Christian Social Justice

Last Saturday, after a happy hour meeting centered on social justice, four educators and I sat and discussed our schools and the diversity work happening within them. After some extended sharing about my school’s programs, racial demographic, and religious climate, a new acquaintance craned his head toward me in a sort of gesture mixing kindness, solidarity, and pity, and said, “You are in an odd place to be doing diversity work.”

I have been thinking about that comment more and more this past week as I think through the beauty and the complications of having a passion for diversity and social justice in a predominately white, conservative, Christian high school.

Today, I attended this year’s Educators for Social Change conference, and the first keynote speaker Keith Catone said, “I cannot keep calm and carry on, because I am filled with anxiety!” He laughed as he shared this statement. “Who here has felt anxiety recently due to the current political climate? Who has felt anger?” I raised my hand for both.

As Keith spoke about advocacy and agency, especially for the youth in our classrooms, he gave an example of a student-led walkout in Rhode Island, which occurred at 11:08a.m. the day president Trump was inaugurated. He spoke highly of the students’ decision, praising them for their ingenuity, their willingness to walk out during class time and take unexcused absences, their intelligence in asking adult leaders in the area to support them and meet them outside with supplies as they encountered police (presumably there for their protection). He said, as adults, we should not criticize them and ask each other whether they took the right action and what the consequences should be; we should instead be actively embracing the pedagogy of walking out. If we as adults did not “get this election right,” and they as students were not old enough to cast their vote, we should be paying attention to them. We should allow students to teach us about what they’re doing and why. We should let them take the lead and listen in to what they want for their future.

Keith spoke freely about his reservations, fears, and anxieties about a Trump administration. He joked with relative ease, seeming to hold an assumption that each person in the audience was anti-Trump and stood with him. And I understand this assumption in the sense that Trump’s presidency (thus far) and presidential race (in its entirety) has had little to do with inclusion and social justice, which was the purpose for our gathering today. However, I teach classrooms filled with a seeming majority (or a loud minority?) of Trump supporters. I teach in a place where students proudly wear “Make America Great Again” hats and Trump socks, where some scoff at the mere though that someone could be pro-choice or a feminist or support stricter gun laws. Sure, there are students who are pro-choice and who are feminists and who are supporters of stricter gun laws, but they seem to be a quiet minority – or at least don’t relish the idea of locking horns with a boasting Trump supporter in the middle of their school day.

This makes me ashamed and angry sometimes, quite honestly. This makes me reflect.

I have thus far endeavored to be a teacher who does not share my political or social views in the classroom – other than to help them critically think from different angles and play devil’s advocate to their ideas. When students tell me they want to write a research paper advocating for LGBTQ+ rights, I say, “Sure. Why are you passionate about this?” When another student wants to research transgender issues and says that everyone should just “stick to their born gender because all this transgender stuff just makes people uncomfortable,” I nod and say, “Okay. I’ll look forward to seeing what you find in your research, especially the opposing viewpoints.” Students all day contradict each other’s opinions, and in many ways, this is the beauty of America’s fabric. We are a United States who believes diverse views help create a vibrant and functioning democracy. However, I raised my hand today when Keith asked who else had increasing anxiety over the country’s current political climate. I raised my hand when he asked who was angry.

Those who doubt, question, and naysay about social justice work in my school community are probably not as high in numbers as they seem – just loud, persistent, and ever questioning our “agenda.” Yet, their voices make them seem more heavyweight than they are. So to support, for example, a student walkout at the time of a presidential inauguration seems extreme to me in my current teaching atmosphere. And yet, in the audience that surrounded me today, this stance was applauded, seemingly condoned as normal and right. Educators for Social Justice seemed clear in their convictions. But do they share those convictions in their classrooms? And is that right? And why do I stay quiet in mine? Is that right?

The challenge for me in vocally or actively supporting a walkout or any other form of student democratic resistance is this: to defend it asserts that the resistance is right. It assumes that the students are clear in their opinions and well informed and that we stand behind what their voices are saying, that we trust they have thought through it well. And on top of that, to share my political views would embolden some students and parents to think, “Yes! I knew that’s what she thought!” while very likely creating walls between myself and those students and parents who disagree with my views, breaking down relationship and limiting their full engagement and growth in my classroom. And for the record, I am not a proponent of walls, at least when it comes to countries and relationships…

Maybe I was raised not to act as an adolescent without parental and teacher permission, or maybe it is just me, but I know now that there is a moral – even more, a fundamentally Christian – lens with which our school (and I) view resistance and frankly any other earthly action. This lens asks us to analyze our and our students’ actions by filtering them through God’s laws and commands. If one of my students wants to publicly support Trump’s immigration ban, I must ask how that fits within a Christian view. If another student wants to protest the ban, I must critically assess how that fits. I suppose it depends upon how one interprets the Bible’s commands or if they are even thinking about them in the first place… However, with my faith as a guide, I do not believe that I can just support any old opinion that my students form and say, “Bravo! I stand with you! Use your voice and your agency!” I cannot condone just anything that they are swept up in as part of a cultural or political movement. My job is to help shape them, to help them see both sides (or even better, to change the either/or, us-against-them political narrative. Why must that be so?). My job is to sharpen them in such a way that they can make their own decisions in due time, teaching them to do so with their faith and their community in mind.

