Tuesday, July 20, 2010

It's Only The Beginning

*Sorry this is so long! I tried to shorten it as much as I could but I guess I just have a lot to say. :)


I am officially finished teaching summer school at Quitman Elementary. My last day was full of celebrations, laughter, dancing, snacks, and good-byes. It was hard to see the kids go. The classroom transformed from a place filled with little kids bursting with hopes and dreams to a dark, empty room with curtains pulled and miniature chairs stacked on the tables. It felt like the end, but I know it’s only the beginning.

Currently I am staying at a community member’s house in Sledge, MS. The house is a two-story, bright orange, farmhouse out in the country. I drove up to the house yesterday evening and met the family that I will be staying with until I find housing in Clarskdale.

God has been so faithful through this entire experience. Coming to Delta State over a month ago I was nervous that I was going to be an outcast and was not going to find friends that I could relate with at the heart level. But He showed me a community of brothers and sisters that challenged me, loved me, and laughed with me through the long days and short nights during summer school and institute. Last night was another sign of His providence. I was nervous about staying at a house with people I had never met before and had been praying that God would send me wherever He desired me to go.

The family is so sweet and has welcomed me in with open arms as well as introducing me to the wonderful world of grits and cheese for breakfast. The husband has been a high school teacher for the last 20 years at the same school that I taught summer school for past five weeks and his wife is the publisher of a ministry magazine here in the Delta. As we were sitting out in the driveway, shooting the breeze (people here in the South sit outside whenever the sun isn’t too hot and the mosquitoes aren’t vicious) his daughter drove up and I recognized her from summer school as well. She is a sixth grade teacher and was a faculty advisor over the summer. I saw her every morning when I was at school learning how exactly I was supposed to do this thing called teaching! It was so comforting to see a familiar face.

Later we went over to her house to have a Bible Study and I got to meet her four daughters. It was a beautiful night.It was so awesome to see a glimpse of God’s providence and how He is opening doors in unexpected ways. The husband is so encouraging and after the Bible Study he said, “Well, Ms. Sally I am starting to see you as a resource. Do you play any instruments? Would you like to help out with the youth in our church?” This morning I was reading some of the magazines the wife has published. My imagination started to take over as I thought how God may be able to use what I have been learning the past four years, talents, and skills to help make this magazine something bigger. They recently changed the magazine to be nation wide and are looking to spread the Gospel and encourage believers to do good works out of love. All of the things that have been going through my head and my heart as well as some of the opportunities I can see are a little bit intimidating. I know God’s plans are bigger than mine – but sometimes when He shows me pieces I get a little nervous to be a part of something so huge.


Update: I am officially placed in Coahoma County. I will teach at one of the four elementary schools. I have a contract waiting for me to sign on the 28th in which I will find out what school specifically as well as what grade I will be teaching come August 5th. More updates coming soon.


Since it has been almost two weeks since my last post I will try to update y’all as to what I have been up to. So, please rewind with me.


The king of the blues was born and raised in Indianola, MS.

Some friends and I decided we would make the hour drive to go see the King perform in his hometown and experience more of the Delta. The festival was full of live blues music, people sitting on picnic blankets and chicken on a stick. One of my friends and I started line dancing to the music and before we knew it about fifteen others had joined us. It was the epitome of what life in the Delta looks like: folks hanging out under the blanket of the Mississippi heat, enjoying each other’s company and listening to some good blues music. Add some solid line dancing and some sweet tea and you’ve got yourself one good Friday night.

:::I’M GOIN’ TO JACKSON::: Lazy Magnolias, Oreos, and Laughter

Over the July fourth weekend TFA gave us Monday off. That meant we had our first long weekend since coming into the world of craziness. A few friends and I decided to head down to Jackson to get away from TFA world and the beloved dorm room for a few days. The weekend was refreshing. We hung out at a coffee shop -where I had the best double-shot caramel frappachino I have ever tasted- went shopping at a few stores for some teacher clothes, and ended the day going to a hot air balloon show, drinking a few Lazy Magnolias, eating oreos and listening to creative fiction pieces my friend wrote for her senior project. It was a great weekend out with the girls.

