When #MeToo gets personal: a guest post from the lovely Kathryn Bronn

Kathryn and my friendship began a few years before the chapter of her story that she shares in the guest post(s) below.

I remember the December day in 2013 when I hugged her goodbye outside of Purple Door Coffee; she was preparing to pursue the dream the Lord had given her of documenting stories and teaching art in Rwanda, Africa, and even though we didn’t know when our paths would cross again, I was pumped to see her step into her joy.

Three weeks after we parted ways, my phone buzzed at work as a Facebook Messenger alert crossed my screen:

“Kace. I have no cell phone… I was raped, and it was essential for me to get out of there. There’s the possibility of HIV and/or pregnancy, and everything else… I’m just focused on getting home now, everything else will be sorted out in time.”

The chills I felt that day as I read my dear friend’s words pale in comparison to the chills I had last week as I read her blog series on the Lord’s redemption of the worst day of her life.

This is your warning– the following post may be difficult to read, but if you can, I beg you to do so. Kathryn’s story is important for so many reasons.

It is real and raw, and I applaud her for boldly sharing the story the Lord has given her because I know first hand that her level of transparency is healing.

It was Kathryn’s Facebook Message that the Lord used to bring me to my knees in my classroom that afternoon, and that same message that He used to propel me into counseling later that spring (kicking and screaming [mostly screaming]) where I was first able to acknowledge, then begin to come to terms with my own past sexual abuse.

Shortly after her return to the States, but years before the semi-colon tattoo/ depression awareness movement and last fall’s social media #MeToo hashtag, Kathryn and I had a “me too” movement of our own. We decided that where our minds wanted to put a period– where we wanted to stop, to break down, to cease moving forward– we were going to allow Jesus to place a semi-colon– the lingual sign of moving forward with a similar and related story. IMG_1880

What man had meant for evil in our pasts, we were going to fight with every. fiber. of our beings. to bring to the light and give over to God. In a tattoo parlor in 2014, we vowed that our past abuse would no longer define or confine us.

However, as I watched #MeToo sweep social media last fall, I stared at my phone– a silent participant, acutely aware of the multitude of ways my own fear and shame has continued to confine me over the years, in spite of the tattoo I proudly display on my forefinger.

So while I’m “late to the party”, my heart’s desire is to tell you, sweet friends, that if you have ever been the victim of sexual harassment or abuse, you are not alone.

There is Hope.

There is healing in the tender arms of Christ. 

Christ sees you. He loves you.

He is the bearer of every burden, if you allow Him to be.

I repeat: You. are. not. alone.

Thank you, Kathryn for paving the way to healing for me and hundreds of women all over the world.

Thank you for giving me the courage to say #MeToo four years ago and again today.

; Kace


4 Years Later :: How God Keeps Redeeming the Worst Day of My Life By: Kathryn Bronn

Bronn_00223This week marked the 4 year anniversary of being raped while doing volunteer work in Rwanda.  That statement is loaded, I know.  The crazy thing is, I was most of the way through the day earlier in the week before I realized what day it was.  As in, I forgot about it.  As in, the day doesn’t lord it’s bad memory over me anymore.  In year one, it surely did.  Year two, was bittersweet.  Year three, I still remembered, but now, year four… praise to the God who “restores the years the locusts have eaten”.

As I marveled at the work of my good Father, I felt like the time had finally come to share the whole story.  The whole season…because surely, that’s what it was.  A moment triggered a season, a hurt became a catalyst for the most profound healing.  A wounded heart and broken girl called out all that is good and beautiful and awe-inspiring in God’s people and my community, and brought about some of the closest relationships I have ever been privileged to be in. I want to share, not just to expose the story once again, but to offer hope.  The story has been shared, and shared, and shared!  I have never kept it a secret. The sharing has been incredibly helpful, and sparked many other women to share their stories as well.  But it’s even more than that… I want to tell of the wonderful works my God has done.  I want to declare that I was surrounded by people who did and said the RIGHT things, and I want to share those things as a resource for whenever YOU have a girl who has been abused come across your path.  And finally, I want to offer hope to those who have been victims.  I want to say that this year, year 4, I didn’t even remember the day until my Facebook memories reminded me of it.  There is HOPE for HEALING.  A day, a moment, and a season does not have to steal your future.  

