This last week at work I off-handedly mentioned to two of my coworkers that I didn’t mind the 45 minute commute from Orem to Murray, only that it was a bit boring, with only other cars and the naked mountains to look at, what with all the mountains here in Utah being brown and barren. I looked up a few minutes later from my computer to still see them chuckling over my comment.
I’m trying hard to love these naked mountains, and have found that they’re a lot more beautiful early in the morning or as the sun sets, when they turn red. During the day, they just look brown and scruffy, surrounding me at every minute of the day. Learning to love them is definitely a process. I try to avoid looking at them, because they just make me homesick for New England and Virginia, and make me question why in the world I left those mountains for these ones.
My friends keep periodically asking if I’ve figured out why the Lord told me to come to Utah (I must still look incredibly distressed or something), and the answer is still no. I’ve sort of resigned myself to the fact that it might be months or even years until I really know the big reason why, and I just find contentment in seeing the hand of the Lord in my life as I try to make this place my home.
Two of the biggest blessings have been finding an apartment and a job so quickly. R² (my roommates are both named Rachel, and are both deaf, and yes it’s very confusing) and I moved into our apartment last week, a few days after signing our lease.
The apartment itself is a bit of a miracle. It’s hard to find decent housing in Provo/Orem (and I did NOT want to live in Provo), so I had begun looking at apartments almost two months ago, sending emails and making phone calls. I had contacted one property manager several weeks before coming west, and things fell through, and R² weren’t able to walk through the apartment, and I assumed that the property would be leased before I got there. I got an email from the manager, asking if I was still interested, and she gave me the lock-box code to go check out the apartment (because apparently, people are much less wary of strangers here than they are in New England?).
Within 48 hours, the apartment was ours, and Janet told us she felt like it was going to be ours all along (they’d turned down three other applications).
The same day we were set to move in, I had a job interview at the American International School up in Murray (thanks, Bishop Seal for being awesome and letting me know AISU was still hiring, I owe you a zillion scones or something). I honestly went to the interview without any expectations and looking like a bit of a wreck (living out of your car and having limited clothing options really puts a damper on things), and as I interviewed with three different people and met some of the staff, I realized that I really wanted the job.
Not just because I wanted an income, but because I realized that the school was something I could really put my heart into, and the position was one that I could really make my own. Talking with the superintendent, I was thinking, “wow, I’d love to work here, and make a little bit of a difference for some of these kids.”
I was so caught up in thinking how awesome the position sounded (I really walked into this interview pretty blind) that when he offered me the job, I sort of spluttered and had to ask him to repeat himself in the most undignified way.
Thankfully he laughed and welcomed me to the team, my surprise and astonishment aside.
My first two weeks of working at AISU was a long one, honestly. Definitely not boring, but exhausting just because I was learning the ropes, sorting through test scores to identify needs, and trying to get the hang of things.
I’m a literacy specialist for the STEM program, which essentially means that I’m working with students who struggle to read at grade level and helping them to learn material in a way that fits their learning style and their strengths, all while helping to strengthen their literacy skills. A lot of ‘my’ students are non-native English speakers, or just got lost in the system at other schools, and slipped through the cracks unnoticed (most schools in Utah, people have been telling me, are overpopulated, which really is a blow to the education of the individual).
Really, what most of these kids need is a personal cheerleader who will help them to believe in themselves, which is something I am all about.
Over the past couple years, I’ve realized how much I love working with teenagers, how much I love helping them realize their potential. It’s so rewarding to see their eyes light up when they realize that someone is willing to go to bat for them, willing to help them dream big. I firmly believe every teenager needs someone like that in their life outside their family, and I’m excited to try and be that person for these students.
As I did testing to help determine some of their needs and met with them these past 2 weeks, I kept thinking how much I already loved them and how excited I was to see them progress, and how invested I already was in their education (I was comparing their spring 2017 scores and their scores on their tests this past week, and saw some pretty awesome improvement for some of them).
It will be a challenging job, for certain, especially because as people keep reminding me, they’ve never hired someone to do literacy work with students in the STEM program at the school (I really wish they’d stop reminding me). And because lets be honest, teenagers are challenging in general (I was one of those really challenging teenagers).
