Monthly Archives: August 2011

Gone, but not forgotten

The number of students and colleagues from MI who have told me they miss me in the last week or so has been nothing short of overwhelming.  On the one hand, it is rather hard being reminded of our separation, even though I left of my own accord.  For all my desire to come home, most of the time what I really wanted was to be in two places at once.  Tiny humans are tiny humans, and I will always derive some fulfillment from working with them no matter how dire the other circumstances of my life are.  On the other hand, it is nice to be remembered fondly, especially because one of my very worst fears is of being forgotten/ignored.  I deliberately chose last year to focus on relationship-building, and in that I should like to think that I was fairly successful.

The union and professional stance on social networking for teachers is to stay off it, but realistically it offers the best way to stay in touch with former students.  I simply can’t bear the thought of cutting off all contact completely, especially since I have changed schools so often in the last two years.  My policy is that I will only friend students who have graduated or are not in the district in which I am working.  I have a specific privacy setting for them so that they can see I exist and little else, though they are always able to send me messages.  I never friend students pre-emptively and I make my profile minimally searchable, so they usually find me through other staff members, which I am okay with.   When I am no longer professionally obliged to a student, I feel that it is okay to communicate my continued concern for their well-being in the medium that is most comfortable for them.

And then every once in a while, you have a much more immediate blast from the past.  I was working the crowd at orientation pre-registration yesterday when I turned around to see a student pointing at me and saying something to his mother.  I literally did a double-take because he was a student from my student-teaching days and I truly never expected to see any of those kids again (though I am FB friends with a few).  We caught up a bit and I confess I thanked my lucky stars that I wouldn’t have him again…hopefully he’s matured significantly since I last had him in class, but…some kids you just need to have only once in a lifetime.  It’ll be interesting teaching all freshmen and [fingers crossed for life stability] eventually seeing them graduate.

JJ commented almost a year ago about the transitory nature of our vocation, which reflects and perhaps magnifies the restlessness inherent to being 24 and single in this day and age.  I still feel oddly adrift at times and need to keep working on anchoring myself in the place God wants me to be, and a huge piece of that is submission.  I’ve been chewing on Jonah a lot recently and pray continually for the will and strength to obey.

Jonah 2:9 – But I, with shouts of grateful praise, will sacrifice to you. What I have vowed I will make good. I will say, ‘Salvation comes from the LORD.’”

Past, Present, Future

Reader Jessica asked in a comment on a previous post, “Every time I read your posts about teaching, I wonder if you could see yourself doing anything else?”  I have to say yes, but only because I have a very vivid (and sometimes overly impressionable) imagination.  I can see myself counseling or mentoring in a professional capacity with relative ease.  I can see myself as some sort writer with a not insignificant bit of stretching, but it is not implausible.  I can see myself as an accountant in my worst nightmares.

But I think that at the end of the day, I really only see myself as one other thing in life:

This was my response to a task we will have our students do next week during the Writing and Thinking Workshop.  It’s called a legacy quilt, and on their square students will have three figures, one each representing the student’s past, present, and future selves.

A letter to me

We are starting a series at church called “Storytellers,” focusing on the stories we tell ourselves about the past, present, future, ourselves, and others.  Inspired by Brad Paisley’s song, “Letter to Me,” and later struck by the eerie symmetry of the last 12 months, I wrote this piece and recorded it in a video that played at church today.  I’ve processed enough internally to be comfortable sharing with the world, and like many times in the past, the thought that it might help someone else in their journey is a great source of solace when I look back on the time of darkness.

Dear Jennifer,

I know you can’t hear me from where you are, but I write this for future reference, because I know we are going to go around this same track again at some point, not because  I won’t learn your lesson, I just need to learn it more deeply next time.  You are not expecting to come full circle in just a year’s time, and part of me wishes I could stop you from leaving Columbus at all.  But I can’t stop you, and even if I could, I’m not sure I would, because you’re going to grow despite, or perhaps because of, the adversity you’ll face.

