Four years ago this week, I wrote the post below. In the short 2 1/2 weeks after winter break that year, we’d had…
- a student have a mental break down
- a Colfax random arrested for brandishing a gun outside the glass doors of the school during 2nd period
- to close school for a day after a former student began threatening to kill our teaching staff
- a then-current student steal the school van and discretely go AWOL
I look back at those days without envy, remembering the tears that accompanied each of those stories. (Stories that our staff now tells at retreats and Christmas parties, laughing until we nearly shoot beverages out our noses like the awkward teenagers we spend our days with. Sometimes you’ve just gotta laugh [with a warped sense of humor] to stay sane around here, ya know…?)
Yesterday morning began like any other morning, but quickly became reminiscent of the days when I wrote the words below.
Like most Mondays, I was the first to pull into the school parking lot ( I dutifully checked to make sure no one had stolen our van, just as I have done subconsciously almost every morning since those insane weeks in 2014). I parked and unlocked the school doors, rushing to disarm the blaring alarm system, but noticed a strange message on the keypad screen as I did so. Praying that I hadn’t just accidentally called the alarm company, I started up the stairs to my office.
The glittering of something on the hallway carpet caught my eye and slowly, then all at once I realized that the beautiful shimmering in the morning sun was being caused by shards of glass that had once comprised my office window– the result of a break in and robbery that had occurred overnight.
By the grace of God, the person who was desperate enough to shatter out windows and disrupt order in our school bypassed my laptop and dumped hundreds of dollars of valuables on the floor, only stealing a pre-written check and an electronic reader that hasn’t worked since roughly 2013. But later that morning as I stood with the crime scene investigator amidst broken glass and my belongings that had been strewn about my office, I wanted to rage and cry.
The heart ache and sense of violation were real. But even more real is the way that God’s faithfulness has sustained us at DSS in the past, and is ever growing to sustain us now and forever more. As I swept up glass and wiped fingerprinting dust off my belongings, my mind wandered back to the myriad of weird stories I’ve accumulated over the last 10 years at DSS, and all I could hum were the words of the old hymn:
“Great is Thy faithfulness, O God my Father.
There is no shadow of turning with Thee
Thou changest not, Thy compassions they fail not.
As Thou hast been, Thou forever wilt be.”
Oh, Jesus. Make my heart believe.
Wednesday morning one of the other English teachers read Matthew 6 during morning devotions, but she put her own “DSS” spin on it. It went something like this:
Do not store up treasures for yourself on earth, where drug dealers and gang violence destroy and where thieves may rob you of them; but lay up treasures in heaven for yourself, where neither crackheads nor Crips can touch them, where unfinished homework will not matter, and where thieves cannot break in and steal your classroom keys, iPhones, or vehicles. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:19-21 [Well, kind of…])
The last few weeks have been rough around here… Suicidal students, death threats of several different natures, and students being under the influence of just about every substance you can think of while at school. The police have been at our school so frequently that my principal is beginning to recognize police officers and learn their names.
Our staff has been robbed, screamed at, cursed out, and belittled. Doors have been slammed in our faces and many tears have been shed by my co-workers, my students, and myself.
There have been days when teaching seems secondary to simply surviving the day and when my lunch hour could not come fast enough.
I ended my work week last Friday sobbing in the girls’ bathroom, begging God to change his mind and move me to Dallas early. I can’t do this anymore God. I quit. I don’t want to play anymore. I just want to work in a “normal” high school where students take my word as law and don’t scream at me… or maybe a “normal” nine to five job that wouldn’t leave me emotionally exhausted every single day would be nice. I’m sick of pouring my heart into students who watch me being vulnerable with them and then decide to attack me when I am feeling the lowest… I’m sick of feeling discombobulated and anxious. I can’t do this anymore!
I wish I could say that I was the only one in the school that had a conversation with God like this, but unfortunately I know that the majority of my co-workers have had some variation of this moment within the last few weeks as well.
At first, I tried everything “Christian-y” I could think of to make these feelings and the hurt in my heart go away.
I prayed throughout my planning periods and my drives to and from work.
I had morning coffee dates with Jesus and spent time in the Word everyday.
I read verses about love and patience and begged God to make me His vessel.
I talked to my roommates and tried to process everything in a Godly manner so I wouldn’t inadvertently spew my emotions all over my students.
I tried to walk in the front doors of the school everyday in the power of Christ.
And yet, NOTHING changed.
(Que my instant gratification American mind set…)
In fact, the more I tried to force myself to believe that God was going to do something to change the crappy circumstances at the school, the worse the situations seemed to get. And as the situations complicated and multiplied, I began to feel like God had hung us out to dry. By last Friday afternoon, I felt completely abandoned.
All I wanted was a work day without police contact or a student behavioral e-mail. I didn’t feel like that was too much to ask… Or maybe a day where I could actually teach something instead of dealing with shenanigans in my classroom… Now, that would be living!
As I tried to cope with/through all of the crappy situations going on, building relationships, praying for my kids, and having deep conversations (my favorite parts of my job, mind you) were shoved onto the back burner while I begged my students to complete their vocabulary packets and disregard the fact that my phone was buzzing every five minutes with e-mail updates from my co-workers and boss, or the fact that the cops had just driven past my classroom window. Again.
In a weird way that only teachers will ever really understand, classwork, journal entries, and a fluid routine became the things that I was longing for and treasuring in my heart. Comfort and routine had become functional idols in my life and the more I sought after those things, the less I focused on God…
But in His very weird, “God way” I got a phone call from one of my original Street School students last night. Chris and I have gotten to be close over the last 4 1/2 years that I have taught / nagged / mentored him, and within minutes of talking to me, he knew that something was wrong.
He patiently listened to me list off the slew of problems at the school and then calmly said something to the effect of, “You don’t seem like you have your priorities in order… Things like this have always happened, but you guys never let that get to you. You need to focus on God and the things that will bring these “new kids” to Him. The ‘family’ part of the school and all that will follow, but you need to keep your eyes on God and His work first.”
“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
I had gotten so wrapped up in the chaos and begun treasuring such minute things that my heart had fallen away from God.
So instead of focusing on the chaos (which has finally begun clear up a bit; praise God!) I really tried to realign my heart with God’s today and treasure the things that will ultimately matter in the end: talking to my kids about Jesus, loving them like Jesus loves us, and offering grace as I have been offered grace by my Father.
These things should be my treasures, not the lack of behavioral e-mails, or the number of vocabulary packets that have been turned in, or even my comfortable daily routine.
I still feel like I have a long way to go (and several battles directly ahead of me) in regards to destroying the “treasures” of comfort and routine in my life, but today, for the first time in over a month, I sat in my car after work and cried happy tears– tears because I love my job and my students. Tears of relief.
“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
(Matthew 6:19-21 [For real])