Category Archives: children

Child That Never Really Was Mine 2

It’s now close to two years that I saw him last. Be was my first student at Wisdom Tree Home, and the one that left the most lasting imprint on my heart. I stumbled across a picture of him yesterday and floods of memories came back. Here is a poem I posted two years ago of him. I felt it would be appropriate to post it again.

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I miss you, I miss you, child of my heart

(Child that never really was mine)

Eyes so deep you’d think you’d drown

Drown in those tears of salty brine.

But child, child, I miss those hands

Brown and small that clung to my own

Clung to my hands and held to my heart

But now I hold alone.

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The last time I saw you, child of mine

You looked so fragile and skinny and small

And I don’t know if I’ll ever again

Walk this way and hear you call

But child, child, I’ll never, forget

The way you hugged me that one last time

Child, I love you, no words can say

(Child that never really was mine).

-June 2015

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Young Grief

I was very young, perhaps 4, when I first learned what it meant to cry for someone else.

Oh,  I was an expert when it came to crying. Even up to the age of about 7, I considered it a day of victory if I got through the day without the inevitable tear. But I remember distinctly the day I learned what it meant to feel someone else’s pain.

It was also on that day that I came to the realization that people don’t just hurt on the outside. They can also hurt on the inside.

The knowledge I gained that day shaped my life forever.

 

Young Grief

Cool and gray, clouds overhead;

Slip my young hand into my mother’s;

We walk to the big house

Sit in the rows and rows of people

Who are here because of the little girl

Littler than me

In the white dress

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In the breathless room

I try to draw a deep breath

But there are too many people

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I don’t understand.

The little girl has gone somewhere-

But I’m not sure why or how.

But I do know no one wanted her to go

So it’s sad and then people cry.

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But my mother isn’t crying

And I ask her why

From deep inside the answer comes

“I’m crying on the inside.”

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So I sit

And think about the little girl

Littler than me

In the white dress

Who has gone somewhere

And no one wanted her to go

And soon I too begin crying on the inside.

 

         Originally published in Echoes of Eternity

What Is Missions?

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What is missionary life? After reading an article called This Is Missions by Brooke Vanguard, a description of missions in China, I was challenged by a friend  to write our own version of missions in Thailand. This is a glimpse of what it is. The photos are a bit random, some having to do with the words, and some not.

Again, a small disclaimer. Sometimes I hesitate to write anything about missions here, simply because so many people get the  picture that missions is some sort of really special work that only really special people can do. It is not!! Sometimes I cringe when I am labeled as a missionary, because of this.  It is a really special work that people with a really special God can do. And being a missionary does not mean that you need to go to a foreign country. It can be done on your very doorstep.

This is missions…..

It’s reaching up and finding spiders in your hair and going on wild mouse chases in the middle of the night. It’s brushing off the ants from that precious banana bread — and eating the banana bread. It’s waking up at night hearing rats running around attic. It’s setting sticky traps in the kitchen and having to haul off the results later, while choking back nausea.

It’s trying to make food that your Thai guests will enjoy and instead, it’s putting way too much water into the rice which leaves it sticky and mushy. It’s feeling like a bumbling city girl who can’t cook anything because you simply don’t know how to make Thai food. It’s ordering fresh milk and feeling stupid and naïve because no matter how desperately you calculate, you can’t think of how much 10 kilograms of milk might be in pounds. It’s feeling silly because you don’t know how to change children’s diapers Thai style— pull off the diaper and spray ‘em with the hose!

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It’s being told that you are way too trusting when you invite the lonely stranger you met at the bus station to stay at your house. It’s being told by your neighbors and friends how you should arrange your furniture, how you should put up your shelves, how you should always close your door to keep out the mosquitos, and how you should not go out into the sun without  long sleeves, or let yourself get wet. It’s feeling frustrated when you’re constantly told by your coworkers at school that you need to speak harshly to your children in order to make them behave, and feeling like you can’t do anything right because you don’t quite do it their way.

It’s trying to impress your hosts with your ability to eat spicy food, and then paying for your pride the next morning in the bathroom. It’s feeling frustrated by not being able to communicate the way you want to and it’s being tired of feeling like a 3 year old who keeps on using the wrong words and saying silly things.

