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Friday, September 26, 2014

Organizing Chaos

Can you find the tiny Kurdish flag in the mountain? Flags here are everywhere: Patriotism abounds!

Friends and Relations, what a dynamic life we live! Thank you for your unique part in my own! Your kind emails, thoughtful responses, timely encouragement, and simple “likes” to my past Facebook posts have been energizing, have made me smile, laugh, and have reminded me to thank God for you!

Can you help me with something? I will be making much fewer Facebook posts, and possibly also taking a long hiatus from blogging. HOWEVER, I’m NOT going offline and if you’d like to keep up with me and my adventures on the other side of the globe will you (?) …

- Check and see if you received a Mail Chimp email from me circa early-mid Sept. If you DID, you can disregard the next point…

-If you did NOT, sign up HERE to receive my E-Letters (called "Abbey Mac and I-raq Newsletter" )

> -If you’d like my personal email for interactive and more regular communication, please message me through Facebook and I will be happy to share it!

-There are even ways to “text” and “talk” with me and I’d be happy to explain the means by which you can set that up, too!

“No man (or woman!) is an island.” You are the piedmont, the mountains, prairies, forests, and shorelines that constitute my continent and for Who are are, and your role in my tiny narrative, I thank you! All my love,

-abbey mac

This is my grocery store! No, for real peanut butter and coffee. :( Yes, for fresh, affordable produce, drinkable water, and bulk nuts and seeds! :)

Monday, September 15, 2014

First Impressions

Who is praying for me? If you’re reading this post you’re probably guilty. For your influence on my first two days of school being a success, thank you.

I’m teaching three high school courses. In 10th Grade literature I have 15 students. Eventually we’ll read the Epic of Gilgamesh, The Odyssey, and C.S. Lewis’ Till We Have Faces, but this week we’re laying a foundation for why we study literature. My Humanities course is 9th through 11th grade combined, 52 students. We meet in a large “lecture hall” and I talk at them about history (we’re supposed to cover Carthage through the Enlightenment). Today we got to define history and ask “Why does this matter?” My goal is to present History as a story- The Story- that God is telling about Himself through the human narrative of the ages. Journalism is an elective chosen by 33 students. I’ll need creative ideas for this one! So far I’ve filled time by asking them personal questions and giving an overview of the history of journalism. Did you know that some carrier pigeons were awarded medals in wartime? Before today, I didn’t!

With very few resources available to me (several of my classes are lacking books; one class has no book at all- not even a teacher’s manual!) and lacking a “Grand Scale” view of where each course is going I’ve been completely reliant on God as I prepare and give my lessons. I ask Him to provide me with resources and with direction for how to conduct the class. Then, I leave it up to Him and read, think, write, visualize what each class needs, and search online for information. I don’t freak out, I just believe that He’s heard my prayer and that He actually cares to answer it. And that He has the resources to help me. So far, so great! Even yesterday, after only three hours of sleep the night before, while giving the lessons I felt alert, energized, and had so much fun!

Some things that are difficult for me related to school: Name pronunciation… Hearing (my hearing is bad, and there are many competing noises that contribute to my partial deafness. In a classroom, and cross-culturally, this is a recipe for Problems) and understanding the students when they speak: some students have no accent at all while speaking English; others have a very thick one... Not making eye contact with men (how do you look at a person’s face- which is permissible- without looking them in the eyes- which is scandalous-?! Not looking feels very foreign, very uncomfortable to me. Fortunately my boy-students culturally are not considered men, so I can have an authentic conversation with them when needed!)

Some beautiful things related to school: Students are all very respectful, even the I-Don’t-Want-to-Be-Here, I-Have-Zero-Interest-In-the-Words-Coming-Out-of-Your-Mouth, sit in the back row students! ...Our head administrator’s helpfulness towards and care of his teachers. ...My coworkers’ kind friendliness: many are very young, and most, like me, are new this year to this school; most are fluent in English so we can communicate...

In my life here I am very, very confined. This dynamic made my List of Expectations for Life in Kurdistan, and the extent of my confined-ness is not at all a surprise. I’ve learned that I CANNOT run outside and that in Dohuk, women’s gyms (which do exist but in very few numbers) are not places for respectable women. I am VERY thankful for my TRX suspension trainer; it’s a tool that at least helps me sweat a little harder than what the natural climate induces and affords me a little extra movement and a few endorphins. When I do yoga in my bedroom it’s behind a drawn shade (so men-neighbors in the nine stories of apartments above ours cannot see me in shorts and a t-shirt), emphasizing this cloistered reality and magnifying my confinement. I know what leprosy feels like.

