A few weeks ago, a friend left for the States on a new teaching opportunity. She is not the first one of my friends to leave for the US after I myself left my hometown for Windsor, North Carolina. Yet for some reason I seem to be re-living that episode in my life when I found out about her trip. I began retracing my steps from where I am now to my journey not too long ago.
My father was the one who sowed the seed of the American dream in me. I was in high school when he showed me a newspaper article about how American schools would need foreign teachers to come and teach in the next few years. He said if I decide to be a teacher, this can be my chance to go and have a better life.
I came from a financially struggling family. So I wanted that better life, the American dream, but I wasn’t sure about the teaching part.
Not long after, I graduated from high school, and I decided not to be a teacher. I had no desire to be in that career. So the American dream was unlikely to be realized; I concluded it wasn’t for me. However, God had other plans in mind for my future. I did not see it coming. I resisted it so much that I blindly walked right into it.
I became a teacher, and I totally fell in love with it.
It goes to show that God knew what was best for me even when I didn’t.
I have always loved learning even as a child. During my first year in teaching, my love for it burned more within me every time I stood in the midst of my classroom looking at 40 pairs of eyes belonging to the next generation. I knew then, without a doubt, that I was where I was supposed to be; doing what I was supposed to be doing.
(In the next 12 years after that realization, all I will be doing is teach and learn and teach some more. And yes, I am head over heels in love with this amazing cycle!)
The article my father showed me years ago turned out to be right. American schools opened their doors to foreign teachers. I went to North Carolina after four years of teaching in Philippine high schools, a few months before I turned 25, and two years after my mother passed away. I was relatively young, inexperienced, and naïve; but I was determined to leave.
(I have never travelled outside of the country, and the US was my first one. So yes, I was very naïve travelling all the way to the other side of the world. I had no clue of the change that was about to happen when I accepted the job offer to teach in North Carolina.)
My mother’s passing awakened in me the forgotten American dream which I judged was not for me not too long ago. Her death was one of the main thrusts that pushed me towards the direction of leaving my hometown. The promise of a better life held so much hope in such a dark season. I left in pursuit of that promise; I left because I needed to earn more money. I had no noble reason like wanting to teach American kids or to experience something different to improve my teaching. When I pushed through going to a strange country, I only had selfish reasons.
The promise of the American dream beckoned me like a ray of light in a very dark place. And I ran after that light.
During that very confusing time, my love for teaching was still beating strongly in me but it was overshadowed by tremendous grief and the seemingly boundless need to survive. My eyes were fixed on the dollar. I thought it was the answer to all my problems.
And the dollar I got.
I was earning more, but I was losing much of what I fell in love with in teaching. My classes were not at all what I had hoped they would be; it was impossible to teach. Physical combats and other nonsensical scenarios were normal, daily occurrences in my classes. I could barely begin any type of instruction let alone finish one. Consumed with homesickness and loneliness, I was deeply confounded and miserable. It wasn’t what I expected better life would be. It wasn’t what I had hoped for. I was falling apart.
It was like beating on a colossal wall of failure.
I cried countless times utterly desperate and fearful of tomorrow. I asked God infinite questions of my unenviable position. I was losing the fight. The battle was going uphill, and I could not keep up. I almost gave up. Defeated and broken, I almost returned home. Then God so strongly showed me through a friend that I am to stay and hold on. One day, this friend gave me a verse she felt God wanted me to hear.
And he said, “Listen, all you of Judah and you inhabitants of Jerusalem, and you, King Jehoshaphat! Thus says the Lord to you: ‘Do not be afraid nor dismayed because of this great multitude, for the battle is not yours, but God’s. (2 Chronicles 20:15)
The battle is not mine but God’s. He is going to fight for me.
I felt His hand scoop me up the moment I heard this verse. I felt His peace. I was instantaneously filled with renewed hope when those words sank in my spirit. I started praying for my desire to teach, for my love for it to be restored and for the joy I once had in being a teacher to return. I prayed for an opportunity to truly instruct and help my students. I prayed to not just earn money but for my heart to be in my work, in my students. I prayed hard, and people prayed hard for me.
Not only did God change my perspective in the way that I saw my classes and opened my heart for my students, but my classes also drastically changed to doing really well. It was not perfect, but I was given the chance to teach and to be a part of the lives of my students.
I fell in love with teaching once again, this time, even more than I did before.
I cannot list all the details of the ensuing circumstances that changed after that significant day of His revelation with the verse and the prayers uttered by many soldiers of the faith on my behalf, but everything around me so obviously changed; it was impossible to ignore that God was behind all of it.
Yet what really made my heart smile in all that took place during this time was how God bent my heart towards Him and His purposes, how He rescued me from myself. In leaving my home, I clung to Him tightly because I had no one else. I found my strength in Him. I became closer to Him more than I would have been had I chosen stay in the arms of familiar terrains. He showed me more of Himself and revealed truths of Him I have not experienced before. He lavishly showered me with His faithfulness and His love.
He fiercely beckoned my heart to His light even though I was chasing something else.
I left the Philippines, running after a better life, the world’s version of the American dream I had come to believe. God led me to a better life in Him, the version of the American dream He wanted for me.
I left a rising career in teaching two years ago in the same school where God showed me His power and faithfulness in pursuit of His purposes. When life in NC and teaching at that school became comfortable, fulfilling, and rewarding, God clearly showed me it was time for me to leave. I was ready for the next step.
Looking back, I saw how God prepared me in those years to be where I am now — to be in Thailand. Now I see life as a big preparation ground, a rehearsal for the real party to come. I now see that He is always preparing us to engage in something new in the future. He is constantly building us for His kingdom. He is incessantly shaping our characters to be more like Him. He is passionately after our holiness more than our comforts. Every chapter in our lives — every pain, every sorrow, every smile, and every celebration — is God laying the foundations layer after layer of His ultimate plan.
Windsor, North Carolina is my home away from home. It is where God fulfilled my American dream — His version. It is the road I took that brought me back to Asia clutching Jesus in my heart, raging with so much love for Him, and leaping with so much excitement to share Him to the world. It is the place where God met me face to face.
In running after my American dream, I inadvertently found more of Jesus. And I am exceedingly grateful that I did.
August 20, 2013
© 2013 Kezia Lewis. All Rights Reserved.