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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Yes, You Can Say the F-Word

Little humans. We teach them to be polite and compassionate. We teach them to use their words instead of their fists. We teach them to be active listeners and respectful of others. I watch my daughter learning how to be kind and thoughtful, and experience both relief and dread. Yes, I want my daughter to be sweet, but not too sweet. I don’t want her to become a doormat, because she’s afraid it’s rude to stick up for herself. I don’t want her to silence her voice, because someone else’s opinions are louder. I don’t want her to equate kindness with passiveness. I pray that she is both gentle and strong, wise and assertive, and both considerate and confident. I pray that in the moments she uses her voice, it is loud and clear.

We’re living in a world where predators are attempting to snatch children from their parents in grocery stores and public libraries. A world in which clowns now symbolize the evil parents fear. Stranger danger feels more real than ever, whether or not it actually is. How do we teach our little ones to be aware of these risks without scaring them? This is a question for which I understand I will never have a satisfying answer.

As clown hysteria built up in Austin this week, I realized I needed to say something to my daughter. I found myself worrying back and forth about the most politically correct, least frightening way to broach the subject, and then on our drive home from school she brought it up. In school, they had discussed what to do if they see a clown, which was obviously to not talk to it and to tell a teacher. I was grateful that her school had taken this initiative, but the momma bear in me, the one who would die for the green-eyed girl in the backseat, the one who would protect that precious life at all costs, took over the woman who worries about saying and doing the politically correct thing.

So then I told her that all clowns are now officially bad. She started giggling, but she was on board, asking me questions about friendly clowns she’d interacted with in the past.  We decided that the one who gave her candy last year was in fact good, but that he’s probably not a clown anymore, because now all clowns are bad. The nice ones quit their jobs.

Then she asked, “Momma, what if they talk to me?”

Good question. If you see a clown, you turn and run away. If a clown or any stranger tries to talk to you, you scream as loudly as you can, and run away. I was beyond thankful that she found this comical and serious at the same time.

I went on to tell her that if a clown or stranger tries to give her candy or touch her, that she should kick, hit, scratch and bite as hard as she could, and that she shouldn’t worry about being nice. It’s the one time she could be as mean as possible.

She loved this. “Momma. Can I say bad words? Can I say the f-word?”

Absolutely. You can absolutely say the f-word to any stranger or clown that tries to grab you. YES. At this point, she was in full-blown, hysterical laughter mode, pretending to be a little ninja warrior in the backseat.

When we quieted down, she asked, “But then you’re going to be there, right momma?” My heart wrenched with the dreadful knowledge that too many children are abused, trafficked, and murdered, despite loved ones desperately searching for them.

Yes, I promised. I assured her that she was not actually going to see a clown or stranger, and that we were just practicing so that we would know what to do, just in case.

She giggled again. “Yeah. But momma. You’ll get the clown and you’ll get him dead!”

Yes, momma will hunt him down. I suddenly had quite the little Rambo on my hands.

Then we got a little more serious and I reminded her that God is always with her, and that she has family and friends who love and pray for her every day. That our faith in God means we do not have to live in fear. That God is always with us, and that we are never alone. As we pulled into the garage, I silently prayed for Jesus to lay his protective arms over our children, our schools, and our communities, shielding us from those who seek to do harm. And as I followed my little human into the house, listening to her chat away about mermaids, baking pumpkin pies, and the sunflowers blooming in our backyard, I thanked God for her sweet heart and her feisty spirit, and that while the f-word will never be enough, HE most certainly is.

 

We Go, or We Die

We go, or we die. It’s a statement that will never leave me. Simple words, weighted in life experiences that I can’t fathom, spoken in broken English by an African teenage refugee. This beautiful girl with the brightest smile spoke these words in the same matter of fact way I tell my five-year old that if she eats candy, she’ll get holes in her teeth. And then this precious soul laughed. A bold, contagious laugh that left me no choice but to laugh with her, the truth of her words hanging between us as we hugged and she went on to her English class.

It’s been a little less than two months since I heard this phrase, and yet I think about it every day. Thankfully, these words are not true in my life in the literal way they are for too many, but I see the truth of her words everywhere. Those five words embody perseverance, they laugh in the face of sitting down and giving up. We are all persevering in one way or another. Not a single one of us will escape trials or crises in different ways at different times. When you live your life believing that if you don’t go, you’ll die, your life requires a degree of faith.

The size of whatever burden we are carrying in a particular moment is insignificant. There are days when I feel that if I have to prepare one more meal, clean one more toilet, or say “no, you may not have another snack” one more time that I will lose my mind . And as dramatic and silly as I know I sound, I can’t not do any of those things. I could, but the gross, hangry, chaos that would ensue would be equivalent to death, so I go until I find joy again in the marathon of parenting a little person. There are other days when I simply have no clue what God is doing in my life. Those days are particularly frustrating, those punched in the gut by life days, but I know that I have a choice to go in faith and trust that God’s got me or to die a spiritual death. I know that the way I go is being watched by two little eyes and one little heart, the sponges of the sweet soul who spends her days trying to emulate her momma. That burden is heavy, but I hope that she will learn to “be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, and faithful in prayer” (Romans12:12). The way we go is as important as the actual going. To go in love, to go in faith, to go in hope, this is what I pray to be able to do throughout my life.

I’m so thankful for the truth this student spoke into me at the beginning of this summer. Her trial that day was simply making it to summer school. She had to take TWO city buses just to reach the nearest school bus that would transport her to her classes. Her family had just moved, and she wasn’t sure of her address. Confused and unable to speak more than a few sentences of English, we thought she would have to be dropped from her course. We couldn’t risk her getting lost chasing buses in unknown parts of the city. When she showed up with only a couple of hours to spare before the attendance/drop deadline, we were astounded. We shook our heads in disbelief. I would never have made it. I would have heard three buses and said I’m out, and I’m a native English speaking Texan. It had taken her hours. She was hungry, she was tired, but she had made it. That’s when she spoke, her eyes sparkling with laughter. “Miss. In Africa we go, or we die. So today I said I go.”

I usually kick off my shoes when I first walk in the door, until I carry them upstairs later. Found my little person lining up her shoes with mine this afternoon.