I speak, of course, from the comfort of retrospect.  There will be many times this year when you feel like you’re dying, when death might feel like a mercy.  Beneath your smiles and optimism lies the great dark void that has been growing for several months now.  You’ve tried to fill it with work, empty it along with the food from your body, and cover it with a veil of control and competence. So far that charade has worked for you.  You think that somehow you will outrun your past; that for once you will get to leave instead of being left behind; that you get to forget instead of being forgotten.  But the void will grow if you do not confront it, if you keep trying to run and hide.  You will find yourself a seedling washed up on bare rock, struggling to find a foothold where there is none, starving for community as the light dims and the sea rises around you.  The work for which you left your home behind will be difficult and often unsatisfying.  Your students will disappoint you again and again, and you will start to question why you are here at all.  You will lose students to violence and poverty, colleagues to illness, friendships to distance, and the losses of the past will replay themselves over and over because they have never been truly heard.  You will realize, once again, that you are not a princess and life is not a fairy tale; the job and the relationship you think will save you are merely salve for a mortal wound, and too costly a salve at that.  As you stumble forward on broken legs, your gaze will drop inward and you will lose sight of God’s call and of God himself as you bind your heart with fear and isolation.

But then you will choose to stand, to walk forward, to seek a way out, and you are going to fall a hundred times before you finally regain your feet.  You will do what you think is right, but second-guess yourself again and again as the pain worsens instead of getting better.  But don’t be scared: this is not the pain of rejection, of loss, of defeat, of death.   This is a birthing pain, the pain of a surgeon’s incision to lance an infected boil, the pain of a butterfly splitting its chrysalis.  And like any infant, this reborn self needs safety and nourishment to grow, and so I have come home at last: to rest, to repent, to release, to renew.  I remember your suffering but do not hold onto it; I am more than my problems and more than my past.  Thank you for making mistakes, and thank you for seeking help to correct them.  I see you: you are special, but you are not alone.

Love and hope,

Me

Occupational Hazards

It’s been an interesting week being back at school but not actually seeing any students.  I am certainly grateful for the extra planning time–I don’t have to do content until the 12th–and it is definitely helpful to have the extra time for organizing my classroom (which the previous occupant left in shambles, so no pictures yet!) and getting to know the other staff members and culture of the school, which is definitely unique since it is an early college and a charter.  But I think I am getting antsy to actually be a teacher again, and my conversation today with a drop-in upperclassman definitely whetted that appetite.  (I am also, apparently, sufficiently far enough along in my career for my room to be a potential site for observations by education majors…go figure.)

Classes started at my old school today, and I had sent out a message through school e-mail to my former students letting them know that I would not be returning.  I’ve gotten several messages in reply as kids are logging back into their e-mails, and I feel not a small twinge of regret for leaving them, if mostly because of the difficulty inherent in starting over, but also because separation is never easy for me.

But I suppose I can take comfort in knowing that I did have an impact and made a good impression on my students, and I hope this means that they will also remember what they learned about themselves through my class and the relationships we built.

This was extremely difficult for me to read.  I guess it is wise to remember that no matter how much I do for these kids, their lives are entirely out of my control, and that no matter what they choose to do…a person’s a person, no matter how small.  That was a hard truth to stomach last year, too hard, but maybe it’s not inappropriate that it never gets easier.  Sometimes I wish I didn’t have to care so much that I still get nervous hearing about violence on the west side where I student-taught two years ago, that I save every note or letter a student has ever given me, that I see the name of a student who moved or dropped out and have to stop for a moment to catch my breath.  But I think that has less to do with what the students do than with how I respond internally and externally, and I guess I would choose my empathy and sensitivity over callousness and cynicism…and I do have to make that choice.

