St. Louis: A City on a Hill? I Pray.

1466295_10102643842919550_1786376857670836367_n

I should be working. Grading papers. Or walking my dog. Or making dinner, hydrating myself, making a watering plan for my church’s new fall landscaping, or… a lot of other things.

Instead, I’m preparing myself for tomorrow.

I’ve been largely absent from media this week, especially mainstream media. I had decided to delete Facebook from my phone, post either seldom or more carefully on Instagram, and turn off the TV, for really no other reason than I had little to no time for it, and I seemed not to be using my time efficiently when I had very obviously too much to do.

Then, yesterday, the head of my school made mention of an impending verdict in his address to the student body, all 1,100 of them and the faculty surrounding them. Then my friends started talking about whisperings and questions. And, this morning, Ferguson was mentioned in a letter read to us from the Director of Diversity, a letter that he has prepared to send when the verdict is announced – the grand jury verdict that decides the fate of Darren Wilson and has the power to ignite the passions of millions of people all over our country.

So, afterward, as a small group of four who were processing those ideas, we listened, and we discussed, and we prayed.

We prayed for awareness and sensitivity to others, for deep understanding, for calming of fears, for peace… Most importantly, we prayed for the Lord to be with us. Be WITH us, God… Be before us and behind us and among us. Be at work, and in our midst, and allow us to SEE you and FEEL you with us as we open our eyes to a new day… a new day in which everything and nothing may change all at one time.

Tomorrow, we will open our eyes to a new day, and the verdict may be announced. Maybe. Some reports say 7pm. At that time, I will be home or possibly at a friend’s house enjoying fall drinks and spending time with wonderful women. I will have just finished teaching all day, oddly discussing To Kill a Mockingbird with my students on the heels of a really hard lesson about the Jim Crow Era and the systematic, racial caste system that our country experienced (and to some degree, still experiences) for so long… We will have talked about white guilt, about racial stereotypes, about the sad and incredibly wrong things that have been going on in our country for a long time, about the way the media is such a powerful force to be used for great good or great pain, about the power of our words and our actions and our very loud silence, about our responsibility to stand up and be advocates and leaders for change, about the beauty and fragility of the human heart. And I will send those intricate, wonderful souls out into the streets, to their homes, to their friend’s houses, to their Instagram accounts and Snapchats and Twitter feeds and coffee houses and theaters and living rooms and beds, and these ideas will be swimming in their heads while they receive the news in the coming hours or days… the news that may divide an already divided city.

I am full of fear and hope for this city, for these students, for myself…

I fear what we will do to one another, how we will wound one another in the wake of this verdict. I fear the words and actions and silences that will speak so loudly about the state of our hearts and our understanding and also lack of understanding. I fear for physical pain and vandalism and destruction that may occur to people in this city and in others, all of whom were made in the image of a peaceful and ultimately just God. I fear for friends in my city who are nervous – White, Black, Asian, and Hispanic alike – about how people will respond, about who or what is about to descend on this city, and when we will hear and see with our own ears and eyes.  I fear for the future… and yet I have so much hope. I see my city filled with so much beauty, so much grace, so much peace. I see adults and students everywhere who are peacemakers, who long to see our city united, who are pining for the day when we embrace each other even more than we already do, who are making real and concrete preparations for that. I see students who have wide eyes and open ears and soft words who speak confidently about what confuses them, angers them, fills them with sadness, as well as what brings them needed laughter and joy. I see teachers who love their students well and provide space for those conversations. I see adults who have deliberately placed themselves in situations and conversations and environments that would open their eyes and extend hands across deep lines and divides. I am so encouraged by these things, these stories, these lives, these words and hearts.

I am full of fear, and I am full of hope for my city.

So instead of working, or walking my dog, or making dinner or any of those very important things I could be doing, I am writing. And I am asking.

Will you be aware? Will you be sensitive?

When the verdict is released, will you process in whatever healthy way you can in a safe environment? Will you be aware that others will process this news very differently than you will? Will you be aware that some won’t care as deeply as you? Will you be aware that some will be hurt or sad or angry or confused or all of the above? Will you be sensitive to those reactions, and will you listen, truly listen, with the intent to understand? Will you protect each other? Love each other well? Be a body of people who supports and defends and unites, a city on a hill?