I’m in a new season of life now, in a new country with new people.  For a long time, this “thing” about me, this brokenness, was worn in such a way that it was just right up front.  People knew, it was a prominent part of my story.  I was in the midst of it, and in the midst of coping, dealing, healing. Now, it is still part of my story, still very defining.  However, it is not “the” defining thing, and God has brought me out into new territory after it.  Many people are new in my life and know nothing of it, because it doesn’t come up like it used to. It is important, though,  to remember Him and His works, and it is important to share the stories He gives us.  There are times when I feel like I shouldn’t share anymore, like He has healed me and I should just move on and be done with this testimony.  Not too long ago, I was reading “Through Gates of Splendor” by Elisabeth Elliot, the story that is famous around the world about her husband and his friends, killed on the mission field in the 50’s.  She shared these words as an afterward, written as a much older woman–

“I have not been allowed to forget the story. I would not have wanted to forget it, but there have been times when I have wondered if others might. Perhaps they have tired of it. Should I continue the retelling as I am so often asked to do? I spoke of my misgivings to Miss Corrie ten Boom who, as an old lady, indefatigably traveled the world to tell her own story over and over again, of her family’s providing refuge to Jews in Holland during World War II, of their being betrayed and imprisoned in a concentration camp, and of the deaths of her sister and aged father as a result. “Sometimes,” she told me, “I have said, ‘Lord, I must have something fresh. I cannot go on telling the old story.’ But the Lord said to me, ‘This is the story I gave you. You tell that one.’ ” So Corrie encouraged me to go on telling mine.”

And so I shall also go on sharing mine, because it is so full of the love of Jesus I can hardly stand it.  It is the worst thing that ever happened to me, and the way that God stopped me in my tracks and did a marvelous work as well. 

I’m going to share this in 3 parts, because it’s kind of a long story.  Part 3 will be all of the practical resources I can offer (or that were helpful to me), as well as an essay I wrote about 10 months after the rape which I have never shared until now.

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Kigali, Rwanda :: January 25, 2014

Oh, that day was such a fun day.  The whole day had a brightness about it, a sunshine and warmth.  The kids at the art program were delighted to come out to the studio on a Saturday, and on this day we were doing a special photography class. I had been in Rwanda for 3 weeks, and intended to stay another month or so before heading to Uganda.  I was fresh, oh so fresh, out of art school, ready to take on the world and serve in any way I could, particularly using my camera.  I was eager, I was green, I was naive by choice to many things and ridiculously optimistic.  I had spent the last 9 months of art school saving up for a big trip, part tourist and part serving work in a Christian mission, to explore my options for the future.  My own wedding and portraits business was really taking off, and I had quit all my part-time restaurant jobs months before to just do photography.  I also felt the continual call to the mission field, a nudging that had been a familiar companion since my early teens.  I had barely gotten out of art school still alive with my Christian faith, it being tested pretty persistently with the incredibly liberal and strange culture of art students,  drugs and drinking.  I had some big questions for God. To be completely honest, I had some pretty big pride and that awful Western “Savior complex”.  I had a desire for answers and the spare time to explore.

A friend connected me with an American woman who had been living in Rwanda for several years, running an after-school art program for kids in a rough neighborhood of Kigali.  She was headed to the States for a few months and wanted an intern to take over for her for a bit, which seemed like a perfect fit for me!  She provided me a place to live, and I came up with art and photography classes to teach, while learning the culture and the kids.  In the beginning of January 2014, just after arriving and getting situated for a few days, she left me and her program in the hands of an older Rwandan woman (who incidentally was out of town for nearly my entire stay there), and a young Rwandan man, the same age as me. I’m going to call him Charles and not use his real name.

That Saturday, we had a full house.  The kids were crowded into the studio, as well as using the cameras provided by the program to go outside and photograph the neighbors. The older kids had a line of people wanting to get passport photos.  The mamas were even around, with their pedal sewing machines set up in the shade outside, doing mending for the children and whoever stopped by to bring them pants. I felt like I was in my full glory, laughing and singing and dancing with the kids.  The girls decided I needed to learn how to balance things on my head like a Rwandan woman, so they tied a little girl to my back, and wrapped my head up in a scarf and balanced a bucket on top of it all.  We took turns photographing each other, I taught them some of the lighting techniques I had just learned in school.  In the afternoon, a downpour began and all the passersby crowded in to our tiny space for some shelter.

