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])

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Intentional, boring bravery

How did this become my life? I wondered the other day as I sat in standstill traffic on I-70, listening to NPR and staring at the miles of cars and the western, afternoon sun before me. How did I get here? I mean, how did my life go from flying bush planes in the Alaskan wilderness and teaching English in floating villages in Cambodia to this? To being a principal, a disciplinarian? The consistent one in my students’ lives? An afternoon traffic NPR listener? How did I end up in this space where my not so fleeting thoughts consist of mortgages and long-term plans to settle into a city when just a little over a year ago I sobbed at the thought of living in America long-term? How did we get here?

One morning last September as I walked into the quiet school hallway, I nearly audibly heard the Lord tell me that my time in the classroom was coming to an end and that I would be moving into administration. I scoffed at the thought and let out a little laugh. An end? But Lord, I’m just now coming back to teaching… (Full disclosure: I scoffed at the thought for other reasons too. The greatest of these being that never, ever, in a million years did I want to become an administrator. Funny how the Lord, works, eh?)

A week or so later, the theme of “rootedness” began popping up in everything I listened to and read, in every quiet time or moment of mediation I took. I noted this theme in my journal and to a few close girlfriends, but brushed it off as a coincidence, or my own confusion– maybe a combination of both. After all, as one of my favorite songs goes,

“I’ve got dreams that keep me up in the dead of night telling me I wasn’t made for the simple life” (NeedtoBreathe, “Happiness”).

I’ve always been a hungry person. I was made for new, for more, for adventure.

I feel nearest to the heart of God when I’m suspended thousands of feet in the air.

I’m energized by the idea of being able to step into change.

Heck, I once stood on my metaphorical soapbox and shouted to the masses that I don’t think I’m a woman created to pay a mortgage. 

And yet, here I sit, staring at the afternoon sun day after day on my long commute home from work. With each day’s commute, I’m being pushed into this new, foreign season a bit more. One in which I know the Lord is calling me to be a stable, consistent, loving force for my students at DSS. I’m being called to be(come) a woman who keeps showing up in the hard places of my students’ lives at the Street School day after day, potentially year after year… and for some reason that’s more difficult for me than all of the jet lag, language barriers, transition and culture shock in my recent life experience combined.

Slowly, ohhhhh sooooo slowly, I am learning to be fully present here in Denver, where I’ve been re-planted.

I’m learning to give all of myself to the Lord in a place that really isn’t all that exciting or new. Even more slowly I’m realizing that doing so isn’t any less brave than the days where I was called to don my winter gear and hop into a plane to fly a few villages down and help mitigate domestic violence situations or assist with medical emergencies.

As the brilliant and wise Shauna Niequest says in her book Present Over Perfect,

“Sometimes brave looks more like staying when you want to leave, telling the truth when all you want to do is change the subject.

Sometimes obedience means climbing a mountain. Sometimes obedience means staying home. Sometimes brave looks like building something big and shiny. Sometimes it means dismantling a machine that threatened to overshadow much more important things.

We’re addicted to big and sweeping and photo-ready– crossing oceans, changing it all, starting new things, dreams and visions and challenges, marathons and flights and ascending tall peaks.

But the rush to scramble up onto platforms, to cross oceans, to be heard and seen and known sometimes comes at a cost, and sometimes the most beautiful things we do are invisible, unsexy…

Sometimes being brave is being quiet. Being brave is getting off the drug of performance. For me, being brave is trusting that what my God is asking of me, what my family and community is asking from me, is totally different than what our culture says I should do.

Sometimes, brave looks boring, and that’s totally, absolutely, okay” (p. 125-126).

Amen.

Today bravery in my world looks a lot like this view. Bravery means trusting that I’m meant to sit at this desk and tend to transcripts and curriculum in between shepherding my students (read: “hearding my teenage cats”).  IMG_0001

Bravery means trusting that Jesus truly is sovereign, and that He knew what He was doing when He called me out of my little Alaskan wilderness life and back to Denver on a (semi?) permanent basis, just as much as He knew what He was doing when He took me there. Bravery means trusting Jesus to do the work that seems impossible in my students’ hearts. Bravery means believing the resurrection and praying it over my loved ones when they still see it as folly. Bravery means responding in love when I’m cussed out at work, then cut off in rush hour traffic. Bravery means obedience to God in both place and perspective.

To my stay-at-home-momma friends, world-traveler-missionary friends, big-business-tycoon friends, in-the-trenches-judicial-department friends, full-time-ministry friends, Light-bringing-artist friends, and those of you whose vocation or occupation don’t fall into any of those categories– I beg you to look up, beyond this post. 

I’m going to venture to guess that whatever is beyond the screen you’re reading this on is your larger sphere of influence. I simply want to remind you that being there, being a consistent, loving, embodiment of Christ where He put you today is brave. And I applaud you for the ways you are changing the world.

Because in a time where the news headlines are teeming with stories of genocide and mass shootings, the world needs Jesus’ brand of brave Love and Hope– the one which He is working in and through you right where he has planted you for this season.

So press on, brave soul. Brave may feel boring to you today, but even in the mundane, our labors of and for Love are not in vain.

“Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain” for death has been swallowed up in victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 15:58, 54)

“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)