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You can now find me blogging at Laura in Lou

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Wolf Pack

“I tend to think of myself as a one-man wolf pack. But when my sister brought Doug home, I knew he was one of my own. And my wolf pack… it grew by one. So there… there were two of us in the wolf pack… I was alone first in the pack, and then Doug joined in later.” – The Hangover

Although this comedy usually brings back memories of movie nights in cramped dorm rooms as a college freshman, this particular quote comes to mind now in my newly married life.

Me, my husband, and Catniss

Me, my husband, and Catniss

Just about a year ago, my then-boyfriend and I decided to get married, and ever since then it seems like I spent all of 2013 counting down to December 28th, our wedding.

As my previous posts attest, it was a hectic year. I worked two jobs, knowing that I wouldn’t be able to stay long term at either, though both proved to be excellent opportunities for professional and personal growth. I moved from Indianapolis, a city I fell in love with, to my hometown to regroup for a month, and then to the small town where my in-laws live. As the year wore on, I started to count down not just to the wedding, but to the new year and the little ray of light that signaled stability.

One of the things that I’ve prided myself on is my independence. But, interestingly, I’ve found that independence isn’t always the quality that’s needed. Enter my wolfpack.

Life with my new husband has made me realize that I will never have to go through life as a lone wolf. There’s no struggle or success that we haven’t shared throughout our time together, and we’ve just promised each other to take on more. We also have the support of our families, that are now joined together, and our kitten, Catniss, who mostly just provides snuggling.

My husband is also quick to remind me that God is our Shepherd, and while I may run wild with worry & stress sometimes, He’s there to watch over me. One of the best traditions we’ve started in our new household is to pray a rosary every Sunday, in addition to attending Mass and prayer at meals, when I frequently ask for God’s help to guide me to my next opportunity to benefit children, what I still feel is my calling.

This new year in this new city feels like a new start for me, though I’m carrying everything I’ve learned with me. I feel refreshed and ready to take on new adventures, with the knowledge that my wolf pack has my back.

 

Unwrapping Blessings

Have you ever received a gift that was wrapped so tightly, it was almost exhausting to get to? Layers of paper, tape, string, the occasional box within a box, and who knows what else? Sometimes blessings come to us like this too.

For me, this past year has been a period of transition. Not only that, but it seems there have been periods of transition within periods of transition. In the grand scheme of things, my plans may sound simple: graduate, find a job, and get married. But, when I think about it, in the past year I’ve finished up my bachelor’s degree, been on my second humanitarian trip to Honduras, gotten my first “big girl” job, moved, moved again, gotten another job, planned a wedding…and I still have yet to move a third time, explore my next professional venture and finally say “I do.”

Even though I am working toward my goals in life, I have felt overwhelmed at times. My highly well-organized, multitasking personality has been put into overdrive. Sometimes, at the end of the day, I find that my mind has been wandering to the future with worry or planning, instead of living in the present. One tactic that I’m developing to conquer any stress is to think of what I have gained, and will gain, by accomplishing my goals and moving forward.

First, I’ve been blessed to have a job I love. Even the word “job,” with its sometimes negative connotations of drudgery seems like a misnomer for what I am doing. When I enter the elementary school each morning, my eyes are not on the clock, my mind isn’t on the paycheck, and I am not impatient to get home. I’ve never truly experienced that in any job before. After I’ve ushered the last student onto the bus, I realize that I’ve thrown my entire self into my time with my students. This is when I most live in the present. God has blessed me, and I can only pray that He will bless me again with my next position.

The greatest blessing God has granted me in my life is my future husband. The other day, when my stress and worry had crept in, he reminded me that in our marriage vows we’ll promise to stay with each other in good times, and in bad. We’ve shared plenty of good times in the more than two years we’ve been together, but I’m reminded that we’ve grown even closer during this transition because we’ve worked through the tough times. He’s also had to move, and has worked diligently in his first year of dental school. We’ve both seen a lot of changes, but we chose these changes to build our new life together. While we’ve grown closer to each other, we’ve also further entwined our faith into our relationship, and God has not let us go through these changes alone.

These blessings, among others – my family, my soon-to-be family, my friends, long runs through the beautiful hills, the smiles of students when they’ve read a difficult passage, vanilla soy lattes – are the ones that I’m making a list of. In White Christmas, Bing Crosby sings that we should “count our blessings” to help us fall sleep at night. I want to count my blessings upon waking, throughout the day, and before bed to remind myself that change is a gift, though sometimes you have to tear through the thick layers of wrapping to reveal the beauty.

 

Educated Decisions (Part Two)

A year ago, I would not have foreseen myself working in the educational system.