So, here is what I know:

  • Donald Trump is our president. I am praying for him and need to do so even more often.
  • I am a feminist.
  • I largely don’t worry about our safety as a nation; though I acknowledge that I have no idea what it is like to have my personal security seriously threatened.
  • I do not agree with Trump’s immigration ban.
  • I do worry about our gun laws.
  • I do want to love and embrace the LGBTQ community and let them know that even though their sexual orientation and lifestyle is not condoned by my faith, they have just as much inherent worth, value, and beauty as any other person in God’s creation.
  • I do think there is a huge racial wound still festering in America.

Here is what I don’t know:

  • So much.

 

But I’m willing to learn and to listen to both “sides,” and I want my students to do the same.

And I am left pondering two questions tonight – because I don’t actually think that I’m in an odd place to do diversity work. The one who created diversity – of landscape, of wildlife, of skin tones, of genders, of personalities and opinions – is the very God who I worship. And the Lord expects more from me, from my students, than just for us to be who we feel like being or to say and act on what we think and feel within a cultural and political climate. For that reason, I cannot and must not approach social justice and political resistance the same way that every other school does.

So here it is:

For a faith community built on the belief of Holy Scripture, a community for which unity in the body of Christ is paramount, a community in which any stance “in the minority opinion” sparks (or would very likely spark) criticism or an engulfing divide, how do I help my students take a stand? And how do they speak up and resist injustices without doing more harm to their community than good?

Here is what I have so far:

With love.

Please help me from there.

For my black brothers and sisters

 

I can only relay what I hear from black members and their loved ones in our fractured society – from those most publicized and from those most known and dear:

Fear, so much fear. For yourself, for your family, for especially your beautiful black sons, for your future, for your increasingly bitter heart…

Anger, sadness, profound disappointment, numbness, hopelessness… I am unable to encapsulate all you feel or know to be true. My words are too meager, too removed. However, I was reminded last night at a prayer vigil and this morning in reading the Word that God has much to say, Himself and through his people, and those words are strong and true and will come to pass.

In Psalm 6, while being pursued by enemies, David cries out in prayer:

Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am languishing;
    heal me, O Lord, for my bones are troubled.
My soul also is greatly troubled.
    But you, O Lord—how long?

Turn, O Lord, deliver my life;
    save me for the sake of your steadfast love.
For in death there is no remembrance of you;
    in Sheol who will give you praise?

I am weary with my moaning;
    every night I flood my bed with tears;
    I drench my couch with my weeping.
My eye wastes away because of grief;
    it grows weak because of all my foes.

Depart from me, all you workers of evil,
    for the Lord has heard the sound of my weeping.
The Lord has heard my plea;
    the Lord accepts my prayer.

He hears your pleas, too.

If it is of any encouragement, I have been praying Psalm 9 over you this morning, my dear brothers and sisters. May you be strengthened and your heart reoriented:

But the Lord sits enthroned forever;
    he has established his throne for justice,
and he judges the world with righteousness;
    he judges the peoples with uprightness.

The Lord is a stronghold for the oppressed,
    a stronghold in times of trouble.
10 And those who know your name put their trust in you,
    for you, O Lord, have not forsaken those who seek you.

11 Sing praises to the Lord, who sits enthroned in Zion!
    Tell among the peoples his deeds!
12 For he who avenges blood is mindful of them;
    he does not forget the cry of the afflicted.

13 Be gracious to me, O Lord!
    See my affliction from those who hate me,
    O you who lift me up from the gates of death,
14 that I may recount all your praises,
    that in the gates of the daughter of Zion
    I may rejoice in your salvation.

15 The nations have sunk in the pit that they made;
    in the net that they hid, their own foot has been caught.
16 The Lord has made himself known; he has executed judgment;
    the wicked are snared in the work of their own hands. Higgaion.[d]Selah

17 The wicked shall return to Sheol,
    all the nations that forget God.

18 For the needy shall not always be forgotten,
    and the hope of the poor shall not perish forever.

19 Arise, O Lord! Let not man prevail;
    let the nations be judged before you!
20 Put them in fear, O Lord!
    Let the nations know that they are but men! Selah

Take heart that the Lord hears you. He sees you. He knows your heart. You are not forgotten. Our God is one of equity, of justice, of caring for the afflicted and oppressed. I will seek justice and reconciliation with you now, here on this earth that I am called to help renew, and I know while we struggle for that realization, ultimately full justice, full equity, full judgment will be realized, without the mar of sin or error. That is the character of our God.