I think the funniest thing at AISU has been trying to convince people that I’m actually an adult. My first few days, I kept being asked by students what grade I was in, and staff kept eyeing me like I was a student who had just stolen some unsuspecting teacher’s badge and keys. I wish I were joking. I got stopped by a teacher one morning as I was walking into the high school wing of the school before students were allowed in the building, and on Friday a little middle schooler asked me if I was totally sure I was a teacher (I didn’t bother trying to explain the specifics of my role in the classroom).
I try not to let them see that I’m learning on the fly.
Because I don’t think they realize that the entirety of life is about learning on the fly.
I know that’s what I’m doing right now, learning on the fly. Learning to navigate my new home, learning the nuances of the culture here in Utah (because it is a very different culture than one you find back east), learning to be the sort of person my students need in a classroom, learning to take a million leaps of faith while I’m sorting out why the Lord called me to live in a desert filled with naked mountains.
It’s not been easy. Keeping busy is helpful, because when I’m busy I don’t get caught up in the frustration of not knowing why I’m here in Utah, or what I’m doing with my life right now. It’s hard to walk into a nearly empty apartment every night when all you want to do is feel like you’re walking into a home. The commute to and from work is brutal not because of the traffic (it has nothing on Virginia Beach, DC or Hartford traffic, despite what people here seem to think), but because it’s incredibly boring. I hope the people who see me in their rear-view mirror appreciate the daily episodes of commuter karaoke that they get to witness as I work my way through my entire collection of CDs.
My friends have been my saving grace, texting me when I need a pick me up, or when they think I’m being too much of a social troglodyte, and encouraging me to get out and do something. There are so many tender mercies the past few weeks that have come in the form of loved ones, both from home and from my mission. And I appreciate that they remind me that they see the hand of the Lord in all this, even if sometimes I am the little bratty child who closes her eyes and puts her earbuds in and tries to ignore the world.
But really, the people getting me through this, in the lonely hours and in the chaos (and on those long, boring drives) are my Father in Heaven and Jesus Christ. There are so many little moments when I’m in panic mode, and all of a sudden a little voice just says, “hey, you’re okay. You’re where you need to be. You don’t need to know the ‘why’ right now.”
And it’s stupid, but looking up at the mountains that surround me trigger that panic and distress, inspite of all the blessings that I’ve seen and the comfort I’ve felt previously. Because that’s when the wave of “what am I doing here?” hits. (I’ve spent a lot of time looking at the ground the past couple weeks)
I’m really glad the Lord hasn’t [yet] tired of me needing that reassurance, and for the continuing hope He provides me on a daily (hourly? Minute-ly?) basis. That infinite patience is definitely what I need right now! He’s the one who called (read: dragged) me out here, and I couldn’t do it without him. He’s in every second of this experience, that much I know. And I’m grateful beyond belief for that.
I really hesitated in posting this, to be honest. It’s blunt and a little bit all over the place, and fairly dichotomous in terms of struggle and triumph. But that’s how I’ve been feeling – equally excited and exhausted. Surrounded by chaos and confusion, but also by the peace and comfort I seek. I’ve had it in a word doc on my computer for over a week. I didn’t want people thinking I’m totally miserable, or overreacting to living here right now, or just being entirely dramatic about the entire thing.
But I realize this struggle is crucial to this part of my story. It is what it is, just like what will be will be. The highs come with lows, and the blessings come with sacrifice, naked mountains and all.
Because my strength doesn’t come from those naked mountains. My strength comes from the Creator of those mountains. I was reminded of that while on my way to the temple this week (ironically, the Mt. Timpanogos temple). My peace, my reassurance, my purpose. All of those come from Him. But those mountains before me, both metaphorically and literally, are not just HIS mountains, however. They’re now my mountains. Sure, they’re not as green or as blue as the ones I love. And come autumn, they won’t be ablaze in red and gold like I yearn for.
But they’re mine now.
They’re my mountains to climb, to learn from, to chronicle.
They are not my source of strength, but with time, they will strengthen me.
Maybe one day, with a little bit of time and a whole lot of perspective, I will even see them as beautiful in the noon-day sun.
(But please note that the photos in this post of the mountains are strategically taken in the evening or morning to camouflage their nakedness)