Although throughout my life I considered being a teacher, and even spent a few semesters of college playing with the idea of continuing for a masters in secondary education, that was not the path I settled on in my final semester of college, when I was supposed to “have things together.”

Just over a year ago, I met with someone from Teach For America to talk about becoming a corps member. I was intrigued by the mission to provide high-quality education in under-served areas, the fact that I could gain experience in education without having studied it in college, and that many alumni went on to work in the non-profit sector. I decided to attend a “field trip” where I and other interested individuals from around Indiana would visit Teach For America schools in Indianapolis.

The visit was an eye-opener. I saw why Center Township (the area being served in Indy) needed passionate individuals to promote education in the community. However, I was disappointed in the breach that I saw between the TFA teachers and the teachers who had gotten their certification during their post-secondary training. I was concerned that, despite a common goal, this wall would create roadblocks in the system. Additionally, I wasn’t sure I wanted to work with an entire classroom-full of students, only addressing their academic needs. I decided that this would not be the path for me.

My decision was only confirmed by my experience as a tutor in a bilingual immersion school that same fall as part of a service-learning class on immigration. At this IPS school, I worked with first graders as individuals or in small groups. I appreciated that I was better able to target a child’s needs, and to get to know them better than I would if I were teaching to a whole class. I got to talk with the students about their home lives, and my heart ached for every kid whose parents didn’t care about their education, or worse, whose parents weren’t able to live in this country with them. I wanted to help these kids in so many ways beyond what their teachers could do for them in school. So, while I took great joy in inspiring kids to love learning, I thought I needed another way to care for them.

Along the way, I’ve been shown other opportunities to address the needs of children. Of course, in Honduras I’ve seen what just a little love and time can do for a child. Through training as a Girls On The Run coach, I realized that you can inspire a child’s physical and emotional well-being while teaching them important life lessons. And, finally, all my experiences with children have only reaffirmed that I am called to family life someday.

So, after praying for a unique position that would allow me to care for kids’ total well-being, why did God lead me to become an instructional assistant in a public elementary school? As of today, I don’t know the answer. What I do know is that in the past three weeks I have become determined to help my students develop their literacy skills, but also to be a role model to them. I want to be someone that they can respect, and someone who can inspire them to learn everyday, even if it’s something outside my lesson plan. I want them to see the good in the world around them. I see the good, and potential, in the world in them, and am learning from my time with them more than they may be learning from me.

Working For Or With Kids? (Part One)

The thought of taking care of children used to intimidate me. “What are you supposed to do with kids all day, and what do you even talk to them about?” I wondered. Although I contemplated becoming a high school history teacher, it never would have crossed my mind to work with younger children.

Then, two summers ago, I had a couple of experiences that made me do a 180 degree turn. First, I went on my first visit to Honduras. My expectations for that trip were to work hard alongside the local Hondurans; to labor from sunrise to sunset. I didn’t realize we’d be spending much of our time not only for the kids, but with the kids. My friend Lauren, who had been to Nuevo Paraíso before, inspired me by her enthusiasm to play with the kids during every spare minute she could find, or make. As the week progressed, I grew so very attached to the children there, and rarely a day goes by where they don’t cross my mind.

A photo of me & one of the little Honduran wonders, courtesy of a friend.

A photo of me & one of the little Honduran wonders, courtesy of a friend.

Second, I began to babysit regularly for a seven-year-old girl upon returning from Honduras. A few times a week I would pick her up from swim lessons and spend the rest of the day with her until her parents came home. I found out that conversation with children actually comes very naturally to me, and we were never bored. We would play school, swim at the pool, host (failed) lemonade stands, go on picnics, and just have a blast. I honestly would have done it for no money, and still enjoy spending time with her and her family to this day.

In the following months, as I entered my junior year of college, I began to seriously reconsider my career path. I thought less about becoming a teacher, and more about finding a way to work with children to address a wider range of needs, one that would allow me to care compassionately and holistically. I also started to think that I wanted a job that felt more like the wonderful volunteer experiences I’d had; the things I did because I loved them, and because they brought good to other people rather than simply money to my bank account.

I believed that the non-profit field would be my best chance to find such an opportunity. Fast forward to early 2013, when I landed my first “big girl” job at Project Lead The Way, a national STEM education non-profit. While I believed in the mission of the organization, and felt very passionate about serving the students, the position there lacked one thing: it did not put me into direct contact with children. My time there was a learning opportunity in many ways, not the least of which was a chance to reevaluate my professional and personal goals, many of which overlap.

