Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Becoming Part of a Community

Community is a concept that I've been thinking a lot about lately: we discussed community in a recent high school divisional meeting, a friend blogged about community, I just finished watching an episode of the show Community...

More than all of this, however, I've been increasingly recognizing that I belong to the CAJ community... not just that I live in the community or exist within its confines but that I actually belong to it and in it. It's a realization that I have been approaching slowly for some time, and I've blogged about it in pieces before: wanting to appreciate where I am and not ask "what next?", enjoying conversations with students and colleagues at the end of the day, feeling as though teaching might just be my mission in Japan... but this week, the feeling of being a part of the community hit me as only an "aha" moment can.

It was a perfect storm of little things:

1. My chapel talk from two weeks ago seems to have left an impact on the Middle Schoolers. Okay, so maybe it wasn't the part of the talk that I was hoping would stick--the middle schoolers LOVED my description of playing laser tag, and since I gave the talk, I've been having pantomime laser tag battles with middle schoolers who I don't even know by name at random places on campus, at random times of day. One 6th grader even told me excitedly, "Mr. Gibson, it's only 3 years till I'm in your class!"

Yikes. I haven't even thought 3 years ahead myself. That's pressure... and it also means that even younger students at CAJ see me as a fixture. Strange feeling...

2. A mother of two of my students (a senior who I taught last year, and a freshmen who I'm teaching this year) sat down with me at lunch and told me how much it meant to her that I was a good role model and mentor to her boys. I resisted the urge to question her judgment about my role-model capabilities... I definitely don't have the same confidence in myself that she has, but then again, I am much more keenly aware of my flaws than she is. Self-deprecation aside, it was a beautiful compliment, and it meant so much to me to hear that from a parent.

3. I had a deep conversation with a bunch of Junior guys in the gym lobby a few nights ago. It'd started with just a few guys asking me for my thoughts on a discussion question that I'd posted on our class' online forum--"what is the right age to get married?" We talked about marriage, love, maturity, and faith--the guys were all very insightful and all asked good questions of myself and each other, and as the discussion went on, our group grew to well over 10. When the discussion ended, we all shook hands and parted ways feeling encouraged and enlightened.

4. My freshmen have recently been very vocal about how much they enjoy my World History class and the projects that they've been working on. I'm horrible at taking compliments and so typically respond either by deflecting ("I'm not THAT great of teacher...") or just saying "awww, thanks!" Again... I waffle between doubt (sometimes, it feels like every last flaw that I have comes to my mind when people say nice things about me) and smugness (other times, the nice things go to my head and I get a bit cocky).

There are other examples I could list, but the combination of all of these things made me realize that I'm not just a faceless member of CAJ, but someone who is valued, someone with a distinct identity, someone who is loved and cared for. Someone with a future here? That I don't know, but I do wonder...

This certainly wasn't the case when I first started at CAJ... my first few months here were lonely and very tough at times. I wasn't in the classroom, just working at the school in a supporting role, so I was often bored... I sometimes felt as though I wasn't able to grow in the position that I was in and saw my work at CAJ as temporary; a brief stop before the next big thing in my life. I cherished the times when I could teach (subbing, coaching, chaperoning field trips, leading study groups), and dreaded the dreary monotony of sitting at my computer, waiting for something to happen. I even filled out applications for schools in Washington and Illinois, and fully planned on returning to the states early on. In those days, I put most of my energy into advising and working with the JAM leaders--that was real, that was tangible.

I also felt disconnected from my colleagues. I didn't feel close to the other young teachers (and there weren't too many other young teachers to begin with), so I spent most of my lunch-times eating with older staff members. They were friendly, but they'd been at CAJ for such a long time that their experience seemed at times intimidating and unattainable. They also definitely viewed and treated me like a kid (which I now realize that I was, at the time). I enjoyed hanging out with the JAM leaders, but I knew that they would graduate and move on within months.

I missed my home church tremendously, and doubted that I would ever find a church where I could feel at home in Tokyo.

All of this to say, at that time, I did not feel like a member of a community. However, after I'd been at CAJ for a couple months, something changed and I felt like I was being called to start my teaching career in Japan, that this was truly where God wanted me, and so despite my fears, my doubts, and my loneliness, I jumped upon the opportunity to stay.

The risk was worth it. It didn't pay off immediately and it took another year of adjustment, of loneliness and feeling like something of a misfit, but things gradually came together. When I look at my life today, I can so clearly see how God's hands have worked in my life and how they continue to work. I feel like I belong, like I serve a unique and vital purpose.

Becoming part of a community takes time. It takes work. It takes patience, and trust in God's plans, which are so much bigger than our frustrations and worries. I am so thankful that I've become a member of this community and I need to always acknowledge God's providence in this.

So, the next question is, "What is my responsibility as a member of this community?" That's something that I'll think about and pray about over the next few weeks and months... I'm sure I'll
write about this topic more, so thanks for reading and stay tuned!

1 comment:

  1. What a beautiful thing to feel at home! I loved reading this.