Liminality and Into the Woods: Or, What I’m Learning

It is early Sunday morning and I am sitting on the couch watching the thunderstorm outside turn from really dark to a slightly less-dark color. There are cinnamon rolls in the oven and half of my apartment is sparklingly clean and clutter-free. Even still, I am not sure that I’m ready for “real life” to begin again tomorrow.

I wanted to take some time before I get back into the craziness to reflect on what I’ve been learning over the last two weeks. Isn’t it funny how God will use different threads in your life to create a startling or new image of something He’s been trying to teach you? That’s been my experience in the last couple of days.

The first thread: I’m not sure if any of my recent blog posts have given this impression (ha!), but I feel that I am facing a crossroads in my life and my career. There have been some really dark moments lately where I’m not sure if teaching is the right career, I’m not sure if I’m in the right place, and I’m really not sure where I should be headed. It’s easy for people on the outside to say, “Trust God!” or “He knows right where He wants you!” I know this advice is well-meant, but it’s very difficult to take that advice and apply it practically. I believe that God has my best interests at heart, but when I’m the one who has to make decisions without the benefit of a burning bush or cloud of smoke, how do I know when to stay and when to go? Over the break I was able to have some great conversations with friends who have been in the same situation. I am constantly being reminded of little lessons I have learned before but somehow keep forgetting. The main one? Obedience is obedience. Wherever I am, if I am being obedient to what the Lord says, then I am being obedient. Isn’t that what I am called to be? I shouldn’t get caught up in others’ opinions if I know in my hear that I am being obedient to the Lord.

The second thread: Any fellow readers of The Rabbit Room out there? Well, the Lord has greatly used that community to minister to me. Friday as I was driving back I listened to a session from the 2013 Hutchmoot on Liminality or Liminal Space. It seemed like my heart was speaking an “amen” to every word I was hearing. How refreshing to hear that there are other believers who have struggled with this threshold time of liminality. Liminality is the time “in-between” social rituals. It’s basically the moment when you realize that you’ve left the familiar behind and you’re staring out into the great unknown. I didn’t realize that my feelings of disorder and uncertainty had a name! The speakers emphasized that just as chaos necessarily comes before order, so liminal space will come before any sense of structure or security. Knowing that there are others who have trusted God to show them the right path out of this swamp is a huge encouragement. It’s like all of the uncertainty and doubts the first thread caused, I can now name them–I can say to myself, “Sarah, you are in the sea of liminality right now. What choices can you make that demonstrate faith and obedience while still waiting on the Lord to show you the way out?”

The third thread: It seems silly, but I was really impacted by the movie Into the Woods. I saw it Friday night after my enlightening drive learning about liminality, and if you’re looking for the perfect cinematic display of “liminal space,” the “woods” of Into the Woods is perfect. All of our favorite familiar storybook characters end up going into the woods to make their wishes come true. While in the woods, they are confronted with giants and witches and the consequences of their wishes. The woods are the perfect visual metaphor for liminality. It’s a place without place, its a space of confusion with time to reflect and learn from your mistakes.

The main theme: One of the songs from Into the Woods is called “No one is alone.” Here’s my favorite little bit:

Mother cannot guide you.
Now you’re on your own.
Only me beside you.
Still, you’re not alone.
No one is alone. Truly.
No one is alone.
Sometimes people leave you.
Halfway through the wood.
Others may decieve you.
You decide what’s good.
You decide alone.
But no one is alone.

Because there are no coincidences in God’s economy, it’s no coincidence that I’ve also been listening to Jill Phillips’ new album that deals with a lot of these same issues–one of the songs is called “You are Not Alone.”

So what does this all mean? Well, I think it comes to this: I am not alone; no one is alone. I feel like I am about to be overtaken by the seas of uncertainty, but I have friends and family and strangers and movies and Scripture to tell me that God will not leave me here or let me live in uncertainty forever. I have a savior who has experienced these feelings Himself and He won’t leave me. He won’t forget me or fail to show me the way of escape. He has only ever been faithful to me, He drew me out of the woods of my sin and into the light of his presence. I can trust him to show me the way out, and I can be obedient even while I am still in the midst of confusion. My prayer is that I can transfer this into my real life come Monday morning.

