Repeat.

Wake up. Make coffee. Dress nice. Out the door. Drive to school. Teach some things. Home and friends. Lesson plans. Late to bed.

Repeat.

Weekend. Sleep some more. Friends. Rest. Breathe. Goes too quick.

Repeat. Repeat again.

How easy it is to get caught up in the busy, the obligations, the stress. How easy it is to go on autopilot. How easy it is to miss the little moments that really do matter so much. How easy it is to get stuck on repeat and lose passion and purpose that are so important.

This is my fifth full week of being a full time teacher (my seventh if we are counting the weeks that were broken up by seminars and spring break). I have slowly slipped into the cycle of repeat–each day is part of the checklist, each lesson something to get through, each sassy teenage comment another annoyance, each activity a responsibility. I wait for the weekend when I get to breathe a little and sleep a little and then I repeat.

Today didn’t go so well. When I walked into first period and prepared to greet my students, I found myself stalling for a few extra minutes just to not have to start the lesson. I lacked the passion that I had when I first started; the desire to give fun lessons that made language more than grammar; the hope to impact lives. It showed…I felt it and I bet my students did too. They definitely acted like it. I mean, if I’m standing in front of them bored they’re definitely going to be bored too. By the end of the day, I new something needed to change.

As soon as my last class ended, I went to the open door, took off my shoes, stepped on the grass, picked a flower, and took a deep breath. No more repeat.

Friends. It’s so important to break the pattern of repeat. It steals our joy and passion and we lose every opportunity to truly invest in the moment. We lose the chance to make our community, our lives better. We get tired and we completely lose track of our purpose. Instead, we need to be present in the moment we are living. Even more than that, we need to take time in our day and we need to appreciate the small things. Pick the flower. Look at the ladybug. Smile at the clouds.

Yes. The responsibilities remain, but that doesn’t mean they have to rule you.

For the record, soon after picking the flower one of the teachers said “You look so comfortable right now, but think about all the kids that spit on the grass out there!” I came inside and started lesson planning, but my heart was a little more joyful. Then, I went home, grabbed some good cold brew and a blanket, and sat in the sun for hours. I rested and I enjoyed the warmth and thought about how lucky I am for the life that I live. I thought about all the beauty around me. I broke the cycle of daily tasks.

No more repeat.

Language is…

LANGUAGE.

Language is…a graduation requirement.

Language is…something to boost your resume.

Language is…a job opportunity.

Language is…meant to be so much more.

I recently attended a conference  for Latin American and Iberian Studies, and the main speakers talked about the value of language. This wasn’t a new topic for me–I wouldn’t have spent my entire college career studying to teach Spanish if I didn’t believe it was important–but I still got chills when Emily Bricker said:

“When I tell people I was a Spanish major, the first question they always ask me is ‘So you speak Spanish?’…Yes. I speak Spanish, but that is not what is important to me. I can listen to and understand Spanish. I can listen to people’s stories in Spanish. That means more to me than being able to speak Spanish.”

Wow. I think we’ve missed the point of language.

To ask for things. To advance. To impress. No.

Language is the ability to listen. To listen in a way that demonstrates the truest form of hospitality–meeting and welcoming the stranger, listening to their story, welcoming them into your home through an exchange of words.

But we do not see language this way, because we live in a world that is resistant to the other. We are told that the other is too different and dangerous, and we learn very early on that we are better off keeping to ourselves. Little by little we start buying into that idea that we don’t really need relationships out of our people group; the others aren’t our responsibility after all. We start to learn they are just too different, and we would never understand each other anyway. No, it’s better to stay with what we know. We build our personal wall and we stay there.

But language. It breaks down walls and it connects people and cultures that shouldn’t be connected. I have seen it in action. I have watched high school students use broken language to make friends with people from a “dangerous” country. I have seen people realize that different isn’t so scary after all. I have witnessed the look of relief on an woman’s face upon realizing I could translate for her in the US customs line. I have seen adult’s eyes sparkle as they are finally able to share their stories and dreams in their heart language. I have felt the same joy and relief when someone was able to listen to me in my own heart language.

I have shared meals because of language. I have shared laughs because of language. I have made friendships because of language.

Language is…

Listening. Connection. Friendship. Love beyond borders.

And I sit here today and I think, how would the world be different if we could just latch on to this true purpose for language? What if we embraced differences and tried to connect? What if we replaced fear with wonder? What if we loved, regardless of skin or culture or stereotypes? What if we listened first?

Be in the mess.

