Saturday, September 15, 2012

Robes of righteousness

"After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude
that no one could count,
from every nation, tribe, people and language,
standing before the throne and before the Lamb.
They were wearing white robes
and were holding palm branches in their hands.
And they cried out in a loud voice: 
Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne,
and to the Lamb.'
...'These are they who have come out of the great tribulation;
they have washed their robes
and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.'"
~ Revelation 7:9-10, 14
Yesterday, I was just savoring these verses,
and imagining what it will be like to stand among the multitude
before the throne of God,
forgiven and made fully righteous in Jesus.
Dream with me for a moment about what this will look like:
White robes -
spotless, shimmering,
light, cool, soft and flowing,
finest linen, seamless,
delicate yet indestructible,
perfectly and uniquely tailored,
folding and draping and adorning -
and washed in the blood of the Lamb.
What a bizarre concept!
It's one of those things we used to sing and tap our foot about;
one we passionately pounded pulpits about;
one we used to smile and pretend we understood, and now...
now we are actually wearing it.
I squint and examine the tightly woven threads,
and then I can see the crimson stains,
so completely absorbed deep within,
yet working upon the linen in a way that no bleach ever could -
renewing and refining,
not just blotting out but adding Life.
I remember learning once that white light is
the presence and absolute consummation of every color...
such is the holiness and purity of God:
the essence of everything true united,
 and the absence of everything false.
I recall loving the smell of clean laundry,
the fresh powdery scent of detergent.
So I bury my nose in my newly washed sleeve
and breathe deeply.
I don't know what surprises me more - 
that it really smells like blood,
or that it doesn't repulse me.
It is the fragrance of Christ,
to me as lovely and rich and intoxicating as fine red wine.
Salty -
in a way that makes me thirsty for Living Water.
Bitter and sour -
in a way that satisfies the deepest corners of my heart.
Powerful and potent -
in a way that consumes all my heart, all my soul, all my strength.
All at once, I am reminded of
sin's captivity,
the sacrifice of Jesus, the Lamb,
how he conquered death,
and the freedom and victory that we have now
because he has washed us!
I realize I wear the presence,
the righteousness,
the authority,
the beauty,
the grace,
the mercy,
the love of Jesus!
What was once in my spirit,
I now feel on my skin,
wrapped all around me. 
A mighty rushing impulse rises up in me to sing and shout,
and I realize my voice is just joining in with all the other
white-robed saints around me.
Millions - uncountable -
of every shade of color,
from every corner of that old world,
every language and dialect spoken and heard,
all together knowing our song was the same,
giving glory and honor to the Lamb of God,
who washed away the sins of the world with his blood...
"Therefore, they are before the throne of God
and serve him day and night in his temple;
and he who sits on the throne
will shelter them with his presence.
Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst.
The sun will not beat down on them, nor any scorching heat.
For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd;
he will lead them to springs of living water.
And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes."
- Revelation 7:15-17

Monday, September 10, 2012

on teaching English...

When people find out that I teach English as a second (or third or fifth) language, the most popular question I get in response is "Really? How many languages do you speak?" The thing is, when a person teaches Spanish or French, people don't ask this question, because they assume if you are teaching Spanish, you can speak... Spanish; if you teach French, then you speak... French. So the logical reasoning that should follow that is, if you teach English, then you speak.... that's right, English!

The fun thing about teaching English is that I tend to pick up some international things - I learn some different phrases in different languages, I learn about cultural sensitivities, and I get to eat some really awesome food. But those are all additional bits of knowledge. My specialty, my forte, is English - speaking it, explaining it, analyzing it, simplifying it, and teaching it. And I absolutely love it.

I did minor in Spanish in college, and it nearly gave me a total mental breakdown more than once. The only reason I managed to get all my credits was because of a lot of prayer, M&Ms, and the pictures and memories I had of Hispanic people I dearly and personally loved - they were my motivation all the way. I do not consider myself fluent in Spanish at all, but I think the whole experience helped me mostly to understand and empathize with other language learners about what a challenge and what a triumph it is to be able to achieve proficiency in another language.

I remember Spanish and Columbian professors teaching - speaking and writing - the entire class in Spanish... I got tremendous headaches and heartburn my first year because I wanted to scream, "I don't understand you! Speak in English so I know what you want me to do!" I would try to ask a question in English and the prof would interrupt me and say, "En Espanol, por favor," and would not answer me until I asked in Spanish... only I didn't have the vocabulary to ask in Spanish! I had three years of Spanish in highschool, and couldn't figure out why college was so much harder. Then I realized that in highschool, the teachers taught Spanish in English. It was comfortable, it was safe, it was theoretical... I knew how to translate a simple sentence on paper and could change a verb into third person, but I could not speak Spanish.

Some people think that a person who is bilingual is naturally someone who should teach ESL. I put this sort of invalid thinking in the same category as assuming a great singer should lead worship, or a really fun and crazy person should be a youth pastor: sometimes the obvious isn't the best. People speak to their family and friends in their native tongue. But a helpful teacher speaks to them in the language they need to learn, and expects the same from the student. And help them be creative - if they can't find the word, find another way to express it, and get a minilesson in vocabulary out of it. It does not help to explain English to a person by speaking another language. That would be like teaching music theory to someone without the use of an instrument. They may understand the concepts of scales and arpeggios, but they will not be able to sit down to a piano and find middle C!

Communication goes far beyond words. I think I really learned this truth for the first time in the summer of 2001, when a tiny boy from Sudan - who spoke no English at all - climbed onto my lap in the middle of a dusty "field," picked up my arms and wrapped them around himself, and fell asleep against my chest. What did he communicate to me? His sad and tired eyes said he needed love and rest, his motions toward me said he would trust me to provide that love and rest, and his peaceful sleep said he found what he was looking for. And in those moments his heart assured me that a girl in a wheelchair, who thought she would be of no help to anyone because of her weak muscles, could be the perfect resting place of love for a child who couldn't understand a word she said. That kid inspired me to serve in cross-cultural missions.

I try not to frustrate my students; I try to ease their anxiety and offer a safe place for them to explore and experiment and make mistakes with language. And I try to communicate through smiles and loving eyes and pictionary and object lessons and lots and lots of cherades! And they are learning... some faster than others, but they are learning, and not giving up, and that's very brave.