Sunday, December 11, 2016

on untold stories and falling quiet

Sometimes, because God knows my love for metaphors and words and allegories and such, a word or phrase will begin to jump out again and again in a given season. Sometimes they are comforting; other times, they are confusing and, admittedly, a little frustrating, like this particular phrase. Through sermons and songs and blog posts, this idea of telling your story has been repeated over and over. Anyone who knows me well will smile, because this theme is usually so much a part of me. I love telling stories, hearing stories, matching words to thoughts and feelings and images. So much redemption and hope has come into my life through broken people sharing their real stories, the ways they have met God in the valley. But I surprised myself last week when my pastor posed this challenge to tell someone your story by Thursday afternoon at noon,because I, the self proclaimed word nerd and story junkie, got angry and fought it with every fiber of my being.

 Right now, I am really, really frustrated with the direction my story is headed. I am angry and hurt because my dreams not only haven't turned out the way I planned but are threatened by factors I cannot control. I'm not ready to tell my story yet, because the middle has dragged on forever and caused me to question parts of the story that I thought I loved. Because I'm tired of this part of the story, I have found myself guilty of questioning and even devaluing what has come before,
what I thought I knew about my purpose, my value and my calling. Sometimes I think I hate this part of the story, this season I find myself in, but my hope is not found in the immediate outcome of this situation.

 No, I'm not ready to tell the story yet, because it's still so raw and reeks of failure, but in the midst of this, I am also learning to find hope. Because, actually, my story is not a success story. This is a love story, a story of me learning to live into who I am already named to be. My story is, in the words of Hilary Yancey; "When I could not move toward God, he came running to me." This is my hope, my story, what I cling to as I wait for the pieces to come together and fall into place.In this place of doubt and frustration, I am named beloved. As I wait and pray and rage and cry, I am working my way deeper into my Father's heart. Not because He loves me more when I am in pain, but because in this place, I am woken to the ways I am already loved, the position that is already mine in his eyes.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

September 15, 2016: where I realize that I'm in the right place

Today started…very, very interestingly. I woke up tired as usual, painfully reluctant to leave my bed, even heading to a place where grace reigns, where knowledge is celebrated and where I spent the day with kids I am most definitely enthralled with. Exhaustion can cloud many things, including gratitude—and, apparently, how to make a cup of coffee. After my usual routine of setting my stuff in the room and printing the lesson plan and other tree killers for the day, I decided I probably needed caffeine for the day. I started the process—k-cup, turn on the machine, push the button, and got distracted momentarily by two things; creamer and a conversation with another teacher. As he turned to leave, I turned back to my coffee—and realized that I had completely forgotten to put a cup under the stream of coffee that was now coming out of the machine. I quickly rectified my mistake and learned within a matter of minutes that the best way to clean that weird gutter thing was probably to pour what little I could salvage into my coffee cup and then clean the collateral damage.  Cleaning up that mess, I was suddenly struck by a feeling that was actually quite familiar to me—a feeling that it would be an interesting day, that I would be fighting a battle for faith, for steadfastness in believing I was who I was named to be. 

For whatever reason, when these things happen to me, I find myself believing a lie that I present to myself—that it is possible for a particular incident to disqualify me. That x incident proves that I am incompetent, unworthy, that someone is bound to jump out somewhere and go "Ha! You really thought you could do that?". That because I can’t seem to match two pieces of clothing without my roommates’ assistance, because I can’t keep track of my keys and my phone, because I find myself frustrated or elated by the smallest things and some days are a roller coaster, my strengths are canceled out. But as persistent as that lie is, as often as it crops up over days and weeks and months and years, I am always supplied with sufficient strength to stand against it. Jesus is gentle with me in my doubt, and oddly enough, the incidents in question turn into stories that make people laugh, that make me into someone students and teachers and parents can feel safe around.