Concern for the Great City

For four years now my church has been volunteering at the Weinland Park Neighborhood Festival, held right before school starts.  WP is on the southeast side of campus and is what some might considered a blighted neighborhood, but from what little I understand there are a lot of people within and around the community that care a great deal about its well-being.  There’s been a bit of hubbub lately about gentrification as landlords renovate properties and raise rent beyond the means of  many long-time residents.  (WP has one of the highest concentrations of Section 8 housing in the county.)  I also remember reading an article a few months ago about how residents were irritated by outside researchers treating the neighborhood as a case study in urban sociology but nothing more, and I can see how certain actions might come across as very white-man’s-burden.  But I think what Weinland Park has going for it is the large number of people and organizations that have made WP their own home and are in it for the long haul.

It made me look critically at my own choices.  As much as I say I am a city girl (by which I actually mean “not a small-town girl”), I have lived the majority of my life in very suburban settings.  Though I lived on and around campus throughout college and grad school, as soon as I could I left and I confess that I don’t have much desire to go back.  I cite safety concerns, but if I’m honest, I think it’s dirty and noisy and I just don’t want to give up my own comfort to commit to making the city a better place.  (Although I guess there is the whole matter of my teaching on the east side.)

Jonah 4:11 – And should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left—and also many animals?

Some snapshots from the day, all of which, incidentally, make me want a new camera even more.  BUT I am forcing myself to be patient and actually earn/save conscientiously the money for it.   Until then…

Tagged ,

When the Pieces Do Fit

Two weeks ago, I was in another of my catastrophic I’m-going-to-end-up-driving-a-garbage-truck-naked moods, despite having secured an interview for a position at OSU the following week.  On a whim (subconsciously influenced once again by The One that Got Away, hahahahaha), I e-mailed a man with whom I had spoken last year at the TeachOhio job fair.  He was the dean at The Charles School, a charter school early college in Columbus, and had wanted to schedule an interview…but Lima called that very day with a job offer and I never interviewed.  Anyway, I sent him my current resume with a note saying, “I know it’s a long shot, but…”

Within about an hour, I got a call asking me to interview for a new position.  No redundant 42-page application, no hackneyed essay questions, just a conversation from a year ago that apparently made enough of an impression to open a door that I’d forgotten about.  For about a month and a half, I’ve prayed that if God wants me in the classroom, He has to show me the way, and here it was.  I was offered the job the day after my interview, but I wanted to hear back about the OSU position first, just to confirm my intuition that high school was still the place for me right now.

I mustn’t forget to mention that this charter school is not all rainbows and unicorns.  The physical facilities are worse even than those in Lima, and I would once again be joining a small staff and most likely expected to play a lot of different roles.  I would be teaching physical science, which is probably my weakest subject…but even at the interview, I was already brainstorming the types of projects which are much easier to integrate for physical science than perhaps any other content area.  After talking with a classmate who worked in the same family of charter schools, I was reminded that no school is perfect, no student is perfect, no job is perfect, and that is something that I struggle with a lot, as a consummate romantic and idealist.  As I learned more about the school, its resemblance to my previous district began to give me pause.  But somehow I knew that this was God giving me a chance to get back on the horse that threw me, but now I wasn’t so sure I wanted to.

I accepted the job yesterday, but instead of the peace (and sometimes elation) that comes with having made a decision, I felt not a small amount of trepidation.  This anxiety of course freaked me out, but as I interrogated that feeling I realized that this may not necessarily be unhealthy, for my year in Lima taught me the importance of frequent reality checks and keeping my eyes as wide open as possible.  Before I officially decided, I was excited by the potential of a new job, but after I said yes I felt inexplicably trapped.  What if I was disappointed again by the students and the school?  What if it was all too much for me to handle?  But if I have learned nothing else this year, it is that no situation or circumstance or person has the power to bring me joy, and I am the one who must choose to accept joy every day.

As I was processing and praying last night and this morning, I realized that though I have often resisted this summer of waiting, I needed it to renew my dependence on God.  And that is what I most fear losing again, that fickle and fragile love for Him that I have worked so hard to regain.  But I prayed for balance, for boundaries, for priorities, for forgiveness and the ability to forgive, for trust and trustworthiness, and I know God will provide.