When I started out to be a teacher I had a very pretty picture in my head–my classroom was going to be organized and beautiful, my students would be smiling and deeply interested in what I had to say, and we would all be learning things about Spanish and life too. I would be changing lives on the daily and my students would love me always…or at least most of the time. Yes. I can hear the veteran teachers laughing as they read this, but I’m an idealist and this is what I planned to do.

I’ve been in a high school for about two and a half months now–teaching full time for about a month–and I can truthfully say that my class looks like my pretty picture maybe 5% of the time. The reality looks more like a cluttered desk, a bulletin board that was made in 15 minutes the day before it was due, a pack of sleepy and grumpy teenagers, and lessons that go as planned about half the time. It’s hard and I’m tired.

The reality of teaching is that it’s messy, but now I see why that’s expected. When it comes down to it I’m a messy person trying to do good in the lives of messy people. It’s going to be a messy process. For your reading pleasure, I’ve compiled a list of some of the better messy moments that help to illustrate the point:

  1. A five minute discussion on why I asked a student to take out his notebook. Complete with explanations of purpose and respect.
  2. Conversation with 15 year olds about things that 15 year olds should never have to experience. And then figuring out a way to motivate them to do their classwork afterwards.
  3. Lessons gone wrong. A lot.
  4. Class discussions about classroom community, group participation, and the importance of respecting each individual. Then having the same conversation three days later.
  5. Getting focused on the details of the job only to realize that I missed an important moment to help a student through a life struggle. Not good.
  6. Getting so focused on relationships and student lives that I lose some important papers with student grades. Big oops.
  7. Learning to the importance of thick skin in the face of high school pettiness.
  8. Realizing that the mistakes don’t go away after the first few weeks of practice.

My students are messy. They come from rough backgrounds and families that do more harm than good. They come from homes that lack food. They are teenagers trying to figure out who they are in the world. They are people desperately seeking a community, doing anything to stay apart of it, and not always making the best choices as a result. They are young adults with complex feelings and fears. And every day they come into my class and they bring the mess with them.

I am messy. I am a young student teacher who is still learning the ropes. I come with a great desire to do good in the lives of my students and not a lot of practical ideas of how to make that good happen. I am still learning the balance between Spanish lessons and life lessons. I deal with students that do not like me, and I am hurt when they show that dislike. I make mistakes every day. And every day I come into class and I bring the mess with me.

This week I have been tired…really, really tired. I feel the weight of the mistakes and struggling relationships. I feel the pressure to continue to love my students well in spite of that. I’ve dealt with the very real insecurities that come from such a conflict. I am worn, and I am a little sad when I think of how far my classes are from that pretty picture I once created.

To be honest, I wasn’t sure where this post was going to go once I started typing, but as I sit here and reflect on my classroom mess, I am starting to see how it might actually be a good thing. What I mean is this: if all my students were perfect and I was perfect, what would be the point of teaching at all? Would there really be a need for intentional development if they just took every life lesson, accepted it, and applied it? Why would I be going through the whole student teacher process if I wasn’t going to use it as a time to make mistakes and learn from them?

Are we even recognizing our own true humanity if we don’t also recognize the mess that comes with being human? Rather than dwelling on an idealistic picture, why not dive into the mess of working with other humans? It’s hard and tiring, but it’s also real. I guess it’s also why I signed up for this in the first place. I signed up to be in the mess.

The curve in the road.

I’ve been journeying down this road for a while now. For the longest time, I thought I knew exactly where it was taking me, but now I’m not so sure. There is a curve ahead, and I can’t see beyond it just yet. It gets closer every day I go forward, but I still don’t know what’s on the other side. I feel that it is good, but I do not know. Still, I keep going. 


I write this as I sit on my couch thinking about a big curve that’s coming up in my life–a curve called graduation. I don’t know what’s behind it, but I do feel that it is good. Most of the time…if I’m being honest, sometimes I’m just plain scared. The unknown curves can do that to you. Still, I can sit here most days and say that I believe there is good coming, and I say that because, even though the curve is unknown, I know the road and I know that the road is good.

Last semester I took a senior course for my major called Capstone, and in this class we talked a lot about calling. And even as I participated in many enjoyable and thought-provoking discussions about the topic, I struggled to identify God’s specific calling in my life. I was stuck waiting for some AHA! moment, an arrow in the sky, or some wise words that said “Yes. This is what you need to do. This is your calling.” And even though I knew my passions, any attempts at labeling a specific career path as “my calling” seemed more like my own created label rather than God’s hand in my life. It seemed limiting…probably because it was.

