Water into wine

“Miss!” He shouted as he threw open my classroom door and stuck half of his body in my room. I glanced up from my laptop and met the eyes of Sanchez*, one of my MANY beloved fourteen year old freshmen.

“Miss!!!” He yelled again, as if I hadn’t heard him the first time, when he nearly knocked my classroom door through the wall. “I’m gonna beat his a**!”

Laughing to myself, I glanced from Sanchez to one of my junior girls who was drawing in the rocking chair across from mine. She shook her head quietly as the same smirk I was wearing started to draw across her face.

Returning to the e-mail I had been writing, I mindlessly drawled, “That’s not very nice Sanchez… What would Jesus do?”

I glanced up to see him frowning in my direction, giving me his best Shut it, lady glare.

Just then a quiet giggle came from the rocking chair and Emily perked up. “Jesus would turn him into wine.”

I laughed so hard at the flippancy of her statement that I nearly dropped the computer that had been balancing on my knees. My kids are nothing if not absolutely hilarious.

~

About a month ago, I was laying in bed, talking on the phone with a friend. It was just a few days after Johnny had been murdered and I was really struggling to see the Light in our little school community and within my own heart.

“I know you can’t see it now,” she said. “But from the outside it’s really obvious that God’s doing a great work at DSS. Every time I pray for you guys I just keep thinking about when Jesus turned the water into wine in John 2. No one really knew about the miracle except for the servant and he didn’t even see it right away… and I think that’s kinda what you guys are doing. He’s turning water into wine at DSS and you get to see it first. That’s pretty cool…”

As I laid there listening to her, all I could think was Yupp. We’ve got plenty of water. Unfiltered, dirty, rough water… I mean freshmen… I mean water…

(Allow me to clarify: One of the reasons that this year has been so difficult is because our student body is SO young. In the last two years we’ve graduated 27 seniors– a record and miracle in itself! But when a school is only made up of roughly 40 kids at a time, losing that many leaders and replacing them with rambunctious, rough 14 year olds, well… it makes things a bit more interesting.

Sometimes this year it has felt like we’re all out of our “precious aged wine” and all we’ve got around here is water– freshmen that is. In fact, most days it feels like we’re drowning in the chaos of the freshmen…)

As my friend began to change subjects, I made a mental note of her observation, but honestly didn’t think much more of it. I had far too much to think about in those first few weeks anyway.

Or maybe I didn’t…

Maybe the only thing that I thought about for a while was why…

Why was Johnny gone? Why did God let this happen? Why did he randomly march into the principal’s office in October, sit down, and say, “I know I’m 18 with freshman credits. I know I’m not the best student. I know this is gonna be hard, but I want you all to teach me. I’m ready to learn.” Why on earth would He bring Johnny, a kid who had been at DSS three years earlier, back to the school only to have him there for less than a quarter before being murdered?!

My questions were repetitive. They swirled through my brain while I was awake and inundated my dreams when I fell asleep.

And I wasn’t the only one.

The Monday after we lost Johnny, the computer teacher and I sat down after school and processed what we knew about the investigation and what we had seen the week before.

I rambled through all of my “why” questions once more and she quietly hung her head and said,

Ya know, I’m not really one’a those ‘audible voice of God’ kinda people. When I pray, I usually don’t get answers right away. But this weekend, I was praying, asking the Lord all of those questions you just listed off…and I got an answer.

I was sitting there, asking God why, why, why?! and out of no where, He just said, ‘Because I want to be in the middle of this.’  And it dawned on me that He is.

More people than I can count have been praying for their family, our staff, and our students. People I don’t even know have told me they’re praying for peace in this city. I think He brought Johnny back here, not to stop this from happening, but so the aftermath would be covered in prayer and love… He’s gonna be glorified through whatever comes out of this.

I sat there, staring at my fidgety hands and breathed a sigh of relief. Even if it wasn’t what I necessarily wanted to hear, God had a plan, even in the darkest of situations.

~

As I sat in my rocking chair last Thursday, giggling and trying to collect my composure and the papers that I had dropped when Emily made me erupt into laughter, Sanchez remained in my door, clearly not nearly as amused as I was.

“But for real, Miss. Come here.” He demanded, motioning me to the doorway.

After collecting my mess, I grabbed my keys and followed him out the door.

“What’s up, dude?”

“Miss, I don’t want to end up like Johnny.” He said seriously as he stared straight at me.

My heart twitched and I swallowed back the emotional feeling that was starting to rise in the back of my throat. Unsure of what to say, I stammered out a simple, “Uh okay…” and kept my eyes locked on his.

“Miss, I’m not gonna tell you whose a** I want to kick, but I do want to give you this so I don’t do anything stupid.”

As he said that, he took off his hat, pulled a blade out from under the bill, and held it out for me to take.

“I found this and was gonna use it. But then I thought about Johnny and realized that I don’t want that to be me… I don’t want that to be the other guy either.”

With that, he turned on his heels and walked down the hall to lunch, leaving me stunned, standing in the hallway with a blade in my hand.

Water into wine, folks…

God is doing miracles within our walls everyday.

