For his anger lasts only a moment, but his favor lasts a lifetime. Weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.
Psalm 30:5

Thursday, July 19, 2012

The majesty of their potential

School-dependent students are... like swans born out of and never put into the water. They exist denied the element conducive to their learning, the element in which they belong. They spend their school years thinking that the awkward, unskilled existence they experience on the unsupportive terrain of the classroom is just what they were born to - the way it's supposed to be. They never learn to swim because they have been deprived of their element and have had no models... Not only do these swans/students not know how to swim, but a ceiling is placed above them that inhibits them from learning to fly as well. If they ever get the chance to see the water, the element that would be conducive to their learning, they experience a sense of instinctive familiarity. When this happens, many of them wait for the teacher who will glide confidently toward them, inviting them into that element that could support their learning. Sadly, sometimes even with an invitation, many of these students will not enter the element because even though they are instinctively drawn to the water, they have never learned to swim. Out of fear they hold back, because they feel more comfortable ambling awkwardly and unskillfully on the unsupportive terrain, never experiencing the majesty of their potential... These students adapt to the learned "futility" - eternally waiting to excel. But if just one teacher persists in extending to these individuals an invitation into the element in which they belong, and if that teacher confidently models the majestic movement that can happen within that element, the students may find themselves building the courage to step in. 

Yvette Jackson, The Pedagogy of Confidence, p. 168

Monday, July 16, 2012

Wider and wider

The rich may get richer, but let this not be at the expense of the poor.

"... the provision of 'maximum opportunities or self-fulfillment' in gifted programs is what nurtures the traits that generate the demonstration of strengths of 'giftedness'. In other words, gifted behavior or high intellectual performance is developed when strategies and opportunities are provided that bridge learning to interests and abilities, elicit gifted behaviors and habits of mind, expose students to content that builds their frames of reference and engages exploration, support development of the requisite skills to strengthen cognition and enable self directed learning, and provide opportunities for the application of learning in authentic and meaningful ways...  What happens when these are the goals for all students?" - Yvette Jackson, The Pedagogy of Confidence (p. 25) (italics mine)

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Believe, and be satisfied

I was having a conversation with a dear friend on relationships today. As many of us often do, we contemplated the question of "how will we know we are ready?" At some point, it was brought to mind a handwritten note of encouragement given to me by a precious friend during my secondary school days, M. I remember reading the note over and over again. I could not have known then how much I would have needed to hear its message again and again in the years to come, for these words to take root deep in my spirit. I may be married now, but this is a message I nonetheless need to keep on hearing, again and again - to cherish my relationship with the Lover of my Soul above all else. 

Everyone longs to give themselves completely to someone. To have a deep soul relationship with another, to be loved thoroughly and exclusively. But God says: 

"No, not until you're satisfied and fulfilled and content with the life I've blessed you with, loved by Me alone. Not until you have learnt to give yourself totally and unreservedly to Me, to have an intensely personal and unique relationship with Me alone.

"I love you, My child, and until you discover that only in Me is your satisfaction to be found, you will not be capable of the perfect human relationship that I have planned for you. You will never be truly united with another until you are united with Me -- exclusive of anyone or anything else, exclusive of any other desires or longings.

"I want you to stop planning, stop wishing, and allow Me to bring it to you. You just keep watching Me, expecting the greatest things. Keep learning and listening to the things I tell you. You must wait.

"Do not be anxious and do not worry. Do not look around at the things you think you want. Just keep looking off and away up to Me, or you'll miss what I have to show you.

"And then, when you're ready, I'll surprise you with a love far more wonderful than any you cold ever dream of. You see, until you are ready and until the one I have for you is ready, and I am working this minute to have both of you ready at the same time - until you are both satisfied exclusively with Me and the life I've prepared for you, you will not be able to experience the love that exemplifies your relationship with Me, and this is perfect love.

