Thursday, November 29, 2012

Bare Faced

I really enjoy being "put together."  I like the process of picking a nice outfit, putting it on, fixing my hair, and putting on some makeup.  I love that time in the morning to just prepare for the day and then greet it looking my best.  There's a certain confidence that comes with dressing well, and it helps even just the way one walks, speaks, and behaves.

Yesterday was not one of those days.

I have been exhausted lately, and so on Tuesday night, I went to bed at the early (for me) hour of 10:00 to try and fix the issue.  As it turns out, getting eight and a half hours of sleep when you're deprived of it only compounds the problem.  It was as if my body screamed at me all day "what was that and where can I get more of it? Oh, how about right here in the cafeteria!"

So I did something I never, ever do.  I rolled out of bed, put on no makeup, threw my hair up with a clip, and put on an oversized sweatshirt with leggings and my most torn up, but most comfortable, boots.  It was just not cute, but I didn't have the patience to care.  I flat out gave up.

I went to work, then to breakfast, then to work again, then to class, then to chapel, then to class, then to lunch, then to class, then work again, and then another class.  After that, I had a long dinner with some terrific people, got to catch up with a friend from high school, and stayed in one of the buildings drinking coffee and having a wonderful, lengthy talk with two great conversation partners.  Then I spent the next two hours with my best friend and then I went to my room and crashed out dead in my bed.

But it was good.

I went into chapel and one of my favorite people told me that I didn't need to be worried about not wearing makeup.  I laughed a lot with people I love.  I didn't think about the strands of short hair falling around my face all day much and I just focused on being present without worry about anything but the people around me and the things I was doing at the time.

Yes, I am wearing a little makeup and an outfit I like today.  No, I will not make the sloppy thing a habit.  But it was so good to know that regardless of what I look like, I can still be blessed.  It's obvious that God was trying to teach me not to rely on what I can do to be loved, but to realize that he blesses me no matter what kind of shoes I wear or how much time I spend getting ready in the morning.

Does that sound absolutely silly?  I hope not.  I think it's just a testament to how God has a personal relationship with us and really does specifically work in us and for us, even in the smallest things.

How has God shown you his love and big-ness today?

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Open-ended question

It's quiet where I sit.  I'm squished comfortably down into a soft, green chair and eyes feel a little droopy.  I've done so much homework today that my brain is a little bit numb... but it was a good day.  There was some stress and I am weary, body and soul, but it was good.

I student teach at a public high school off the mountain, and I love it to bits.  Today was quite an experience, though.  I arrived in the classroom and, lo and behold, there was no one but a substitute teacher who didn't know what was going on.  But he knew I'd been a part of the class before so he put me in charge.

I essentially had to wrangle eleventh graders on my own, work on vocab with them, and then give an impromptu lesson on romanticism and Gothic imagery.  For the second half of the class, we watched parts of the film The Raven based off the works of Edgar Allen Poe.  That movie is horrifyingly gory and I don't know why they're allowed to watch it in class, but I was just glad I didn't have to sustain an entire class with no preparation.

I didn’t expect to love the students as much as I do, and I did not expect to dread the end of the semester.  But there’s a lot of sadness to the journey, though I suppose that’s what makes the triumphs so beautiful.  When a troubled kid looks at you with respect and learns something from you, and maybe even likes you as a person, there’s a feeling of joy for which you can really only thank God.  

This high school needs Jesus and a deeper level of grace in the classroom.  The students are not being given what they need and it does break my heart.  I would love to have a deeper investment in their lives than I’m able to have in this semester, and I’m hoping that when I become a teacher, I’ll be able to reach that point in my own classroom.

At this school, I can walk through the door and feel the brokenness.  If I get there before the first bell, I can watch all the students milling about as I weave through them to get to my class.  There’s a pervasive smell of stale cigarettes and an air of tiredness and some apathy, but overall I can just feel the need for something bigger than what they’re aiming for.  Something bigger than a tepid forcing of knowledge into brains with little thought given to hearts and souls. 

I see clearly that the public school system is awash with bad habits and a general complacency.  The teacher I work with asked the students if they knew where a fellow student was.  They all said he got kicked out, because he got “locked up” and if you go to jail you’re automatically out.  She responded with a simple “Oh, what a shame.  I liked him.”  And that was the end of it.  That little instance shattered many illusions about the career path that I want to pursue, but instead of scaring me away, it made me take it more seriously.  

My desire to be a light to these students has increased and I know that I just want to be the kind of teacher who can administer a love for English while also delivering an emphasis on the Gospel even in a public school classroom.
There’s a lot of damage done in the public school system that can’t be unraveled by singular teachers.  But, somehow, I still feel that the only way to reverse the cycle without major government intervention is to make sure that we have teachers who are bringing the gospel, or even just some common grace, into the classroom, even when they can’t explicitly share it with the students during school hours.
In my experience, the students I teach are fairly unruly and they need a lot of attention in order to succeed.  Some of them are special needs students and others are simply difficult or have attitudes that don’t lend to good study habits or successful learning.  However, I also see a lot of intelligence and sweetness.  I see kids who often are trying to do the right thing but are foiled by their surroundings.  I see a boy who tries to be the alpha dog and objectify women, when really he’s hiding the fact that he can do all the work put in front of him without batting an eyelash at the difficulty.  I see a girl who shouts out the answer to every question in class, when really, she doesn’t want people to know that she doesn’t test very well.  

