Year One Complete

I made it! 😀

Tomorrow is the last teaching day of the school year and I head home on Thursday the 28th for (a very well deserved) six weeks of summer holidays! Our class graduated yesterday and it was a beautiful evening of celebration. As challenging as this year has been, I am SO proud of my students and I love each of them dearly.

We’ve come a long way together and as crazy as they drove me, I really will miss them. They taught me so much about patience, servanthood, sacrifice and forgiveness; they will forever hold a special place in my heart. It has been confirmed that I will be teaching grade six again in the fall, along with two other amazing teachers. I think we will make a great sixth grade team and I am already believing for incredible things next year!

I want to say a HUGE thank you from the bottom of my heart for every single one of your prayers. These past few months would have been so much more difficult without your support and encouragement. Praise God for a fruitful eight months in Mistissini. I’m very excited for what He will continue to do here in the coming months!

Much love,
Tasha ❤

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Four More Weeks

Wow. I only have four weeks left of my first school year in Mistissini. A lot has happened since my last update at Christmas. Let me fill you in on a few things:

I had a really nice Christmas and New Year back in Toronto with friends and family before returning to Mistissini to resume teaching on January 8th. Unlike most school boards, we don’t have March Break, instead we have ‘Goose Break’. This is a two week period in which many families go into their camps in the bush to hunt for geese. Because goose hunting season isn’t until the weather warms up, this two week break occurs later in the year than many teachers would like. This means that from January 8th to April 27th, we didn’t have any breaks, which made for a very long stretch of teaching. By the beginning of April, both students and teachers were getting restless and anxious for some time off.

To be honest, that sixteen week period was pretty draining. It was a very cold and long winter, but we all endured it together, and tried to make the best of it. I found that after Christmas, things began improving a lot more with my students. I think their trust in me slowly grew each month and so did their respect for me. I began fostering closer relationships with some of the girls, inviting two of them over at a time for dinner at my place (something that would seem strange in Toronto but is common in this culture). I really enjoyed these times, because we were able to enjoy each other’s company and bond in a way that wasn’t possible at school.

We had a three day weekend for Easter and I spontaneously decided to make the (very long) journey home to Toronto to surprise my family! Even though I knew that I’d be home four weeks later for Goose Break, I really felt like I needed the time at home. Though very short, it was incredibly refreshing for me. In total, I traveled for over 32 hours to get to Toronto and back by car, but it was well worth it! Four weeks later, I was back in Toronto for Goose Break. Those two weeks were such a nice time for me to catch up with family and friends in Toronto. The 14 days flew by but I savoured every single moment and it gave me the energy I needed for the last stretch of the school year!

Now, there are only four weeks left of the school year! I can barely believe that I’ve made it this far. There were a few times, that I really questioned if I could do it. But with a lot of prayer (thank you!) and determination, I pushed through those hard days, and am in the final stretch, as they say. I have mixed feelings to be honest. Part of me is very excited for six weeks off this summer and to be back in ‘civilization’ again. But, another part of me truly is sad. My students are heading off to ‘high school’ next year (7th grade in Quebec), so I won’t see them nearly as often. I will definitely miss them, (yes, even the ones that drove me crazy), because I invested so much into their lives.

I think when you give your all to something or someone, they become more than just a job or a duty, they become a part of your heart. I have literally given my students my blood, sweat and tears and they have grown to mean a lot to me. In all honesty, I feel as though I need a little more time. Just a few more weeks, months, years, to convince them that they are smart and beautiful and worthy. But I know that I did what I could in the time I was given with them. I did my best to show them God’s love and I will continue to pray for them as the move on to the next step in their lives. As for right now, I am committed to finishing this year well, and continuing to give them my best until the end of June when our time together comes to an end.

PS. In February, I had to make the decision of whether or not I would be returning here for the next school year. After much prayer and careful consideration, I decided that I will be coming back in August for another year. Despite its many challenges, I strongly feel that my time in Mistissini is not done yet. It took me two months to even begin to adapt to life here and then another three months to feel like I was actually becoming part of the community. I believe there is more here that God wants to do in and through me and I am excited for what is next. I am not sure what grade I will be teaching yet, it will either be 3rd, 4th, 5th or 6th and I feel open to whatever adventure God has for me.