"And dear one, I want you to have this most wonderful love. I want you to see in the flesh a picture of your relationship with Me, and to enjoy materially and concretely the everlasting union of beauty and perfection and love that I offer you with Myself. Know I love you. I am God Almighty, believe and be satisfied."

- Author anonymous (retrieved from here)

And then I wrote this one today, just for me. And who knows? It could be for you, too. 

I have longed to give of myself completely. To be a mother to children; to nurture and love deeply and unconditionally, and to be loved and leaned upon in return. But in His love, God says:

"No, not until you're satisfied and fulfilled and content with the life I’ve blessed you with, loved by Me alone and giving yourself totally and unreservedly to Me, having an intensely personal and unique relationship with Me alone.

"I love you, My child, and until you discover that only in Me is your satisfaction to be found, you will not be capable of being the mother I want you to be. You will

not have the resources to love unconditionally, until you have known my unconditional love for you. You will not have the courage to be the bosom upon which a completely vulnerable baby leans and depends, until you have learned to be courageous in me. 

"I want you to stop planning, stop wishing, and allow Me to bring it to you. Keep watching Me, expecting the greatest things. Keep learning and listening to the things I tell you. You must wait.

"Do not be anxious and do not worry. Do not look around at the things you think you want. Do not look at what I have given to others. Look to me always, or you'll miss what I have to show you.

"And then, when you're ready, I will surprise you with a gift far more wonderful than any you could have dreamed of. You see, until both of you are ready, and I am working this minute to have both of you ready at the same time, and until you are both satisfied exclusively with Me and the life I've prepared for you, you won't be able to love the child I will give you with love that exemplifies your relationship with Me - perfect love.

"And dear one, I want you to have this most wonderful love. I want you to see in the flesh a picture of your relationship with Me, to enjoy materially and concretely the everlasting union of beauty and perfection and love that I offer you with Myself, and to see that union and love bear fruit – for my sake. Know I love you. I am God Almighty, believe and be satisfied."

- Adapted with the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, just for me 

Friday, July 13, 2012

The Shame of the Nation, Jonathan Kozol

The trouble with intensive three week summer modules is that it is difficult processing all that we read in the span of a few days. Take this week, for example. We read the whole of Kozol's 'The Shame of the Nation', and watched three documentaries on American public education. I had to research on Plato and make a presentation. Plus, we visited the Martha O'Bryan Center for the first time. (I'll write about that next week) Wow. There has just been so much to take in and consider, especially for this wide-eyed Singaporean. 

Rosa Parks stood up by sitting where Blacks were not allowed to sit - in the front of the bus - source

Four students from North Carolina A&T made their voices heard by sitting down at a 'White only' lunch counter in a Woolworths store in Greensboro - source