But I’ve seen the grade books.  I’ve marked up the tests.  And I’ve interacted with the kids and tried to love them as best I can.

So how do you light up darkness like that? 

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Missing Belgique

I love my mountain, as you can probably tell from the way I've gushed over it in previous posts.  It's a stunning place to live, and the people who are on it make it even more so.  I am so content here.  I love my school so desperately and I know that this is where I'm supposed to be living.

And yet I have a massive, Europe-shaped hole in my heart.  I don't think about it very often, but on occasion, I'm practically slapped in the face with how much I miss it.

Sometimes I'll be walking across campus in the fog, and I think of Belgium.  The stone pathway clicks familiarly beneath my boots and my well-used trench coat hugs me tight.  I can feel the wetness in the air and my fingertips get numb with each passing moment, so I shove them in my pockets and continue forth just as I did when I would walk to the train station in Brussels.

Often, I'll hear a song from one of my travel playlists.  I won't tell anyone which songs those are because they are almost like a diary of how I was feeling at the time, but now when I hear them I get melancholy.  Sometimes it provokes a tear, but mostly I just grow homesick and bear it as silently as possible.  It's silly to be homesick for a place that holds so many bad memories, isn't it?

Isn't it crazy that I love a place so much when I so hated it at the time?  I wanted to be nowhere but in happy, "perfect" America.  I knew it would be the ticket.  And to be honest, moving here did help me.  I was able to figure myself out in a comfortable, known environment, and I'm so much happier now than I was at the time.  But now I realize that I need to experience the parts of Europe that I loved so much, but this time with my refreshed and God-changed heart.

I loved my Belgium so much.  I merely hated my situation, and I still do.  I'm not bitter anymore, praise be to God, but it is right and good that I hate the circumstances for they are ugly and broken.  But I love what the Lord has done in my heart and I want to share it.

I want to walk through those old, familiar streets and smile at passersby because I have something to smile about it.  I want to look beggars in the eye and give them a euro or two, or maybe just a hot sandwich.  I want to speak to shopkeepers in my broken French and eat all the good food I can stuff into my belly.  Maybe sit by a fire in a pub with laughter on my lips and a hot meal on my plate.

Instead of being afraid of the city and of the world, even in its beauty, I want to embrace it and fly into it full force and experience it anew.  I miss my Belgium.  And, hey, maybe it misses me.

The homesickness gets harder and harder.  I will go back.  It won't be easy for so many reasons, but I'm feeling the pull and I know I must.  I don't know when, but even if I must go alone, I will go.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

City Lights and Joy

The weather on my mountain is breathtaking.  Tonight I stood outside looking over the city lights by myself.  They twinkled and it was like magic, and I couldn't stop grinning.

I inhaled the fresh, fall air and for the first time I made sure to taste it, too.  It's not sweet, but it's not unsweet, either.  It's melancholy and familiar and I love it more than any other season's breath.  It's too dark outside to recognize it by its colors, but I know my friend Autumn by her smell.

Deeply I sucked it into my nose and mouth, held it in, and then pushed it out back into the sky again.  I thanked God for my breath.  I danced my fingers like a piano player, though I can only play Twinkle Twinkle, on the railing and thanked God for fingers that move.  I bounced on my healthy feet and wiggled side to side with my happy legs.  I didn't sing for a while because I wanted to hear the last of the leaves dancing together... but, of course, it wasn't long before I couldn't help but hum a little.

Hallelujah screamed at me from every visible thing.  Even the invisible things somehow shouted God's glory at me.

God has blessed me, even in the midst of heartsickness, with an inexplicable joy this week.  I have been practically bouncing off the walls with sheer blessedness.

None of this is my doing.  When I go off by myself and retreat into chick flicks and chocolate and refuse to smile, life crashes without any mercy.  But God is teaching me to truly run to his arms in sorrow instead of running from him.

So as I watched the city lights flicker, I remembered my smallness and that made my love for God get bigger.  How could such a tiny thing like me be seen, much less loved by such an awesome Lord?  For every wavering light there are hundreds of people who all need grace and who all need love.  Who am I to pout about... anything?

Instead, I choose to grin.  And I pray that God will fill me with so much joy that it'll just bubble up and over and pour out all over the people around me so that they might feel joy, too.  I pray to serve and not to be served, and I pray that God will give me a heart for that more than anything else.

I want to weep with those who weep, because God holds my own tears in a bottle.  I want to put a smile on the faces of other's because God keeps giving me one.  I want to bring music into people's lives because God keeps putting songs in my heart.  I want to write words for people because of the one, true Word.

I love you who are reading this and I just want you to know that you can feel free to email me or leave comments or whatever.  I'd just love to send you encouragement if you need it, or anything else.  I don't write this blog for myself, and I would love for it to be a kind of conversation.

Be joyful, little people.  Because your God is big and his blessings encompass all.