Sometimes, in my more rational moments, when I sit down and look at the work He does in and through me, I realize that this is what He’s doing. In these weaknesses, in awkward moments and those times I’m sure I just can’t, he is making my heart soft enough for others to enter in. Half the time, I doubt and shame myself for these moments that constitute so much of my life, but these moments are strength. They are making me soft, pliable, clay in the Potter’s hand. They wake me up to grace, to roses the secondary students were handing out today in assembly, to hugs from my kids and the day my teacher brought Starbucks for me, to knowing looks and shared laughter at incidents that would once cause me to dissolve into tears. They lead me to know and value the deep questions and aches of kids who are brave enough to share their hearts with me. I understand my students better through these moments of childlike need…because that’s what they are. These moments that I have are a heaven sent reminder that I am child and He is Father, and without Him, I can do nothing. They come when I am preoccupied and consumed with tasks and checklists and good enough and He levels me with a reminder to turn to Him. And I am stunned, as I look back, to see that there is hardly a day that comes without something—a reminder, without doubt and the resulting grace—and somehow, I am learning to see it as a sign of God’s faithfulness. That is my Beloved pursuing me, pushing me toward the hard parts of my heart, that it is in my best interest to break and then strengthen. Today happened to be a good day, a day of realizing that He is close and knows me intimately and has set me in this place for such a time as this—and I need these days. I need these days to boost morale and motivation and strength—but I also need them for the hard days. I need to hold to what I find on the mountaintop and trust that it is still true in the valley, and stories like this are my reminder: I am called to this. My heart is to know students, to help them see their value, their potential, their inherent belovedness and lay my life down for their example.  Don’t be afraid; don’t be discouraged. He is near and you are loved, and you love what you do. You love that you get to remain childlike, that you get to take joy in clean notebook pages and coloring and the smell of a brand new book. You love that Scholastic is still just as great of a deal as a teacher as it was as a student, that you get to walk through hours and days and weeks watching small humans with huge souls grow more intelligent, more courageous and kind and stronger than they were  on the first day of school, You still get a rush when you figure out a math problem or finish a unit and start a new one, and because God is good, that won’t go away. You will never lose your childlike wonder, because you will never stop being someone’s child…and it is because of this truth that you are a teacher.  Fear not--you've been in the right place all along. 

Monday, September 5, 2016

on teaching and breaking ground

I was lying in bed this morning thinking over the week—the good, the bad, and the ugly. On Friday, I completely botched this spelling test at first and got insanely frustrated. My teacher told me afterward that she had made both mistakes I did (going WAY too fast and misnumbering the words, thus completely and thoroughly confusing the kids), and I had been turning that over in my mind along with the week’s lessons and adventures. I was thinking about being at peace with teaching, with where and who I am in this classroom, with the lessons I teach that go great and the ones that bomb. I was examining myself to figure out exactly what part of all this it is that makes me restless, what led to the continued anxiety I feel, even in a healthy, balanced, supportive school environment. Logically, it makes no sense. I love my teacher; I love my kids. I love that we have coffee and snacks in the teacher’s lounge and I get to have so much one on one time with my teacher. I love that I get to school early, how quiet the halls are first thing in the morning. Sometimes I think I’m reaching one of my biggest goals for the semester and finally falling back in love with teaching.

So the fear is not in the environment—it’s a part of me. It’s part of how I think, how I interpret what’s happening in the classroom. This fear comes with anything new, anything unfamiliar, and it’s something that only goes away with time, with continuing to step out, to give myself little by little to these students and these teachers and watch them handle my heart with grace. It comes with having truth spoken back to me and the sloooowwww process of learning how to speak it to myself. This brokenness in the way I think, the way I see and interpret my circumstances, is what I need to bring to the feet of Jesus time and time again, to set aside and walk away. I need to trust my teacher, my students, and my own ability to do this, to shoulder the learning of these fifth graders and whatever comes next. I have to trust that what happens now is preparing me for what’s coming down the road, that lit circles in my real classroom will be so good because of what I’m doing right now. It’s like plowing a field—every piece of grass and stone has to be removed, dirt has to be broken before it can be reshaped. It has to be planted, watered, picked over for bugs and protected from animals, and to some extent, part of it is forever out of your control and squarely in the hands of God. Even in this process, the farmer does not see the ground as broken, but as having been prepared for harvest. 

