March 21, 2010

have you SUFFERED lately?

Given that nearly a quarter of 2010 has already gone by (yes, it really has been almost three months), I figure this is a good time to reflect on what myoneword has taught me so far. My apologies to the uninformed and the unreligious in the audience; you can check out to find out what I'm talking about here.

Those of you that are in close contact with my parents may already be aware of how true of a myoneword SUFFER has been for me. Even if you aren't, you can probably sense it in most of the blog posts since the new year began. Yes, there has been plenty of physical suffering for me in the past three months. In recent weeks, I've been experiencing a trend of having stomach troubles once or twice every 7 days. Usually not on the same days, but perhaps in the next few months I'll be able to predict when the distress will occur; at least then I could prepare notes for my poor students.  I also had my house broken into a few weeks ago, leading to some slight mental turmoil (nothing important was stolen).

While I could just focus on the fact that I have indeed been SUFFERING this year, it would be silly of me if I didn't examine what God is trying to teach me and tell me through the suffering. I think one of the more profound things I've been hearing - not just during sickness but also during quiet times - is to simply be silent. One of my natural reactions to GI pains is to pray for mercy, which sounds hilarious when considered outside the situation. But I'm sure many of us have that one kind of sickness that cripples us into a beggar's stance: "God, take this from me," or "let it be quick, Lord" are fairly common prayers when I'm in this position. Over the past three months, the prayers have begun to evolve. "I don't want this anymore" has started to turn into "please give me peace." "Father, I'm hurting" is turning into "Father, I'm listening." Sometimes I think God allows us to be afflicted in our least favorite ways to get us to shut up. Wouldn't it be fair to say that the vast majority of the time we spend praying, we're the ones doing all the talking?

I believe one of the misconceptions among Christians when it comes to SUFFERING is that it's simply God's way of punishing us, or as Hebrews puts it, "chastening" us, when we're doing something wrong. Of course there's some truth to that, but that's a very shallow perspective if that's all you think suffering is; a tool used for behavior change. What I'm beginning to find is that when I begin to SUFFER, I begin to get closer to God. And I've found this to be the true purpose behind SUFFERING; it's not to correct behavior, it's to bring unity. I think the scriptures back this up as well. Just consider the passion of Jesus for a second. Some of the most intense SUFFERING any human being has endured, and it served to bridge the gap between God and man, bringing what? Unity.

Perhaps if we can have this perspective during our times of SUFFERING, we can delight in those tribulations the way Paul did...

March 7, 2010

this ain't what i signed up for...

People have many reasons for joining the Peace Corps; the international experience, the adventure, maybe to learn some skills they'd like to transfer to their lives back in the US. Along with these, there are things that PCVs learn and experience that they didn't anticipate before they swore in. This entry is about precisely those things that I've learned and experienced that, before coming here, I did not expect or even really have a desire to learn.

Let's start with the big one. The first thing I've learned, or at least I've been trying to learn, is to be okay with not doing my job well. In many cases, it's hard to even define what your job is or is supposed to be (especially for non-Ed Volunteers). And many times when you do have a clear-cut obligation, there's plenty to distract you, whether it's your host country friends, being perplexed by your new surroundings, or being infirmed by said surroundings. All three of these happened to me this past week, and it's because of them that I didn't teach a single period those 5 days. I would say "I wasn't able," but to be perfectly honest I probably could have pushed some things aside to teach at least one or two classes. The problem for me is an underlying tension between being an advocate for change and letting the culture teach me some things. And in that sense, I suppose doing your job "well" is a somewhat relative concept. Yeah, Peace Corps Volunteers in general are supposed to be catalysts for growth and change, but I'm having trouble seeing myself as the voice for that change when most of these teachers have been teaching longer than I have, and from my observation, seem to be doing a much better job than I am. I guess the real challenge is picking the right battles so that you enable yourself to transfer as much knowledge and understanding as possible. I've found thus far that it's pretty easy to focus on the stuff that isn't really important in the grand scheme of things.

The other thing I've learned to live with is emotional instability. I know I've talked about it before, but it's hard to ignore. Feelings come and go like the rains seem to be doing here where I am; one minute you're under a deep blue sky, the next you're seeking shelter from the waterfall that's suddenly begun to drop from above. Yesterday, after a week of being sick with stomach troubles and feeling guilty about not teaching, I woke up feeling awesome. I'm still trying to figure this one out, I'll let you know if I do. To illustrate how I've learned this, it's now become a regular thing for me to think to myself during the times I feel bad, "you know, I'll probably be happy tomorrow (or sooner)," and when I feel good, "I shouldn't get my hopes too high, this probably won't last too long." I think it's just a natural involuntary reaction from within, like a part of me that wants to be in equilibrium again. Kind of like the "neutral or slightly better" I felt a lot of the time back in America.

Mom, Dad, you might want to start looking for psychiatrists.