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It’s feeling totally comfortable telling a male friend at church how much you weigh. It’s laughing at jokes you would not have thought funny 2 years ago. It’s eating with your spoon in your right hand and your fork in your left without a thought. It’s being ok with changing plans at the last minute, or not even having any plans in the first place. It’s going home and asking your mom if the mattress in your room is new—- because it’s so soft! It’s asking people if they’ve eaten yet and what they ate, as a way of being polite. Or asking them where they’re going.

It’s feeling like you’re brain is permanently fried by language study and hot weather. It’s feeling like you use so much brain energy just surviving that all the profound, cool thoughts you used to think have simply vanished from your brain.

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It’s wondering how on earth to help the bouncing ADHD student learn to control himself and stop shooting things with his imaginary gun. It’s holding tightly an angry child bent on hurting whatever he can touch in his little world. It’s feeling like all you do is tell little people what to do.

It’s going to church and feeling a heaviness on your heart because you wish so badly that your unbelieving friends could be there too. It’s driving home late at night and feeling the sadness of the city circle around your soul.

It’s being ecstatic about the fact that in a little over a week you get to fly home for an entire month. At the same time, it’s feeling terrified too.

It’s being on cloud nine after being able to carry an hour long conversation all in Thai, and then it’s crashing down to reality when you can’t understand a simple question.

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It’s always feeling a little self -conscious, wherever you go. It’s being told you are sooo beautiful all the time and you speak Thai sooooo well. It’s being used to the stares that come from passengers on the backs of trucks as you drive down the road on your bike.

It’s listening to your friend recount with glowing face  her new found faith and the way God is working in her life and leading her to witness to her co-workers. It’s listening to her bold statement of faith before she is baptized on a rainy Sunday afternoon.

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It’s having a young student crying inconsolably after leaving school because she found out that Teacher Lori is going home to America, not realizing it’s only for a month. (Ok, not quite inconsolably. She was consoled by donuts eventually, I heard.)img_7065

It’s listening to a 4 year old student from a Buddhist family announcing to his friends, “When I grow up I am going to go to church!”

It’s watching the even rising and falling chest of a young girl as she sleeps and running your finger over her smooth cheek, praying that God would give her a hope and a future, even when all the odds are against her.

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It’s feeling that odd tug at your soul when you crest the mountain peak – on those few occasions that you do get to the mountain – and seeing smoke rising from a valley village, far below. It’s that heartfelt connection that you feel after stopping at a roadside stand to escape the rain for a few minutes and striking up a conversation with the vendors and customers, finding that they too know the true God. It’s seeing the delight on a market vendor’s face because you speak their language and eat their food.IMG_5290

It’s feeling the small strength of a child’s hand in yours. It’s seeing the solemn trust in a little girl’s chocolate eyes and hearing her say your name. It’s hearing the squealing laughter of 30 children loose on the playground. It’s giving piggy back rides and bouncing wildly on big rubber balls and roaring like a tiger and rolling on the ground and doing other quite unladylike maneuvers.

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It’s sitting at Wednesday night cell group, singing Thai songs and sharing struggles and realizing over and over again that we are brothers and sisters.

It’s knowing it is all worth it.

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Those Poor Children

Author’s note: I am not disclaiming the need in any way for humanitarian aid, justice for those oppressed or at risk, or education for those who lack it. Those who know me best will attain to that fact. However, I am simply restating the well known fact that wealth and prosperity have  never been known to bring happiness. 

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I’ve seen children sitting afloat pieces of junk in a murky little sewer stream, splashing in the water, challenging each other to jump across, or pretending to push each other into the smelly depths. I’ve seen these same children fight out a game of “sabaa” on a dirt road, similar to bowling but using small round stone-like seeds, plucked from a tree in the mountains. They squat in the dust and with screams and squeals play the game, squabbling as they play, but usually emerging from the argument with a smile and laugh. Dirty- faced younger siblings play in the road as well, fighting mock battles with sticks, or other trash pulled from the dump that borders the Thai slum village. It’s dirty. It’s dusty. It’s smelly.

And then….. I turn around.

And see immaculate houses filled with toys, crammed with food, with all the comforts you would want. I see children with no siblings and with abnormal levels of self -entitlement screaming their wrath to the world because they were denied a certain color crayon.

