Knocked down by a feather

Image result for faith Yesterday was tough. The traumatic effects of living in fear sprang to life and we could no longer pretend that everything is business as usual. A student saw an ICE agent in the hallways of our school. A man dressed in khakis and a dark green shirt. Everyone tried to remain calm, but everyone was panicked to their very core. We spoke with security and admin and were able to determine that this man was not in fact an ICE agent, but a park ranger working with one of the various programs that our school offers. Relief yes, but the trauma of the increased ICE activity in our community had been exposed. All of our hearts needed calming.

We try our best to continue providing routine and familiar structures. We do not let up on classroom rigor and expectations. Yesterday however, we needed to pause. We needed to breathe, as my mom reminded me later that evening during a tear-filled, frustrated phone call. My awesome colleagues and I combined our classes and held a restorative circle outside in the sunlight. We then walked around the campus and took group photos. Later we watched a movie, the first movie I’ve ever shown in my class. There were reiterations of love and support flowing between staff and students. We were already drastically down in numbers, due to many participating in the Day Without Immigrants protest.

I told God, as I was driving home yesterday, that I don’t know how to keep going like this. There’s not an end in sight to this fear. There is no way of knowing how any of this will play out. Not to mention how hard it is to digest that THIS is reality now. God keeps reminding me to pray, so I am resolved to do so. Yet, today I still woke up with a heavy heart. While dropping off my little human at school, I realized that I had forgotten her backpack at home. I walked her in and her kind teacher told me not to worry about running home and retrieving it. I thanked God for her grace. As I was parking in my own school parking lot, I reached to grab my purse, only to see her backpack sitting right behind it. Annoyance doesn’t even begin to describe how I felt in that moment, or how crazy.

I just finished reading Spillway, which is a beautiful memoir written by a mom whose son suffered a traumatic brain injury in a skiing accident. She wrote of God winks, or ways God reminded her that he was there and in control. This day did not start well, and my heart was overwhelmed, but the minute I stepped on campus, God started winking.

A Latina woman that works for the school cafeteria was standing in my classroom doorway, reading the many things that I have posted there, including a school newspaper article about undocumented students, and flyers with legal resource information for the rights of undocumented people. She stepped back when I came up, and explained she was just reading the information as she walked away. I called after her that she was welcome anytime. First wink.

I sat down at my desk and felt like I couldn’t do anything until I looked at a morning devotional on my phone. The words besieged and troubled jumped out at me, as I read how David, who grieving and strengthening himself in the Lord  sought his guidance at all times. Wink 2.

No sooner had I finished praying for guidance, than the woman from earlier was back, knocking quietly at my door. She asked where she could get some copies of the legal resources for her friends. Then we started talking. She shared the story of her family. It was a story of persevering in true faith, even when she felt abandoned by friends and family. We both had tears in our eyes. God nudged me. I was not the comforter here. SHE was the comforter. Wink 3. She poured love and renewed energy into me. Before leaving, she randomly and directly told me who I should pray for, and how I should pray for them. Wink 4.

I shared the hope I received from this conversation with another stressed out colleague. She looked at me with tears in her yes and summed it all up perfectly, “talk about knocking me down with a feather,” she laughed. Indeed.

First period began and I summoned up the energy it takes to embrace a class of freshmen on a Friday. Half-way through the class, one of my juniors knocked on my door. I had barely let her inside, when she shakily said, “Ms. I need a hug.” I smiled and calmly hugged her, but on the inside a wrecking ball was spinning out of control, bracing myself to hear the worst news. But when I pulled back, she was smiling. She was so excited that she could hardly get the words out. She had been accepted for the CNA internship program for next year, which opens many incredible doors for her future. We both started shrieking, so grateful for something so wonderful to celebrate. She said that she had prayed for this, and I told her, “Then, now it is time to say thank you”. Wink 5.

Thirty minutes later, another student dropped by my room on her way to lunch, chattering about how happy she is that her good friend had been accepted into this program. As she left, she called over her shoulder, “I told her that she needs to thank God.” Wink 6.

God reminded me today that it is not in fear that we live, but in hope. God is here. He sees all. We will continue in faith.

 

Just pink cards on a wall

Stapled to the wall of my classroom is a world map, around which dozens of cards are posted. On these cards are the introductions my students wrote on the first day of this school year. So much has changed for them since September. Lately, I find myself going back to read these cards over. They are my reminder that these humans are just kids, despite the very adult stories they carry. Some I had already known for a couple of years, and some I had only known for a day, when I asked them to write a few basic facts about themselves. This map, framed by teenage words, is nothing more than a symbol for the community and trust that we build every day. Our journey together is never linear. For every step forward, there are often two steps back. While we grind our pencils down to nubs writing essays and sweat over annotating short stories, we have conversations. We talk about life goals, past mistakes, fears, and relationships. We talk about making better choices, changing the world, what it means to have faith, and being good people. The one thing we never do, is give up. The one thing we consistently focus on, is that no one can take away our education. The one thing we never, ever let go of, is hope.