I would greatly appreciate your prayers in these last four weeks:

  1. That I would have the energy to finish the year well.
  2. That I would continue to bond with my students and show them God’s Love.
  3. That I would be able to find a new apartment in a good location.

Thank you again, friends! You are loved and appreciated!

xo Tasha

Heartbreak and Healing

I’ve heard it said many times that God is Faithful and I’ve always believed it, because I know that His Word is true. But, I had never experienced His faithfulness in a way that I could tangibly understand. That is until heartbreak.

There isn’t a pain I have felt that has been as absolutely soul-crushing as heartbreak. It feels like you can’t breathe, like there is an unrelenting pain consuming you from the inside out. It’s hands down the worst feeling I have ever experienced. So many things in this world can shatter a heart. Abuse, death, illness, loss, rejection, abandonment. When your heart is broken, it feels like everything is crashing down around you, into jagged little pieces.

It was in those darkest moments that God spoke to me the clearest. His tender voice pierced through the fog of my sorrow and ministered to the deepest parts of my broken heart. One night, as I cried myself to sleep I lamented to the Lord, ‘God, I feel so very broken.’ God heard my cries. That night, I had the unmistakable vision in my mind’s eye of a stained glass window. In my heart, God spoke to me.

“Just as a beautiful stained glass window is made up of tiny fragments of glass, I will use the shattered pieces of your heart to create something even more beautiful than you could ever imagine. With my Light shining through you, you will be a masterpiece of my craftsmanship. I will heal your heart and you will reflect my glory.”

How comforting those words were to me in my sorrow. The Bible reminds us of God’s promises in the Psalms, “The Lord is near to the broken-hearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” (31:18) “Christ heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.” (147:3)

Now, when I think back upon those months in the valley, I don’t feel heartbroken, I feel grateful. Grateful that God was close to me in my sorrow, that He carried me when I couldn’t walk, that He healed my heart and restored my brokenness.

God is Good. God is Faithful.

Do Not Fear

Fear. What an ugly four-letter word. Throughout my life I’ve been afraid of so many things. Failure, rejection, abandonment, the future, the unknown. I’ve been scared of not having enough money, enough friends, enough recognition. I’ve been afraid of looking dumb and of being unworthy.

Fear has paralyzed me from making decisions because I was afraid of making the wrong ones. Fear has distorted my perception and caused me to assume the worst about people. Fear has lead to insecurity and anger which has in turn caused others pain. The one consistent thing about fear is that it always leaves me feeling dejected and defeated.

The Bible makes it clear that fear is not from God. God’s plan for me is to live a life of victory over fear, but why is it so difficult to put this truth into practice? After examining my heart, I realized that I had been allowing fear to impair my faith. Fear was clouding my spiritual vision and making me worry that God would let me down as so many others had. Isaiah 41:10 says, “Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”

When I choose to lay my fears at the foot of the cross and to focus on the truth of God’s Word, fear loses its power. I don’t need to be afraid of the future because God holds every tomorrow in the palm of His hands. I don’t need to fear the unknown because God has a good plan for my life and He promises to provide for my every need. I don’t need to be afraid of being alone because God will never reject me or abandon me. The God of the universe is bigger than all of my fears and He calls me loved, accepted, worthy.

