A while back, I had a conversation with some good friends of mine and we got to talking about our identities. To be honest, I am not even sure how we got on the topic, but before I knew it, I launched into a bunch of thoughts about who we think we are and how that affects our general well-being.
It is very common, in the US at least, for people to meet someone knew and immediately ask them, “What do you do?” as if that is the all-encompassing aspect of their lives. As if to say, your occupation tells me more about you than the answer to any other question I could possibly ask. And partially, I agree with that. I mean, if you really think about it, you went into your occupation for a reason (most likely). That reason is probably because of something in your core being. For me, I became a teacher because my dad was one of the best teachers I ever saw. Now, you wouldn’t know I became a teacher because of my dad unless I told you, but you could probably assume that I became a teacher because I like to help people and I am passionate about a specific subject. So far, so good, but is that all there is to know about me? Is that the best way to get to know me? Is that my identity?
More recently there seems to be discussions on this topic that have made people ask a different question. Instead of “What do you do?” they now ask, “What are you passionate about?” Is that question really that different? I mean, I guess it is, but still, it only encapsulates a tiny part of who I am; who you are. I know, for me, that I am passionate about a small percentage of what I care about. Passion is not something that flows easily from within me. I have passions, but only a few things can be put into that category for me.
If my occupation isn’t my identity, then what is? My passions? My hobbies? My friends? My family?
The bigger question is what happens when I place my identity in one of those things and it fails? If I had put my whole identity in being a teacher, what would have happened when I didn’t enjoy it, when I wasn’t as good as I had hoped I would be? I would have been crushed, it would have torn me apart. You see this a lot when people lose their jobs, go through a break-up, lose a loved one, etc. When your identity is placed in something temporary, your identity is temporary.
The only way around having your identity as something temporary is to place it in something eternal.
But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God. John 1:12
For months now I have been praying and seeking wisdom about what will happen next. When I originally came to Germany, the plan was to stay for four years, maybe more. I always said, “at least” four years, but I wasn’t sure what was beyond those four years. After three years in Germany I was asked to consider doing some leader development training, but it would mean I had to stay an extra year…so I did and I don’t regret that decision at all.
As my 4th year ended and my new agreed upon length of stay approached, I knew the decision loomed ahead. I needed to figure out what life was going to look like for me going forward. Where would I live? and what job would I have? were the most pertinent questions I needed to address. I’m an over-analyzer so you better believe I had plenty of “options” to choose from. I had seriously considered all of the following (though some were more plausible than others):
Return to Toledo and open a boardgame cafe
Move to Freiburg and open a boardgame cafe
Return to the US and get my doctorate in Instructional Design or User Experience
Return to the US and work as an instructional designer
Return to the US and work at GEM’s headquarters in one facet or another
Return to the US and work at MTI (where I had my pre-field training)
Stay in Kandern with eDOT
Stay in Kandern, but switch to EuroTeam and work with TEFL
I’m sure there were other options that came to mind at some point, but these were all of the ones I at least spent time researching. The problem I ran into was that all of these options were enticing for one reason or the other.
The boardgame cafes were interesting because I love boardgames and have a lot of ideas on how to run a community impacting cafe.
I’ve always wanted to get my doctorate, because I’m weird and I like school.
I enjoy writing curricula and thought working for a large organization designing their training could be a tough challenge for me.
I like the idea of recruiting people to join GEM, or helping them get to the field or designing and leading orientation.
MTI is an amazing experience and helped me adjust to life as a missionary. Having a chance to help others would be incredible.
I like my team and we do good work, so why change?
I love camps and curricula development and believe I am skilled to do both.
I could justify any of those. It was like staring at a counter of cookies and being allowed to only choose one. But they all look so good!
I did have a few major concerns, though, including, “Where does God want me?” and “Where do my passions lie?” After a long while, God finally got me to recognize something I had said many years ago while working at COSI (hands-on Science center) where I wrote curricula and taught camps. I said, “If I could do this full-time and make a living doing so, I would work here in a heartbeat.” COSI barely paid a living wage and I wasn’t ready to do that kind of work full-time yet anyway, but God has been preparing me for this ministry choice for years. I will soon get to say that I am developing curricula and leading short-term teams to teach at English camps full-time.