I am all ready to take on next week's reading tasks! First of all, though, I thought I should harness the aid of technology to keep a visual record of some bits of the book that most arrested my attention. So here goes, with little attempt at organizing the quotes.
On the effects of segregation:
"What saddens me the most during these times is simply that these children have no knowledge of the other world in which I've lived in most of my life and that the children in that other world have not the slightest notion as to who these children are and will not likely ever know them later on, not at least on anything like equal terms, unless a couple of these kids get into college." (p. 11) 
"Only 15% of the intensely segregated white schools in the nation have student populations in which more than half are poor enough to be receiving free meals or reduced price meals. By contrast, a staggering 86% of intensely segregated black and Latino schools have student enrollments in which more than half are poor by the same standards." (p. 20) 
The original spirit of Brown vs. Board of Education:
"Does segregation of children in public schools solely on the basis of race, even though the physical facilities and other 'tangible' factors may be equal," asked the court in 1954, "deprive the children of the minority race of equal educational opportunities? We believe it does." To separate black children from white children of their age and qualifications on the basis of their race, the court went on, "generates a feeling of inferiority as to their status in the community that may affect their hearts and minds in a way unlikely ever to be undone... in the field of public education, the doctrine of 'separate but equal' has no place... separate educational facilities are inherently unequal." (p. 29)  
On unequal spending: "I'll believe money doesn't count the day the rich stop spending so much on their own children." Deborah Meier (p. 59) 
"Nationwide... the differential in per-pupil spending between districts with the highest number of minority children and those with the fewest children of minorities amounts to more than $25,000 for a typical class in elementary school. In Illinois, the differential grows to $47,000, in New York to more than $50,000. From any point of elemental fairness, inequalities like these are unacceptable." (p. 60) 
On the ills of accountability leading to over-testing:
"... much of the rhetoric of 'rigor' and 'high standards' that we hear so frequently, no matter how egalitarian in spirit it may sound to some, is fatally belied by practices that vulgarize the intellects of children and take from their education far too many of the opportunities for cultural and critical reflectiveness without which citizens become receptacles for other people's ideologies and ways of looking at the world but lack the independent spirits to create their own." (p. 98) 
On the opportunity gap and the lie it can purport:
"Merit, no matter how it may have been attained, is somehow self-confirming. The early advantages one may have had become irrelevant to most of us once a plateau of high achievement has been reached... Preferential opportunities that may have introduced us to the channels in which academic competence has been attained - all this falls out of view once we arrive in a position in which we can demonstrate to others, and ourselves, that our proficiencies are indisputably superior to those of other students of our age who may not have had these opportunities." (p. 141) 
On what we measure, and don't:
"There is no misery index for the children of apartheid education. There ought to be; we measure almost every other aspect of the lives they lead in school. Do kids who go to schools like these enjoy the days they spend in them? ... You do not find the answers to these questions in reports about achievement levels, scientific methods of accountability, or structural revisions in the modes of governance. Documents like these don't speak of happiness. You have to go back to the schools themselves to find an answer to these questions." (p. 163) 
On graduates of teacher preparation programs inspired to stand for social justice, upon their (re)entry into schools:
"These are not teachers who believe that Brown is something to commemorate at arm's length with a glimpse of antique videos of men and women of their age in demonstrations.... They do not accept the notion that apartheid is a faded vestige of a distant past. They can't, because they see it daily in their classrooms, and they know that too much sentimental celebration of the heroism of the past can be exploited as a exemption of the heroism that is needed now." (p. 218) 
On the need for working within the realities of the present:
"We really came to the decision that if we could get... an adequate education in every school ... maybe in 20 years, somebody else can say that they want to go for equity. But that's not our battle." (p. 248) 
“… but they are places of resistance. Teachers in these schools must work, and know that they must work, within “the box” of segregated demographics and extreme inequities ... ; but in their temperaments and in their moral disposition many also stand outside that box, because they are aware of its existence, and this sense of double-vision, being part of something and aware of what it is at the same time, regenerates the energy they bring with them each morning to the very little place (one room, one set of chairs) in which they use what gifts they have to make the schoolday good and whole and sometimes beautiful for children.” (p. 287)

Monday, July 9, 2012

Boston, with eyes wide shut?

Two weeks ago, I was at Tufts University just outside Boston, for a two-day workshop. The workshop ran from 9 in the morning till 4 in the afternoon. We were due to leave the next day on an evening flight. Of course I had to spend every spare minute of the time after 4pm those two days, and the next day before the flight exploring Boston. 

Boston. According to my friends, this was a lovely city I just had to visit. There was all that history, architecture, art, and the New-Englandy feel of the place. The lady I sat beside in the workshop, a Massachusetts schoolteacher was glad to supply me a string of must-see places in Boston. We grabbed our Boston city maps from the airport arrival hall, too. 

Boston Public Gardens. Check. Harvard Yard. Check. Stroll along the Charles River. Check. Beacon Hill. Check. Freedom Trail. Check. Newbury Street. Check. Quincy St Markets. Check. Museum of Fine Arts. Check. The harbor. Check. Add to that Giacomo's at Little Italy for dinner, plus taking the T and the bus around. I thought we'd done a fine job of seeing Boston in two evenings and a day. 