That evening, to celebrate the successful day, Charles suggested we go out to eat, and his cousin would meet us at the restaurant.  We did just that, and ate, drank, laughed.  I learned several new phrases in Kinyarwanda, I asked many questions about their lives and growing up in their country as it healed from its deep wounds.  About an hour in, I got super sick, and started throwing up at the restaurant. Never have I figured out if it was food poisoning or there was something in my drink, but I was violently ill all the same.  The restroom attendant thought I was drunk and said I had to leave the premises at once.  The two men I was with carried me to a taxi, as I couldn’t walk and was bent double with nausea, and agreed to take me home.  I was so sick in the taxi though, and the driver was not pleased, that Charles said he could take me to his house to rest for a bit, since it was right around the corner.

A lot is foggy, really.  I remember being laid out on a bed in a tiny two room “house” that was little more than a shack and being given a bucket.  I remember continually vomiting.  And I remember that he raped me. It was not violent, as I was pretty incapacitated and couldn’t fight him off.  It was all so confusing.  I hadn’t seen it coming at all, not even a little bit.  I just held still and searched my mind for what I could have done wrong, where I misunderstood the culture, what foolish mistakes I had made that day.

Kigali, Rwanda :: January 26, 2014

I went to the hospital to get some fluids because I was so dehydrated and afraid that the water would only make me worse.  I told them I had been raped, and the doctor told me that if I turned the man in, he’d get 25 years to life in prison.  The doctor gave me a pregnancy test, which terrified me, and I was also confused…didn’t this just happen? Surely you couldn’t know yet… I was in a state of shock though, and couldn’t think rationally.  I later Skyped one of my best friends back in Colorado and told her what had happened.  She immediately went next door and grabbed our pastor (who just happened to be her neighbor and home at the time), and we all got on Skype together.  She cried, my pastor cried, I just sat there stoney faced and confused.  They asked what I wanted to do, and I actually had to think through it a bit.  In the end, we decided to get me home and go from there…I didn’t want to leave Africa, or the kids program or my long trip I had planned out.  Yet, I also didn’t want to stay in a place where I was alone and so terribly oblivious to culture and legal systems.

Charles wanted me to be his girlfriend afterwards.  He came over later that day, and I confronted him.  I told him that what he had done was wrong.  He had fear in his eyes.  He never took responsibility for the act, but he was afraid which showed me he knew he was wrong.  I told him I was leaving and to never contact me again.  Maybe I should have turned him in to the police.  Maybe I enabled him to hurt someone else.  That responsibility has always felt heavy on my shoulders, but I also knew I was a single white girl in a foreign country and a fish out of water.  I learned some pretty serious cultural differences right there.  I was slapped in the face with the truth that I had a false sense of security and, dare I say, a sense of  invincibility as an American girl. I realized in that moment that women are looked at differently in different parts of the world, that I as a foreigner was viewed as loose and willing.  In that instance, from his point of view and cultural upbringing, I probably DID do everything that indicated I wanted intimacy with him.

This singular part of the story has been one of the hardest parts to overcome.  In hindsight, I should have taken some classes on culture before going.  I should have done more research and asked more people what were the appropriate ways to act around the men in that country.  But I didn’t.  So maybe I did communicate in many ways that I was completely unaware of that I wanted him.  Maybe had I gone with a more structured organization, maybe if I had been accountable to some others there, instead of just being left with this one guy… maybe maybe maybe.  Some of my questions have been worked out, but others not.

A few hours later, I was on the longest plane ride of my life, headed back toward the United States.

I’m going to say this right here, as an interjection into the story:  THE FACT THAT I TOLD SOMEONE RIGHT AWAY about being raped has probably been the greatest catalyst of healing from it.  I’m a terrible secret keeper, and usually my face reveals all anyway.  This time, it was to my advantage. Had I kept it a secret, I would have remained in Africa for another month or two.  The guilt and shame and lies would have ample time to take root, and then what?  I said something Day 1, and it has been to my advantage ever since then.  It made it easier to say something Day 2, and Day 3 and forward from there.  In the past 4 years, I have ended up hearing countless stories of women who either a) kept their rape a secret for months/years/decades and lived with the burden of its shame always in their souls or b) told someone and were accused that it was their fault or told to just forget about it.  I have MUCH more to say about this later on.  WHY on earth was the response to me sharing  gentle and compassionate, filled with tears and words of truth?  I don’t know.  God did it. He provided that, and the only reason I keep sharing my story is to offer it to other women as well.