“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9

Numb

Here is a poem I wrote when I was in a sad place back in February of 2005. We all experience a vast array of emotions and it’s okay to feel sad sometimes. If you are feeling sad more often than happy, open up to a trusted loved one. Your life is important! ❤

* * *

The numbness consumes her
As she sits and stares
Straight ahead
Looking but not seeing
Hearing but not listening
Her chest rises and falls
But the oxygen escapes her
Her heart beats a haunting melody
But her blood is stagnent in her veins
Her breathing is shallow and lifeless
She searches within herself
For life, for love
But all she finds are the sorry remains
Of what was once a joyful spirit
Her lips
Which had often smiled so willingly
Can now only quiver
Her hazel eyes
Which once lit up with joy
Now only reflect the sorrows of her soul
The sound of her laugh
but a distant memory
that betrays her, haunts her
And so she sits and stares
Straight ahead
As the numbness consumes her

The Dangers of Envy

For as long as I can remember, I have struggled with envy. I learned from a young age that the the more popular you seemed and the more possessions you had, the more value you were given by society. And so began my very long and very arduous battle with coveting.

The rise in popularity of social media only served to exacerbated my problem as I was constantly bombarded with reminders of other people’s success. Whether a friend was announcing a promotion or a pregnancy, I found myself invariably longing for what everybody else had. It got to a point where I found it difficult to celebrate my friends’ accomplishments because their successes were a bitter reminder of the areas in my life where I had apparently failed.

This constant comparison is not only exhausting, it’s destructive as well. It’s no wonder God commands us in Exodus 20:17, “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”  As with all of God’s instructions to us, His tenth commandment is for our own benefit. His desire is to protect us from the dangers of envy and coveting. But what is so harmful about desiring what somebody else has?

The definition of coveting is wanting something very much that belongs to someone else. Some dictionaries even go so far as to define it as a strong hunger and thirst for something. To want something, in and of itself is not innately bad. However, the only thing we should be hungering and thirsting after is God’s presence. It is when our desires contort into idols and we become obsessed and fixated on the things we don’t have that we approach a very dangerous and slippery slope.

What lies at the heart of this struggle to obey God’s final commandment? When we covet what somebody else has, we are taking our focus off of God and turning it inward. We ignore God’s boundless generosity and instead concentrate on the things He has not given us. In essence, we are admitting that we don’t fully trust in God’s sovereignty and His provision in our lives. Though envy may seem innocuous at first, a covetous attitude is like a cancer, multiplying quickly and devouring everything in its path.

Here are three imminent dangers we face when we disobey God’s tenth commandment.

  1. We lose sight of our blessings. When we expend all of our energy trying to acquire what other people have, we inevitably take for granted the many blessings God has generously given us.
  1. We become discontent. Coveting promotes a spirit of competition. No matter how much we have been given, when all we see is what we are lacking, we will always believe that we don’t have enough.
  1. We question God’s goodness. Does God really want the best for me? If left unchecked, envy will eventually harden your heart, making you bitter and resentful towards God and others.

If you’ve noticed this negative pattern forming in your thought life, don’t despair! Here are three practical steps we can take to combat a covetous attitude:

  1. Practice thankfulness. Having an attitude of gratitude is the first step to overcoming envy. Start a gratitude journal and count your blessings every day.
  1. Engage in generosity. Generosity is the opposite of coveting. Every good gift is from the Lord and is meant to be used for His Glory, to make known His gospel and to bless His people. The fruit of generosity is joy.
  2. Pray for an increase of faith. The Bible tells us in Hebrews 13:21 that God will equip us with everything good that we need in order to accomplish His will. We lack nothing in Christ. Ask God to change your heart and help you to see Him as Jehovah-Jireh, the Lord that provides.

When we practice thankfulness, engage in generosity and pray for an increase of faith we will be able to avoid the dangerous pitfalls of envy and coveting. It may take a concerted effort at first, but once we learn to stop focusing on what other people have and instead choose to focus on God’s faithful provision in our lives, we will soon realize that we have more blessings than we can even begin to count.

Eight Weeks Later

It’s officially been eight weeks since I became a sixth grade teacher at Voyageur Elementary School in Mistissini, Quebec! I am currently flying on a private charter plane with six other passengers from Chibougamau to Montreal where I’ll catch my connecting flight to Toronto. I’m so glad that I get two weeks off for Christmas and New Years, I really need the time to relax, rest and rejuvenate. The past eight weeks have been a furious whirlwind of learning, growing and being stretched mentally, physically and emotionally.