I was having my foolish tourist blinders on. But thanks to my professor, the blinders have since been lifted. When we met for class again after the summer break, I happened to mention to her that I had been to Boston over the break. Coincidentally, that was the day that we were just starting Jonathan Kozol's 'The Shame of the Nation' in class. Kozol, a teacher and writer, has spent years working amongst those in the nation's public schools in cities such as Boston, New York, and Washington D.C. In his books, he describes what he calls "a national horror hidden in plain view": the segregation in America's schools, and the way this has ruthlessly ignored the needs of millions of low income and minority children. 

Part of Turner's 'Slave Ship', at the Museum of Fine Arts. This portrays a true story of a captain throwing aboard sick and dying slaves so he could collect money for slaves "lost at sea".

My professor was excited that I had gone to Boston. "As Florence would have seen in Boston..." was how she began her sentences on several instances during that first class. These were all statements related to the problem of segregation in Boston's problem-ridden public schools.  I'm not sure she intended irony, but it was ironic. "Did I?" I kept asking myself. Of course I didn't!

I had seen the city and enjoyed it: architecture, history, store windows, food, the river. Walking along the wharfs, I saw wharf-front condominiums with balconies overlooking the harbor. Wandering down the streets of Beacon Hill, I knew these were the homes of the wealthy. Then there was Newbury Street, with its high end boutiques with thousand-dollar dresses.

A cupcake boutique, at Newbury Street

One of the fancies of twenty-first century Bostonians: dining at the many fine Italian restaurants in Little Italy

But that's not all that Boston is. The homes I saw were not the homes of the low income earners. And, to be blunt, not the homes of the many low income African American and Hispanic people to whom Boston is just as much home. There are also Boston's public schools, with the following statistics :
77% Black and Hispanic
13% White
9% Asian
2% Other
74% eligible for free/reduced lunch
(April 2011) from here 
Compare this with racial composition statistics of Boston generally:
41.9% Black and Hispanic
53.9% White
8.9 Asian
4.3% Others
21.2% Persons below poverty level
(2010 figures) from here 
Harvard Yard - But how many children has the system kept out of the yard?

Also, older (2002-3) statistics on public spending on education per child in the Boston area from Kozol's book:
Lincoln district (19% Black & Hispanic, 11% low income) $12,775
Boston district (77% Black & Hispanic, 74% low income) $10,057
 We (mainly Tim) were feeding (primarily) ducks in the Boston public gardens, but look who came right up to our feet and begged for crumbs? I was eating a blueberry muffin, and made sure I did so as messily as possible. The sparrows were pleased. 

The education spending gap in other American cities is much worse, such as about a $10,000 gap in the New York area in the same school year.

The question is: where do all the White children go to school? The answer: private and charter schools. Why? We ask. Why is there a disproportionate number of Black and Hispanic students in public schools, and why are White children sent to private or charter schools instead? Also, where do low income earners live? What are their homes like?

Children's art at the Davis Sq T station. May their homes be blessed. 

Homes or offices at Beacon Hill? May they be blessed too. 

These are questions which do not sit comfortably with my tourist sensibilities, nor my soul. Yet, perhaps, tourist sensibilities are not what I need; but rather, eyes which watch for injustice, and a soul which searches for answers to difficult questions, and solutions to neglected problems. 

"We owe a definite homage to the reality around us, and we are obliged, at certain times, to say what things are and to give them their right names."- Thomas Merton

Monday, June 18, 2012

Transitory Venus, transient us.

Sunset on 5 June, but no, you can't see Venus in this picture

Fellow Earthling, did you get to see Venus make its transit between Earth and the sun almost two weeks ago, on June 5th? Without reservation, I recommend it wholeheartedly. Pondering the regularity of the planets and the precision of their orbits, all held in place by a Divine hand, it was hard not to be amazed. It was also an educational field trip for children and adults alike, on the subject of astronomy – fascinatingly esoteric.