I pray that you will, and I pray that I will…

I will make every effort to do so, and I am already preparing myself to ask for forgiveness when I fall short. Because I’m a woman of good intentions, but boy, do I learn every single day, over and over, what a flawed person I am and how much I have yet to figure out. I will need to process, to listen, to discuss, to pray.

Bear with me. Bear with each other, and love one another well. Today, tomorrow, and every day.

Our city is crying out for it. The structures and surroundings, both manmade and Godmade are ready for it. The city is being prepped and prayed over. The verdict is descending. Will we be ready? Will we be aware? Will we be sensitive? Will we seek peace?

St. Louis, may it be so, I pray.

Advertisements

On Fight and Flight [or Beauty in the Breakdown]

I’ll cut right to the chase. This morning, I burst into tears in my classroom. In front of my kids. At 7:56am. One minute after class started.

Allow me to give some context and explain.  

Last weekend – beautiful, redemptive conversations and hugs, LOVE abounding and refreshing, best friends

Monday – unpreparedness, OVERexposure, emotional wreckage (in private)

Tuesday – good and busy

Wednesday – fine and fun and fast

Thursday – The phrase “The day got away from me” is not accurate enough. The day flew by me and around me. It FLEW, and I was building the plane while flying it. Work from 7am-11:30pm without ceasing.

Friday – Wake up. GO. GO. Go. go. gooo… CRASH. Insert Gina, amazing teacher partner, who gave me a breather and took over my class while I cried in the empty hallway and in her room, and I prayed.

It’s wild to me to think about how we fight and flee. When we do. If we do. It’s also amazing to me to see how God REDEEMS, because boy, does he ever… ALWAYS. Here are five things I noticed after my 3rd hour when I got a breather.

unnamed-1unnamedunnamed-2

Fable & Lore necklace, made here in St Louis. The pattern speaks to me – partnership, gold, shining, waves, dips, doves, peace.

Camo “battle” shoes – I seem to always wear these when I have a spiritual battle ahead. I wore them to the store two summers ago when we heard that Grandpa Alex was in the hospital. I wore them to Chick-Fil-A that same week when I mightily ate some chicken and made my father-in-law belly laugh to lift some grief.

“Hunger Games” arrow rings with chain from Standard Style in KC. I feel powerful, alive, and GUIDED when I wear this. I could stab the devil with this and inflict some damage as well.

Ring wrapped in thread from local store in LA. Handmade. It speaks to me of binding, protecting, adorning, and unraveling over time, the need for redemption.

Ebony heart earrings from the annual family Hen Party. I wore my heart on the outside today; edged in gold and passed down to me from family, it was.

unnamed-3

I’m a lover of jewelry. I love to make a statement and decorate myself in things that make me feel bold and strong and unique.

After my 3rd hour when I got a breather and walked down that same empty hallway to get some tea, I saw adornment. I saw adornment and purpose and reasons to praise.

God loves to adorn me as well… and how odd it is (and INCREDIBLE) that it seems subconsciously (or miraculously) God guides me to dress myself in things that give me power and strength on days that I REALLY will need it.

Before first hour, I felt the stress building. I rushed. I tried to help kids who desperately wanted my attention. I did not get my plans cemented. I did not get the objectives or agenda written on the board. I did not play music as they entered like I normally do. I was not relaxed and full of peace, and I know (because God spoke to me yesterday and this morning about it, that peacemakers who sow in peace build fields of righteousness (James 3:18). Yet, I was not full of peace. I was full of exhaustion and anxiety and the need for control, and yet I was spinning out of it. I was full of selfish ambition (James 3). I would strive and strive, do and do, work and work, and I (key word: I) would get it all done and do it all well. Friends who know me, do you see a pattern?! Oh my good GOD, what you must be thinking when you look at me and see me repeating my same sins over and and over again, stubbornly fleeing from you and relying on my own flawed ability to perform. God, what must you think…?

I know what you must think, because when I returned from getting tea, I opened my Bible and flipped to the next passage in James and read this:

James 4: What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”? But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. 10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.