This is what I get to do…and I’m ecstatic about it. Don’t get me wrong, it was not an easy decision. I didn’t come to this lightly, nor consider all of the things that I would be giving up by living here. I thought about silly things like not being able to get a good hamburger or not having stores open pretty much all day everyday. Then I thought about more difficult things like being far away from my mom and brother and how hard that is at times. I thought about not being there to watch my nieces and nephews grow up. There are many things that made this a difficult decision, but in the end, I am confident this is the right decision; this is where God wants me and so I have said “Here am I, send me.”
So What Does This Mean For Me?
Well, in the short term this means I will be still with GEM eDOT until around March of next year when I make the official switch to GEM EuroTeam. I will continue to develop the Narnia (Adventures in the Wardrobe) curricula and complete my leader development studies. At the end of April I will return to the US for a mandatory year out of Germany (laws are weird!). While in the US I will be talking to churches and individuals about partnering with me and filling in my faithful ministry partners on what things will look like after the year in the US. I am also going to be recruiting short-term teams to come and teach at one of our camps the year I get back (if you are at all interested, please let me know). Potentially I will also be going to colleges to help recruit future TEFL missionaries. I’m not sure if this will happen, but I hope it does! When I return to Germany in 2019, I will work with GEM EuroTeam in the running of TEFL camps and the development of English as a foreign language curricula.
But What Does It Mean For You?
If you are currently a ministry partner of mine, all it means is if you want to continue that partnership you don’t have to do anything. You can certainly alter the partnership with zero hard feelings on my end (contact me if you need more info), but if things are staying the same, then you are already done! If you aren’t a ministry partner of mine, but are curious of learning more, then please let me know and I would be happy to talk with you!
This isn’t the first time I have been vulnerable on this site, nor is it the first time that I have written about my struggles with fear, in fact it is the 3rdblog on that topic. Fear seems to be a recurring topic and struggle for me and I’m assuming, for you too.
Fear is tricky. Fear can keep us stagnate and in a depression, but it can also result in some of the greatest moments of our lives. How can something manage to produce both highs and lows?
A few years back I went skydiving. My friend took me and a few others up with her to a place where she completed dozens of jumps. I was pumped! I had so much nervous energy it was ridiculous. I was going to do a tandem jump, so I strapped my instructor on my back like he was a backpack (weight restrictions required me to have the smallest instructor and it was pretty comical our size difference), climbed in the plane. As we climbed higher and higher I was getting more excited. Then the instructor yelled in my ear to climb out on the wing. We weren’t doing the stereotypical out of the cargo door jump. I had to climb out onto the wing before I would basically fall backwards. I climbed out no problem and then when I was told to remove one hand at a time and put them on my chest, I think my fear took over. And by I think, I mean…it definitely did. I “misheard” him a couple times and kept shuffling my hands one direction or the other on the strut. Finally I understood him and put one hand on my chest while the other hand gripped the strut with all of its strength. I literally was looking at my hand and telling it to let go, but my body wasn’t having any of that. It was petrified of what might happen, of what might end in pain. Finally the instructor grabbed my hand and pulled it to my chest. I had no choice at that point, but to fall backwards and trust my instructor would do whatever was necessary to keep me safe. Not only did he keep me safe, but those few minutes were exhilarating and I would love to go again.
This past week a good friend/mentor/counselor of mine was in town. During his time here we had a few hours to process through recent happenings in both of our lives. Granted I did most of the talking, but we both were able to talk about some things that were on our mind. One of the topics we discussed was fear. You see, I had sent him an email a couple weeks prior telling him I was struggling what I had described as “fear that was approaching debilitating.”
I was stuck. Stuck in a place and time where I wanted to plan for the future (in a wide variety of ways), but not doing anything. I needed to talk to my brother and mom about my future, but I was afraid of what their reactions would be. Don’t get me wrong. They gave me absolutely no reason to fear this, they have been nothing but supportive my whole life. That was the problem. My fear was filling my head with lies.
A big decision is approaching in which I must decide if I am to return to the US and get a so-called “normal” job with a “normal” paycheck or if after a year in the US (An agreement between the US and Germany requires a year back in the US every five years.) would I come back to Germany and continue working with GEM. Let me show you a glimpse into my head as to how the fear was wrecking me:
If I go back to the US for good, I will have to find, interview and get a job.
What if I don’t like that job?
I might have to move to another new place, where I know no one.
I would have to find new friends to satisfy my extroverted tendencies.
I would be leaving the families and friends that I have developed over five years here in Germany.
I may not even live much closer to my mom and brother.