For now, while you respond with your family or publicly through prayer, protest, or other activism, hear the words of Paul in 1 Corinthians 16:

13 Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. 14 Let all that you do be done in love.

 

Standing with you,

Lauren

 

If Only These Walls Could Talk

The last two weeks have been a blur. We bought a new house – unexpectedly. It’s amazing. (YAY!) We had a short, euphoric celebration, and then our realtor(s) promptly told us that we had exactly three weeks to put our current house on the market. Say wha??? was probably my legitimate inside-noggin response. So now, life is a blur. We’re in the fast lane. It’s a work-constantly-sleep-less-try-not-to-vent-about-your-problems-because-everyone-else-is-exhausted-too-and-remember-this-is-all-supposed-to-be-rainbows-so-be-thankful-and-quick!-move-that-furniture-pack-those-boxes-rightnow!-don’t-forget-about-your-neglected-dog-don’t-panic-that-you’re-wayyyyyyy-behind-on-your-schoolwork- keep-moving-crash-wake-up—rinse-and-repeat. We are thankful but tired. Tired but thankful. Anything before the “but” doesn’t matter, right? So I have to type it both ways. Both are true.

We have one more week to get our house on the market, and all I know is that despite the thankfulness/exhaustion duality, I’m also in the in-between emotionally. I’m ready for this to be over, for us to be in our big, second, fairly-dreamy house, but at the same time, I’m not. The other night, like every night, we did all we could to pack and rearrange for more workers to come through. This time was new carpet installation in our office and bedroom, so the night before, we crammed and consolidated and stacked all furniture and personal belongings into our living and dining room. And yes, it is currently a ridiculous, hoarder-type maze in our house, and I might be currently nestled between several sets of blankets and bedding on my more-than-packed couch. I am most certainly peering out over my computer at dressers and bookshelves crowding my dining room, there are boxes and tubs piled high, and our mattress, box-spring, and bed are dismantled throughout the living room… but that’s not the only view I have. I’m also typing next to my sweet, snoozing dog (which is one of my very favorite things) with a clear view of my sleeping husband on the couch across from me, and they are both resting so peacefully on the two-couch living room cul-de-sac we’ve created around the coffee table. I woke up early, as I often do, and in the early morning stillness, I have been convinced to remember that our life may be messy right now, but I love this house, and I love our life. After all, wasn’t it just two months ago on that dizzyingly beautiful Christmas morning that we sat, just us, in the same spot on this couch, exchanging gifts with the sun warming our skin, and we agreed we didn’t need to go anywhere? We wanted to stay longer… Wow, how life changes in the blink of an eye…

I love this early morning peace, typing in this house on this couch, under this blanket. I love the sounds of the cars outside, their tires wet with the melted ice from last night as they rush by. I love my dining room (when it’s not stuffed with extra furniture) and the light that pours in from the bay windows each morning. Our little grass-green kitchen, which is now painted grey. Our back deck. My garden. The birds chirping good morning outside. The quirks of cozy, tiny rooms. Even the creak of the floors. The memories here. Even with all of the chaos, I am remembering to love it.

I’m in the in-between. I’m ready, but I’m not. Today, once these two sleepy dudes wake up, we will eat breakfast and the moving will start again. Furniture staged, packing resumed, cleaning progressing. Because we have to. We signed up for this. We have one more week. Ready or not, the realtors will come, and we will close and move in to our big, beautiful, new house, and one day (hopefully very soon), we will close on this house. I can already see us rejoicing when the sale goes through and we transition from one house to another. We grow increasingly excited for this move each day. But, I can also see that it will be an emotional day. I can see myself walking the empty rooms of this house, keys in hand to set on the counter and leave behind, touching every surface one last time, even remembering the first time I saw it. We opened the back door to the warm smell of chocolate chip cookies baking in the oven. The living room was eggplant purple and seemed positively huge, the storage downstairs endless, the back deck and corner lot near-perfect. Over the years, we’ve outgrown this small house and it doesn’t feel so near-perfect anymore, but it has been a great house, and it’s been ours. It makes my heart warm and sad to think about leaving it behind and to whom we will give the keys next. Will they love it well, as we did? Hopefully. Will they keep it the same? Surely not.

The next few weeks will be curious ones, for sure. They may continue to be fast and furious, and we both may continue to be sleep-deprived and over-extended. However, I’m resolving to do the best that I can to enjoy this little house while I still have it. To crawl over the clutter and packed boxes and have eyes to see the charm and the nostalgia. To try to wake up and not just go, but rather to linger and reflect. To sink into the couch a few more times in this room, give our dog Brooklyn a few more belly rubs on his favorite (newly carpeted) office floor. Walk my familiar, beloved neighborhood trails a few more times, even if it is frigid outside. There is a reason conclusions are difficult. They’re dual purpose – the end of something and the beginning of something else. This one will be no different. But here’s hoping that we can live somewhat well in the reality of both the ending and the beginning.

And here’s wishing that these walls could talk, so they could tell me they’ll miss us too…because these last seven years have flown by like lovely birds, and I’m afraid life won’t be slowing down much more from here.