Last night I started reading a book given to me by a dear friend when I moved from Columbus at exactly this time last year.  When the Pieces Don’t Fit describes a teacher in an inner-city school and it could have been written about me, although to be honest she faced much worse than I did last year.  But I saw my reflection in the way she questioned God’s will in bringing her to such a place, the way she won students’ respect by showing them she cared, and the way she got students to believe that they mattered.  (Well, that last one is still a goal of mine.)  It was just very encouraging, and the title of the book echoed the words I’d used days before to describe this opportunity at the Charles School.

In my experience, God doesn’t do blatant confirmation very often, but the little assurances are nice.  Before my interview, I went to Jo-Ann’s and optimistically bought a bunch of school supplies, one of which was a set of bulletin board decorations shaped like…puzzle pieces.  My thought was to have a theme for my incoming freshmen, “Where Do I Fit?” since high school is a time of identity formation and I’d like to be a positive influence on that process.  And it looks like I’m going to find my fit as well.

Straight

I learned a simple but powerful object lesson at my free boxing class last week.

When squatting, you want to keep your back straight to minimize strain and maximize the use of the target muscles.  But it’s easy to round the back, especially when you’re tired.  The former Army drill sergeant instructed us how to avoid this, however: “Look up, and your back will automatically straighten.”

When we keep our eyes on God, rather than on the mess around or inside us, it becomes (a little) easier to stand up straight.

Proverbs 4:25 – Let your eyes look straight ahead; fix your gaze directly before you.

Allergies

I used to describe my off days as days when I was having an allergic reaction to the universe, and I’ve only just realized how apt a metaphor that is.  Physically, I am allergic to nearly every type of animal dander, many types of pollen, and dust mites, among others that I’m sure my allergist could enumerate better.  Emotionally, I seem to be allergic to…everyone.

The body’s immune system works by recognizing certain substances as SELF and everything else as OTHER.  The body then produces antibodies in response to dangerous OTHERS that trigger responses in other cells that manifest as the familiar allergic symptoms .  An allergy, therefore, is an overreaction to harmless OTHERS.

I have come to realize, not for the first time, that I am extremely defensive of my SELF.  I am a consummate Four in Enneagram theory, whose basic desire is to feel special and be seen for who I am, although I believe that my first instinctual variant is still Intimacy rather than Self-Preservation.  All my life I have felt different from those around me, and I embraced that to be my identity because I didn’t know how else to deal the loneliness of being OTHER.  But in doing so, I lashed out against anything that is not SELF, or what I define as SELF: other beliefs, other perspectives, other preferences, other functions, other opinions.  And that only furthered my isolation.

Studies have shown that children who grow up in too clean environments have a greater tendency to develop allergies, while children who are exposed at a young age to dirt and dust have primed their immune systems to respond appropriately to common triggers.  I grew up alone, not just in the sense that I was an only child for six and a half years, but my parents were less involved in the world outside their private universe when I was growing up.  Mostly, though, it was my innate sense of outré that I fed consciously and unconsciously.

When my SELF feels threatened, several things can happen.  Sometimes I try to adapt to the OTHER, which only drives SELF crazier because she feels ignored.  (I go to Two, in Enneagram-speak.)  Sometimes I go on the attack, telling the OTHER that they are wrong and bad and unacceptable because that’s actually how SELF feels.  (The worst side of One.)  Sometimes I go Sevening, looking for whatever distractions I can stuff SELF with if only to shut her up.  All of this has had crippling effects on my intimate relationships.

What to do?  In therapy, I learned that every feeling just wants to be heard, but I am still learning how to acknowledge my feelings without indulging them.  Having principles to ground in helps, and I had that more strongly in college than I have had for the last few years.  I am coming back to that, however, through reading Scripture, prayer, worship, and fellowship.  (It was a conversation in church yesterday about productive disagreement that prompted this insight.)  My hope is that I am back on track to the woman I am becoming.