:::JULY 4th PARTY:::

We came back on Sunday afternoon for the Fourth of July Party in Cleveland. The celebration was planned in honor of TFA and had volleyball, golf, a live band, BBQ pulled pork sandwiches and, of course, a fireworks show. Cleveland has been so supportive of TFA and continues to go above and beyond to make us feel at home here in the Delta.


That following week I switched from teaching math to teaching reading. I started the day with the kids. We did vocab and practiced spelling of different words, then we would do a read-aloud and read a poem together. It was this week that I finally started to feel like a teacher. I think a lot of things finally clicked and I was so encouraged to see the hard work and struggles produce some seen fruit and growth. My Faculty Advisor wrote a sweet note (I will try to post it later, once I unpack all my boxes and get a little more organized) welcoming me into the teaching profession. It was also this week that we had a lot of visitors. Many other teachers were coming in to observe the class and word started to spread about how the first grade “Shining Stars” were so well behaved and were a class to visit.


On Thursday my lesson was interrupted for a discussion about bullying. I stopped the class and told them to listen carefully for we were going to talk about something very serious. We talked about what type of classroom we wanted, either a safe classroom or an unsafe classroom. We talked about how everyone has a choice to either be mean or be nice and how each and everyone of them has to make a choice on how they going to act. I said, “Now, how do you want to act? Do you want to be nice or be mean? Because you have a choice.” And one of my students Mauri* said, “Well, I think God wants us to act nice to people.” Because of the separation of church and state I was not sure what I could say and couldn’t say. So I responded by saying, “I think you are right Mauri” Then the discussion continued and one girl said, “Yea, and God is happy when we are nice, but when we are mean the Devil is happy. But God is happy when we are nice, so we should be nice.” I nodded and said that I couldn’t disagree with that and then wrapped up the conversation by asking the students to stop and think quietly. They could pray to God if they wanted to and ask him to help them be nice the rest of the day. We said Amen and then continued on with our lesson. It was surreal, yet so lovely. I have a feeling I am going to have more moments like this in the Delta. The school systems are mostly made up of Pastors, Laymen, Sunday School teachers, and the likes. To say separation of church and state in the Delta is fuzzy is an understatement. I don’t know anywhere else I would rather be.


This little boy is the perfect picture of the achievement gap. He is one real-life reason of why I am teaching here in the Delta. Maurie is bright, witty, and strong willed for a first grader. He comes from a rough home but works hard at school. He struggles with reading and paying attention but is so full of joy and love. He grew so much this summer and I saw “light-bulb moment after light-bulb moment” go off.


When it rains here it is like stepping into a warm shower. I have never loved rain more than I love Mississippi rain. Running in the rain has become my new favorite hobby. It has been a pleasant surprise that continues to bring a smile to my face. I have also become very interested in front porch sittin’. Driving down the street in the evening you will see people sitting on their porch about three out of five houses. There is a beautiful sense of community here in the Delta that I think I am getting used to.


It is every school kids fear: missing the bus. I remember when I was younger waiting longingly for the bus to come. I would have a fear that I would be left. I remember days the driver would honk his horn at me as I was running out the door with shoes untied and bag draped over one shoulder. I don’t remember missing the bus one time in my years of riding it as a kid. Maybe that is why it is so ironic that I, a 22-year-old teacher, missed the bus one morning. I started running as I saw my yellow ride pulling around the corner. A TFA helper called my bus driver, who then turned around and came back to pick up the abandoned schoolteacher.


Throughout institute I was continually encouraged by a group of believers. We got together once a week to pray, share what God was teaching us, and simply remove ourselves from TFA world. Our nightly five-minute dance parties and oreos and milk helped keep me sane and provided much needed release.