We enjoyed watching Venus inch her way into the edge of the sun, and further and further inward, a slowly traveling poppy seed on a huge vermillion cake. We were excited, alongside others in the crowd that gathered at Vanderbilt’s Dyer Observatory, as we altogether gazed through our solar glasses and the telescopes, checking that the dot was still there, as if our eyes ascertained its existence and the motion of the planets. We took pleasure in the sense of solidarity we felt with our fellow sun-watchers, realizing that we had all witnessed with very our own eyes an astronomical event never to occur again within our lifetimes. We were the proud witnesses, and would go forth to declare this proudly to our children and grandchildren, perhaps with a photograph taken through a telescopic lens to prove it.

Sun, Venus, and sunspots, shot through a telescope

Yet, to me, witnessing the event was not so much matter fit for boasting, but occasion for realizing that transience is our common experience, this side of heaven. Those of us who saw Venus have that in common, but virtually all of us here on earth now, including those who saw it only from a television screen, the newspapers, or not at all, have this in common – none of us, save a very few toddlers and babes, will be here when Venus next makes her transit. What a reminder of how temporary our earthly experience is!

The crowd of witnesses, sharers of more than this experience

Another thing we all had in common – none of us could have looked directly into the sun, in all its blazing glory, poppy seed or not, without sustaining some kind of eye injury. And thus: the solar viewers and glasses, telescopes and sun projectors. The relentless light of the sun insists that we all have this in common – the frailty of our human bodies, the very bodies which will pass away by the time Venus makes her passage again.

What’s there to boast of, then? Not much, if by way of what will return to dust and ashes, imaginary kingdoms, that will come to naught. But everything, everything – if boasting is by faith and of our spiritual inheritance, that wealth of God’s promises and His very sure Word: of that place prepared for us, that eternal life with Him, of heaven of no more sorrow and weeping.

Transitory Venus cries, “Transience!” Our response: to live our days with sober reflection of this reminder, and joyous anticipation of Who waits beyond this Earthly side of things.  

Media presence from FOX I was trying to avoid all the time. Hindsight often lends us wiser words to say, so what you've read is exactly what I would have said. 

Camping Joys

We went on our very first camping trip in the Great Smoky Mountains! When we were there over Fall Break last year, we spoke of returning in the summer to camp. Well, we did it – two-man tent, two-hob propane stove, sleeping bag and all!

Here are some of my favorite things about the trip:

The Rhododendrons – Rosebay Rhododendrons were at their peak of bloom everywhere we went. They framed our views of waterfalls, fringed the banks of rivers, and kept us company on many a forest trail. Back in the fall, we saw only their dark green, waxy oval leaves, and wondered at the form and hues of their blooms, come summer. We had in fact thought we’d already missed them. Imagine, then, our delight, surprise, and joy!

 Rosebay Rhododendron in full bloom

The waterfalls – This time round, we got to see the remaining eight waterfalls in the park we didn’t get to see in the fall. Then, we’d planned on seeing two more than the three we did see – but we had arrived too late in the day at one of them to make the hike, and as for the other, well, I felt inadequately prepared for the 8 mile hike. This time, though, we made it to these two, plus another six wow-inspiring falls. Oh, and by the way, I slipped on a rock and fell into a pool at the base of the highest falls in the park!

Ramsay Cascades, the tallest falls in the Smokies

The backcountry driving – Sure, driving on unpaved, narrow, winding mountain roads can be a bumpy experience. But they also bring us to the less-traveled regions of the park, take us deeper into the forests, and afford us greater chances of spotting wildlife and wildflowers. We saw a Barred Owl, for example, just on a branch beside the road wondering at our sudden appearance. We also met four elk who ended up running right up to and past our car to disappear into the forest – it was an oncoming motorbike that scared them away.