He is in the middle of our turbulent, freshmen infested water, turning it into wine. Sloooooowwwwwwly but surely. And He is being glorified by what may seem like the tiniest of miracles and positive decisions.

 

*Student’s name has been changed to protect their identity

Butterfly season

I seriously believe that every person who has been in ministry work for a while has had the “I quit” moment.

This moment comes when our work begins to feel pointless: So-and-so relapsed back into drugs. That kid got thrown into jail. My favorite woman at the shelter decided to run back to her abusive husband. The orphan I had been nurturing back to health for months died in my arms. These are all real stories that I’ve heard come from the mouths of my friends in ministry, and regardless of your ministry platform, I can guarantee that if you’ve seen these things, or things of that nature, that you’ve had that I quit moment.

Serenity is the 21 year old house mother at a home for women trying to escape homelessness, drug addiction, and domestic violence in Oklahoma. She spoke about her experience last weekend at Nomads saying,

I’ve had women break my heart. In fact, the first woman that I took into the house was also my first heartbreak when she chose to prematurely leave the program and return to life on the streets. I wanted to quit then, but I continued on. A few weeks later, I had a woman pull me into an alley and dig into every insecurity that I’ve ever felt. You’re too young to do this. You think you can run a home? You couldn’t even finish college. You’re stupid. You’re worthless. You’re… You’re… You’re… That day is the day that I tried to quit. I got into my car and instead of driving back to the [mission agency] headquarters, I started driving to Arkansas, where I’m from.

But as I was driving, it hit me. I was leaving everything and going to nothing. I had sold everything I owned. There was nothing left in Arkansas for me. My home was here now. My support system was here. And so I turned around and drove to my friend’s house at the headquarters, sat on his sofa, and cried for the afternoon. Eventually my ‘I quit’ turned into ‘I quit for the day. I don’t quit, but I can’t go back today.’

You see, I can’t quit. I can’t go back to living my old life. I am broken for these women now and there is nothing that could ever fill my heart like the calling that God has given me to live in this home with these women, even when they break me in turn.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve had my fair share of “I quit” moments. Things around the school seem exponentially more difficult than they have during any other fourth quarter I’ve ever seen. And I know that it’s spiritual warfare.

As a staff we are intentionally praying for and with our kids more. More of our kids have come to know Christ than I’ve ever seen in one school year and even more still have begun to seek Him. Students are asking for Bibles to read at home and asking to attend church with us.

These kids are thirsty for God.

And in turn, the devil is pissed.

It’s not something that I can put into words, but I can feel it in the depths of my soul whenever the ish hits the fan.

Part of our jobs is to be close with our students. And I’m not talking “I know each of your academic goals and reading level” close, but the kind of close that happens when you get crying phone calls at 2 am from a teenager and end up on their sofa eating Popsicles and processing life together.

My kids are my life and in turn, they know about my life.

They know my insecurities and weak places. They know where I struggle and stumble, and therefore they know just where to stab me when they are angry.

Because of this, I’ve gotten fairly wounded by the ones that I love as of late. I’ve spend my fair share of time crying in the hallway or in my coworkers’ classrooms.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that my students are the ones attacking me; to be honest, I don’t think they mean to hurt me. But I know the enemy does.

And so with every stab wound, he throws in some salt– the same salt every time. No one likes you. You’re stupid. You’re a b****. How did you get to be a teacher? You’re worthless. You’re too young to do this. God? He’s not using you for anything. You should just give up.

Last Thursday, as I sat in my empty classroom after school and sobbed, I was close to giving up and letting the darkness win. But God has created me to be far too stubborn for that nonsense.

So instead, I quit for the day and after work I bought a floppy sun hat, a pair of gardening gloves, a shovel, and absolutely went to town on weeding the garden of the house that I am currently staying at.

As I yanked plants out of the ground and cried, I also prayed. For my kids. For my coworkers. For my sanity. For protection from all of this insanity.

As I was nearing the end of my weeding mania, I sat against a fence post and took a break. Right then, a gross looking lime green caterpillar crawled onto the fence beside me.

I don’t understand how something so funny looking and gross can turn into something as beautiful as a butterfly. And then my English-teachery brain made a connection:

I love my students, but sometimes they are gross kinda like the caterpillar. No, they don’t ever look that weird (thank goodness) but because they’re still growing into butterflies, their actions and words are weird and gross sometimes. Sometimes they’re pokey and hard to hold onto, just like the creepy wormish thing crawling next to me.

But eventually that weird worm will turn into a butterfly and will be something that will take my breath away. And I know that God will do the same thing with my kiddos.

The darkness will not overcome us. They will grow into the magnificent young men and women that God is planning for them to be and I will be able to say that I survived working with a bunch of gross caterpillars while I sit and bask in the sunshine that will be butterfly season.

Like Serenity, I can’t quit. I love my weird little worms far too much. And in the most beautiful way possible, they’ve ruined my life. I can’t go back to living life without a parade of teenagers following me everywhere. I can’t go back to “normal” because God has called me to something so much more beautiful.

 

*Ps. Prayers are seriously SO appreciated right now. I know that God is bigger than all of the devil’s tomfoolery, but the onslaught of it is annoying. Prayers for protection and the mending of relationships within the school is also much appreciated. xo, Lou