I see parents bowing to all wishes—- Child, “I want this toy-a!”

“But honey, you’ve got one at home!”

“But not just like this-a!”

“Ok, ok, honey! We’ll get you one as soon as we can!” Heaven forbid that we cause another tantrum!

I see parents with their children on an unseen leash, protecting and wrapping them in invisible bubble wrap—“Dear, don’t run! You might fall!”

“Darling, don’t go out into the sun! It’s so hot!”

“Honey, don’t get wet! You might catch a cold!”

Disobedience is met with a “Oh- you’re -so -cute -and –so- bad- and- what –on- earth- will- we –ever- do –with- you” shake of the head and a sigh.

Forgive me, parents. I know that if I ever have children of my own, I might look back with a little more understanding.

But please….. Let the child climb that tree and stomp in that puddle and make that mud pie and use that hammer! Let him fall! Let him bleed! And please, please, don’t, don’t give him everything he wants!

I endured one of the happiest childhoods of anyone. We swam in the dirtiest water you could imagine— the algae infested cattle tanks on our farm. We made mud pies and shot baby sparrows and set them in the middle of the mud pies. We painted our faces and made teepees in the grove of evergreen trees and made paper boats and floated them off down the ditch after a hard rain. We built dusty houses out of small square straw bales and climbed the barn walls in search of sparrow nests and built tree houses in as many trees that God allowed to be suitable for tree houses. We had tea parties on the roof; we woke up at 4:30 to watch a summer sunrise; we rode our pony full speed down dirt roads and through grassy fields; we drank out of hoses; we ran through the sprinkler; we acted out Indian powwows; we rattled around on one speed bikes, reenacting the Kentucky Derby. We used our imagination where our resources were low.

We also worked. We planted potatoes and green beans and corn. We picked strawberries until we thought that we were going to die and threw the rotten ones at each other when we were bored. We pulled weeds. We harvested potatoes and green beans and corn and vowed to never, ever plant 5 long rows of green beans when we grew up. We fed baby calves. We milked cows. We brought cows in from the pasture and on sweltering days stepped into the manure patties in an attempt to cool off our bare feet. We broke ice for the calves’ water when the weather turned freezing.

We were deprived of TV, computers, and internet. We got to go to town at the most about once a month. We went out to eat as a family at the most 3 times a year.

Were we happy? Yes. Were we perfect? No.

But …. I sorta feel like we turned out ok.

And none of us grew up with the belief that the world owed us anything. If anything, we owed the world. Sheltered as we still were, we still knew there was a big, mean world out there, and we were inwardly, as much as children can, grateful that we could live the simple life we did.IMG_0816

My growing up years were far from being that of a street urchin. However, sometimes I see the two pictures in my mind—one of the slum children squatting by the dirty little stream and one of the rich little girl demanding the right kind of toy from her parents.

And I wonder.

Which one should I really feel sorry for?

 

 

 

40 Ways You Know You Work at Wisdom Tree Home

40 Ways You Know You Teach at Wisdom Tree Home

 

