• Kamin: What to Do When Everything is Unexpected

  • What to Do When Everything is Unexpected

    Recommendations from a Survivor

    Noted philosopher Mike Tyson once said, “Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.”

    Have you ever felt like you were bailing water out of a paper boat that was on fire during a hurricane and a sharknado?

    I think a lot of us feel sore after the last few years, like we were in a ring with Iron Mike or bailing in that paper boat for a few months. There were so many challenges, I won’t even attempt to make a list, but I’m sure a few specifics may sneak into this article. I’ve made my living in crazy situations.

    In 21 years, I’ve taught at 12 schools in four states. I’ve closed two schools and been on the receiving end of a reduction in force three other times. My experience has made me skilled at walking into a school and getting my feet under me quickly. It’s been a rough, turbulent ride. I’ve been punched in the mouth—thankfully only metaphorically—a few times along the way. With all of that, perhaps the strangest thing about my very crooked career path is that as I write this article, I’m sitting in the house I still own 400 miles from my current school. My wife and son stayed here for the last year, and I’m here to collect them. I’m about to pack the first box in this move that began nearly 12 months ago. I have a sign in my office that says, “It never got weird enough for me.” I may need to retire that sign.

    I frequently ask, “How on earth have I gotten through the last year … three years … 21 years?” You may have asked yourself a similar question. There’s a lot that I don’t know and will likely never be able to explain about God’s grace, but I’m very thankful for it.

    We get the honor of sharing Jesus, His love, and salvation with them. I’ve found peace and comfort in that work. I pray you have and will continue to as well. God’s love and grace is the way we get through everything. Even during the Covid craziness, God’s Word survived and thrived. During lockdown, I would often listen to sermons and church services from my pastor friends all over the country. I’d never had the chance to hear many of them preach. I even found a few of my former pastors and listened to them. That part of lockdown was kind of fun for me, but we all missed the comfort of our worship and faith communities. Somehow, though, God’s Word shone in that darkness, and I pray it continues. It may seem oversimplified, but in times of trouble, the answer is “God’s Word.” If Scripture interprets Scripture, what better answer could we have to any problem? We must begin with Scripture. The Spirit poured the Word into my schools in new and renewed ways over the last few years. Across the country, we have thousands of students new to our Lutheran schools, and many of them do not know the truth of God’s Word. We get the honor of sharing Jesus, His love, and salvation with them. I’ve found peace and comfort in that work. I pray you have and will continue to as well.

    One of my favorite 2020 Christmas ornaments featured a dumpster fire, and there have been some days that I have felt that I was in the middle of that inferno. I am one of the original Covid Longhaulers. Since March 2020, my body just can’t do what it used to. Perhaps you’ve had a new ailment over these past few years, whether physical or emotional. There has been a lot of emotional trauma lately. I know the emotional trauma of separation after this year away from my family. We’ve lost loved ones. We’ve got burdens. Sometimes my physical challenges sneak up on me. All of a sudden, I’ll lose my breath when talking. Getting out of bed can be excruciating for me some days. Maybe your pain, like mine, isn’t visible. Maybe, like me, you try to hide it or downplay it. You suck it up, put your head down, and keep moving forward. Brothers and sisters, that’s right where the foe wants us. He wants us alone and in pain.

    Thanks be to God that we can be together in many ways again! We’re back to worship, back to smiling at each other with more than our eyes, and back to sharing meals. If you’re hurting, please know that on your staff or across the country, hundreds of friends are willing to walk alongside you through whatever challenge you’re facing. (See LEA’s prayer page request.) In Lutheran schools, our community of teachers is not merely a group of colleagues. Consider those with whom you’ve ministered. We often stand shoulder-to-shoulder in this spiritual fight, but it’s important that we also sit face-to-face with each other. Sometimes, walking together is a good cup of coffee—or something stronger—with your teammate. If you don’t have anyone else, I’ll buy you a cup anytime.

    • What limitations are you “suffering” right now? Are you putting it in God’s hands and the concerns of friends?
    • Who do you see that needs your help in slowing down?
    • How would you advise new teachers as they lead a Christian classroom for the first time?

    I think we’ve all rediscovered the importance of making a list. It’s been crazy, and we had to stay organized. The crazy came at us from every angle, and we had to each create our own framework to handle it all, but it’s often been too much. I think many of us, because of these crazy times, have taken on far more than we should have. We need to begin to prune, and that can come with pain. You may love doing something that just no longer fits in your life, personally or professionally. We have to look at that in school leadership and understand when a program needs to end. It’s not always easy. It’s also not easy to say out loud that it has gotten to the point where it’s simply too much. We have to say “No.” for so many reasons. We need to consider our personal relationships, especially with our families, our physical and emotional health. Sometimes, we have to admit and acknowledge that our list is simply too long to be completed. It doesn’t mean we aren’t good at our jobs, it doesn’t mean we aren’t dedicated to ministry, and it doesn’t mean we don’t care about our students. It means we are human and need to allow for our own limitations. It’s for our own preservation. We wouldn’t let our students or friends run themselves ragged. We shouldn’t do it to ourselves.

    Keep God’s Word at the center. Lean on each other. Don’t sacrifice yourself. Jesus did that in our place. May His love and peace be with you this summer and throughout the coming school year.

    Jonathan Kamin is principal of St. John Lutheran School in Champaign, Illinois. He holds a BA & MEd from Valparaiso University. He is a SLED graduate and a Van Lunen Fellow. He has served as an author for LEA’s Shaping the Future and has presented at local, national, and international conferences. Jonathan has been married to Emily, a dance instructor, for 10 years. Their adventurous, curious, and active son, Noah, is 8 years old.

    Photo © iStock/Dusan Stankovic

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