On the Pain of Growing Up and Glimpsing the Story in Your Struggle

There are moments in life when the proverbial crap hits the fan, when all the world seems out of control, and if you could just pause your life for an instant, slow it down, and watch from the outside, you might actually laugh… at least to keep from crying.

I picture an old college apartment, you know, that dirty “boy” (or girl) who seemed to never clean and just live in the filth. You step into their place with a rather clear mind of perspective and see the chaos swirling, junk splayed out before you in the form of a drab, crowded room: dirty dishes and uncleaned mountains of laundry amidst stacks of files and work that somehow must be done. Brown, stained carpet (didn’t it used to be a lighter shade?). Overturned tray tables. Sad furniture, grey and bleak filing cabinets, cheap shelves sagging in the corners of the room, the oppressive weight of unread papers and unchecked to-do lists, all that was meant to be completed. Such good intentions; disaster in motion. You have a remote in your hand as if in a dream, so you step back a moment and reduce the scene’s speed from real-time to a type of distant slow motion: white paper swirling majestically, floating like so many torn leaves, the fan turning in a dull, fluid whir, caked dust drifting from the tips of the fan blades. You lift the remote gently and punch a button, reducing the room from a pause to a stop. Bewildered, you freeze, furrow your brows, turn on your heel, and walk hastily from the room. You can’t bear to look it this mess any longer.

When was that last moment for you? That day, week, month, year? What was a turning point in your life? When did you have to open your eyes a little (or perhaps very much) when an experience forever changed you? And, when did you find the clarity to look back at that room, that chaos in your life, and see it for what it was – a chasm in your heart and an awful wide-eyed glimpse at your reality?

I posed these questions to my students in response to a short story that we read about losing a piece of our innocence and in turn gaining compassion. This was in October.

Soon after, at the advent of second quarter, we began reading To Kill a Mockingbird and the theme continued: Scout’s childlike, playful demeanor slowly chipped away into a hard look at the world and the evil therein. The stories kept connecting.

Two days ago, a mother and beloved fellow teacher shared a sliver of her own story in a safe space. She explained that recently, there was a day when she was home with her sons, and something terrible had happened. It was something challenging to process and something that could not change. It was out of their control, she and her husband’s. It affected their family in a deep way. And though they had protected and shielded their children from birth, helping each child carefully and age-appropriately deal with the world in a brave way when the time was right…on this day, they couldn’t do much. On this day, she watched her eldest son grow up, and in ways difficult to explain, it broke her heart. Because in certain ways, it had shattered his too.

Within the last few weeks, people I deeply love have shared stories with me on the phone, on restaurant benches, in my classroom, on my couch, and in face-to-face moments of unflinching truth. Words and tears have spilled forth. Prayers have been prayed. Hearts have been splayed out. The aching realization that “I’ve grown up a lot this year,” has been spoken. And for a while, for these last few weeks, I felt deeply. I over-felt. I was at a loss. I couldn’t get a grip. I was stuck in the pain and the horror of it all, of these people who I loved so fiercely and felt connected to who were hurting. It was a type of vicarious bleeding, a slow overdrawn pull that eventually left me dizzy and disoriented. It was glimpsing that torrid room and not having the remote to stop it. Instead, I spun out. Last Saturday was the worst.

But a few days this week have allowed me perspective and a “stepping back.” I’ve been able to slow down my mind and press pause on my remote. I’ve let the days drift past me and just been “in” them but not affected too deeply by them. I’ve been able to see clearly some of the chaos and the ensuing pain. Some of the brokenness. And, I’ve discovered that whether it is criticism or cancer, anxiety or exhaustion, loneliness or longing, there is some relief to be had, some hope to be gained, some truth to be held.

In a separate post (perhaps a part two), I will share some poetry from my students from that October prompt, some eloquent words of wisdom (with their names and stories protected, of course). For now, though, I’m thinking of a different story – the novel in which we just read the final page. Because, sometimes, we really need to bypass our present and fast forward to an ending we know so that we can hang on to what’s in store for our future. And here’s an ending that I know.

By the end of To Kill a Mockingbird, Scout has lost much of her innocence. That can’t change. It still feels awful.

She has wrestled through a difficult trial (literally), attempting to grapple with the idea that a man, though having seemingly done nothing wrong, would have to suffer so much for the sins of others. She has seen ugly parts of the world filled with pain and violence and loss, and yet she also has seen beauty in which shadows stepped out of the darkness to reveal truth behind them, and heroism and protection emerges where she least expects it. The world still feels confusing. She still is filled with questions. The understanding is incomplete and too lofty for her to reach. The pain is still real, and it won’t be rationalized away or sugar-coated. It would be unfair and perhaps even cruel to try to paint it any differently than what it is. It must be dealt with. But perhaps, she can take a break from it.

So, her father reads her a story.