A Barred Owl spotted at Parson's Branch Road

The Swallowtails – I was flower watching right from the get-go – so when the Flame Azaleas started making their appearance in the area we were driving into, we had to stop for me to take a picture. We stopped at one of those lookout points, where there wasn’t much of a view due to a very misty sky. The Flame Azaleas were a way down the slope, and I would have been content just taking a picture from a distance. Tim spotted a way down that led right up to the bushes, though, and so there we went. Not only did we see Flame Azaleas in yellow, orange, and vermillion, there was also wild Columbine, and the big surprise – large Tiger and Black Swallowtail butterflies , busy fluttering from bloom to bloom. That was also when finally some of the cloud and mist yielded to long-awaited blue.

A swallowtail butterfly with Flame Azaleas, at Balsam Mountain Road

The camping – Of course the ground was a little hard, and it was cold at night – but the birdsong, fresh mountain air, gurgling of a nearby brook, and stillness of the forest were more than enough to make up for it. Our neighbors at one of the campsites were four little girls (sisters?) and their parents (maybe). Their laughter and cheerful voices were the perfect accompaniment to birdcalls and the sound of running water. How wonderful to think that memories of summer holidays such as these will stay with them long after they outgrow their dainty summer frocks and kiddy childhood games.

In our cozy 2-man tent 

The fireflies – We got to see fireflies during their mating season, a synchronized symphony of lights. It was like a kind of stargazing, except that the stars were all around us, instead of above us. As we walked along the forest trail in the darkness, it was as if we were walking into the twinkling constellations, or a sea of Christmas lights. Apparently, synchronized fireflies are an annual occurrence, displaying their glory only in the span of a week a year, and only in two places in the world. Singaporeans, if you’ve not done so already, go see them in Malaysia!

While waiting for nightfall, we sat by the Little River

Camp food – Did we not grow up thinking of camp food mainly in terms of luncheon meat, and combat rations warmed up (or not) in mess tins? Undeterred, though, we packed a cooler box full of groceries, another two bags of kitchen pantry supplies and utensils, and a propane stove. We made sure we had vegetables (pre-washed, and cut), easily cooked sources of protein (eggs, baked beans, naturally cured sausages, pre-cooked pulled pork), quick or no-cook carbs, and pre-baked breakfast items (granola, chocolate chip scones). Stripped of shelves full of condiments and sauces and nifty gadgets, I was surprised and felt silly at how quickly meals could be prepared, and how fun and uncomplicated cooking really is. Modern life with its too many choices has often stupidly stressed, and spoiled me. Then there were the clouds and forest canopy overhead… ah, the forest kitchen!

One of the dinners - A pulled pork bagel, salad, baked beans, and scrambled eggs

What a list of favorites. I could have gone on and on. But there was also the rain, which obscured many a mountain vista from our sight, and caused us to forgo going on two highly anticipated trails. Yet, the rain brought its rainy-day blessings too: a cozy morning lie-in, Bible reading and Scrabble game while listening to the pito-pito of the rain upon our tent, much-appreciated shade and coolness during long hikes, misty after-rain views of mountain streams, jewel-fringed leaves and petals, if only we cared to look.

It was a wonder-filled six days, could you tell?

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Green Fingers and Social Justice

Never underestimate the power of a simple act. 

The house we worked on after one day of work. The paved sidewalk and gravel driveway hadn't been laid at this point. Also, the flowers hadn't been planted. The green, cream, and brown were all painted by the volunteers yesterday. Before this, it was just all white and looking rather poorly! 

A couple of weeks ago, we came to know of the opportunity to be involved in 'A Brush with Kindness', Habitat for Humanity's exterior home preservation service. They were seeking out volunteers to contribute a weekend of time and energy into a makeover project for a home in a low income neighborhood in East Nashville. 

Many of us know of Habitat for Humanity because of its home building projects in Latin American and African nations, where affordable housing is provided to many who need it. I've heard of friends who've gone on project trips with Habitat over the summer when they were attending college here in the USA, and spend a fortnight or so building houses. 

