Occasionally, people will ask me about working at Rift Valley Academy. How does someone who has never taken an education class manage to contribute anything? Is it hard to work in a small community where everyone knows your business? I respond by saying that teaching eighth grade English left a measurable benchmark that has yet to be equaled. During the diarrhea epidemic a few years ago, it WAS embarrassing to have people remark,”So it got you also; sorry.”
My job entails some of the best parts of being here. I recently received a DHL package from a college and I walked to a class to personally deliver it to a student, because the look on her face was so rewarding I could walk back to my office being grateful that I get to see something like that. The inverse is true also; when a student lets me know they didn’t get in, there is so much pain involved, and in a larger place, you wouldn’t know, so you wouldn’t feel sad when you passed the kid who didn’t make the team, got rejected by the girl, or just struggles to live in a boarding school away from their parents.
So that is why this weekend meant so much. There was a young man who came to RVA last year as a junior, and this is a tough place to start new in a high school. He was all knees and elbows, and kind of an awkward kid. I did coverage in his dorm once a week to give my friends who were in charge a couple of hours off and because I loved their dog Stoney.
The juniors host an annual banquet for the seniors, and it is RVA’s form of the prom, although I really think the way RVA does it is superior to limos and hotel rooms and all the excesses in the US. I was in the young man’s dorm last year, and I asked him who he was going to ask to banquet. One of his roommates yelled “Stoney,” and although we all laughed, I knew that the whole banquet asking was going to be rough on him. He ended up going alone, and it was tough to see.
This year, I was in his dorm again, and I was almost afraid to ask him who he was going to ask. He told me her name, and I thought he was being funny. Besides being the nicest and sweetest senior girl, you could make an argument that she was also the prettiest.
On banquet night there is the traditional “walk up,” where the whole school comes out and lines the walkway to watch the junior and senior couples walk up to the banquet. When he walked up with her, I looked at him and got tears in my eyes. He was so happy to be with her that he was just glowing. Life is so difficult and you see so much hard stuff here; watching a victory, seeing someone who hung in there and didn’t give up, is the best explanation of why it is such an honor to be here.
We completed another computer center, and I was trying to figure out why this one meant so much to me. The best explanation I have is the Dallas Cowboys. I grew up in Illinois, but moved to Texas a few years after I graduated from college. I could never forsake the Cubs, but it was hard to not fall for the Cowboys in the 90’s. They won back to back Superbowls, and then the STUPID OWNER FIRED THE COACH WHO GAVE HIM BACK TO BACK SUPERBOWLS. (Sorry, I keep thinking I’m over it.) He then hired some hillbilly who lost the next year, but it was such an awesome team that they managed to win the next year. Their quarterback throughout this time, Troy Aikman, said that the third Superbowl meant the most to him, because he had learned the hard way not to take it for granted.
We had a great run of building computer centers for several years, but when the economy collapsed, it was all we could do to continue to operate the ones we had built. We received a large gift recently which enabled us to open another one, and let me tell you, when you wonder if you will ever get to build another one, a new one is especially rewarding.
I asked the headmaster how many of the 700 students had electricity in their homes and he laughed and said, “I don’t have electricity in MY home. None of them do.” Less than 100 students own shoes; it is pretty grimly poor there.
So we opened this center, and a mother of a little girl came to me and she was crying. She finally got out, “I never thought my daughter would have a chance to learn how to use a computer.” I hadn’t been able to say this for the longest time, so it was especially sweet to say, “There are people in America who love your daughter.”
Then she hugged me and we both cried. God is so good, and sometimes if you hang in there and don’t give up, He gives you the nicest moments, especially when you have learned not to take any for granted.
PS. We received the covers of our book today, and it looks great! If you go to Amazon, you can find A Dream So Big.
Publication date is March 19th, and we will be back in the states during the RVA break to promote it from March 22-April 14. There will be a book signing on March 25 at Mardel’s Bookstore from 3-5pm at 664 Grapevine Hwy, Hurst, TX 76054. If you have an idea on how to promote it, or a place we can speak or share, we would be grateful.
If you can put this in your blog, or Facebook wall, or tweet it, or ask your library or church bookstore to carry it, we would be so thankful. A recent scientific study showed that buying 10 of the books made it read much better.
As this year began, I hit a wall. For the first time ever, I didn’t think I had the emotional or physical energy to make it through the 12 weeks of the new school term. Usually I (actually all of us on staff at RVA) begin to think that around week 9 or 10. But to feel that way the second week …well it was pretty scary.
I know 2 Corinthians 12:9: “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness. Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.” I remind myself of this all the time, and occasionally I think I walk in it. But what really happens is that I bump into my weakness, remind myself of this verse, and then I suck it up and soldier on. But this was a different kind of exhaustion. I couldn’t suck it up and keep on. I was crying over everything and nothing. I was totally depleted. As I prayed about it, I felt like God was saying, “But I don’t want you to suck it up and soldier on. And I am not going to make you strong. I want you to learn to live weak.”
What?! But I have no frame of reference for that … I don’t know how to live weak. And especially not in the midst of a community that expects me to be strong … or is that just what I think they expect … and it is only me that expects that of myself?
So I am on a new and very different kind of journey right now. It’s not a comfortable one. It goes against every fiber of my flesh and the way I have lived the past 50 years. I feel like my world has tilted; the horizon is no longer where I thought it was.
But in this place of dislocation I’m discovering deeper connection with God. He’s dealing with my pride as never before. He’s dealing with my false notion of self-sufficiency. He’s dealing with my perspective on work. He’s requiring that I re-examine my priorities. He’s teaching me about true Sabbath rest. And above all, or maybe it is through it all, He’s calling me to Himself in a way that I can’t really articulate. And it is so worth everything I am going through, in order to know my Lord in a deeper, truer way.
I’m thinking that those “walls” we hit or those places of near-despair are the very places where God finally has our full attention and so can lavish His love on us in ways we never dreamed of – because we’ve previously been so very capable and able to go on without Him. I’m so grateful for this place of weakness and brokenness. These are definitely uncharted waters for me … but not for Him.