Even with these and other challenges (lacking water in our apartment at random intervals; not having electricity when I need it; having electricity but not having the right adapter to convert it into usable energy; currently having only three protein sources available- peanut butter (and within less than a week’s time I have only half a jar left!), eggs, and canned tuna; never seeing the stars because I cannot step outside at night; missing my brother’s wit, my sister’s amiability, Daddy’s wisdom, and Mamma’s love; remembering- or forgetting!- to not put paper down the toilet; etc.) I’m actually quite happy. Because I am confident that this is exactly where my God wants me right now.

God knows what His kids can handle but He also likes to push us. Nonetheless I’m asking Him to provide my roommate and I with an apartment within the school’s neighborhood. This would give us liberty to walk to school on our own (currently we’re dependent upon a driver). We could get to know our neighbors with greater built-in security (in our high rise apartment the flux of people coming and going at all hours of the day/night makes it sketch). And because I’d be within walking distance maybe, just maybe, I could stay after class at the end of the work day and run up and down, up and down the school’s three flights of stairs to release stress, sweat, and grab endorphins! Hannah and I are currently talking with a friend about this whose apartment would become available for us within the month. It looks hopeful!

The entrance to The Classical School of the Medes

The entrance to our apartment complex

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Discovering Bookends: Why Rehearsing the Past can Bolster Hope for the Future

A sleepless night. Above the darkness the ceiling stares back at me coldly, offers no counsel or consolation. Mamma had asked me, So Daughter, do you have any fears? Yes, Yes I do. I number them. I am afraid of confinement. I am afraid of not getting [any or enough] exercise. I am afraid of the Loneliness. I am afraid of potential relationship tensions with roommates and co-teachers and students and administrators. I am afraid of shaming my hosts or dishonoring Jesus through my own cultural ignorance… But these are not the fears that surround me tonight.

What steals sleep away is the fear of my own inaptitude. Perhaps failure awaits me in a foreign land. What if I totally bomb it? What if these students are way beyond my ability to teach? What if I get in the classroom and have nothing to say? What if I can’t plan lessons and grade papers and have no clear vision of where I’m taking these students?

And on and on the fears march, encircle, and besiege me. I am prisoner of war to these fears.

Then, like a mediator, the power of memory intervenes. Cease fire.

I think about California, a pleasant memory. I recall my experiences there- very strategic ones God had prepared for me. Each one a rock to plant my feet on. I replant my feet on each one, retracing the steps, remembering…

Tutoring at the Arab American Learning Center (who knew that Sacramento had such a huge Iraqi refugee population? that my church volunteered with the school aged kids there? that my presence would be welcomed?). For once each week I get to be the minority, a foreign tongue invades my hearing, and Middle Eastern children teach me who they are and what they value…

Global Pipeline, a ‘worker’ internship through a local church that envelopes me into a rich community of like-minded friends. We learn Jesus stories from the Gospels. We read and discuss the Qu ‘ran, visit a mosque, and make friends amongst our Muslim neighbors. This community graphs me into their family through laughter, prayer, and quality time…

Teaching Sunday school, way out in the country, I get face time with young people in a small setting. My tiny flock challenges me with their purposeful theological inquiries. I co-labor with God the Holy Spirit to teach us from John’s book…

Substitute teaching, my first real experience in the classroom with authority. How God had prospered that chapter! He gave me favor with students, administrators, and fellow teachers.

I muse on subbing, an Adventure!

I taught in the ‘burbs. I taught in the city: in elite Sacramento communities, and in shady ones. I taught at a charter school, at fundamental schools, at mediocre schools, at handicapped and emotionally disturbed schools, at alternative schools, and at blue-ribbon schools.

I taught Kindergarten (oh, terror! and, oh! Miracle! and, oh, experiment proving the grace of God!), I taught seniors, and I taught everything in-between.

I read stories, ran laps, pedaled bribing candies and awarded with fruit bars. I danced. I played board games and DVDs, walked with and heard troubled teens. I glared, laughed, threatened, disciplined, and learned why some people drink after work. I made a list of “Why Jesus is Better than Substitute Teachers.”

I earned a nickname (Mis sMackdown), earned praise, and felt the sting of failure. I was assaulted with criticism, with hugs, and with students’ encouraging hand-drawn papers. I sent students outside, dismissed them to the principal’s office, left good reports, and left my jacket.

I often made a single outfit last for a week (because each day I frequented a new school).

I taught P.E. and French, Algebra, English, History, and Art. I taught Spanish, study hall, and science. I taught Government, Econ, Music, and Music…

M-U-S-I-C! My thoughts slow, and on my bed a flood of knowing suddenly sweeps over my body. It’s an assaulting physical sensation of astonishment and peace, giddiness and calm: I am remembering that my substitute teaching career literally began and ended. With Music.

