A Very Merry Un-Birthday

The intense, mid-day sun reaches us in shades of green through the canopy of the vast tree the thirty of us are under. Colored paper strings hanging from the low branches dance in the warm breeze, and we sit on a carpet of damp earth and fallen pink flower petals. Each trying to serve the other, and then finally, after singing a spirited chorus of feliz cumpleaños, we are all enjoying the slices of cake in our hands, after .

I feel so proud of my students, because today is their birthday.

My eighth graders pooled their money and were able to pull off an afternoon that one couldn’t have alone. More eager to celebrate their friends than their selves, my class amazes me with their maturity and creativity, as we celebrate their birthday as a group. I look around at each of them, and try to commit to memory the smiles on their faces, the smell of the heavy, warm breeze, and what it feels like to be in a moment that feels so complete and perfect. I think to myself that this is one of the most beautiful scenes I have seen in Ecuador.

Yes, we should make the most of what God gives, both the bounty and the capacity to enjoy it, accepting what’s given and delighting in the work. It’s God’s gift! God deals out joy in the present, the now. It’s useless to brood over how long we might live. –Ecclesiastes 5:19-20, MSG

Moments like this one today really cause this verse to resonate with me. While I’m not worried about how long I might live, being over the half-way mark, the final stretch of my time here, I often think about how little of it I have left, but God deals out joy in the present, the nowI might not know what is to come tomorrow, but in each beautiful moment I’m given, I want to fully recognize it for the incredible gift it is.

..accepting what’s given and delighting in the work.

It’s so easy, on special days like this, to delight in my work, because it´s not often I can climb trees and eat sweets with my students, but what about days that aren’t a piece of cake?

Since I’ve started working with my kids, I luckily haven’t had a day that left me feeling burnt out and hopelessly soul-crushed, but some days teaching and leading youth group leave me drained. You know those times you get done with a long day, and say to yourself, think I just used the second to last ounce of my patience and energy. I think that is when we know that we are really giving something, our all. Maybe, that is an expression of passion, when you ignore that part of yourself that wants to be apathetic to the people around you, and instead you look forward to stretching your personal limits farther, to benefit someone else.

The service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of God’s people, but it also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God.  -2 Corinthians 9:12 NIV

If the way I work is an expression of thanks to God, what is my effort and attitude saying? Where do I stand on the delighting-in-my-work scale? How much more love am I willing to give today? When I ask myself these questions before diving into a day, it is much harder to be selfish, half-hearted, or apathetic, because no matter where we are (in home, at work, across the globe, or at college), or who we are (mentor, nurse, farmer, grandma, teacher, or stranger on the bus), we have this amazing opportunity to positively impact those around us.

Whatever degree a person commits himself or herself to the welfare of other, he or she is repaid a thousand fold by opportunities of learning and advancement Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche

This quote has proven to be true for me, because some of my greatest learning moments have come as a result of investing in someone else. No matter how humbly or selflessly we commit ourselves to others, we are bound to experience an overflow of blessings because of it.

The party is over, and my students skillfully carry the tables back to the school, walking across the fallen bamboo poles we use as a bridge, over the flooded grounds. I watch with admiration, not only at their impressive balance, but also because they are a really great group of kids. I feel so lucky to get to be their friend and teacher, and I am thankful for how much we have learned from each other.