So that’s my hope right now—that the kinks are being hammered out of me, that I am being taught how to see details and anticipate needs and maintain attention and focus. I’m trusting that I’m accumulating exactly the skills and strength and perspective I need, that what I do today prepares me for tomorrow, and this week will prepare me for next year. This will add up. It will come together, and there are things happening in and through me that I can’t see or understand right now. For now, I just get to take the next step and be caught and held. Things are working out—I’m having small victories. Lit circles are going better, and ever so slowly, I’m getting an idea of what will work. I’m beginning to figure out what my students need and how to use my time wisely. Of the two students I was worried about, at least one is actually getting into their book and I see no changes that worry me. I still have to figure out how to grade lit circles, what that looks like, and now I’m completely without excuse because I know how to work the grading system. I take on about two more hours of teaching this week and about thirteen transitions that occur in that time. I’m beginning to see that my mistakes are a beginning, not an ending, and they get to act as a milestone, an Ebenezer to where I’ve been, where I’m going and the One I’m following. How else can I find grace but in the places I fall short?

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

false starts and new beginnings

Oh goodness. I feel pulled in many directions—adjusting to apartment life, grocery shopping and doing dishes and negotiating roommates who are decidedly different from each other; life at school, getting to know the kids and lesson planning and trying to write fast enough on the board to keep up with what I’m saying. (I’m finding that is an art form.) Somehow in the span of seven days, I have said goodbye to the church that I’ve attended since freshman year of college, survived a tornado warning that lasted an entire night, realized my entire lesson plan was falling apart, and, as the culmination of the week, forgot my bag in the classroom and had to call my teacher to let me back in—barely making it out of the parking lot only to get pulled over for speeding. I’ve spent a lot of time this week wondering what I’m doing, how I even think I can handle myself in the classroom and the real world. My teacher put it beautifully when she said, after I had told her at least part of what I was thinking after a frantic, rushed lesson last Tuesday, that this pull I feel is because I’m thinking so hard about everything that is muscle memory to the teachers I’m around. Everything takes time and energy and feels new, and for now, my goal is to make it step by step and somehow see the beauty of this week. Because it was there, and sometimes, the hard and beautiful parts of this week were mere minutes apart.

One of the beautiful parts of this week is the gaggle of eleven year olds with whom I get to spend a rather large proportion of my waking hours. I can already feel my heart binding to the beautiful fifth grade souls placed in my care. I am finding that it is possible to both be incredibly annoyed with a child and also love them fiercely—in two weeks, I have felt both at the same time so many times. I have felt what it’s like to not want to be anywhere else and also what it’s like to be this close to running for the hills. I have acted incredibly strong when I felt achingly weak and cried in a bathroom only to come out and grin at everyone around me. This is incredibly hard and complicated work. Who knows it would be so hard to teach one subject, let alone five or six every day? I love these kids enough to embarrass myself every day trying to teach them, to do what’s best for them when they groan and sigh over the books I spent hours scrounging for. I want to give my students the world but on their end, it just looks like more homework I pile on top of them. I want to please people. I want them to like me, to recognize what I do for them and my desire for them, and I’m realizing that I really need to set that aside for these kids.  I switched groups around for them once this week because it felt like half of them, including my strongest readers, hated the books I chose for them—and I still got complaints. I still got two kids who somehow misheard the directions to rank their books 1 through 4 from most to least preferred, did it backwards and got the book they least wanted. On Friday, I realized that I’m not going to please all of these kids all the time, and that’s not my job. My job is to teach them, and sometimes I will have to do so in less than ideal circumstances with books and knowledge and tools I would do anything to exchange. I have to make the best out of what I have and pray that God will fill the gap.