Fewer of us, though, may have heard of 'A Brush with Kindness', part of Habitat's ReConstruct arm. Taken from their website:
ReConstruct’s A Brush with Kindness is a neighborhood revitalization/stabilization program designed to assist existing homeowners with minor repairs, maintenance, painting, and landscaping.
On one level, this serves the homeowners themselves, who might otherwise not have been able to afford to restore their homes without this help. Mr M, the owner of the house we worked on, for example, suffered a stroke some years back, and later lost his wife and daughter. He certainly wouldn't be able to accomplish all we did for his house today himself - the painting of the whole exterior, paving of a sidewalk, laying gravel for a driveway, and landscaping of the front yard. 

On another level, though, this serves the neighborhood and the larger community too. These homes in low income neighborhoods are frequently in a state of disrepair and dilapidation. Property value is low, and the community risks being bought over by developers for building condominiums or luxury apartments. For those of us who are in a privileged position, this means more housing options - for others, though, this means a reduction in the amount of affordable housing available in the community. The implications? Increased homelessness. 

I'm not sure that I'll be looking at new retail or luxury residential building projects with the same eyes anymore now. I certainly hope I will not. Social justice issues abound in our communities; there remains so much more for me to learn and act upon.

When I think of luxe urban redevelopment projects, I think of Burger Up, a popular burger place in what we've come to dub the "Holland V" of Nashville, a enclave of trendy eating places and (unaffordable) housing. I now wonder... who was this at the expense of?

When homes in low income neighborhoods get restored, though, the whole community stands a better chance of not being overtaken by urban redevelopment. Property value of restored homes increases, and affects the property value of the surrounding houses and the neighborhood as a whole. Homeowners may be inspired to take better care of their property too, thus further increasing property value. This is what we want - virtuous instead of vicious circles! 

It may seem so small a thing, just painting and landscaping for one house, but I am amazed to think that this one simple act of kindness can make such a big difference. 

Side note: It was fun working with others on applying two coats of paint to the back of the house, while getting to know their stories and letting them get to know us too. It was great cool weather too, which is amazing, since it was 35 degrees celcius earlier this week! After 7 hours or so of painting, though, we were exhausted, so we went to Pinkberry, our favorite Froyo place for arguably a well-deserved treat, and promptly came home for a 3 hr nap. 

P.S. Does anybody want to guess the reason for "Green Fingers" appearing in the post title? Leave a comment if you'd like to hazard a guess! 

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

My decision, His reasons

Sometimes I wonder… Why do we make such surprising, seemingly unreasonable decisions sometimes? We have our reasons, all the time, but God has His, too.

This is the view from where I sit to work on my assignments. Our lovely hydrangea and thyme plants! 

Just about a month ago, I began my Maymester course. It was a short but intense course, involving 15 hours of class per week, and spanning four weeks in all. This meant also, that all assignments would have had to be completed within those four weeks too. On top of this, I had my culminating Masters “Capstone” project to deal with. This would be due about two weeks from the end of the Maymester course.

I’m sure you’d guess that my classmates and I wanted the class to be a breeze, and for the assignments to be easy. This makes good sense, doesn’t it? But I found myself deciding on the tougher option, only to later discern a divine hand in the whole matter.

This is a course for both masters and doctoral students. This means that while the doctoral students attend the same classes as us, their assignments are more demanding. In this case, the doctoral students were required to write a research proposal, as though for a dissertation project, as their final assignment. In the course syllabus, it was stated that masters students were offered this choice too. However, the other available choice for us was (simply) to write a lesson plan. During our first class, the professor informed us upfront that the masters students would do the lesson plan option, while the sole doctoral student would do the research proposal. I think she was quite right to assume that no masters student would sensibly choose to do the hulking task of writing a 25 page research proposal within a two week period and with the Capstone hovering in the background the way it was.