The final scene that we read is a tender one. Scout is in her father’s arms, nestled up, warm and safe. Despite all of the wonderings still on her mind, he quiets her with love. No matter what she has gone through, she or her loved ones have endured to this point. No matter what was broken, it will mend some. No matter how much was lost, more might still be gained. We end on hope. She is still a child, held tightly in the arms of another, and her father will be there with her and with her brother, Jem, when they wake up. Tomorrow will be a new day. And I find great hope in that ending.

Though, some people hate it. Some people want to know the end of the story. What happened to Boo? To Dill? To Jem? How does Scout grow up? What is the final page of the final book of a larger series? Shouldn’t there be a sequel? Why can’t I know what happens, now?

At times, I feel like that too. But, for now, I’m content with that ending. Because when a chapter or a book ends in uncertainty, there’s a real moment of ownership and opportunity that can be bred out of it. There is a sense in which we decide the ending. We decide the fate. We have the choice, as Rafiki shares in Lion King, “to either run from it… or learn from it.” And, that wild, blue-butted baboon is right when he smacks Simba over the head with his wisdom stick and helps Simba realize that it’s not true that “it doesn’t matter” because “it’s in the past” and “yes, the past can hurt…” but what we get to do is pull ourselves out of the past and into the present with a hopeful glimpse into the future. We get to turn what was an awful wide-eyed glimpse into our circumstances into an awe-filled, “awe-ful” (if you will) picture of our reality. That hurt sucks. That growing up is hard. That to peer unflinchingly into the truth of a situation is more than we can bear at times. We’re at a loss for words or feelings or actions to surmount that. But, we do get to decide our future. We do get to keep fighting the battle, one day at a time, and we can emerge as conquerors on the other side of it. That is possible.

So, what was it, your last moment when you felt you hit a turning point? When did you know that you had to grow up and that you had lost some of your innocence? And what will you do about it? That is really the question at this point. What is your choice?

For, in a real, true, empowering way, the rest of the story is quite literally up to you.

You get to decide. Where will you go from here?

And, please, let me know, if you choose.

And I Will Draw Near to You

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College is such a formative time. I developed relationships with dear friends, met my gift of a husband, discovered my career path, and felt the Lord alter my worldview through my experiences and his Word. And, in the midst of it, I encountered Jesus.

If you didn’t read my last post, I’m on a journey of thinking through God’s intentional hand during my youth and beyond. It’s fun and challenging and introspective… just my thing… and it will be used at my new work, which is even more wonderful.

After my sixth grade summer when I “found” Jesus, I discovered I had many questions. How do you do this alone? Isn’t that what happens: now I retreat to my bedroom with my dusty Bible, and I read? What changes? What’s this whole Christian thing look like, and how do I navigate it? What if I don’t feel it anymore, that spiritual high? What now?

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I was so very thankful to be surrounded with girls who also were seeking to know the Lord and who liked to have a clean good time. We had a blast and kept each other out of trouble. From 6th-12th grade, these girls grounded me and grew with me, and we discovered more and more who we were. Believe me, we made plenty of mistakes too. We were lazy and self-focused; we were gluttonous and jealous; we were fearful and petty at times. Yet, the Lord was faithful; He always is.

In the summer before my 8th grade year, from a hard wooden pew in an old, well-loved chapel, I rededicated my life to Christ, a new surge in my faith. After that summer, I spent at least two weeks every June or July at that same incredible place called New Life Ranch.

And it was.

New and full of life…and every year, I found new spring in my step and song in my heart. I cried out to the Lord, sang silly songs, prayed fervently, danced often, and learned how to serve like Nehemiah, lead like Moses and David and Paul, help, claim, dig deep, and be thankful. This camp is where I seemed to find myself every year: the rocks were my thinking place, the West 40 my place of praise, and the cabins where I was privileged enough to grow with dear friends and eventually minister to young girls. My safe place, my inspiration…

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My sophomore year of college was particularly transformative for me. Whether I knew the labels or not, I was wrestling through the imaginary sacred and secular divide. There were voices in my life telling me that some of the things I loved were ungodly – punk and hip hop music, going dancing, reading certain books and spending time with certain people… and though I had a history of trusting some of these voices, I felt torn. I understood the idea that spending more time with God and his words meant spiritual growth for me, and yet I couldn’t shake the height and happiness of my soul after laughing with my sorority sisters at a party, the way that my heart broke as I heard musicians crying out and declaring their emptiness, the beauty in the brokenness, the pull I felt toward it. I desired to know more of the world, to find out what was so “bad” and how to feel more alive, to throw myself into a feeling and a rhythm and story… to be free.