Another week of the good, the bad, and the ugly is behind me now, and I’m looking at a new week, a new beginning. This week, I get to welcome some of my favorite people back home on campus. I get to dive into four books I think are really cool and see whatever projects students bring in that will be so much more fun than any role sheet. They get their time to show off their talents and talk about a book that, who knows, they might actually really like. I have my concerns—a kid who is new, who apparently had quite the past and didn’t get the book he wanted. My fear is that he will withdraw, that he will close up after having adjusted so well to a new school because he didn’t get the book he wanted. I’m afraid that exactly the same thing will happen this week that happened last week, that the class will decide AGAIN that they don’t like the book they chose and expect me to cater to them again. I’m afraid they don’t take me seriously or see me as a teacher yet. I’m afraid that I won’t be able to discipline well, that I’ll get behind on my lesson plans and disappoint my teacher, that my apartment will not be able to handle five very different women living together…but I don’t live under fear. These fears that I have are not the end. Maybe they’ll happen, maybe they won’t, but I know that I am equipped with the strength I’ll need for the day. I know that my God will show up in unlikely places and broken people, that sometimes the unyielding strength comes from crippling weakness.

It’s been a good weekend, and with a new week comes a new beginning.People have been moving in and it feels like coming home. I’ve been reminded that I am surrounded by people who care, people who look a lot like Jesus and seen by a God who knows my needs before I know them. I am carried and graced and highly favored. This week, my goal is not to get it right. My goal is not to have all the answers and master the schedule and time management and do the right thing all the time, but to show up and let myself be drawn to need. To sit in it, to sit with students who don’t understand, who are frustrated and tired, who are finally feeling the effects of a new school and all new people. The honeymoon period of a new school is ending—I can feel it—and my goal this week is to not shy away from that. My goal is to lean into weakness and brokenness, to hear hearts and act accordingly…even if it looks completely different from what I think I’m “supposed’ to be doing. There is always more going on than meets the eye. I don’t see everything and I don’t know everything, but I’m here, and, right now, that’s enough.

Friday, August 12, 2016

when not enough

So this week my new life as a college senior started--in the span of several days, I have packed up my life in Michigan, arrived and unpacked in a brand new apartment, and met a large percentage of the school community who will be such a huge part of my life for the next two months. 
My first morning in my new school opened with meeting twenty something people in the span of several minutes, followed by these words in a prayer from the school principal:
God, we are not up to the task…and that is a good thing.

The rest of the prayer was great from what I heard—it’s amazing to hear people you don’t know pray out loud in a genuine, loving way—but with those thirteen words, an invisible weight was lifted from my shoulders that I hadn’t quite realized I was carrying. I have come to believe something I heard said once—that everyone has a particular burden to carry unique to them, their temperament and experience—and part of my unique battle is this fear of being not enough. This plays out in a variety of ways—in my academics, relationship with my family, friends, roommates, colleagues, and as of late with my students and the work of becoming a teacher.  This fear is in no way helped by the fact of who I am—the klutzy, absentminded part of me who is always dropping, spilling or breaking something. Basically, I often take the harder road and spend a lot of time climbing mountains and feeling really stupid when they turn out to be molehills. When I got here yesterday, I unpacked my car over the span of four hours because I got some stuff out of my car, went to Subway to get lunch, only to realize that my wallet was not actually IN my purse. Immediately, on the verge of a panic attack, I turned around to come back to campus, called Walmart and Campus Safety with no luck, tore my apartment apart, wondering what kind of senior/student teacher I would make if I couldn’t find my wallet. I lifted a box a few minutes later and found it exactly where I had left it a few minutes earlier.
I am very much a work in progress, and I’m coming to terms with my strengths and weaknesses, recognizing that God made me exactly the way he meant for me to be—but some days are easier than others. Walking into a building where I knew no one beyond a few emails and texts over the summer, spending eight hours in a room full of almost strangers is a bit of a stretch. I’ve grown a lot and I’m much more trusting and optimistic about these situations now than when I was, say, a freshman, but even without knowing it, walking into school yesterday, my hackles were up. Without a single conscious thought or acknowledgement, I found myself walking into that school with a determination to prove myself worthy. It affected what I chose to wear, what I brought to school today, how I presented myself. I don’t think it showed or negatively affected anything that happened, but that opening line in a simple morning prayer took me aback and adjusted the way I approached the day. It took me several minutes to find my way out of that hackles up, defenses at the ready mindset, that determination to show the world that I am good enough, and I think I have to talk myself out of that daily. After twenty something years in this skin, coming to terms with who I am—the good, the bad, and the messy—involves a long process of leaning into and learning from my insufficiency without letting it define me. To acknowledge without putting myself down that I still have a long way to go; in my desperate grasp for control, for appearing confident in a new situation where I am anything but, for occasionally failing to ask questions until it’s too late. I still don’t know how to show anger or hurt or sadness in front of a group of students in a way that is healthy and spurs growth. Not to mention I don’t know this school or these people—names, where the gym or cafeteria is, what the schedule is like.  

