Monday, June 22, 2015

The Big Sixty

The first whole weekend of my summer was spent in the best kind of way: with my big, crazy family. We celebrated my grandma and grandpa reaching 60 years of marriage together. 60 admittedly imperfect, but good years. Let me tell you about this group of people and why they're so special to me.


I could go on about how this huge, ever-growing mass of humanity called the VanDrunen family (also dubbed by my grandma as "Yous Kids") is a godly, straight-and-narrow bunch that never messes up. I could say how they're all perfect Christian examples. But then I'd be lying. The best part of this family? They're real! We mess up! We aren't perfect! And that imperfection is what makes me so glad to be a part of the crew. They give me the freedom to truly live, to mess up, and still be welcomed just like anyone else.

You see, there are some clans that put pressure on their kids, worry about appearances to the outside world, and shun any dissenters in their own group who veer to the right or to the left. Not this family, though. This bunch has found a way to have an incredible character and an unflinching backbone, yet live out the acceptance and compassion that can only come from Jesus.

We are far from perfect. We do things we regret. We make mistakes, big and small. But the cool thing? This family, to me, is a testament that the joy in a Christian life is not about the righteousness of ourselves; we find joy in the righteousness of God. When it's God's job to be sovereign, in control, and perfect, that frees me up to  just sit back, smile, and say thank you with my life each day.


I've learned so many things from this family. I can't take credit for any of these ideas, I just stole them from watching everyone else live out their daily walk with Jesus. Here are a few.

Believe in people. See the best in them. They will rise to meet your expectations.

Be positive.

Open your home (and table!) to anyone who needs it.

God reveals himself in all denominations, cultures, and people groups. Our family may be mostly Dutch, but we know that our God surely isn't confined to that.

Don't be afraid to change. 

Stand by your family. That means through birth or in-laws by marriage. Bad-mouthing the in-laws only hurts yourself. Think of them as your own brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers.

Forgive each other.

Respect your elders.

Aurelio's is the only option for pizza.

Your promises mean something. Back up what you say.

Show up for the people in your life.

Go through the valleys with the people you love. Don't shy away from grief just because it's uncomfortable. Those are the times that bond you together.

Tell people you will pray for them, and then actually go do it.

Eat together.

Every person is valuable.

Be kind to your friends.

Stay humble, because we are where we are only by the grace of God. Don't look down on anyone, because we are all capable of sin and struggle. We're all the same in God's eyes.

Celebrate life, because we have a good God!

(Oh, and one more thing: do goofy things together. See video for evidence.)


Saturday, June 6, 2015


Today is the official first day of my summer! Last year, on the first day of my summer, I was exhausted and SO SO SO relieved to be done with the school year. If I recall it accurately, I scheduled a facial and massage for myself and then slept the rest of the day. I was worn down to the bone and could hardly make it to the end. I had my wedding to look forward to as well, so I really was itching for that checkout and last drive home. This year was different. This year I got to teach at Calvin Christian School in the community of South Holland, and it has been the best year of my life.

For one thing, the year is so much better because Brian is in it. Our first year of marriage together. I love living life with him, trusting him, learning from him, and growing with him through all the excitement and lulls of life. So he is a big factor in this year. Another thing happened, though, too. This was the year I found out that I was a good teacher. 

I said this to my kids and families gathered in my classroom on the last day of school, amid ridiculous sloppy tears (as per usual). I always I knew that I was passionate about kids, equality, and achievement. I knew I loved people and I knew that it challenged me immensely to help kids learn in all kinds of ways. But...I didn't know if I was good at it. In fact, I felt like I sucked at it. I was so weighed down in the muck of a broken system, overwhelmed with the responsibility of carrying my kids' burdens with them. My principal and coworkers, also passionate about kids and their achievement, had to bear way more than they should have been given, too. I couldn't handle the responsibility. I would cry and say to God all the time, "I can't do this on my own, so help me!" I loved my kids so much but never had a feeling that I was really good at this whole teaching gig. I didn't see my impact and felt defeated by the end of the year. As a school we would crawl our way to the last day of school. I felt like a total failure.

Then I went to Calvin. I figured I would give this teaching thing one more year, just to make sure. Then, something amazing happened: my kids showed up! They are kind, hilarious, outgoing, joyful, obedient, thoughtful, sensitive, talkative, brilliant, cooperative, and just all-around wonderful. Suddenly, I looked around and saw that all of the weight wasn't just on my shoulders. I stood with my coworkers, with my students' families, with my principal, with the local churches and we all took on this job of raising and teaching kids together. Of course it isn't a perfect system, but let me tell you, it's beautiful.  My kids grew together and ate up everything I had for them to learn. I could just feel the difference in the air. Our end of year tests confirmed what I saw in the classroom: that we had learned a lot together. The same kind of growth was going on all over the school too. I finally felt like I was a good fit for this teaching profession and I have my students to thank for it. They are such a special class of kids.

Now, for next year, I am leaving Calvin. Timothy Christian School, a school three miles from us where Brian also teaches, had an opening in second grade that I will be filling to be closer to home. The nearly 2 hours in the car each day was wearing on me, and it makes sense for where Brian and I will be in the future. I was overwhelmed at the prospect of leaving Calvin, my coworkers, and my kids. With the past few weeks though, it's been okay. It's been a bittersweet but good time of wrapping up the year and saying goodbye. There is a veteran teacher (who is so great!) taking my place. Calvin will continue to be awesome and grow as the family that it is. I'll be joining another great family, with a slightly different flavor, but still one that serves the same powerful and good God.    I am overwhelmed with the blessing of doors opened and faithful people that were put into my life this year.

As wonderful and sad and joyful and emotional as it was to say goodbye to my kids, I am looking forward to a little bit more peace. This will be my fourth classroom in four years of teaching, and the prospect of stability and routine sounds divine to my mind right now. A little less time in the car. A little more time with Brian. I'm looking forward to ending school years with a little bit less drama, because I want to find my spot and settle down. I am all done with tears because this past year has been so incredibly good. This was the year I discovered that I was good at teaching.

Do you know how it feels to discover what you're good at? Completely overwhelming.