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Throughout that year, a lot changed for me and in me – too much to explain in this brief post – but by May, I went back to New Life Ranch with a host of punk, rock, and indie CDs, a strength and deeper understanding of who I was, an even deeper love for my wonderful and spunky sisters, and a certainty of God’s provision and call on my life, and He started speaking to me about baptism. When I say speaking, know that I don’t mean audible words in my ear from the Lord, but I do mean that he spoke through others and through his Word. I kept reading and hearing and seeing baptisms, and I started digging into Scripture to see what it was all about, and what resulted was that He affirmed me in my search. I prayed and felt the assurance both inwardly from the Holy Spirit and outwardly from family and friends that it was time, and it turned out, about seven others were ready too. So, we all went down to the river on a Sunday.

A few of my dearest friends and a host of New Life Ranch staff stood around me as we went one by one and explained why we felt called to baptism that day. I tearfully choked through my convictions – that God had been tugging on my heart, that I had a renewed love for Him, and that I knew that although I was already firmly His, it was time to show it outwardly and answer the call, to consecrate my life for Him.

When it came to be my turn, I waded into the creek that I so dearly loved, shaded by a few beautifully arching trees overhead, and Scott Shaw placed one hand against my back and the other clasped over my wrists. I let go and fell backward, held firmly by Scott’s hands and the support a few of my dearest friends. The cool water rushed around my back and over my face as my body submerged, and seemingly just as quickly, the direction of force reversed as I was pulled back up, gasping for New Life air. Whoops and cheers and praise filled the skies, and after a few hugs and possibly the biggest ear-to-ear smile of my life, I stepped aside for the next staffer’s life-altering moment.

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I encountered Jesus that day through my community and my commitment. I drew near to Him over the years, and I felt Him drawing still nearer and nearer to me. I pulled the Lord close like a cloak of protection and a redeeming liberator, and He became real for me, intertwined with my heart, and I couldn’t help but to keep drawing nearer, the Lord growing dearer. His love for me was relentless, His call on my life impossible to be ignored. Still to this day, that was a powerful moment in my life that helps to define who I am as a beloved daughter and believer. My words are too finite to express what happened in my soul that day, but I knew that it was a turning point and a right one.

During that time in my life, I clung closely to a few verses, but Psalm 139, specifically the last two verses (23-24) were on my heart. I was ready to be led, and my rebellious heart was relenting and reforming. With my Lord nearer and my vision clearer, I walked out of the water and into the days ahead, and the Lord encouraged me and hemmed me in. He knew me full well and loved me despite, seeing me clean and robed in righteousness that I did not deserve. And that kind of love is worth dying for so that you might be given new life.

And I was.

New and full of life and hope.

Psalm 139

For the director of music. Of David. A psalm.

1You have searched me, Lord,

and you know me.

2You know when I sit and when I rise;

you perceive my thoughts from afar.

3You discern my going out and my lying down;

you are familiar with all my ways.

4Before a word is on my tongue

you, Lord, know it completely.

5You hem me in behind and before,

and you lay your hand upon me.

6Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,

too lofty for me to attain.

7Where can I go from your Spirit?

Where can I flee from your presence?

8If I go up to the heavens, you are there;

if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.

9If I rise on the wings of the dawn,

if I settle on the far side of the sea,

10even there your hand will guide me,

your right hand will hold me fast.

11If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me

and the light become night around me,”

12even the darkness will not be dark to you;

the night will shine like the day,

for darkness is as light to you.

13For you created my inmost being;

you knit me together in my mother’s womb.

14I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;

your works are wonderful,

I know that full well.

15My frame was not hidden from you

when I was made in the secret place,

when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.

16Your eyes saw my unformed body;

all the days ordained for me were written in your book

before one of them came to be.

17How precious to me are your thoughts,a God!

How vast is the sum of them!

18Were I to count them,

they would outnumber the grains of sand—

when I awake, I am still with you.

[…]

23Search me, God, and know my heart;

test me and know my anxious thoughts.

24See if there is any offensive way in me,

and lead me in the way everlasting.

From Stodgy to Saved

Recently at work, I was asked, “When did you encounter Jesus?” Along with our theme for this year’s chapel at WCA, I will apparently be one of many teachers and students who will be interviewed on camera in order to play a short clip of our story at chapel for the kids. And if you know me at all, you know I’ve got some reflecting and word-smithing to do on my own before I’m ready to speak in front of a crowd, or in this case on camera (eek!). Attempting to alleviate some awkwardness, I’ll lay my thoughts down here as part one of three. Apologies to friends whom I am about to embarrass.

The first time I recall encountering Jesus was the summer before sixth grade. My incredible friend Caroline (over at In Due Time) invited me to her youth group. I had most likely been complaining to her about my church, which I now realize was fairly spiritually dead. We said words, we sang hymns, and we went through the motions, but there was little to no faith-life there, at least for me. My brother and I had both been falling asleep in church, and our wonderful mother began to fear that we would lose our interest in faith altogether. So, she said hesitantly said yes. I don’t remember much, but I do remember a flurry of activity – the painted walls of KYF, the hum of energy, the uproarious laughs, and the seeming lack of adults. We were in a room filled with kids, and there seemed only to be a few adults in the room, and they weren’t signaling for anyone to sit down or shut up; the adults were mingling with and among the kids, laughing, talking, snacking… What? This was not my definition of youth gatherings at church. Where were the dingy tables, dull lights, worksheets, dusty books, empty hallways? And goodness, the boys in the room were reallllly cute. I liked this place.