The story doesn’t end there, of course.  There is SO MUCH REDEMPTION in this story I can still sometimes not even believe it. You’ll have to read Part 2 and Part 3 of the story, which are really the best parts and a testament to the grace and healing work of God.


Follow Kathryn’s blog here or follow her work with Reach Global and stunning photography on Instagram here.

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Treasure {four years later}

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.

——————————————————————-

January 2014

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])

Tattoo baptisms

The reality of my line of work is that when students come up to me and say, “Miss, I have something to tell you,” I’ve learned brace myself; typically that phrase is followed by some sort of confession or a pregnancy announcement. But when Lisa walked into my classroom and said those words to me last year, she didn’t seem upset or panicked (as is usual with the teenage pregnancy announcement shtick) so I took a deep breath and tried to shake some of the tension out of my shoulders that had instantly accumulated there.

“What’s up?” I asked as I shuffled papers around on my desk, failing miserably at being non-chalant.

“Uhm, maybe I’ll tell you later. You look busy.”

I didn’t protest and instead tried to take a deep breath and blow it off. Inevitably “DSS happened” and I got swept away with my day teaching, completely forgetting about Lisa and the emotional cliff she had left me hanging on.

After lunch, she sauntered into my classroom for senior English. Before I could say anything, she turned her back to me and swept her hair to the side. As she did so, she revealed a tattoo reaching down her upper spine that read God is love and only love.

“Whaaaaaat?! Lis, I love it!” I stammered, allowing my pulse to slow (incredibly relieved that the thing she was dying to tell me about that morning was just a tattoo).

“You like it?” She launched into a story about how she had been on the verge of making a stupid decision after getting into a fight with her mom over the weekend. “Instead of smoking weed or something though, I decided to go for a “solo” like we learned to do at the conference in Alaska. I grabbed my coat and walked for a few hours while I thought about everything I’ve learned about God at DSS and on our trip— you know, how He’s always there for us… how He loves us… all of that. As I kept walking, I kept thinking about Eric’s words in Port Alsworth: “God is love and only love”. Before I knew it, I was standing outside a tattoo parlor. I decided I never wanted to forget those words, so I got them inked on my back; I want to live my life knowing that God loves me.”

By this point, the bell to begin class had rung and I had an audience of senior girls staring at me like I had lost my mind as I stood next to Lisa with my hands cupped over my mouth and tears running down my cheeks.

“Oh Lis. That’s beautiful. And such a big commitment for someone who wasn’t all that sure about God (let alone, Jesus) at the beginning of this school year.”

“I know, Miss. But I wanted to write it on my heart— I want knowing God’s character to change everything I do.”

By this point, I was in full on water-works mode. “Do you guys know what a baptism is?” I choked out, turning to the rest of my class. (I figured we were studying Mere Christianity and Screwtape Letters, so this conversation was mildly pertinent to the rest of my girls for academic reasons.)

“Isn’t it when someone gets dunked in water?” One of my girls pipped up.

“Usually… Does anyone know why people get baptized?” I pressed, doing my best to dry my happy/ sappy tears and put on my teacher hat.

*Crickets*

“Baptism is a public declaration of a person’s faith in Jesus. When someone gets baptized they’re saying to the world that they want to follow Jesus and live their life in a changed way because of the way He has changed them.”

I glanced around the room and met a bunch of empty, unimpressed stares before catching Lisa’s eye.

“Lis, correct me if I’m wrong… but I think that’s what you did this weekend. I think you got a Street School style baptism…?”

She smiled slyly, nodded, and took her seat.

~ ~ ~

My tears that day (as strange as they must have seemed to the rest of my students) were all joy, enhanced by the knowledge that mere months before Lis made the conscious decision to declare her love for the Lord, she doubted His existence, His goodness, His love for her (or anyone else for that matter).