I’m walking on a road that has twists and turns and, more often than not, I don’t know exactly where I am going. Still I keep walking the road, because that is my calling. I know my calling is to love people. It’s simple, it’s broad, and I believe without a shadow of a doubt that it is a calling from God. I do not know what this calling will look like (even though I definitely have desires); I cannot see beyond the curves. Still I keep walking–in the face of scary interviews, possible rejection, and changes galore–because I know the road of loving people is good, and for this I feel that there is good ahead.

 

That thing called HOPE.

“True hope is always hard. Is it not passive wishing. It is an active exercise, a choice, an intention. Hope means giving up apathy and despair and embracing the uncertainty that terrifies you. It is the sacrifice of keeping your heart soft.” {Jena Lee Nardella, One Thousand Wells}

How can we find beauty in a world that is so broken? How can we see the image of God in a person that is so mean? How can we seek love when relationships are so temporary? Oh, that thing called hope.

The truth is we live in a world that can  be downright brutal and scary. It’s unfair and cruel. And as we stair in the face of such unfairness,  how often do we toss around the word “hope” like a positive, spiritual bandaid that will hold our crumbling lives together. Or even more, we use it as a half-heated wish that things will get better soon. For some reason it doesn’t quite do the trick…

But what if we are viewing hope all wrong? A few days ago, I was reading One Thousand Wells by Jena Lee Nardella and I was captivated by the way she explained hope. (See quote above) Jena writes this as she reflects on her often unrewarded and unsuccessful attempts at bringing clean drinking water to suffering communities in Africa. She talks about how selfishness, corruption, disease, and natural disasters would get in the way of her efforts to do good. She talks about loosing hope, wanting to give up, and then finding hope again in a whole new form. Hope that is hard. Hope that acts. Hope that is scary. Hope that hurts.

As I reflect on this kind of hope and how it applies to my own life, I think of what a wonderully difficuly change in mindset this could be. What if I chose hope as an action, and tried to explain verb conjugations one more time to that struggling student? What if I chose a hope that scared me, and went for a job that challenges me in every way? What if I choose to let hope hurt, and I love the other even when it’s messy, painful and hard?

That is true hope. That is powerful hope. That is a hope that’s worth having, because that is a hope that makes a broken world with struggling people a place of beauty.

Bigger than us.

I am student teaching this semester for about 100 crazy, wonderful high school Spanish students. I hope I’m teaching them something, but I know that they are teaching me each and every day. One huge example: I cannot control everything.

This Friday was the beginning of our spring break, but as I was driving towards Franklin for a relaxing few days at home, I found myself frantically trying to respond to a situation that had popped up in one of my classes that morning. I was sick. Why didn’t I do more? Why didn’t I do something quicker? What is wrong with me?

As I set in my car with the weight of the world crashing down on my very incapable shoulders, I got a text from my cooperating teacher that said, “We both know this is something way bigger than us.”

…….Boom. Yet again, I was wanting to save the world. Yet again, I was devastated to find myself in a situation that I could not save. It was bigger than me…but it wasn’t bigger than God.

It’s surprising how quick I can assign myself the role of “savior.” Maybe it seems noble or something, but at the end of the day it’s me saying that I can do it on my own. It’s saying that my 22 year old self can do more good than the Almighty God. News flash people, it doesn’t work that way. Why? Because people don’t save people. Jesus saves people. 

When we take it as our responsibility to fix every problem, we are doing two things. (1) We are taking on burdens that are way to big for us. We will not be able to handle them. (2) We are keeping Jesus from making lasting change in his people. When we are the savior, the victim sees us. When we are the tool and Jesus is the savior, then they see Jesus. Lasting change. True salvation. It really is the better outcome.

So friends. Dare to walk alongside someone in the hard times and choose to help them carry the burden.  But don’t forget to pray. Don’t forget to trust a God with so much more love and power than we can ever imagine. Let him be the savior, because some things are too big for us to save.

 

 

The details.

I’m discovering the details of a bold life each day.

So I know that I want to live a bold life, but I’m learning that this kind of living looks a little different each day. I know that if I want to truly live a bold life, I need to live boldly in the details. I need to talk to the struggling student, have a conversation with the rejected, give when others say not to, ask the questions, give a smile. These little details–that’s where the real change occurs.

Every day is a different story with different details. If you want to read more about these details, follow the links under the “categories” heading.