While looking for my next job, which I thought would be in Louisville, I was thrown a curve ball and offered my current position at Huntingburg Elementary. It both is and isn’t what I had in mind for my next job; it does let me work directly with kids, in an age group that I love, but it doesn’t meet the idea of the “non-profit” I had in mind, even though it is in the public educational system.

Upon reflection, the path I began down two years ago is nothing like what I imagined, but I am grateful for the experiences God has sent my way, and am intrigued to see what else He has in store for me.

Stay turned for Part Two, where I further explore my surprise at working in a public school.

Hills & Valleys

Unlike where I grew up outside Chicago, southern Indiana has vistas of rolling hills. As a runner, I know that racing downhill is actually more difficult, and more dangerous, than going uphill. Going downhill is frightening; you’re speeding downward, slightly losing control of your body, not quite knowing what to expect once you reach the bottom.

The past few months of my life have felt a lot like running hills.

Back in June, I sat down to make some difficult decisions with my fiance. I knew that in July I was coming to the end of my contract at Project Lead The Way, and that my lease was also going to be up on my house. On top of that, my fiance was to begin at the University of Louisville School of Dentistry. After weighing the pros and cons, and after much prayer, we decided that I would begin my transition from Indianapolis to Louisville mid-July.

When that time arrived, I bid farewell to my co-workers and packed all my belongings in my car. Suddenly, I felt lost. I wasn’t currently working, didn’t have my own place to call home, and wasn’t going to be seeing my fiance as often. (We have chosen not to live together until after we are married in December.)

I started to feel like I was going downhill. Even little things seemed to come along just to try me more, including a hip injury that put me out of running for two months. My stress reliever had become a new source of stress!

Though I kept praying for God to guide me down the path laid out for me, I admit that I was skeptical of what he had in store. I tried to remind myself that I need to trust God not only when he sends blessings, but when he sends trials.

A week ago, I was feeling really down in the dumps. I’d moved in with my fiance’s family to be closer to Louisville, and was hoping to substitute teach in the district while continuing my job search, but I was still having difficulty with God’s direction. Then, last Thursday, I received a call.

The elementary school had seen my information at the district office and wanted to know if I would like a job as a Title I Instructional Assistant for this semester. They told me I would work part-time, Monday through Thursday, with Kindergarten, first grade and second grade students.

Though for a while I haven’t anticipated working in the educational system, I’m incredibly grateful for this opportunity to serve children, a personal and professional goal of mine, and to develop my own skills while still searching for the next step in my career path.

O ye of little faith! God answered my prayers just in time. Before tumbling down into the valley, He lifted me to crest the next hill.

As all runners know, the only way to get stronger at navigating hills is to run them.

My Faith in My Professional Development

When I first began my job at PLTW, I told my supervisor that I desired to develop professionally from my experience, something that is continually encouraged within the organization.

Now, a few months later, I’ve been able to reflect on the ways in which I have developed. First, on a basic level, I have learned about the company, our mission, and the everyday tasks carried out in my position. Although we constantly work as a team, I don’t need to run to my co-workers to learn the answers to callers’ questions as often. Others have even commented that I sound much more confident when communicating with the network than I did a few short months ago. This leads me to a second way that I have developed in my time at PLTW: in my communication and interpersonal skills.

While I have always been proud of my ability to work with others, working in a customer-service position within the organization has given me a new appreciation for this type of communication. It is here that I believe God has inspired my growth.

About a month ago, we experienced a high volume of communication with our network regarding all sorts of topics, including some of our much-anticipated initiatives. (Remember, people don’t always like change.) Quite honestly, my job got to be stressful at times. I felt that I was on the phone for eight hours a day, while watching the Outlook inbox grow exponentially. However, after a day or two of feeling anxious, I learned to treat each communication individually, without worrying about the next. I feel that I served our network better when I took the time to concentrate on my conversation with an individual, rather than try to answer their questions as quickly as possible before moving onto the next. I began to think about how the quality of each interaction mattered, and how that affected the overall quality of my work.

After some time, I realized how much my faith had impacted how I handled these situations. I begin each day with prayer, and very often ask God to grant me patience and compassion when dealing with even the most harried individuals. A particular reflection during this time that stands out to me is this one:

Thank you for guiding me through a good week at work. Thank you for the people that show your qualities, and thank you for giving me your qualities to deal with those people who need attention. I hope I can open my heart, even in a small way, to those who are upset.

I remember that day I had some particularly difficult calls, and upon driving home from the office I realized how a little bit of kindness can go a long way. Being able to truly, actively listen to people is something they appreciate. It’s something they notice and may even thank you for. I believe I have God to thank for giving me a compassionate heart, a quality that has impacted my development both personally and professionally. I hope these skills of confidence and kindness are ones that I will continue to develop throughout my life.