A Safe Haven

I haven’t written about work or my students in a while, and to be honest, it’s because I’m a bit crispy around the edges. By no means am I “burnt out”, but teaching “at-risk youth” day-in and day-out without seeing much change or success is exhausting to say the least.

In the last month alone, I have had students confide in me that they are suicidal, re-addicted to drugs and alcohol, being abused at home, homeless, self-harming… You name it, I’ve probably had a conversation about it with a student lately. Every time I sit and look into the teary eyes of one of my students during one of those talks, my heart splits in two.

I just want to go all “momma-bird” and swoop them up, let them live in my house, so that they can be removed from their circumstances, and love on them… but given the fact that I live in a glorified shoebox, I can’t. And thus, my heart breaks even more.

I know in my heart that God is the only one that can truly rescue my kiddos and deliver them from their circumstances, but sometimes not being able to provide a safe haven for them makes me feel like a failure as a teacher and advocate.

But today I was reminded that I am a part of a safe haven– a place that God led my boss to found and build 29 years ago– The Denver Street School.

This afternoon, my phone buzzed with a Facebook notification from the lovely and talented Kathryn Bronn. Kathryn is an art student who has partnered with the Street School for the last two years. She has provided free senior pictures to our students, free staff portraits for the teachers and faculty, and she has even poured countless hours into the making of a documentary for the school and two music videos. The notification I received today was telling me that this year’s music video had just been finished.

I clicked the link and as soon as I hit play, my eyes started tearing up and I swear I felt like I had butterflies in my heart.

The teenagers in the video below aren’t just my students– they are my kids… and they’re “playing” because they know that they’re at home.

There are felons, drug addicts, and current and former gang members singing in this video. There are kids that have been thrown out of their homes and have lived on the streets dancing. There are girls who have traded their bodies for love and acceptance, only to be crushed, giggling, and boys who have suffered unspeakable abuse smiling.

This video was a perfectly timed reminder that God is doing something in each and every one of their lives… Even when I don’t see the daily changes, I can rest in confidence knowing that He brought them into the DSS family for a reason and that He loves them more than I ever will.

Thank you Kathryn, you are a beautiful soul and I am beyond thankful for the work that you have done for our school!

11 You have turned for me my mourning into dancing;
you have loosed my sackcloth
and clothed me with gladness,
12 that my glory may sing your praise and not be silent.
O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever!”

(Psalm 30:11-12)

Tell me once again…

I am many things.

I’m a daughter, a student, a teacher, a friend, a sister, an auntie, a niece, and a cousin— just to name a few of the many positions that I fulfill in life.

This summer, I have had the privilege of bouncing back and forth between Colorado and California, focusing on the last two “jobs” on that list as I act as a live-in nanny for my aunt’s two-year old daughter Monica.

Staying out in the Bay Area again has been great. I’ve met new people, seen old friends from Berkeley, and have had amazing home cooked Mexican food and fresh fish for almost every meal. But most importantly, I’ve gotten to build a new layer into my relationship with my aunt.

Being the only two girls on my dad’s side of my family for nearly two decades, my aunt and I have always been very close. In fact, when I was a little kid, I essentially wanted to be my Aunt Vee when I “grew up”.

She has influenced every decision in my life from wanting to be a cheerleader in high school to where I applied for college to what NFL team I cheer for. (Raider Nation, baby! Sorry… couldn’t resist.)

When we’re together, my aunt and I always have a great time. But no matter how much I love my second home with her and her little family, I can’t help but feel a bit stressed out here.

You see, in Colorado I know exactly who I am. I have a routine. I have my job and friends. I even have a regular coffee shop where the owner knows exactly how I like my coffee (and occasionally my breakfast) made.

In Colorado, I’m someone’s teacher, someone’s intellectual equal, someone’s best friend.

But here, I’m just “Vee’s niece. You know, the tall one that used to have a cute Latina afro and little pink boots when she was three…”

Here I’m the bridge between two generations; not an adult in the eyes of my family, but certainly over qualified (and far too tall) to be considered a child by anyone’s standards.

I’m living in a weird flux state where I can’t quite figure out my identity in this new place. I don’t know if I’m coming or going, but I do know that this situation makes me want to get on the first plane and go back home to Colorado.

I know that retreating back to my comfort zone won’t do me any favors. I know that my identity is in (or should be in) my Heavenly Father, and not rooted in who I say I am or who my family views me as.

I know all of this, but I still have identity vertigo.

I’m well aware that I’m not the first, or only twenty-something-year-old to feel this way. But I want a definite answer about who I am, in every situation, not just at home. I want to take the control away from God and say “Look Buddy, I’m getting whiplash here. Just give me an answer before I lose my mind!”

And there in lies my problem. I am trying to discover who I am on my own… and in that process I am removing God. The same God who is the one true root of my identity; The one who knows me better than anyone, including my aunt or even my closest friends.

In the middle of my panic and vertigo, I am reminded…

I’m the one You love, that will be enough.”

“But now thus says the Lord, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.

~Isaiah 43:1

A Letter to a Five Year Old…

DSCN6829

Dear JR,

Five years ago today, my world changed.

I was driving back to Denver after a missions trip to the Navajo Reservation in New Mexico, when I got a text message from your mom that read something to the effect of “GET HERE NOW!” with a picture of a teensy tiny baby boy tangled in wires and tubes– you had just been born, a month early.

I frantically drove home as quickly as I could and my first stop once I was back in the city was Children’s Hospital. You were waiting for me in a small incubator with an orange tag reading “Isaac Maurice Martinez, Junior” taped near your feet. Tiny and perfect you opened your eyes and I was in love for the second time in my life.

The doctors told us you might not make it, or that you would be in the hospital for months on the off chance that you did… But you were a fighter and were out of the hospital and into the world in seemingly no time at all.

I used to sit on the sofa in your mom’s house & rock you back and forth late at night, trying to create some comfort in your insanely turbulent world. You were never fussy, even in the midst of the screaming and chaos that took place in your home. You would just lay in my lap and smile at me with your bright green eyes and rosy little lips, and I would melt. I pray that today, five years later that you still have that same beautiful, calm disposition. I pray that God has brought you into a new family where “abuse” never becomes a part of your vocabulary and 911 aren’t the first numbers that you can string together.

Today I might not be able to give you a birthday cake, a present, or even a hug, but I can (and will) send a bundle of prayers up to the Big Guy for you, as I have everyday since you and Mary Ray left my arms. I don’t know what you’re “into” now; maybe you still love animals, maybe you’ve become more of a car guy… Either way, I hope your new family is spoiling you rotten today.

I hope you know that no matter how dysfunctional our tiny family has become, or how many miles we are separated by, that I love you to the end of the universe and back, and that is why I made the choice for you and your sister that I did. I had to give you up so that you could have a chance to make it to your 5th, 10th, & 50th birthdays; I had to give you up even though it just about killed me.

Happy 5th birthday baby. I’ll be loving you always…

Forever,

your Momma K