfy. Everything in this world fades except His Love. So when we put ourselves up against this Holy God we should tremble with respect. Jesus Christ stepped in between us to bridge the gap that was impossible for us to bridge through good works. So it is through grace I have been saved and been given Life. Oh, how I pray that I would thank Him for His abounding mercy by the way that I live.

The past few days have been tough. I realized the first day teaching I was so worried about what I could control that I forgot to dwell on the Lord and be still. I had a migraine after that. I pray that He teaches me to love and that I would continue to be called out if I am ever judgmental or, on the other side, tolerant or intrigued by sin.

This may be a weird way to leave this blog, but I am understanding and learning more and more that I cannot do it on my own. There are some extreme moments of loneliness, stress, and confusion. But I know that the Lord is faithful and I pray that he goes before me.

Please Pray:

For my placement in the fall

My classroom of 1st graders: only 13 of the 24 have showed up

My collab group: may we have patience with each other and know how to encourage each other

Efficiency of work

Overflowing joy


  1. My love and prayers to you Sally. The picture of you and your mom is beautiful. Guessing you will have it framed and placed on your desk so you can hear her laughter daily. Metthew 11:28-30 are verses to reflect upon during times of perseverance.

  2. Hey I sure didn't know you had a blog until 10 minutes ago. I miss you and keep at it, good things are headed your way. Yes..African proverb, but you could always use one :)

  3. Sally,

    I can totally relate to the loneliness, stress, and confusion, but also the joy of understanding yourself deeper and realizing how much we need God. God has gone before you and He will guide you. It isn't easy, but I can already see that it is good and God is using this experience to broaden your vision and expand your faith. You are loved and prayed for! Aunt Sharon

  4. Dearest Sally, I am SO proud of you.....almost like you are my own child. The strength of what you shared in your blog is proof that you want to be in HIS will for nothing else will satisfy you. Keep on KEEPING ON. Loneliness is a terrible ache and stumbling block. You can do it.........HE can do it through you. I love you girl and will add you to my prayer list. Cindy Ross