Thankfully, by my seventh week working with my class, I had made some definite breakthroughs. The learning curve is finally straightening out and the students are calming down a little bit. The last week of school was a nice change from the regular academic-heavy day to day schedule. We were able to make Christmas cards and decorations together, bake and ice Christmas cookies, and have a class party with a fun gift exchange. It was really enjoyable to be able to just have fun with the students and bond on a more playful, relaxed level.

I even unexpectedly received a few Christmas gifts from my class. One of my most challenging students gave me a lovely ornament and some hot chocolate. When I opened it, she pointed to the ornament and asked me, ‘Did you read what it says?’ The sparkly white ornament read: Best Teacher. My heart melted. It was a touching reminder that even though most of them have a very hard time showing it, these students do appreciate and care about us as their teachers.

Noteworthy news:

1. My cooking skills have improved since moving here! I used to go out to eat almost every day in Korea and a few times a week in Toronto. But in Mistissini, there aren’t many culinary options (one restaurant, a Timmie’s and a Subway). I thought it would be fun to challenge myself to cook ‘restaurant quality dishes’ from scratch. So far, I’ve made Chinese Firecracker Chicken and Beef and Broccoli and they both turned out better than I had expected. It’s fun experimenting with new recipes and I feel healthier overall since I’m not eating as much processed food.

2. I think I’ve actually acclimatized to the northern weather a little bit. Now, if it’s -22 or warmer, I don’t feel too cold. When it gets to -27 and colder, though, I can really feel it in the air and all of my exposed skin takes a proverbial beating.

3. I have tried three new foods since moving here: beaver, moose and goose. The beaver was a little bit gamey for my taste. The moose was tender and delicious and the goose traumatized me because I chipped my tooth on a stray bullet. I hear that a lot of the taste depends on how you cook the meat, so I’ll probably try beaver again to give it another chance. I also want to try bear. I have always loved trying new and ‘exotic’ foods and I enjoy expanding my culinary repertoire.

4. The darkness, though stunningly beautiful, has also proven to be quite challenging for me. Because the sun sets before 4pm, I have been feeling pretty isolated and antsy in my small apartment for the long, cold winter evenings. I don’t go out after dark because it’s too cold and too dark to really do much. Even though I do enjoy my alone time, I’ve been feeling kind of lonely and cooped up.

To try and offset this, I’ve decided to take up a new hobby in 2018: crocheting! I’m excited for something new to do and a creative challenge to try my hand at (pun intended). I am also looking into taking an online Additional Qualifications course from January to March through OISE which will keep me busy.

5. Through visiting the Lodge and reading numerous Cree legends to the kids and have learned a lot about the history of this Nation. It’s filled with many time-honoured, beautiful traditions, and the more I learn and experience, the more I’m falling in love with the Cree culture and its people.

Prayer Requests:

1. Christmas can be a difficult time for some families on the reservation for a variety of reasons. Please pray for my students, that they would have happy, healthy, safe Christmas breaks and that they would feel loved and valued this holiday season.

2. Please pray that I would have a restful and rejuvenating two weeks at home for Christmas and New year. Pray also for travel mercies as I am doing some traveling during my time off! I am really looking forward to just spending quality time with my family and friends. Boardgames, chilling by the fireplace, going to the movies, eating sushi, trying a new escape room… these are all things that I’m really looking forward to and haven’t been able to do for the past few months.

3. When I go back to school on January 8th, it will be a long stretch of teaching. We won’t have a break again until the first two weeks of May when we are off for Goose Break (when the families go into the bush and hunt goose.) I am a little worried about this longer stretch here but I know that as long as I keep integrating myself into the community and intentionally making time to spend with my friends, it won’t be too difficult. Please pray for the upcoming season of my time in Mistissini during the months of January through April.

Thank you so much for your prayers and your love! If you’d like to write me a letter, me address is:

Natasha Spiers
368 Mistissini Blvd. Apartment B
Mistissini, Quebec, G0W 1C0