Today, I sat in a similar posture as Lisa had the day before she brushed her hair to the side and revealed her new ink. With my arm extended, I chose to have someone etch Truth into me— similar to the way the body of Christ, my friends and family have done over the last year since our plane disappeared.

IMG_0750It is for freedom – Script by the lovely Katie Brown

“It is for freedom Christ has set us free.”

Those words from Galatians 5:1 are ones I have spoken to myself often since the evening of December 7th, 2016.

I will never forget the out of body experience that came with being curled on my knees on my kitchen floor, clutching the phone on which my best friend in Alaska had just delivered the news of the disappearance of Scott, Kaitlyn, Zach, Kyle, and our plane. I will never be able to stop seeing myself there, nor can I seem to forget the feeling of all of my breath leaving my body as my head was plunged back under the icy waters of grief, not even six months after Kevin and Geno’s deaths. I can still vaguely feel the way my lungs remained contracted for months, unable to fully inhale for fear of breathing in water— my own tears. A very wise friend assured me one afternoon that maybe that season of feeling like I was under water was meant to be a baptism, not the vengeful drowning of me, an “unworthy sinner” by my most Holy God. (Oh how I have kept that wisdom close to my heart.)

The words from Galatians 5:1 are those which I heard the Lord whisper to my spirit upon my first ever flight as pilot-in-command in April of 2016. As I manned the yoke in our Cherokee and screamed, “Oh my God! I’m flying!! I’m flying a plane! Who thought this was a good idea?!” like the spazz I am, I almost audibly felt him calm me: Shhhhhhh, sweet girl. I have set you free so that the freedom of the gospel might be spread to places only planes can go; it is for freedom Christ has set us free.

Those words are the ones which Scott teased me for mercilessly when I said I wanted to get them tattooed on my arm once I solo-ed in the Cherokee for my pilot’s license. In his typical snarky way, He would always extend an interpretation of the verse to include: “do not be yoked again to the slavery of the ground!” where scripture says, “stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery.” Pilot jokes… they’re almost as bad as dad jokes… (And oh, Scott had such a knack for both.) 

Those words have been my constant reminder that the Lord has not allowed our loved ones’ deaths and Homecomings to be in vain; rather that their transference into the Heavens has been a means by which the gospel has been spread to the very ends of the earth— the most remote Alaskan villages, the Cambodian countryside, humble living rooms all over the US as Julie’s story has been written and read, and all over the world as the body of Christ has rallied our little Alaskan village in prayer.

Those words are a reminder of my calling in life: to be unashamed of the Freedom I carry within my bones because of what Christ has done on the cross, and to call others into that glorious Freedom.

So today, a day where my own grief and the grief I carry in my heart for my dear friends seems strong enough to suck me back under the icy waters, I chose to take a leaf out of Lisa’s book and baptize myself in Truth:

Even here, even now, the Truth remains that God is love and only love. In the midst of trials and sorrow, anniversaries of deaths, and the reminders of dreams and hopes deferred, my God is a God of freedom.

Christ came that we may be set free– that we might proclaim the beautiful, even if tragic, ways that His coming into world and our lives has changed everything.

Jesus, make our hearts believe.

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To love a murderer on Good Friday, Easter Sunday, & every day after

Working at the Denver Street School has ruined me for murderers: I’ve come to realize I love them and it regularly breaks my heart.

A few years back, my vice-principal and I started a running text chain. Some days it’s a mix of teaching memes and funny student quotes, but there are other days where we somberly exchange news articles with headlines written about our students.

This year alone we’ve exchanged two articles. The first explained that a prior student had been arrested for killing his three-month old daughter (accidentally or not, we’re still not sure). The second was a list of criminal charges a student from two years ago is facing. As I write this, he is awaiting arraignment for nine felony charges– including first-degree murder, first-, second-, and third-degree assault, and menacing with a deadly weapon, among others.

Fuller and my weird text chain began in 2014 with information regarding the murder of one of our then-current students. It was reinstated four months after Johnny’s death when we exchanged news articles about the arrest of another then-current student who had tried meth, then proceeded to attempt to kill a police officer while under the influence.

I’m far from a news junkie, but when I see my kiddos’ faces on news channels or in my Facebook feed, I can’t help but sit enveloped in the articles and subsequent comments from the public.

“Let him burn in hell.”