IMG_0809 IMG_0826 After an absurd game of lining up and passing bananas over our heads with our feet (our pre-pubescent posteriors arching over our heads), some type of talk began to which I didn’t pay much attention, and then eventually, more talking, laughing, flirting, goofing off… I came home and said that I loved it.

Caroline continued to invite me to church, and as we spent increasing frequency of time together, that relationship and others deepened into great friendships. Erika, Jenny, Raelyn… I was surrounded by beautiful, silly, and yearning souls like mine who were already growing into incredible Godly women. We talked, and laughed, flirted and goofed off, decorated Bible covers, taped in book tabs (probably from Mardel’s), and learned to pray. Still, I came for the fun, the games, the boys. I came for Caroline and Erika and Jenny and Raelyn and Ashley. I came for myself.

IMG_0797 IMG_0798 IMG_0805

IMG_0824Then, one day, I sat on the KYF carpet in the back of the youth room, cross-legged and eyes wandering, observing and taking in the room, and I heard a woman’s voice grow ever stronger in my ears. Susan Grapegater, who happened to live across the street from Caroline with Mr. Grapengater and their two kids, from whose yard we had retrieved many a poorly aimed soccer ball, in whose house we had youth meals and Superbowls, whose incredibly creepy Halloween haunted house drew in neighbor kid after neighbor kid every year, spoke. She spoke with love and fervor and kindness. I don’t remember the words, but I do remember the feeling. I remember her smile, her knowing glance that seemed to focus on me out of all sixty-some kids in the room. I remember a click, a shift in my heart, an openness, a willingness to lend an ear. I stared at the rough carpet speckled in color, and I felt a nudge, a fearful and wonderful call. She asked us to bow our heads and pray with her. I didn’t know how to respond, but I bowed my head, and I listened. And that evening, after going home in bewilderment, I realized what that call was, and stumbling over the words I had heard again and again and again at KYF that summer, I bowed my head in my bedroom and I asked the Lord to come into my heart and save me. And he did. I encountered Jesus. And when I opened my eyes, it seemed as if everything and nothing had changed all at the same time. I resolved to tell Caroline, but beyond that, I looked around my room at my walls and the life that had been built around me and felt a sense of awe and uncertainty. I realized suddenly that someone else was in control, a partnership of sorts. It was God and me now… and I thought, “What now?”

Ripping out the Roots

On Wednesday, I came home from school and was, as of late, met by a barraging overflow of zucchini leaves, spilling over the vegetable garden into my path. All I wanted was to move forward and set down my things in the house, but instead, I lifted leaves and pushed back the vegetation in order to put my bags down on the back deck and let Brooklyn out of the house.

I came back. It had been weeks… months? These leaves, an offset of a different problem, had begun to intrude into my space a while ago and now were covered in a type of powdered mildew, nevermind the host of squash bugs boring into and infesting their roots. I couldn’t handle it anymore. I began cutting. and snipping, and snapping, and ripping. It took me about thirty minutes to realize that I was still in my dress clothes, but at this point, who cared? It was swelteringly hot, and my long sleeves and pants didn’t deter me. This needed to get done. And after I cut out all of the disease, about 2/3 of the massive plant, I could finally see some fruit, several zucchini to harvest, and also the tangled mess that had been slowly poisoning the plant from the roots up. There was no salvaging that part, but it was thriving the best it could anyhow, even if its offerings on the outside looked bleak, its spiky leaf tips pointed toward the sky like a vessel. “Fill me; help.”

Then there was the kale. From afar, it looked fine, but then at ten feet, I saw the stripped leaves, the ribbed ruffage full of munched holes. And at a few inches, upon inspection, I observed the problem too. A caterpillar. No, many of them. No, hundreds, thousands? Their eggs and their little striped bodies, just a half-inch long, had found a village, a sprawling food-filled metropolis, and they were happy. I… was not. And after assessing the damage, I decided that having no kale was better than the shred of what had been left behind by this ravaging. I’d rather rip them up from the roots and start over. I could plant again, put down new roots, but the kale would not survive in this state, and the risk of spreading it to the rest of my garden did not make me pleased. I went to work.

The funny thing is, as always, it struck me, during this ripping of the roots, that this is yet another of my gardening life metaphors. I also went to work on something different recently, or more accurately, I went to work, at WCA. And my departure from my old, beloved school felt somewhat like these plants… I hadn’t been thriving anymore. Somehow, and I don’t know how the descent happened (like the plants, I didn’t see its origins), I had been slowly being eaten at, had been trying to thrive and yet offering less-than to my kids. There was still good there, still fruit growing, but it was harder to see, and I was under so much stress and confusion about what was happening that I couldn’t come out from it. I wanted so badly to stay where I was and be what I had been, but it was time to be transplanted, to be ripped out of the place where I had put down roots so someone else could put theirs down and do beautiful work.