And yet, after admitting weakness, unpreparedness on his part and that of the school, what came out of the mouth of this man next was a reminder that God shows himself most clearly in my weakness. Entering that school this morning, next week, next month, in anything other than weakness, an acknowledgement that in and of myself, I am not sufficient for the demands and challenges of this year is a way of deceiving myself and others, and I’m realizing that I don’t want that. It’s not fair to me, the teachers and staff I met today, my roommates, the kids I’m about to meet on Monday, and it breaks the heart of God. Because my God chooses the weak, the meek, the mild to do his best work, and I always forget that. It is the weak ones, the ones who come to God and whatever situation with hands empty and open who become key players in God’s redeeming work. I was never intended to get through this life on my own strength. I sing it, pray it, say it, but I’m praying that this year and beyond I believe and live it. God does his best work in and through men and women whose only relevant qualification is that He chose them. They needed nothing other than that knowledge and the wisdom provided to them. Even in writing that, I want to qualify that statement with affirming again how important pedagogy and details and preparation is, and to some extent that is true, but it’s not the foundation. The heart of what I’m about to do, the work of my hands and my mind this semester will be that in Christ, I am enough. In Him, I find the resources, the strength, the experience and content knowledge that I need to do this well. Anything else is a bonus. That, I think, is what I love most about my new school. Even before the kids walk in the door, the first thing the principal does is acknowledge that they are not ready, that they will be surprised and challenged and stretched. That they will come up short and be carried by grace. For whatever reason, this is both incredibly hard to swallow and immensely comforting to believe. I sit tonight simultaneously humbled and graced in my weaknesses, and with Paul, I can pray over this semester that my competence comes from God Himself (2 Cor 3:5).  

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

when you just miss them

There are nights where you still long enough to feel. Long enough for the swirling to stop, the doing and going and checking items off a list and you become a human long enough to know you haven't been one for a while. The guilt when you're not doing something 'productive', the inward feel of enough but taking one more step, the awkward rush of emotion when someone or something throws you off kilter and you have no idea why. That feeling? when you quiet yourself long enough to realize how much you want to be heard, how much you want someone to look long into your eyes and whisper, "Tell me everything"
Honestly? That feels a little rare these days. There's beauty in these days, sure, but it gets lonely. Maybe it's always been a little so--but you feel it more now. Now that your sisters, your safety net you had that first year is scattered all over. Some of them are still around, but you're more of a grown up now, and they come and go, and there are still moments of connection, but more often moments when you realize that you have no idea how, when the gap seems to widen and you wonder. You wonder alternately whether you can do what you're called to and whether it even matters, this calling that is not leadership and seems so blurry sometime. You get annoyed with a friend who seems to see you as ahead, as the one with the answers to homework and all of her ducks in a row, and you wonder if you are truly seen anymore. You wonder if anyone is still keyed in to who you are and how you're feeling and the ways you're growing. You wonder who will remind you who you are if and when you forget.
Thing is? That heart squeeze, it's just a feeling, but it's valid. You were the baby for a year and you mourn that, the fact that most of the people who witnessed your growth, start to finish are gone or going to be gone soon. That none of your peers lived with you, knew you all the way through. That fear that next semester, next year will always be that slow wrestling with the old demon of alone, outcast, incapable of connection. That's your biggest fear, how hard it is for you to connect sometimes and how, when it gets hard, you run. You're afraid that you're stunted, that there's something wrong with you that turns people off and makes intimacy and true quality friendships impossible. You miss them, the ones who chased fear away for a little while, the ones who calmed you and talked down your fears and just seemed to get it. You're it now for some of these girls---but sometimes you need reminding too. 