Somehow, though, I found myself drawn to the research proposal task. Generally, I had my good reasons:
            - The M.Ed. program I was enrolled barely deals with how to conduct research at all; I felt this would alleviate that weakness somewhat, in a ‘something is better than nothing’ kind of way
            - The research proposal would be for a qualitative study – a topic of fascination to me
            - I anticipate that I’ll be needing to do research in my future work
            - I had the seed of an idea for the research study

And so, I wrote the professor, and asked if I could possible take on the research proposal option. At that point, it was all quite hypothetical. I just thought, oh well, I might as well explore this…

But the professor came back saying that yes, she thought it would be great if I did the research proposal! And immediately, I was struck with a serious case of ice cold feet. It was partially the sheer expected length of the paper in the short time frame. It was also my awareness I have had no prior experience writing research proposals in an academic setting, and wouldn’t be familiar with the style and vocabulary that should be used. What did I just get myself into? This was the fear-filled refrain that hauntingly echoed in the background at that time.

The most crippling thought, however, was worse. You’re simply not a doc student, and so you won’t be able to do it! Spot on, I thought. I am definitely not a doc student. Nowhere close.

I did contemplate backing down. After all, we must all make an accurate assessment of our own abilities and resources before embarking on a task. It is simply good sense to do so. No one would argue otherwise.

And so, one day, I remember coming back from class, discouraged by something or other and deciding, okay, I’ll do the lesson plan instead. And so I settle down with my books to begin the day’s readings. The readings turn out all to be about how to conduct the exact type of research I was planning to do. The kind of research I had just given up on writing. In fact, they were models of the kind of research I had in mind. Okaaay. Perhaps I shouldn’t give up yet.

And so I don’t. But it’s hard. And one night (You’d remember the short time frame – so this would have to be maximum two or three nights later), after spending the whole day turning the ideas around on paper and in my head, I hit a dead end, and lying on my bed that night, think, okay, I’ll just do the lesson plan. Rightos. Goodnight.

But when I awake, I realize that having come so far, it would make little sense to give up just like that. And so I take the task back on, and head out to school. Who would know, but class that day is all about conducting research – yes, including the kind my research proposal would be on. I feel goosebumps, at the uncanny timeliness of this provision of exactly what I need.

And so I keep at it, day after day. Nearing the end, I even get to share my ideas with my doctoral student classmate, who shares his excellent resources with me, and helps me out with all that terminology I lack for expressing my ideas. And just like this, it got done. It’s now with my professor, waiting to be graded. It wasn’t the easy option, and I’d be surprised if it was just I who was involved in choosing this option, sticking with it, and bringing it to pass.

The truth is, it wasn’t me. At the end of this experience, I simply have God to thank for encouraging me at all those crucial moments when I was just about to give up, through providing the very thing I needed to take the next step. It wasn’t that He provided all these resources all at once in the beginning. If that were the case, knowing myself, I may have been overwhelmed instead! Having everything provided in bite-sized portions the way they were saved me the need to organize and search for my resources. They truly were right there, by divine appointment.

Sure, I had to put in a great amount of effort, still. There was a price to be paid in terms of the sheer number of hours I spent working on the paper. There were other resources I’d had to search out. But it felt like those crucial parts, without which I would not be able to complete assembling the piece of furniture, were specially handed to me. Of course, everything proceeds from God’s providence. But, is it fair to say, I felt like there was a special kind of providence at those moments when I needed help to even stay the course?

It’s so easy to breeze through an assignment, using those God-given resources like analytical and critical thinking skills, information synthesizing skills, and writing skills, without paying much attention to the fact that they proceed from God’s gracious (and miraculous) provision. It is familiarity that is to blame, as He’s provided these to us for a long time now, and we’ve gotten used to using them. But I believe that my decision to take on this task beyond my reach was precisely God’s instrument for awakening me to this miracle of His provision.

The archway I walk through on the way to classes. Walks to school are often a time to pray.

So I’d like to confess: God’s hand is indeed in my assignments, and I’m very thankful for that. And, no, my identity is not in being a masters student, or a doctorol student. I am simply a child of God, doing what He’s entrusted for me to do for now, with the resources that are available to all His children, doctoral student or otherwise. Where God guides, it is He who provides.
Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for?
- Robert Browning