“Public execution. Maybe even firing squad.”

“A disgrace.”

“A waste of space.”

These are the words that strangers have said about my students, my babies.

And every. single. time. that I’ve gotten sucked into the wormhole of comments from the public, I’ve sat, shaking as I read them through tears.

In those moments, I know I’m crying for my students, for their victims, for each of the families and the various communities involved in the incident. I cry because I don’t understand how my students have come to make the choices they’ve made. And no matter how hard I try, I know I’ll never be able to reconcile the reality of the brokenness of this world in my heart.

But just as I’ve cried tears of sadness, I’ve also screamed in rage. In those moments I’m unbelievably angry at my students for what they’ve done, for who they’ve allowed themselves to become. As time progresses, that anger subsides though, often leaving my heart puzzled.

The days go on, but at least for a little while my students’ faces stay in my news feed attached to those horrid headlines; follow-up articles are published, and with them, more horrid comments from people whom I would argue need better hobbies.

As I scroll through the articles and read the death threats and aggressive comments about the students I love, every ounce of me wants to scream back,

“You don’t know them! You don’t see their struggles! You don’t know the abuse they’ve suffered at home, the pain they carry in their hearts, or the ways they have been set up to fail in this world since they were in their mother’s wombs!” 

Let me be clear.

I have no desire to make excuses for my students or their actions, but in those moments I feel trapped between a rock and a hard place– between the seemingly reasonable expectations of human decency and the calling to love and defend the students Jesus has placed in my care.

Thus, in those moments of blinding, complex sorrow and rage, I sit, confused. Feeling a little bit helpless. Saddened by the fact that the only thing I can do is pray and schedule a visit at the county jail to see the students I love.

Because that’s just it. I love my kids. I will love my kids no matter what they do, no matter who they become. And I wish I could convince the rest of the world to do so as well.

Maybe I’m blind or naive, but those students? The ones in Fuller and my text-chain, in your Facebook feed? They’re human. They’re kids I’ve played football with at lunch. I’ve read their stories in my English classes– stories where their “fictional characters” struggle to be men and women of character in gang and drug infested worlds, in “fictional settings” that are strikingly similar to those of their author’s.

I’ve taken these students on leadership retreats to the mountains. I’ve watched them build snowmen and sled and giggle like little kids. I’ve watched them cry out of frustration when they can’t figure out their math homework and literally run screaming down the halls with excitement when they pass a test.

These young people who have made horrid choices– either one incidentally or as a string of other poor choices– these people who have taken another’s life?

They’re young men and women I honestly trust with mine.

They’re sweet and goofy; they’re so much smarter than the choices they’ve made or the stigmas the world placed on them before (or after) they ended up in the orange jumpsuits they now wear.

It’s because of this that I’ve spent several of my planning periods this year tracking some of my favorite former students through the Colorado judicial system. Last week as I waited for the Denver county inmate search website to load, a meme popped up in that text chain, and I couldn’t help but laugh at just how weird this job of mine is.

As I stared at the slowly loading page, the comments from old news articles flashed through my mind, as did this old snapchat– a picture of the student I was trying to locate–

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In that moment, I glanced around my empty classroom, then down at the Bible on my desk and I was reminded that loving murderers probably isn’t a common aspect of most people’s jobs; in fact, outside of DSS, it’s probably rather rare. And outside of the relationships with Jesus that our school is built upon, I doubt that it’s possible.

But isn’t that just it?

Jesus had a heart for murderers. That’s what Easter is about.

The fact that King of the Universe came down to save His people from themselves and the sin that entangles them even though we couldn’t deserve it less.

Our perfect, benevolent Jesus came to rescue His people in love and restore them to relationship with the Father, even though they shouted, “Let Him be crucified!”, “I do not know Him!”, and “Do not release Him, the innocent, but Barabbas, the robber!” just days earlier.

Jesus came to save us even though we shout those words at Him and at each other with our lips, actions, and inactions every day.

We are murderers.

Each and every one of us.

And if we refuse to acknowledge that truth in our pride or arrogance, our own virtue or religiousity, then I firmly believe that we’ll miss out on the heart of Jesus.

If we can’t look at our sin, our own capability and guilt of murder against our King– and those created in His image– then we are in danger of missing so much of the beauty of Jesus and what He has done for us, even though we are so undeserving.