And l listened to this: “Healing” by Ben and Noelle

And suddenly, it all fell together. I nodded and laughed and smiled and prayed, and then I blogged. Because God knows what he’s doing. Because there’s beauty in the breakdown. Because when I felt the emotion rising, I asked a kid to pray for me, smack-dab at the start of the class, and he did. And when I turned around to turn on the projector RIGHT after that, I was locked out of the system because of the storms and power loss yesterday, and that’s when I lost it. The tears started flowing, and I squeaked out, “It’s been a really hard day already, and someone needs to go get Mrs. Bush.” And they did. And she did what she did, and I did what I did.

And the kids were gracious, and they all said, “Don’t worry, Mrs. Simpson. We’ve all felt that way. And we get it, and you’re not the first teacher who we’ve seen cry.” And class was better.

And 2nd hour, class was better. And by third hour, when the technology was breaking down again, the video projects the kids had prepared were not uploading and were not playing and were not using sound, and the computer kicked me out of Power Point and kids were getting flustered, I stopped class and said, “Listen.”

“Listen, Satan is the worst. And you might think it’s funny, and it kind of is, but there is some REAL, supernatural, technological difficulty going on here. There is some real spiritual battle happening in my heart and in this classroom today, and Satan’s not going to win. God is bigger and stronger and better. Amen?” The kids laughed and clapped, and I said, “Let’s be honest. That might sound weird to you, but there is a reality to the fact that Satan doesn’t want us to flourish. And he’s a butt-hole. I HATE him. Don’t you?!” [insert shocked student laughter] “I absolutely hate him, and I believe that when you call upon the name of the Lord and you tell Satan to flee, he has to. He has to flee, because God is greater, and Satan sucks. Yes?” And they all echoed yes. And we went on with our class, and we played some of the videos and solved some of the technical difficulties, and we ended class in prayer, going on with our day.

Guys, Satan is real. God is REAL. And we have POWER and ACCESS and PEACE in the Holy Spirit. God is willing and able to redeem situations and overcome evil when we ask and even sometimes when we don’t. But He wants us to ask and ask boldly. And he will fight with us as we tell Satan to flee. And he will. And now, here I am, using TECHNOLOGY that has failed me all day to share this message with you. God is a restorer and a redeemer. God is a warrior and a comforter. God is a HEALER.

I am fighting against Satan’s temptation to despair today, and I’m telling Satan to flee. Will you join me in the fight? Will you allow God to speak to you and heal you and do powerful things in your life? Will you allow the Holy Spirit to enter and move in power?

Amen. May it be so.

unnamed-4

Delivery

I took a break the other day, and it was very, very needed. Suffice to say that I brought myself to a new low, one that I did not realize I was capable of spiraling into, a new level of exhaustion that I had previously left untapped… It makes me wonder about even lower levels, but that would be another exploration into anxiety, and I need no more of that.

-1

So I took a day… I was given a day. And, it was so, so needed.

And, I suppose that I should clarify and say that it wasn’t a whole day. It was really just a morning because after that I worked eight hours on my schoolwork to prepare for the following day because I felt that that might also help me to calm my brain, if I finished a few tasks.

So I took the morning. And I ran. (I HATE running…) I slept in, I cuddled up to my husband a little, and then I laced up my tennis shoes, and I RAN, and I breathed, and I RAN… And before I had left on this run, my head was feeling still pretty cloudy, but I had learned that it was my dear friend’s induction day, and she was in a lot of pain too, of a very different sort.

So, I took my phone with me, and I RAN.

And what I felt almost immediately was relief. Warmth on my skin, energy in my legs, calm in my head, and focus because all that I had to do was let the music flow into my ears, keep my eyes mostly open, and just keep running forward. That was it. Keep pressing on toward the goal… and that day my only goal was to GET OUT of my mind and RUN.

I didn’t run the whole time. Let’s not pretend that I’m some sort of athletic prodigy (that’s almost laughable!). But it felt good, and at times, I closed my eyes, and I sang out loud, and I pressed on and challenged myself to keep going. And I prayed for myself and for my friend.

“God, help us in this. Help us to get through this. Help me to get through this. Lord, I’m so tired and so confused, and I just want to be able to focus, to get through this day with clarity. I just want peace, Lord. Help me, help me, help me.” And I cried out in my mind to Him as the music pounded in my ears and my tennis shoes pounded on the asphalt. “We look to Yahweh, Yahweh! […] And He will reign forever, He will reign forever, HE WILL REIGN for-EVER and EVER!”