Monday, September 28, 2015

a manifesto

hey, fear?

Yeah, I see you. I’m talking to you, you little soul sucking, joy stealing bastard. I don’t like you. I’ve never liked you and with good reason. And, this? This is me putting you in your place, naming you for what you are. You once made me your home. You moved in, with your whispers, your lies, the unexplainable doubts and the nagging feeling that something was wrong, that I’m not enough, that all of this is a mistake and sooner or later the joke will be on me. The constant pressure, the lie that I had to do, do, do, in order to be anything at all. The lie I have to pour myself dry to be worthy of love. 

You know what? You’re done. No. More. I’m no home for you, and I’m tired of you and your lies. You can’t have me. I hear you—maybe I will always hear you—but I won’t listen to you anymore. Once, I let you call the shots. I allowed you to tell me what I can and can’t do, what brings me life, and all that brings me is a whole lot of tear-stained moments staring at the ceiling and wanting to be done. Guess what? If you had your way, I would never leave my room, never talk to anyone, never do anything that involved the slightest risk.

 I've been there, done that, tried that choice so many times and not once did it ever lead me toward fullest life. It tore me away from the people I needed to run to, put up a huge barrier between me and the ones I love. The nagging desire to do the right thing and the anxiety, the doubt, the perpetual feeling that nothing I did was enough—the tension, always the tension and never rest. The stakes are higher this year, too--leading a small group, becoming a teacher, loving people who are fragile and broken and breathtaking, learning ever more about how to live life in this skin.

And only now, I'm beginning to realize just how much of myself I have given to you.  I have always let you at least partially convince me that I’m not enough, that I’m going to fall and not be caught, that I’m not worthy of a life that sings, that changes at least my little corner of the world. You’ve managed to box me in, to cloud my judgment and my head and my joy. You’ve made it seem like I was forgotten, unloved, unwanted. You’ve made me believe that all I will ever do is fail, that my weaknesses and flaws are irredeemable, that He is far and I am forgotten and alone. You’ve built high walls between me and the ones who love me. You’ve made it seem like love can’t reach me wherever I am, like I’m too lost, too clueless, too tangled up in you to be saved.

You know what I say to that? I call it B. FREAKING. S. Because that's what it is, and it makes me mad that you can cause that much damage to one life, that you can screw with my head so completely. I say GET. OUT. I am not your home. You can’t have this year. You can’t have my heart, my friendships, my family. You have no claims on me, my past, my present, my future, because there is no truth in what you tempt me to believe. Yes, you feel more real than all of this at times, but you know what? You’re a liar, and a lie is nothing but the absence of truth. As long as I have my eyes on Truth—you can’t touch me. It’s only when I take my eyes off who I really am and who I belong to that you get to have your way…and yet, I’m finding even then,  even when I let go of Him, there is nothing in this life or heaven or hell that can make Him let go of me. The truth is true whether I’m looking at it or not. He has the final word, the final say, and He says enough. Because of that, because of Him, I will keep fighting you, keep casting you out over and over again until you have mind enough to stay out. Even if it takes a lifetime.  

I know who wins, and it sure as heck isn't you, bub. And this? Even when it doesn't feel like it, this is my victory song.