So many things that I can’t control. So much in the distance, just out of my view. So many reasons to make the “easier” choice by staying in my apartment, in my little village and with my job. Not that being a missionary is “easy,” but having to move to a brand-new place and start a brand-new job with brand-new co-workers, etc. isn’t exactly easy either.
My brain wanted me to settle for “easy” because there was less chance of failing, less new that could be tough, less ways for me to affirm all of my fears.
The problem is, none of that matters.
So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand…For I am the Lord your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you.
Isaiah 41: 10 & 13
I love the imagery in these verses, but specifically verse 13. When I was a kid and afraid, nothing could allay those fears quite like my mom or dad grabbing my hand a giving a little squeeze to let me know that everything was fine, no matter what. How much better could it be than the God of the universe saying, “I’m holding your hand. I am here to help.” It may not be easy, it may not be perfect, but He is here to help.
Just before Easter I found myself in Athens with a team from California who came to teach English. The curriculum we were using was the Adventures in the Wardrobe curricula I have been co-writing for quite a while now. The curriculum is based on the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe movie and has been used in Germany before, but this was the first time in Greece. I wrote more about how the camp went on the eDOT site, head over there and find out what some of my student’s favorite colors were.
I was very happy with how the curriculum was received and as one of it’s designers it confirms that what we are doing is worth the time and effort. That alone would have made our time in Greece worthwhile, but what happened the day after the camp ended touched me deeper than just about anything ever has before.
The day after the camp we went to one of the refugee camps in the area to deliver diapers and wipes. 11 of the 50ish students we taught currently live in one of two nearby refugee camps. Most of them came from Afghanistan, but two of them were from Syria and it was these two boys and their mom who this story will center on.
Because of relationships that had been built between one of the leaders of the ministry we partnered with and the people in this camp the two boys were invited to a blatantly Christian camp. Even though they were not Christian, their mom said they could come because they have brains of their own and she wanted them to be able to learn English and have a good time.
My co-leader ended up teaching them during the camp and these boys ate up the lessons. They asked questions, were engaged in the lessons and loved speaking what English they could, whenever they could. They didn’t always understand what we were saying, but they tried as hard as they could to give the best answer they could. They certainly did not lack enthusiasm, that is for sure!
While at the camp we were given diapers and wipes to take to specific cabins. Immediately a young boy found my teammate and I and wanted to help. He grabbed my hand and, to no one’s surprise, started swinging from it. He lead us successfully to the first cabin and we delivered the diaper’s to an appreciative mother. After the success with my new friend we decided he could probably help us find the others we needed to find…yeah, that didn’t work out so well. He lead us, confidently, to many wrong places until eventually he scattered off to find other friends.
While struggling to find one of the cabins we ran into one of the Syrian boys from English camp and after helping us find the right place he dragged us, willingly, to his place to meet his mom. As we arrived we found my co-leader there already talking with his mom and with a plate of food in front of her. We had eaten lunch before we came to camp, but that didn’t seem to matter to his mom, who quickly stood up, shook our hands and then produced two more places of Tabouli and another dish of which I can’t remember the name.
In some cultures it is offensive to leave a plate with food on it and in others a clean plate means you want more. So, somehow we needed to tread this fine line of not offending our host, but also not getting even more food since we were already pretty full. My two teammates didn’t want to be rude, but realized they would not be able to finish eating their plates of food. When the mom ducked inside her place I became the recipient of their remains. Since it would be obvious that I had more food on my plate than before she went inside I had to eat their share quickly. My stomach was full…but I did what needed to be done, or at least, what I thought had to be done.
In the meantime more of our team came and joined us, eventually we had 5 teachers and 3 of the leaders from the camp at our table. At one point one of the leaders called the other in as “backup” because he knew how much food was about to be consumed.
When the mom came back out, I had successfully eaten the rest of the food on my plate (which was delicious by the way) and then my jaw about dropped to the floor with what she was carrying with her. Out on the table she placed a giant pan with saffron rice, potatoes, eggplant and chicken. We weren’t leaving anytime soon and my stomach was not going to be any less full.
Again, we didn’t want to offend anyone, so I took one for the team and had a plate full of this dish. Unfortunately I made the mistake of allowing the mom to serve me. I’m not sure how she managed to get so much on one plate. I did what I could and in the end, I finished my plate. The smile on the boys’ mom’s face was enough to deal with the slight discomfort I was feeling.