  1. “The Wheels on the Bus” is your default shower song.
  2. You find yourself patting the toilet and saying “Good job” when it finally flushes.
  3. At the stoplight you find yourself singing, “The light is red, the light is red, the light is red, red, red.”
  4. You say the Thai word for a bowel movement when speaking English instead of the English word since it sounds less impolite to say it in Thai. “She went to kii!”
  5. You refrain from even glancing toward the window when someone arrives during class since you know soon the entire class will be headed for the window.
  6. You swallow every bit of that snack in your mouth before you leave the kitchen and join the children.
  7. You spray off little bottoms instead of wiping them with baby wipes. Or toilet paper.
  8. You pull toilet paper rolls out of the trash because you know you can always find a way to use them.
  9. You CANNOT get rid of the song “Humpty Dumpty” running through your head at the ridiculous hour of 1 in the morning.
  10. You are able to do the Hamster Dance perfectly. Well, almost perfectly.
  11. You start telling children to get in under the shade and NOT play out in the sun!
  12. When the temperature drops to 70, everybody comes down with colds.
  13. You feed hippos and lions in the crawl space of the building.
  14. You say “good job” or “geng mak!” about 50 times a day.
  15. You say “no” or “mai ou” about the same amount of times in a day.
  16. You say “sit down” and “be quiet” 100 times in a day.
  17. You sneak in ice coffee drinks and sip them on watch at nap time.
  18. You find yourself saying things you vowed to never say to your children, “Think of all the hungry little children in this world who would love to eat this food.” Aaaarrrggghhh!
  19. You are always hungry, for some inexplicable reason.
  20. You eat rice for every noon meal and so does everybody else.
  21. You come home from work with numbers stuck onto your dress with tape.
  22. You find stickers stuck in the oddest places, like on your back.
  23. When talking to American children, you need to bite your tongue in order not to speak Thai to them.
  24. You find yourself watching children at the local market, sure you’ll see someone you recognize.
  25. You become indignant and outraged when you’re at a restaurant and you see a 3 year old child sitting on a booth playing with a smart phone while the parents spoon feed it dinner.
  26. You become immune to  being grossed out by anything.
  27. You wonder what kind of supernatural being you will have been transformed into by the time you finish your term of 2 years of volunteering.
  28. You watch Matt at Dream English and Blippi  videos for entertainment in the evening because they are soooooo cheeeeesy.
  29. You go to the zoo with your students and you feel like you brought the zoo instead.
  30. You say “It is soooooo hot today” on the average of 4 times a day.
  31. You send 37 kids home in the evening and go home and collapse.
  32. You like going to church and simply sitting there and watching kids and being glad that you don’t have to be in charge.
  33. You like the feel of sloppy kisses and pudgy, dirty hands.
  34. You wolf down your food at lunch while overseeing 13 other little mouths.
  35. Your Thai co-workers call you a fairy godmother since they don’t think you’re bossy enough, but you feel more like a wicked stepmother.
  36. You get told by the sassy little cherub beside you, “Eat your food!” when you happen to be chatting with some of the older children during lunch time.
  37. You vow that your children will not know what a smart phone looks like until they are at least 10 years old.
  38. You also vow that if you ever have children of your own, you will not let them be an only child.
  39. You wonder if YOU were like this when you were a child!
  40. And when you don’t see your kiddoes for 4 days in a row, you start missing the impish little pipsqueaks.

 

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Good-bye

Awake and alert with pain. The pain of losing, although it did not come as a surprise, the dull pain of restlessness, the ache of unfulfilled dreams, the pain of wanting and waiting, and the pain of tears at night when memories of love crowd in. I am no mother, and perhaps never will be, and neither am I one of those people who pine for children of their own. But there is something inexplicably aching in the pain of having a child you love taken out of your hands.

God, why? And why twice in one year?

I was quite brave when I was told that the Little Girl Who Lives With Us would not be coming any more. But at 11:30 at night, sleepless in bed, I do not feel so brave anymore and hot tears flood. Instead I remember those times, singing at the top of our lungs on a motorbike, playing hide and seek at the park, shopping for presents for father’s day, faltering through the beginning stages of reading, baking chocolate chip cookies, watching Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and eating hordes of chocolate as we watched, praying together at night, stumbling through my Thai Bible stories, trying to read fluently enough to keep her attention.
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And watching her sleep from my view on my bed- lustrous
black eyes closed in slumber, hair atumble, arms akimbo. Those were the times when I asked God for forgiveness for my sharp impatient words to her in the heat of the moment, or for being frustrated at my inability to spend a moment by myself.

Judy Unruh writes a poem called Foster Baby Bye. While my little girl was not a baby anymore, the poem rings within my heart.

I did not cry when they came for him,
my goodbye was suitably gay;
as if it were not a jagged-edged piece of my heart
that was torn
that was torn
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The Best Christmas Pageant Ever