My First Year

Four Years: The amount of time it took for me to graduate with a degree in education.

Six Weeks: The amount of time I waited for my first job offer.

Six Weeks: The amount of time I had to move to a new city, prepare my apartment, and psych myself up for my first year of teaching.

30 Seconds: The amount of time it took for me to realize how unprepared I was.

 

I’ve already written a little bit about my first year of teaching, which you can read about here, but now that I’m a few weeks removed from the varying traumas and successes of my first year, I want to debrief. I’m sure that I will write many more posts about the hilarities of being a new teacher, and I’m sure that over time my insights into this first year will deepen and mature, but I feel that some kind of closure is needed. Especially since I’m now only 28 days away from embarking on my (canyoubelieveit?) second year of teaching.

First of all, I am amazed at how faithful God has been to me as a first year teacher. Anyone who knew me during high school and college can attest to the fact that I never EVER wanted to teach middle school. I was  am convinced that it takes a special kind of person to teach middle school. And after teaching seventh grade for a year, I can tell you now that I am probably not cut out for teaching middle school for my entire life. But it’s kind of funny how when you tell God you will never EVER do something, He seems to put you in a position to do that very thing. Which is, obviously, how I ended up in seventh grade again.

As the year went on and I learned more and more, I saw that God had put me back in the seventh grade for “such a time as this,” to humble me and make me depend on Him and on others around me. I had to learn how to teach skills, not just concepts. The students I taught during my internship were seniors in high school; they knew how to form a sentence. My students this year had to be taught what a noun is THREE TIMES. And let’s be real: a few of them still don’t know. No matter how many college English classes you take or how many education courses you ace, it’s really difficult to explain adverbs to someone who really isn’t listening to 80% of what you say. I had to learn patience. I had to learn how to be loud and obnoxious and actually yell to get my students’ attention. I had to learn not to be self-conscious. I had to get over my own middle school short-comings. I had to deal with mean girls and rude kids all over again. Some days it sucked. Other days it was incredibly awesome.

Secondly, I have been inspired by the teachers who work around me–especially the ones who are obviously and wonderfully called to be a middle school teacher. They can teach skills to students at any level, they can be patient and funny and strict disciplinarians. So many of the teachers I work with gave me such helpful advice that when I started to write thank you notes I realized that there would be too many to write!

Everyone will tell you that your first year of teaching is awful. First year teachers are expected to be experts on their first day at work. They are expected to walk into the classroom with an excellent understanding of school policies and procedures, curriculum requirements, state and national standards, classroom management skills, and  content knowledge. We are expected to be able to give directions around campus even if we just started exploring it ourselves. We are expected to be able to navigate through training and professional development for programs about which we know nothing. We must implement differentiated instruction and IEP accommodations even though most of us have only had one college course on Special Education Law.  First year teachers are held to higher standards because they are supposed to bring “fresh ideas” and “new experiences” to a school, when really we’re just trying not to cry at the drop of a hat. New teachers need to be able to deal with parent conferences, and phone calls, and emails at all hours of the day and even on weekends. We are grading papers and turning in lesson plans and creating worksheets and trying to juggle a personal life on top of all that.

I realize that the above paragraph might sound vaguely like an “angry teacher rant,” but it wasn’t meant to. Suffice it to say, first year teachers are faced with a Herculean task. I’ve never been more relieved than I was when I drove home from work on our last day of post-planning. The first year is survivable. You might earn a few gray hairs or lose just a few of your marbles, but it is survivable!

I’m very excited to start my second year with more preparation, with a definite list of things that do and don’t work in the 7th grade.

I’m sure as I mull over the last year there will be much, much more to discuss, but for now I’ll leave you with this little verse that has meant a lot to me this year:

“Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it.”

-Genesis 28:16

Surely the Lord was in my job search, in my first difficult year, and in all the personal struggles and victories I faced. Surely He is in this place, and I did not know it.