Resident Reflection: Persevering

In my first grade class of 17 students this year, there are 13 boys. My days are filled with the fullest range of emotions, energy, 6-year-old problems that feel larger-than-life, and ideas beyond what anyone can dream of.  Young kids come with an unbridled greatness and strength that is unmatched anywhere else. I often tell my first graders to “Be brave!” and to push through. Usually this has to do with things like working math problems, reading independently, or sitting still. But other times it has to do with more complex things like saying, “I’m sorry,” asking for forgiveness, or waiting on the adults in their lives. I ask my students to stay strong and to persevere all of the time.

It’s easy to tell someone else to push through, especially when they happen to be 6-years-old. But I’ve started saying this to myself, too. When I feel discouraged, weary, or just plain tired, I sometimes find myself saying,“Just push through.” Most of the time, I don’t feel strong. Most of the time when I have to remind myself to be brave it’s because I feel weak and small. Yet, when I come out at the other end, I usually feel stronger than I did at the start. That’s when I remember that strength comes from pushing through. Strength comes in being brave even when you feel like you’ve lost courage. Strength comes in showing up when you honestly doubt that you can.

Teaching was not new to me. I had graduated with a degree in education. I had taught and even substituted in high needs schools. I knew how to work with kids and how to build relationships with them. Not that I was perfect in any area of my teaching and instruction, but I at least felt like I had my bearings. But, then I moved to Memphis. I started master’s course work and August hit. Most days I didn’t feel like an authority figure in my classroom. I planned lessons that flopped, and I missed deadlines. Worst of all, I struggled with building relationships. I had experienced weakness and failure before, but these were things I had been good at! To top it all off, I was away from friends and family who were experiencing joys and hardships of their own. I was struggling in areas where I had previously succeeded, and I was getting a full taste of my weakness and my insufficiencies.

Partway through the first semester, I was starting to wonder if I could possibly make it. If I could possibly be enough–if I could ever be tough enough, wise enough, fun enough for the children I get to teach every day as well as the teachers, families, and other residents in my life. More than anything, I wondered if I could ever be strong. Over fall break, I was surrounded by friends and family in places that I called home. There, in the midst of my own weakness, I begin to see glimmers of hope. People who love me despite my failures encouraged me and loved me. I remembered my voice–that I am worthy of love, respect, and worth. And ultimately I found refuge in a God who is a strength for me.

Now it’s December, nearing Christmas. This time of year is celebrated in the church as Advent–a season all about longing, about waiting. In this time of waiting, I sit in the anticipation of a Savior who came to fix the pain and the brokenness and who promises to come back. It’s easy to think of strength as power, of control, of greatness. Yet, Christ redefines strength when he comes as a needy baby. The Israelites had waited hundreds and thousands of years for a Savior and Messiah who would save them from oppression and fix systems and the government. Then He comes as a baby. What is weaker and more dependent than a baby? God in flesh didn’t come as a ruler, as a warrior, but as a baby and a refugee. This weakness and dependency are not what we typically think of as strength!

I think of my Savior and my God. I think of the choice that He made to come to earth to know me and offer forgiveness. I think of Him giving up his power, trading strength for weakness so that a people may worship and serve Him. More than anything, strength is a choice. In moments where we feel the weakest, the most vulnerable, the most afraid, we have a choice. We can choose to sit in sadness and weakness, or we can choose strength. So, I continue to choose strength–for myself, for my students, for those I love, and for a God who did and does the same for me.

-Cary Kendrick-Holmes (MTR resident, Class of 2019)