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Tonight is the night. Christmas will never be the same.
This is how a normal practice goes with a 2-4 year old cast for the Nativity scene. Once we get everybody quiet or at least a resemblance of silence, the story starts and the angel comes to see Mary, who is sweeping the floor with great vigor. The angel appears and Mary, in an effort to look startled according to the coaching of the teachers, stomps on her broom, trips over it, straddles it like a witch, and performs all sorts of un-Mary-like broom tricks.  After the angel is finished, Mary is hustled off to another room and Joseph comes to dream, folds his blanket in fourths and proceeds to try to go to sleep on a tiny bit of blanket. While the angel speaks with him, Mary peeks out of the room with great giggles, as if pleased and embarrassed by the developments of Joseph’s dream. Once Mary and Joseph are supposed to go travel to Bethlehem, Mary is found chasing Joseph around with a broom, while Joseph fends her off with the blanket. The donkey takes them to Bethlehem while a pregnant Mary hangs on to his side and Joseph trudges way in the back as if reluctant to face what is going to happen next. When finally they reach the stable, Mary tumbles into her chair in a decidedly unpregnant fashion and dramatically pulls out from under her shirt, a sweater that has been knotted at the hood to represent a baby. While the angel appears to the shepherds (who are too busy talking and/or playing air guitar with the sash of their shepherd costume to notice that an angel has appeared at all) Mary is busy bopping the baby’s “head” against her own, and Joseph is out of his seat checking out what is under it. The Wise Men appear, following a star, and get distracted in their journey and begin waving to the rest of the children who are sitting not so quietly watching. After the Wise Men are coerced to kneel down at the side of the baby, and Mary yanks the gifts from their hands, Joseph decides now would be a good time to try out the flavor of the frankincense.
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After this, everybody is put in a line in a haphazard fashion and we manage to sing, “It’s a Gift to You.” The first part is usually fairly quiet since most of them are busy poking their neighbor, or or are covering their eyes, or doing other mad sort of tricks. The last part of the song crescendos into a thundering roar, as each child tries to outsing   outshout the others.
If we keep on at this rate, we will be vying for Oscars alongside The Best Christmas Pageant Ever. Which is fine, too.
Just one more day….!
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That Terrible Word- Grown Up

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A terrible thought occurred to me today as I was sitting on a bench at the park reading 1000 Gifts.

I might actually have grown up. It’s a very disturbing thought.

I remember one day in my childhood distinctly when I was sitting on the porch and my mom came around the side of the house. Instead of climbing over the side of the porch – so much faster!—she went all the way around to the steps and climbed up the steps to get to the top of the porch. I remember wondering in my 11 year old mind if I would ever get to that point where instead of just climbing up the side of the porch, I would take the steps instead.

And I never thought I would reach that point.

I was the sort of child that mothers despair over. When I was younger, I wanted to be a boy. I wanted to wear pants, I wanted to train horses, I wanted to go fishing with my brother when my uncle took him, I wanted to drive the tractor at the same age my brother did, I wanted to do all sorts of things that were not quite kosher in our conservative circles. So I made do. Actually, as far as being able to do things boys normally did, I was really privileged. I wore sweat pants under my skirts as I tore down the road on my copper colored pony, Penny. I went on long walks by myself or with my younger sister, exploring every inch of our unromantic and boring farm and in my mind’s eye, converted every unromantic part of the farm in a fairy nook, or a an exciting Indian realm. I milked just as many cows as any male on the farm did, and gave shots to calves, and waded through mud carrying a newborn calves, and nearly froze my toes hunting in the dead of winter.  I loved basketball and baseball and followed the Kansas City Royals avidly with my brother and pitched tennis balls to him overhand so we could re-enact our beloved team.

And my mother despaired. I didn’t want to learn how to quilt. I didn’t want to play with dolls (or so I said.) I wanted to wear the same red dress every day. I didn’t care if my hair was wild and sloppy. I didn’t care if the dress I was wearing had a gaping hole in it. I didn’t care if I was reading a book on my back on the floor with my legs in the air. I didn’t care if my room was an absolute pigsty. Neither did I want to hear one word of growing up and getting married and “settling down.” Yet, even though I am sure my mother sometimes felt very impatient with me, she never pushed me much to become more ladylike.

But slowly, as I grew older, I began to change and see the beauty that there is in being a woman. Not that I still don’t love a wild gallop down a dirt road at dusk, or the challenge of getting a calf to drink a bottle for the first time. Granted there also are things that women cannot or should not do, but I still love doing the things that I did 15 years ago, only with more dignity.

But today as I sat in the park, thinking about my work, teaching 3 and 4 year old Thai children, as well as the Little Girl Who Lives With Us, and I realized that maybe I had GROWN UP. That terrible word that I vowed I would never be.