And just to make sure I’m not taking myself too seriously, ridiculously cute things to which I am deathly allergic.

Tagged

una carta

Querido,

“Pongámonos de acuerdo en desacuerdo” ¿No fue una de las primeras cosas que me dijo, aunque sea indirectamente? Fue la primera vez que mi corazón se agita en respuesta a ti, como las ondas del estanque bajo el viento inquieto. Vi en ti las fortalezas que todavía no tenía yo—o, tal vez mejor dicho, las que había olvidado, y yo quería aprender de ti. Pero no dejé de lado las ideas falsas de mí mismo que he llevado durante tanto tiempo: que no soy digno de amor, que tengo que desempeñar para conseguir lo que quiero, que mis necesidades no serán satisfechas, que el dolor es insoportable. Y por eso no podría aprender de tu fuerza, sino que llamó a uno en el otro las mismas mentiras, como ecos en una habitación vacía: no estás seguro, no eres suficiente, eres demasiado; corre, corre, corre. Nos olvidamos de la esencia que compartimos y vi sólo las diferencias, quizá más, porque mi identidad proviene en gran medida de ser diferente, de ser YO mismo. Y al igual que un sistema inmune alérgica, que arremeter contra todo lo que no es PROPIA, ya que parece ser un enemigo. Pero no eres mi enemigo, eres mi hermano. Yo me crié solo y por lo tanto no sabía nada en cómo reaccionar al OTRO. Perdóname por las veces cuando mi miedo no te permite ser tú mismo.Todavía me sorprende, en muchos niveles, y ruego a Dios que me conceda el privilegio de ver a todo el hombre se vuelve. Espero que algún día le muestre a la mujer que me estoy convirtiendo. Pero hasta entonces, tú eres tú, y yo soy yo, y pongámonos de acuerdo en desacuerdo.

No sé si alguna vez va a leer esto, pero yo escribo esto para que pueda decir verdad, en las palabras de Maia Sharp, “Yo no lo he dicho, pero ya te dije.”

Tagged

mercy (not)killing

"No, my lord! No, my lord. Let him go. Enough blood has been spilt on his account."

Psalm 58:11 – But do not kill them [those who slander me], O LORD our shield, or my people will forget. In your might make them wander about, and bring them down.

Maybe there is a reason that our enemies persist even after we have escaped their power: to remind us of how much we have gained in Christ, as well as how much we stand to lose.  Then, LORD, I ask not for delivery from depression and self-hatred but mastery of it.  For if these demons are merely corruptions of my best self, as I remain convinced they are, it will not do to get rid of them entirely, will it?

It is harder, though, to accept this in the context of social injustice.  I heard a story on Sunday while we were distributing literature for Doma, an organization that fights human trafficking in Columbus and around the world, about a pimp approaching girls who used to belong to them and taunting them about the impermanence of their recovery. How I can empathize with the desperation and disgust those girls must feel hearing that dreadful demon despair whisper: You will never be free…

And then how is it that these people (for I must remember that they still are) remain out in the streets spreading their poison?  Why can’t we rip such problems up by the roots?  Can it be that God allows evil to persist to remind us of our need for him?  Hmmm.  That makes God sound needlessly petty and powerless.  No, I think that such is the nature of fallen man that we persist in our own evil until someone shows us the Way out.  The long, arduous Way the ultimately results in the death of our former self…and the birth of the new.

Greater minds than mine have pondered the problem of evil, so I’m not going to pretend to have anything to add to that conversation except to share how it is relevant to me. I can’t remember who said this–possibly Yancey or Strobel–but I think it bears remembering: while many have ruminated and apostatized over the problem of evil, how few have considered the problem of pleasure!  Why, in a purely mechanistic and materialistic world, should anything be good?  And yet it is undeniably so…