Portion sizes in the Delta are something to get accustomed to. When I ask for a 99cent sweet tea and walk out of the store with a cup larger than my head, it is then that one begins to realize Mississippi’s motto. Bigger is better. (I am not sure if this is their motto… but it sure seems like it! Ha) I have discovered one of my new favorite restaurants. Dodge’s Chicken – which provides free snack packs to those a part of TFA. A “snack” pack consists of one chicken strip, two BBQ chicken wings, a fried mashed potato spud, a dinner role, and an apple turnover. I am not going to lie to y’all. I have had a few of these in the past few weeks and I have started to crave fried food… this could be dangerous.


My suitemate and I took a day trip to the beautiful town of Clarksdale, our potential home for the next two years. Downtown Clarksdale is full of history and home to Morgan Freeman’s restaurant and bar, Madidi. There was a live blues band playing on the street that filled the air with rhythm and energy.


The past few weeks a group of us have been attending a church down the street. This church is full of people who are so welcoming and loving. On our last Sunday they asked us to stay for some food and banana pudding. What more could a girl ask for?


Below is an excerpt from one of my friend’s blog while he was studying abroad in Korea. He has become one of my closest friends and has been such an encouragement to me. He puts into words a lot of what I have been feeling the past month or so. So, here is a summary of what I have been feeling, through the eyes and mouth of my newfound brother in Christ.

“One of the reasons that I love Jesus Christ so much is that he suffered tremendously -- and not only did he experience agony on the cross at the end of his life, but tribulation, temptation, and pain marked his whole ministry. From the beginning, when Satan tempted him with wealth, health, and prosperity, to the end, when his own people nailed him to the cross, our Savior was rightly prophesied the Suffering Servant. He suffered on our behalf and he vicariously endured the wrath we deserved, but he didn't do it so that we may live victorious and abundant lives; he suffered not to rid the world of suffering, but he experienced pain and torture and said that we, too, as radical followers of the him, would endure similar pain and hardships. Bearing our crosses, we are persecuted, alive in Christ and dead to the world's friendship.

But God has proved to be so faithful that I dare not complain, lest I trod on the grace that He’s lavished upon me in the last four months! He prepared me to go back and assured me that His grace is indeed sufficient for all things, and as I look back not only at the last four months, but this entire year, I see His workings in my life brightly, and they encourage me to press on and endure.”


I am not sure how to teach in a low-income school then go and live in a comfortable house. My time here in the Delta is not simply about me becoming a great teacher or understanding the ins and outs of Teach For America. I can see it is about learning how to love people wherever I am at. Learning what it means to be available to be used by God whenever and however. I want to know what it looks like to love my students, my community, roommates, and fellow corps members. All I have been given is love and grace in abundance and that is all I have to give, which is easier said than done! But I want my mind to be changed so that I am not thinking about what is to come or dream of ways that I can serve Christ in the future. I want to wake up each day and ask the Lord to wash over me and go before me so that I may join him in his work to draw people to himself through love undeserving.

In the words of my sister,

“Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior. And if He had not come after me and changed my heart I would not be here.

The Lord and Savior that I am a willing bond servant of is King of the Universe. He calls His lambs to do as he has done. (John 10:4) For them to take up their cross and follow him. Daily. (Luke 9:23) To follow Him in doing the will of God (Matthew 12:50), To serve the poor and help those in need. To live a life of self denial. To decrease so God might increase (John 3:30).

To Him be the Glory.

I just want to follow Him. Some days I get distracted or confused. But I am thankful that the grace I receive is based on the merit of another - Jesus Christ."


Mississippi necessities:

1. Hammock

2. Rocking Chair for my front porch… maybe a house with a porch is the first requirement, which intern means a job would come first. Hmm… one thing at a time


Mississippi not only is home of the most beautiful sunrises, but is also owner of the most vibrant sunsets. While on a run my last week at DSU I found a lookout tower by the practice football field on campus. After climbing the makeshift ladder with one missing step I found myself the best seat in the house. This tower became my new favorite place and I visited it often to watch the Lord cover the sky with lively orange, pink, purple, and yellow paints.

