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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You are my Treasure

It had been a long, emotionally-charged week and it dawned on me that somehow it was only Tuesday evening.

At that point, the majority of my belongings were already packed and I was sitting on a sofa that wasn’t mine in a house that I have considered my home for well over a year.

The mixed emotions of leaving and staying, investing and moving on, packing my home while I unpacked my classroom for a month more at the Denver Street School were making me even crazier than I usually feel. I tried to quiet my mind and focus on spending time with Jesus, but my brain continued to eavesdrop on my roommates’ conversation about some tv show in the front room. I pulled my headphones out of my bag, shoved them in my ears, and flipped open to a new page in my journal, fully intending to word-vomit at the foot of the Cross– something I’m a professional at.

As I traced my pen around the edge of my journal, my brain spun in a different direction.

Two days before, we had read Psalm 50 in church, and as I sat with my Bible balancing atop my knees, I heard verses 10-12 in my pastor’s voice ringing in my head:

“For every beast of the forest is Mine, the cattle on a thousand hills. I know all the birds of the hills, and all that moves in the field is Mine. If I were hungry, I would not tell you, for the world and its fullness are Mine.”

“There is no sacrifice that you could give God that He needs. He does not require anything of us except an offering– a sacrifice of thanksgiving, verse 14 tells us.” I replayed Brian’s sermon yet again in my mind.

Lord, I know you don’t require my sacrifice, but I want to give it all for you. I mean, I’m leaving everything here in Denver to follow you. Do you even give a rip?? What kind of God would call someone to follow them and then say that they need nothing? Not even my love? What does sacrifice look like if it’s not something I tangibly give up? Is that even a sacrifice at all?

I sat on the couch and scribbled furiously in my journal as wave after wave of confusion and emotion washed over me. A conglomeration of this summer’s Psalms sermons all came to mind at once.

He doesn’t need our sacrifice; He doesn’t need our love. But not because He is uncaring, no. He doesn’t need our love or admiration because He is already complete. He is all powerful. All knowing. He is the God that delights in us– the one who sings over us and mends the broken hearts that we bring and sacrifice to Him.

As I sat and wrestled, unsure of what sacrifice looked like– in my life and just in general, my Spotify shuffled and Adoleo’s new song came on.

“My God, I seek you; I solely thirst for you. Because Your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise You. Like a treasure in the field, I’ll sell everything. To find You, to find that You’re worth everything. For you are my treasure and none compares with you. Your love is greater than all else I run to.”

As I took in the lyrics and haunting melody, I flipped to Matthew 13– “The Parable of the Field” that Emily was singing about in my headphones.

“The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in the field, which a man found and hid again; and from joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.”

(Matthew 13:44)

Lord, I’m selling everything. Well, technically I’m putting it all in storage.. but You get the point. What are You trying to show me with this? I am sacrificing for You, but it doesn’t feel like enough. I feel like there’s something else that I’m supposed to see here…

I sat in semi-annoyed silence, my pen paused on my journal. And from the weird, deep Spirit place inside my brain, it came:

I am the one who sacrificed for you. You are my treasure– the one I sing over– the one for whom I am so jealous that I gave up everything I had and came for you– dying on the cross. I gave up my throne. I gave up perfect unity within Myself and I came for you. And not only did I come for you, but I came in Joy and bought you at the highest price. Because I love you.

After a week of meditating, wrestling, and praying through the way the Lord flipped this parable on its head for me, I have realized that it is true.

My sacrifices are not in vain; no, He see’s my sacrifice and He sings over it. Not because He needs it, but because He acknowledges my paltry offerings as the most that I think I can give and He loves them because He loves me. Unconditionally.

He sees my heart that is breaking as I say my good-byes and pack my favorite belongings back into boxes to be put back into storage for the umpteenth time in the last eight years.

He sees me and He sees you.

He knows what sacrifices we are making and yet even in the midst of those sacrifices, He reminds us– begs us to remember that all He wants is our hearts: “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit and a repentant heart. O Lord, You will not despise.” (Psalm 51:17)

May we lay down our hearts today as we lay plans and dream dreams because God will not despise or shun our hearts if we are offering them up to Him.

He knows we are imperfect; He knows we will probably always strive to please Him and be caught up in the web of trying to work out our salvation in good deeds and sacrifices. None of that surprises Him and none of that could cause Him to look down on us or stray from His steadfast love.

The steadfast love that caused Him to give His life for us– to call us His treasure.

You are His treasure. I am His treasure.

Do you hear that?!

He came for us, died for us, and in His unbelievable power raised Himself from death to come back for us once more.

May we remember that today and live out of the truth of Love.

Treasure

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 three weeks have been rough at the school. We’ve dealt with 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 week 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, yet 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.

Are you treasuring something instead of the Kingdom of God right now?

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])