May we become a people who look upon the crucifix with a more full understanding of our sin, so that we might relish in the goodness and love of the truth that followed three days later– the words that continue to shake me to my core this morning: “He is not here; Christ has risen, just as He said He would.” (Matthew 28:6)

You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

(Romans 5:6-8)

 

“My People” — Redemption in Poetry on Inauguration Day

My favorite poem hangs in my bedroom just above an old, olive green foot locker and to the right of my Abuelo’s guitar. Even though I’ve been known to jokingly call Mary Oliver my “spirit animal” and I’ve had a Shakespeare anthology in my purse for the last few weeks, the poem isn’t either of theirs.

It’s an unassuming poem typed on regular white printer paper; its edges are frayed from IMG_8563.JPGbeing tucked into my journal as I’ve moved and traveled around the world over the last several years. I’ve become accustomed to carrying it with me because it speaks so deeply to both my heart and my roots.

This poem was handed in as a homework assignment four years ago by the only student I’ve ever almost had to call the cops on. When she wrote it, this student was fifteen and ohhhh, she was one of the toughest girls I’d ever met. At the time, I was a young, incredibly naive teacher and my classroom antics regularly illicited looks from her that could’ve killed. For two years, we battled each other– one strong willed Latina against another. And not long after my student handed in this poem, life became unmanageable and she had to leave high school for reasons beyond her control.

But several years later, she has reenrolled at the Street School for this semester. Today, she sat across from me at the long table in my classroom, her nose buried in a book and a familiar, sly smile on her face. She’s a different woman today than when I met her five years ago, when she wrote this poem in sophomore English, or even two years ago when she and I finally called a “truce” after finding common ground in tragedy at DSS.

Today when I looked into her eyes during English, I saw the softness and a hope that only a relationship with Christ can bring, along with a renewed passion for education and a sense of maturity brought on by a few difficult years out of school.

Having her back in my classroom after watching her fight for her future these last few years has proven to me that she is my hero. She is hardworking and determined, fire-y, yet kind, emotionally strong and incredibly hopeful. She is everything that makes me proud to be Latina– the great-granddaughter of immigrants who came to America from Mexico in a cattle car, dreaming of a better life for their children, for my father, for me.

When I looked into her eyes today, I could still see the sorrow that comes with being separated from her family back in Mexico– a sense of sorrow that has been there since we met. But above that, I can see the story of redemption the Lord is writing for her, her family, and the family she will likely one day mother. Through education and grace, Jesus is bringing hope for a future different than the fearful past she has lived.

I don’t know that there has ever been a more pertinent time for her poetic words to be shared than on this Inauguration Day. These are the words of a once terrified, angry young woman– one who hid behind an incredibly hard exterior because she saw fear as weakness, and weakness an impossibility if she and her family were going to survive in America. These are the words of a young woman finding her way through unspeakable circumstances, strife, and loss, yet still choosing to fight for possibility because she knows the God who fights for her.

So on this day, whether you’re celebrating a political victory or mourning what seems like a societal loss, I pray that the Lord grants you an eternal perspective today, as well as the grace to love our sojourning brothers and sisters well. May we love and care for our fellow sojourners, since we ourselves are exactly that.

My People

“Wake up, listen to the Mexican music,

It’s not made of tunes and rhythms.

Listen closely.

It’s the person in your yard working hard, making noise,

He who woke up early to feed his kids and didn’t have time to worry about himself.

The sweat on his forehead is honor, the dirt on his hands effort,

The money in his pocket is an everyday goal and freedom is just a word.

Fallen dreamers in the middle of a desert just to chase the uncatchable dream–

“The land of the free”.

Sunburns tell stories,

Cries tell the worries of my people.

Everyday they struggle, living in fear:

Sirens,

Bosses,

Discrimination for being a different color and race.

These people think we came to take their jobs,

The jobs that always pay my people less.

Raising their children in what they would never imagined their home place,

My people saying, “I’m Latino and not Mexican,” ’cause they’re scared to represent.

The day will come when we can get along.

It might be months, years, or even decades,

But we will rise through.

Someday, they will stop labeling my people criminals just for being dreamers…”

“Let brotherly love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unaware.”

(Hebrews 13:1-2)