:::TEARS & LOVE:::

I made a student cry on Wednesday. It was a loud, boisterous cry equipped with tears and kicking – did I mention this took place in the cafeteria? It was my first lesson in true, hard discipline. One minute this student was crying and obviously angry at me. The next minute she was giving me a hug and was sad she had to leave to go home.

On Thursday one of my students was listening intently to the book I was reading. He was sitting up straight on the reading rug with his legs folded and his hands in his lap. His eyes were fixed on me. When I was done with the book I looked up and he said, “Ms. Wolff. I love you. And I will love you forever. Even when school is done, I will love you.”


A small group of girls from my summer school team decided to go out for Pizza on Friday night. We ate and talked for about three hours, until the owner started cleaning tables and closing shop. It was so energizing to sit around with three other girls with different views and beliefs and talk openly about our faith. These girls are some of my closest friends here in the Delta. One is Jewish, the other grew up Christian but is openly agnostic, and the other is a new believer. We sat around and talked about school, life, TFA, and faith.


On Saturday I broke down and cried. Sometimes it is so hard to accept change. I am just starting to feel like myself and am beginning to feel like I am surrounded by a group of friends that love me and want to know me. Saturday morning I realized that I was once again entering into a new unknown. The only difference is this season will last two years. My newly made friends are being placed all over the Delta, some only an hour away, others three hours away. But in any case I am so thankful for the memories we have made. I know we will be able to stay in touch even if we can’t walk across the hall to see each other. I feel like I am leaving college all over again. I am horrible with good-byes. But I know that change is a part of life. I just wish I didn’t have to open my heart to people to get to know them, only to have to leave them…


This is short transcript from a sermon titled "Living With One Foot Raised" from The Village Church. This was so encouraging to me I just wanted to share it with y’all.

“I see a lot of Christians that are trying as hard as they can to look like the world while maintaining their morals.

Christians make a difference in the world by being different from this world not by being the same. We need to remember that God has established his church as an alternative society not to compete with or copy this world but to offer a refreshing alternative to it. We want to be an alternate city within our city.

When we forget this we inadvertently communicate to our culture that we have nothing unique to offer nothing deeply spiritual or profoundly transforming. Tragically this leaves many in our world looking elsewhere for the difference they crave. It’s convicting! But when our minds and our hearts are set on Christ and His return, when we treasure Christ above all things that is not the case. We are different. Not because we are trying to be different but because we ARE different because our values have informed everything that we do. HE WHO WE TREASURE HAS CHANGED EVERYTHING ABOUT US.

This relationship with Jesus gives us the joy and satisfaction we crave so we no longer find joy in the things of this world above the joy we find in Christ. We still enjoy being in the world but not ABOVE Christ - but BECAUSE of Christ.

What does this look like? What does it look like to have a heart cultivated and a heavenly mindset that is toward Christ? What does it look like to become a person who meditates and sets our mind and our heart on Christ and His return in such a way that leads us to living life a certain way? I am not sure I can tell you a five step plan... but I know where we can start.

We can all start tonight by admitting to ourselves and to God that we are not there yet and ask the Holy Spirit to help us to begin to move in that direction.”


May the Lord grant us eyes to see, ears to hear, a heart to love, feet to go, hands to serve, a mouth to speak, and a mind full of wisdom from above.

Abba Changes Everything

Abba Changes Everything | Christianity Today | A Magazine of Evangelical Conviction

A beautiful article about what it means to be adopted into God's family as well as what it means to take care of orphans here on earth.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

What is repentance and is it necessary for salvation?

What is repentance and is it necessary for salvation?

This was really interesting to me and I thought I would share it! May the Lord transform our minds! May we not be drawn into thinking, loving, or dwelling on things of the flesh! Oh, Jesus satisfy us! Renew us! :)