Undefeated hearts fill my classroom

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In my class of mostly undocumented students, we’ve been talking about hope. We’ve been talking about triumph over adversity. We’ve been talking about staying focused when fear, hate and uncertainty swirl around you. We have plunged head first into the pools of Maya Angelou’s fierce words of perseverance.

As one of my senior girls said, “We’re not going to quit and give up. We’re going to keep coming to school and focus on graduating.”

Brave hearts speak volumes over fear. Loving hearts defy hate. These kids have both in spades.

A world exists for them that does not for me. I’ve never had to move from place to place every few months, hoping to evade the gangs that want to end my life. I’ve never had to see my father gunned down off of his bicycle in the street. I’ve never had to watch my family starve through a destitute economy that has left no jobs to be found.

My life has never been so at risk that I would risk it further for a chance to see my child survive.

I’ve never had to crawl into a trunk, hoping for freedom, unsure if the trunk would ever open again. I’ve never had to walk for two days without food or water. I’ve never been left on the side of the road to die because I injured my foot and became a liability. I’ve never had a gun pointed at me on a train, forced to watch another be gang raped. I’ve never been so dehydrated that I’ve dropped to the ground to guzzle water filled with sewage.

In my public school ESL classroom, teenagers fill the room with noise, hormones, and laughter. They talk too much, they forget their pencils, they get in trouble for playing with their soccer ball in class. They call me Miss, Seῆora, Maestra, and Mom. They shake my hand and hug me as they file into class. They are as thoughtful as they are chatty. They are as hardworking as they are forgetful. They are as emotional as they are dedicated to their education. They are typical teenagers, like any teenager in any classroom around the world. Sitting in their desks, bent over their composition notebooks, the stories that they harbor are not evident.

Their stories come out in pieces, quietly over time. Even in sharing their stories, they are not defeated. They are matter of fact. They are hopeful. They are determined. The grace of God shines through their sense of humor.

They often work after school and on the weekends, helping to support their families. They dream about going to college to become nurses or entrepreneurs. They are examples of focusing on love instead of hate. They are a constant reminder that God, not a man, is in control. I am thankful for these kids and their families. I am thankful for the ways in which they inform and stretch my world views. I am thankful for their young hearts that rise each and every day, never giving up their fight for safety and freedom.

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The black and white leggings that said it all

A couple of Decembers ago, my daughter was in Old Navy with my mom. They were picking out outfits for my then three-year old and her little friend. My mom is the bravest woman that I know for taking my child into a store where sequined skirts and colorful dresses hang within her grasp. My little human LOVES to shop and her non-existent inside voice grows even louder when she pulls clothes off of hangers and insists that it all fits.

They found cute outfits, and my mom asked her what color leggings she thought would match best. She weighed her choices carefully, and finally informed my mom that they should get the white leggings for her, because they “match me” and the black leggings for her friend, because they “match her.” My daughter is white and blonde, and her friend is brown and black. They came home with the cute outfits, but no leggings.  As my mom recounted the story to me later, we both laughed at her logic, but I remember being distinctly uncomfortable with her unabashed acknowledgment of color.

How many times have we heard it said that children are so innocent that they can’t see color?

I realize now how wrong that is.

Children see color. They should see color. We all should be okay with seeing color.  What children don’t see, and what we should not be okay with, is the inequality that has been assigned to color.

I’ve been on a journey this year. It’s a journey that I will be on for the rest of my life.

It’s a journey that has transformed my understanding of the Black Lives Matter movement.

It’s a journey that has led me to listen to and learn from people of color who speak out about racial injustice.

It’s a journey that forced me to confront the possibility that even though I was raised to believe that all are equal, I could still harbor biases that I am unaware of. This Ted Talk that we watched as a faculty at the high school where I teach is eye opening.

It’s a journey that forces me to confront and shed my own white defensiveness and examine my own white privilege.

It’s a journey that prevents me from closing my eyes to the racism and inequality that plagues our country.

It’s a journey that is leading me to teach my daughter NOT that we shouldn’t see color, but that we should. We should see it and we should embrace it. We should speak up for it. We should stand with it. We should talk about it. We should make room for it. Empowering others does not rob someone else of their rights, it strengthens us all.

 

 

 

It’s the 1980’s and I’m reading Anne Frank’s Diary of a Young Girl for the first time. My child’s heart is shattered. I can’t grasp the hate that methodically pursued the death of 6 million people. I can’t imagine what it feels like to have your freedom and security utterly stripped away, leaving you no choice but to hide, and eventually tearing you apart from your family. Anne’s death sinks like a ton of bricks into the pit of my stomach. I’m thankful that her world is of the past, but I’m drawn in and am unable to look away. I can’t explain why, I only know that I have been changed by her story.

It’s the early 2000’s and I’m nearly finished with my undergraduate degree. I’m invited on an academic trip to Washington D.C., which includes a tour of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. I fall behind my peers, shuddering, trying to catch my breath in front of piles of shoes. I wish I was capable of breezing through the exhibits, of only acknowledging the pain without feeling it so deeply. All of the stories that I have read until this moment come to life and overtake me in that room of shoes. I want to look away, but know that I cannot. Evading the horrors of what happened does not honor the promises of never again or to never forget, so I stand in silence with my insides screaming at the injustice and devastation that is nearly impossible to comprehend.