I no longer think that rolling around on the floor in undignified positions for no reason at all is necessary. Nor do I think that incessant giggling and silliness and walking into walls on purpose when you are supposed to be walking in a line are needed. I tell little people to behave themselves every day and wish, wish, wish that they would just grow up a little bit. But do I really want them to grow up? What really does growing up mean? I wish someone would tell me. Does it mean becoming staid and practical and bossy and sensible and climbing the stairs instead jumping over the side? Does it mean never doing things that would shock other people or rock the boat? Does it mean becoming mature and thoughtful and wise like a guru on a mountain? Or does it mean being organized and neat and on time and never getting into awkward scrapes? If it’s the latter, than I have most definitely not grown up.

In working with children every day, sometimes I feel so old, because I am always the one giving commands and being the good example. I can’t do un-grown up things because if I do them, then guess what?! A troupe of 12 others would probably follow suit. So I don’t do un-grown-uppish things and it makes me feel old indeed. There are days when I get this inexplicable urge to jump out of the office window into the padded play area below. Or hide under my desk in the middle of the day. Or try to squeeze through the bathroom window which is about 2×3 feet in circumference just to see if I could. It would be so easy. And so fun. And so un-grown up.

Maybe, on second thought, I haven’t grown up after all. Or maybe I have, and being grown up means knowing when jumping out of windows and sitting under desks are appropriate – and when they’re not.

I Do Not Understand

I do not understand how there is no fear in love

Mine must not be perfect, because for me

Love has always held an element of fear


A fear of losing, a fear of a light snuffed out

Fading quickly into the cruel, cold darkness

Of unleashed desire. That, for you, I fear.


When I see that light in your eyes, little girlIMG_6100

That quick smile glowing, laughter rippling free

I love and I fear- so fiercely. For you.


That light of girlhood- of pigtails and pink

Of hugs and Jesus songs sung in the breath snatching wind

That light must never be the red light of the street


But I am not God, therefore I fear for you

Because my love is not perfect in trust and in the power

Of the greater Love that overshadows us


And I bare my teeth at the angry world around us

That wants to smother light into darkness

And let only fear, and not love be the guiding star.


Show me, Lord, how perfect love casts out fear,

Because I do not understand.

It’s Friday

I am tired of bossing people.

Tonight as I finished up my English class which consisted of 9 energetic 12 year olds who had just come from a long Friday at school and were not interested in learning English, this was the recurring thought that kept echoing around in my mind.

I’ll say it again, with exclamation marks.

I am tired of bossing people!!!

I’ll put it bold and in italics, too.

 I am tired of bossing people!!!!

And capitals.

I’M TIRED OF BOSSING PEOPLE!!

I’m tired of telling kids what to do, and more, what not to do. I’m tired of that scrunched up feeling inside that comes when you have told this child for the millionth time not to write on the table and that child to stop talking and this child to sit properly (because if she doesn’t she will fall out of her chair. It’s a proven fact of her life.)

When I taught school in the states, one of my main weaknesses was my gift of mercy. Somehow it feels like I lost that. I feel like a big mean bear that has just come from a long winter nap, always squelching the natural desires of the sweet little children at the nursery where I work daily, and then the older ones at my English class every Monday and Friday. And then I come home and boss the little girl who lives with me.

But how do you get children who have never been taught to behave to behave without being bossy? There MUST be some other way, yet it feels like nothing ever completely works.

When does asking for obedience become control? Where is the balance of needing quietness and order, and yet letting children have fun? Am I leading children or am I simply controlling them? I myself hate that feeling of being bossed and controlled.

I think it just takes a lot of patience. A LOT!

I love them. But I get the maddest at the people I love the most. Because grrrr, they don’t live up to my expectations of what people I love should be like. I love them so I want them to succeed and I want them to grow up to be good, God-fearing men and women. And I’ve got bad motives too. They make me look bad.

Now that I’ve gotten those italics and bold letters and capitals out of my system, I think I can relax. And tomorrow is Saturday.

This post doesn’t make much sense, I know. It’s not supposed to. Friday evening posts after a long week of work never were meant to make sense.

I need some mountain top time alone with God, and a good hot latte.

Thank you, Jesus, for Saturdays.