God spoke through my headphones via his people in Hillsong. Keep going. He’s with you. He’s yours. You are HIS. Your brokenness does not define you. You can emerge from this darkness. He is with you. He is WITH YOU! He is WITH you!

My feet kept going and my heart kept pounding and my ears kept singing and soon my mouth was singing his praises, out loud in my neighborhood, past the tennis courts and around the bends and up the hills and on the sidewalks past the streets and into a field. I watched the leaves fall, yellow and dying, onto the ground, and I prayed in my head, “Not yet, Lord. No, not yet. While I still have breath, I will praise you.” And I thought of Erika and Justin and baby Shepherd Alexander, and I prayed for them too. “She is yours, God. He is yours. That baby is yours, God. Help her through it. Bring life. While we still have breath, let us praise you. All of our energy and our might and and our breath is for you, God.”

And soon I came to a field, and I felt I should slow. Or dance.

-2

So, I jogged in a few funny circles, and I tried to decide whether to keep singing aloud or twirl in circles, to make myself even more undignified than this… to revel in this freedom.

I looked around to see if anyone was around, but the trees were high and shielding this place, so I just sat down. And Hillsong sang on, “My hiding place, my safe refuge, my treasure, Lord, you are. My friend and King, Anointed One, Most Holy.”

The words subsided and the music lingered in my ears, lulling me… so I texted Erika some words from the Lord that I was receiving too, and I lied down on the asphalt with my eyes turned up toward the blue sky, and I closed them too. I let the heat and exhaustion of my body fade as my chest rose and fell, and I let the sweat pour down my face and the world swirl around me, and I allowed the words to sink in. “I will exalt you… I will exalt you… I will exalt you. You are my God.” And after a few minutes, my eyes opened and adjusted again to the day I was given, and I stood up stronger. I breathed in, I breathed out. I breathed in, I breathed out. I looked around. And someone else was coming, now, after my respite. So, I turned and walked up a VERY steep hill (that didn’t feel quite as difficult as it usually does), and I walked home.

I showered, got some grub, and I got to work. And I wasn’t perfectly healed, but I was IMMENSELY better than I had been. And each day since has been a little better as I have learned to rest and to start my days with grace and a good Word.

Each day has been a struggle lately. Some worse than others. Fear and anxiety and confusion has overtaken me. It almost felt like it took my under. But, I’m emerging, delivered, just like beautiful Shepherd Alexander did that day, at 1:50pm (just shortly after I finished nourishing my body with a good meal), and he was 7 lbs, 13 oz, and 20.5 inches long.

533218_10101546149416139_568151369_n

He is gentle as a shepherd and strong through his King, just like me. He has weaknesses and fears and need of care, just like me. But he has a Redeemer like me, a God who does not hear his people cry out continually, over and over in anguish and despair, and not answer. Our God is a restorer, a hiding place, a safe refuge, and we will exalt Him, Shep and I. And his parents and their families too. We will cry out into the world and find the Lord drawing near, and we will find peace and deliverance, again and again. We will emerge into the world stronger and braver because of our strong, strong God. We will fight, and He will redeem us. We will be brought to places of peace of respite. We will carry on. I’m trusting that today.

971791_10103708366006674_616554872_n“I will exalt you. I will exalt you. I will exalt you. You are my God.” It’s been ringing in my ears for days.

I will exalt you, God. You are my God, indeed. I will try to get my mind out of the stubborn place where it lies and the overworked, perfection-laden spiral it shatters into, and I will try to trust you, to exercise my faith in you, to believe you when you say, REST, before I am brought low. To believe your commands and follow them. I’m trying God. I know you’ll stay with me. You are near, God. You are mine. I am yours. I am your joy and your crown, whom you love and long for. And I will try not to be anxious about anything, but in everything, through prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present my requests before you, and your peace, which transcends all understanding will guard my heart and my MIND in Christ Jesus.

Yes, Lord. Yes, Lord. Amen.

Thank you.

Now, I’m ready to take on this day.