It’s around 2005 and I’m teaching English in South Korea. My fiancé joins me there and we quickly make friends with the local expat community. There’s an American woman who tells me a story one night about someone who owes her money, someone who is being “such a jew.” It’s the first time that I come face to face with anti-Semitism. I’m stunned, sure that I misunderstood her. I ask her to repeat herself and she does, snorting a little. I stare at her and quietly let her know that my fiancé is Jewish. She stammers an apology and I never see her again. Two weeks later at another expat gathering, there’s a Canadian guy slinging anti-Semitic slurs around and he gets a few laughs. As he finishes railing against Israel, my fiancé casually lets him know that he’s from Israel. The silence in the small Korean apartment where we’re having brunch is deafening.

It’s around 2008 and I’m married, living in Tel Aviv. We watch Louis Theroux’s documentary about Tom Metzger and his family. We’re disturbed by the skinhead rallies and the hateful white supremacist mantras. I tell my husband that this is not representative of America. I truly believe that this insignificant group of people are so clearly in the wrong that their racism will never gain traction. He says that there are more white supremacists than I realize and that anti-Semitic attacks happen frequently, all over the world. I don’t believe him.

It’s 2014 and I’m in my grandmother’s kitchen in Texas. She’s showing me a letter that her brother sent home to their mother, after he helped liberate Dachau in 1945. He had written his note of reassurance to their mother at the bottom of a 42nd Rainbow Division newsletter, written by Tec. 3 James W. Creasman. I listen as my grandmother tells me how the war changed her brother, how there were no words for what he had seen. Neither one of us can read the words of these two men without tears filling our eyes.

These tortured dead can only be avenged when our world is aroused so much by what this 42d uncovered at Dachau and by what others have found at all the other Dachaus scattered throughout Germany, that never again will any party, any government, any people be allowed to mar the face of the earth with such inhumanity. -excerpt from James W. Creasman’s account in the 42nd Rainbow Division Newsletter

Dear Mother, Maybe I shouldn’t have sent you this but I couldn’t resist it. It sounds pretty awful to you to read about this sort of thing and I thank God that you never had to see it…Mother don’t think too much of this because it’s all over and it won’t ever happen again. -excerpt from Great Uncle Don’s letter to his mother after liberating Dachau

It’s 2016 and my five year old and I are walking to our car after church in Texas. My green-eyed beauty is chattering away about King David, who she just learned about in Sunday school. I tell her that her father can trace his lineage all the way back to King David, and that she is one of David’s descendants. She throws back her sweet little face and laughs with excitement. I smile back at her, then shut my eyes for a moment to shut out the images of freshly graffitied swastikas in children’s parks and on subways, to shut out the images of men and women at a conference raising their arms in Nazi salutes, to shut out the realization that racist ethnocentrism is being given a powerful platform from which to spew its propaganda. I open my eyes again and breathe deeply. I remind myself of the power of prayer and that God is in control. And I reach for my daughter’s hand and squeeze it tightly.

 

 

 

 

Within these four walls

Walking into a room full of teenagers is never easy. It’s fun, it’s exhilarating, it’s exhausting, and it’s maddening. It’s a heartbreaking, uplifting labyrinth of hormone fueled emotions. Teaching high school is a crazy job, but I love it. How to handle each individual without bias or presumption, to expand minds and open hearts, to build foundations that raise up each equally is a responsibility that I never stop thinking about.

This weight has been heavier in recent days. I have cried in my car driving to and from school and have been physically ill. Looking into eyes filled with fear, embracing broken hearts and listening to young adults question why they are hated has left me at a loss. I love my country. I love the American spirit that drives our democracy, which I unequivocally believe in. I love that we are a nation of immigrants built on values of liberty and justice for all. I am proud of my students, who in their pain have not uttered a single hateful word as they process their new reality.

They have too many questions that I cannot answer. Questions of safety and racism. Questions of whether or not they can pursue dreams of attending college. Questions of what happens if…

What if we don’t have a home to go back to?

What if there are no jobs where we are from?

What if our lives are in danger if we go back?

What if my family is separated?

The what ifs are dangerously endless. So we talk about systems of checks and balances. We talk about hope. We talk about doing good. We focus on what we are thankful for. Supportive adults provide safe spaces for hurt voices to be heard and valued. Outside resources are provided to support those who are overcome with fear. And I pray. Something that any Christian can do for those in pain, regardless of political beliefs.

Words have power. Even if we believe or hope that words will not turn into actions, words have still created a chasm between those who feel safe and those who do not. Even if we have different points of view, it is still important to see those who are hurting and to acknowledge their grief. The dust will settle and we will all carry on with the daily task of living. Within the four walls of my classroom, I am witnessing broken, tender hearts carry on with hopefulness and resilience. It is how we choose to carry on that makes a difference.