My friends have been asking me lately, very thoughtfully, how I like school, my new job, and I can say unreservedly that I love it. I LOVE it. It is renewing and full of life and vigor and glory. I am happy… what a novel sentence. Fleeting as it usually seems to be, I am happy. And I hope that the feeling stays. But more than anything, I am thankful. I am thankful for what I now realize was the perfect amount of time in my first “garden plot”… I didn’t understand then why I was still there. If I’m in so much pain, if I’m struggling so much, why would God still have me here? But, now, hindsight 20/20, I see. He built into my character. I was still creating fruit, even if less than usual. I was still stretching out my hands, rugged and stained though they were, trying to find answers. And God taught me some amazing things. The confusion, the anxiety fog, the relationships that I had, the way that I grew in the last few years in my understanding of social justice, the teammates I had… everything was for my good, for my growth. I see now that the teacher I am is informed by much of that. The joy that I have now is in light of that. I know that I am where I am supposed to be, and I know now that I was then too. And at the proper time (though it seemed late to me), God brought change. He ripped me out, roots and all, and I started over. I am so thankful…

What an incredible school I came from, what incredible people… but other people were still thriving there while I was not. It was time. And at the perfect minute, I came into a job with the right kids, the right parents, the right curriculum, the right room, the right school, the right colleagues, the right passion and joy. I am thrilled. Genuinely… my cup overflows.

This is what I wish for my students, for my friends… that this tiny glimpse I have now of God’s plan and his story would be something you could see too, that the current struggle you are in would reap strength and depth of understanding later as you look back on this time, that you will be filled to overflowing with future joy, and that you would do as God encouraged me to do last September… almost a year ago today… “Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.” Colossians 4:2 … and see what he has planned for you. Then, get to work.

Amen.

Seeking Family

Anthropologically speaking, (Yes! Using that phrase shows that there is a purpose for having watched so many reruns of Bones!), I wonder what has been researched or discovered about our search for family wherever we live. In the “olden” Biblical days, families lived near one another. You were in the same village or same hut or same 1,000 acres of land… but near. And yes, this was largely out of necessity or tradition or not knowing any other way of being, and no, there were not cars or planes or trains to take them far from their homes to seek out new homesteads “just for the adventure”, knowing they could call or return at any time, but… still. There they were, in their thatched huts and on their farms and in their palaces and igloos, living as family. And it seems that thousands of years later, there is still a sense in which we create, or attempt to create, family wherever we go, even after and if we’ve moved away from our biological one. Perhaps it is not a family with your immediate neighbors, but more likely, it is one created out of people with like interests, whether that be through a hobby, a faith-group, or even your work colleagues. And those who don’t have it often seem to be seeking it.

America seems obsessed with this notion, at least in as far as it needs to be to convince us we should throw our selves into our capitalist work. Shows like Friends (working adults who thrive on their family-like closeness to each other) or Bones or Castle (or a variety of other network favorites that rake in the big bucks) have front-and-center characters who make their work their lives and their family, and they appear very happy doing it. Their coworkers become their best friends, their lovers, their husbands, their best men and maids of honor, the godparents to their children. They work ridiculous hours but love it. They are brought joy by, challenged by, and ultimately fulfilled by their work and the people in it. They have found their surrogate family, it seems. At least that’s what TV seems to say. 😉

That simple observation could take me in a lot of directions, in truth – capitalism’s far reach to make us feel we could reach this ascent to camaraderie in the workplace (just keep working those long hours!), the unconscious desire of humans to hope that that level of happiness at work is possible since we spend so much time there (hence continuing to watch these shows, increasing their success, and subsequent creation of more similar ones), the fact that I watch too much television (is “too much” too revealing?), the small number of basic story archetypes that really exist in the world… but today, the observation is focused on the title of this post, seeking family.

Are we meant to live near our families or ‘a family’? Does our cosmic search for “family”, in whatever way we can find it, show us something about our character, our desires, the way we were made, or even our purpose as people? What does the loneliness that most people feel (when they don’t have access to this) reveal about our wiring? Our desires? Our reality? How does this inform us in how we approach relationships? What does it mean for the way in which we now live (in short, generalized – wherever we want, apart from many of those dearest to us, and often far away from biological family)? Is the way that we live now irrelevant to the larger plan? We adapt only as it adapts? (In other words, all this questioning is futile; we are where we should be, in time and in geographical positioning, and this is all a theoretical waste of our time). Or, should there be a harkening back to what used to be, to reverse the departure we’ve made from the possible way it should be?

Should we live near family? Do we now?

I’m full to the brim with questions, but the bottom line is… Anthropologically speaking, what purpose does this family-seeking serve? How and what can be explained about it?

Tell me what you know, if you care. Share with me your thoughts, and let’s dialogue.

I’m intrigued… and undecided.