Why do I tell you this? Well, it is not to tell you that refugees have it better than you thought, because they don’t. Or that they can make giant meals for anybody that comes to visit, because they can’t. The reason I tell you this is because it was the curriculum that allowed us to meet these wonderful people who opened up their limited resources to us to show their appreciation. There was no way we were going to disrespect this family by not eating what was served, because to them it was an honor to serve us. They loved that we would spend time with them, love them and care for them.
This is what our partner ministry does in Greece. This is what we do with our curriculum. It is through these relationships that we can share the Gospel and it will be heard because they know we love them and care for them. It is through these relationships that God will bring more into His kingdom and if I have to eat a ridiculous amount of food to help establish those relationships, then that is exactly what I will do!
This weekend was jammed packed with great things. As I mentioned in my last post, I was taken to an Ohio State football game as an early Christmas present from my brother and parents. Even though Ohio State didn’t play that well, it was a great day. It was nice to get away, spend some quality time with my brother and my cousin (who goes to school at OSU). The whole day was great and something I will remember fondly for a long time to come.
On Sunday I was a part of a missions event at the church I attended from a really young age and until I left for Maryland. The event had 18 different missionaries representing local and international organizations. Each missionary had a chance to talk about their ministry and a common, but not exclusive, connection was that the missionaries came from Church of the Cross. It was something that I knew, but often times I forget. Church of the Cross is a sending church and I don’t just mean they give money to a bunch of missionaries and “send” them that way, which they do, but they also have a lot of missionaries that come out of the church. There was a couple and single who weren’t at the event, but are supported by CotC. Had they been there, there would have been a total of 21 missionaries and over half of them could have said, “I grew up in this church,” or “I attended CotC for years before going on the mission’s field. Can most churches say that? Maybe they can, but regardless, it is impressive.
I am a part of those that grew up in Church of the Cross, and I am honored to stand side by side with that church and all of their missionaries.
I will be around Toledo until next Wednesday so if you would like to grab some coffee, lunch, dinner or just catch up one way or another, let me know, because I would love to catch up with as many people as possible.
After a solid 8 hours of sleep, I woke up at 4:30…yeah, still too early, but I’m adjusting. The plan for the day was to go get some shopping done (I remembered all about tax this time) and then head back over to Jupmode to do some more work for them. Then I would return home to meet my niece, Sabrina, for the first time. I was a wee bit excited, to say the least.
When they arrived, Sabrina had the gall to be sleeping, so I had to wait patiently to hold her. In the mean time we exchanged some Christmas gifts since my brother and parent’s gift to me was a bit time sensitive. My brother had told me to keep Saturday the 29th open, but wouldn’t tell me why. I found out why, I was going to go to an Ohio State football game with my brother including going to a “Skull session” and having brunch with my cousin who attends OSU before hand. Again…I was stinking excited!
Holding Sabrina for the first time felt good, even though she was a wee bit fussy. I enjoyed every second of holding her and even got her to smile at me for a while. These are the things that can be tough when you live so far away. You miss a lot. Sabrina is 3 months old and it was the first time I got to hold her. You better believe I will be soaking up as much Sabrina time as possible whenever I can!
To end the night Ray, Ben and I all went to my cousin’s high school football game where I got to see my aunt, two cousins and my goddaughter. Family time is very important for me, so yesterday was a good day.
As you are reading this I am on my way to Columbus for the Buckeye game…O-H!
On Sunday I will be at Church if the Cross in Toledo for their Missions Sunday and I’d love to see some of you there!
Waking up at 3:30 in the morning really allows you to get some stuff done before the rest of the world wakes up. . .but it also means you are up at 3:30 in the morning!
So the day didn’t start out the best, but the rest of the day ended up being pretty great until I crashed at the early hour of 8:30 PM.
After the rest of the house woke up my mom and I went to the gym for a good workout. The rest of the morning was full of some errands including getting a Sim card for my phone and my jet-lagged brain had a hard time with paying. I totally forgot about tax so when I handed the cashier “enough” money to pay for the item, she looked at me and said, “The card cost that much, but either tax it’s. . .” Oh yeah, tax, I kind of forgot about that.
In the afternoon I got to work for my friend who has his own screen-printing business. I asked him if he needed some extra help so I can earn some money in order to get back and he gladly accepted my help. I had a great time working for Jupmode and am very appreciative of the opportunity.
After getting back to my mom’s house I had another good surprise in the form of another sizable donation from a friend and neighbor. Day one was a full day and another great one.
God has blessed this trip so far and i can’t wait to see what He has planned for the rest of my time here.