Tenth and Eleventh grade Music, Western Sierra Collegiate Academy. At Trader Joe’s the night before I’m rehearsing with my coworkers what to say to these students. They don’t need to know that I’m green, that I’m terrified, that I literally have no idea what I’m doing. Let them think I’m a professional substitute. But I will be straight up with them about one thing: I know nothing about Music. I’ll tell them that today, they are the Teacher and I am the Pupil; they will school me in Music. Kids like that- people like that- when you’re transparent about your limitations. And they like being asked for help. And so I am, and they do. And they sing me through a fabulous first day of school. A strong and satisfying start to my substitute career.

Months later, last week of school, at Cottage Elementary I am filling in for the long-term sub who had been covering for music teacher. Kindergarteners clap, stomp, and chirp their way through class (yes, with hand motions!). Third and fifth graders proudly bellow songs for Years’ End celebration. First and second graders faithfully warble their repertoire. With their songs my career ends, music reverberating from classroom to car, cheering me onto my next adventure…

From under my silent ceiling I consider this, the musical bookends of my subbing career: God saying, Daughter, I began and ended your teacher training with a song. Same as I was in those details, I am in the ones before you. Take confidence, take heart. I like singing and this Song I have for you is a good one. Fast turn on the light and study this from Zephaniah’s book:

On that day they will say to Jerusalem, “Do not fear, O Zion; do not let your hands hang limp. The Lord your God is with you, He is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, He will quiet you with His love, He will rejoice over you with singing” (3:16-17).

God in the details, God bookending that significant Chapter with verses and song. I relax. This same God, singing over me then, sings over me now. He will sing over me in Kurdistan the same. Because He’s that kind of God, taking delight. A gasp and a whisper, Thank You, Jesus, and fears retreat as sleep invites.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Pilgrim Chronicles: Gift Metamorphoses

Saturday new doubts danced into my mind through a series of questions Pam posed: “Do you see these new circumstances as God perhaps shutting this door for you?” and, “How long will you hold out? When do you make a decision one way or the other?”

At her first question I shuddered. I was pretty sure my feet were still meant to be on the Iraq-ward Path God has been two years paving for them. Inwardly I stared down the challenge to reopen the scrutinzation of this Path. Reevaluation stared back at me, a blank stare. It was through a long, dark tunnel, same as this vacuum of Unknowing I’ve been living in since August 6th. The vacuum increasingly has become a black hole, sucking my motivation, strength, and compass into its vortex of nothingness. A closing door? No. I averted my gaze. I will not look down that Gideon-tunnel. I need no further confirmation. I remember the manna along this wilderness path, God keeping me alive, directing and re-directing my motions and my affections on the way. I’m staying the course. Now is not the time to re-evaluate. This private conversation with myself over, my audible response to Pam is a meer, "Ummm..."

But the second question? Meriting a reply, “I'll hold out until my financial situation requires action,” jumped from my lips. That would certainly be a clear sign: if I was unable to continue to wait without employment then perhaps God was indeed long-term delaying Iraq Plans.

Sunday my parents conferenced with me. An honest assessment of my bank account, my personal savings slowly disappearing, prompted part-time job applications Monday. The YMCA, Starbucks, substitute teaching for HSE- jobs within which I could easily give my two weeks when I got the Call.

My efforts Monday were very unproductive.

Tuesday. Bayside Church is teaching through a series on the Minor Prophets. For an hour I listen to Pastor Curt Harlow’s sermon from Habakkuk The prophet's words sound like my own: “God, how long do I have to cry out for help before you listen? How many times do I have to yell, “Help!...”?” This mouth-for-God man, Habakkuk, whose name means ‘embrace,' writes a book about waiting: Embrace the waiting. Know that God is not ignoring your questions as you wait.

Two weeks, six days. Waiting in this Nothing vacuum. Not knowing for what I wait, nor for how long. Learning to name the Nothing a God gift and to give thanks.

A beautiful song of Steadfast Resolve from the Prophet and Poet, Embrace-Waiting author:

(For the Director of Music. On my stringed instruments) ‘Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior. The Sovereign Lord is my strength; He makes my feet like the feet of a deer, He enables me to tread on the heights.’

With this song Habakkuk concludes his book. With this sermon God has renamed the Nothing I hold: Wait. I wrap myself around it, embrace this Wait gift.

In my hands, God transforms the gift with alarming speed. Forty-five minutes from the waiting sermon and song, phone startles me from my errands. It is the Call: “Our national partners have traveled to Dohuk. They’ve assessed the conditions there and say it’s safe for our return. School is scheduled to commence on time and we want you there in the next two weeks!” John renames the gift. Now it is Prepare.

It is Wednesday and in one Wednesday I will away for the Thing for which I've waited. What form then shall the God gift take? What new name shall my hands embrace?