‘I can do it all!’ I was on the verge of tears at any given moment. And then COVID-19 hit.’: Pandemic reminds teacher ‘to savor and enjoy moments without thinking about the next thing’

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“When you come to our front door, there is a sign I ‘made’ (with a lot of help from Board and Brush) that says Welcome to the Pancakes! I’ve always wanted our home to be a safe refuge — a place where people feel comfortable laying their burdens down, a place where neighbors feel like they belong, a place where the fatherless find family. And in some ways, we’ve done that in bits and pieces, in the chunks of time I’ve had to give. But in other ways, my ‘home’ of welcoming others was in my classroom, where I tried to create a safe haven for students, making them feel loved, welcomed them — like they truly belonged.

Courtesy of Karly Pancake

Before I started teaching, I said I didn’t want to teach for my career. I knew it required a lot of work from home, and I just didn’t want to put that much time into my job. I even purposefully graduated with a degree that didn’t include a teaching certification because I wanted to be very clear teaching wasn’t the plan. But, alas, I’ve been teaching since I graduated from college. (And it’s been so stinkin’ fun!)

In January of 2014 (right after graduation), I worked at a small after-school care program and preschool. That was, ahem, interesting. Let’s just say I cried every other day when I worked at that job. That fall, I moved up in the world to teaching Spanish at a Christian school in Ohio. When we moved to Texas, I found a job as a middle school Spanish 1 teacher, but I was also a coach. This, my friends, was hilarious. I coached volleyball, basketball, and track, with very little experience in all three of these sports. At one point during a volleyball game, a referee told me he could give me a red card for a mistake I had made, and I responded (loud enough for the crowd to hear): ‘Sorry, I just don’t even know what I’m doing.’ And that about sums up my coaching experience. Finally, my husband, TJ, got a job at a little church plant called The Well in Argyle, Texas, and a Spanish position opened at Argyle High School and I jumped on it. I’ve been there four years, but in May decided to take a hiatus to pursue homeschooling for my daughter. But, there’s a little more to it than that, as I’m sure you’ve already guessed.

Courtesy of Karly Pancake

Over the course of the last three years, I have become an adoptive mom to my two greatest gifts — my son and daughter. We adopted them through foster care; both of them were older children when we adopted them (9 and 14). I went from being a youth pastor’s wife, youth leader, and teacher, to all of those things PLUS a mom of a pre-teen and teenager. It totally rocked my world in the best of ways and the worst of ways. (News flash: being a youth leader/teacher and parent of a teenager are NOT the same). During much of this time, I was dealing with emotional turmoil and acting out on the home front while trying to maintain the same level of activity on the school and church front. It was mentally, physically, and emotionally exhausting.

Courtesy of Karly Pancake

At the end of the 2019 school year, I was giving my end-of-the-year speech to my first-period class and almost started crying. I was thanking them for welcoming me and making me feel loved because life at home had been tumultuous with adding two members to our family within two years. I hadn’t given them the details of my experience with foster care, but I just wanted them to know their love for me had meant something. I went into teaching in order to welcome kids into my classroom, but they ended up welcoming me when I needed it most.

After I gave that speech with teary eyes and fumbled through my words in front of 25 teenagers, I realized I was not okay. I was busy trying to make my classroom a welcoming place, our home a welcoming place, and our student ministry a welcoming place, but I didn’t know how to make myself feel welcome because I was exhausted. I was burnt out. I was on the verge of tears at any given moment. I knew I needed to do something different, but I didn’t know what needed to change. And so I signed up for another year of teaching, ministry, and mom-ing. I scaled back a little bit at church to allow myself a reprieve, but I was still functioning on an ‘I can do it all’ mindset, which eventually led to contracting mono in October of 2019. My body was basically confirming: YOU NEED TO DO SOMETHING DIFFERENT, but my mind responded, ‘I don’t know how.’

Courtesy of Karly Pancake

And then COVID-19 hit. And we were forced to stay home in our pajamas and Zoom our students from our bedrooms (I did not have any other place to go!). I was helping my children with their school work, and I started liking being with them. Because there were fewer social pressures and more time spent together, our family bonded. We endured some really difficult moments, but mostly, it was a beautiful time for our family. It was through COVID-19 that God whispered gently, ‘I’ll show you how to slow down, to trust me.’

Courtesy of Karly Pancake

I realized how much I had been putting off connection with my own kids and care for myself in order to do, do, do. Suddenly, I had nowhere to go and no one (else) who needed me, and something inside of me slowed down. I allowed myself to savor and enjoy moments without thinking about the next thing on my to-do list. I was reading the Bible with my kids, having real conversations with them, and hearing them. We even continued our one-on-one date Kid Date Nights at home to spend intentional one-on-one time together. And, I was able to love and care for myself because the rigorous schedule was no longer my daily grind.

Courtesy of Karly Pancake

And so, I considered resigning from teaching, the only career I knew, to be able to spend more intentional time with my kids. At the same time, we were preparing for my husband to transition to a job where he would be fully funded by fund-raised support. I immediately dismissed my resignation as a possibility because I mean, come on, how were we going to survive?

But I still felt a pull to trust God, move forward, and resign. I had a strong desire to write to encourage other people on the same journey — doing hard things for the glory of God and the good of His Kingdom and the world. But I also had overwhelming fears. I feared giving up my calling (teaching) for a totally new pursuit (homeschooling, stay-at-home mom-ing, writing). I was afraid we wouldn’t have enough money for our family to function. And what would my life even look like if I wasn’t running around like a crazy person?

Psalms 56:3-4: But when I am afraid, I will put my trust in you. I praise God for what he has promised. I trust in God, so why should I be afraid? What can mere mortals do to me?

The questions swirled around in my brain: What if everything is a complete and total disaster and I desperately want to go back to teaching? Will God provide for us? Why am I giving up a career I know I’m good at?

In these moments, I usually try to do things to compensate for what I can’t control. But I’ve been (very painfully and slowly) learning to instead bring those fears before the Lord. And when I do, He steadies my heart and gives me peace and rest. He reminds me a slow pace allows more time to recognize Him in the minute details of my life.

Teaching was difficult for me to give up because it felt like my calling. But God has shown me my life is more than my career, more than a calling; it’s an offering. I could continue on my path of busyness, and He would reluctantly hop aboard to be there when everything fell apart and I burned out.

But instead, I’m choosing a quieter, simpler, slower calling. I want to see — actually see — my neighbors and be a neighbor. I want to serve the least of these and invest in my community. I want to open my home again to children who otherwise would not know family. And I want to welcome myself into the love and grace of Jesus as well — allowing room for rest, relaxation, and enjoyment.

Perhaps my ‘new’ calling isn’t too different from my ‘old’ one. God used my students and my coworkers and my athletes to mold me into a better mom, a better writer, and a better teacher. I decided to resign from teaching, even without a solid plan of income for the future. I believed trusting the Lord to provide and resting in Him was enough. When my calling of teaching and youth leading burned me out and left me exhausted, I pivoted. It’s my life. I get to choose how I live it.”

Courtesy of Karly Pancake

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Karly Pancake. You can follow her journey on Instagram. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.

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