Valentine’s Day, Scooby-Doo, and a huge birthday party.

IMG_8667

All students names have been changed in order to protect them. 

Valentine’s Day

We made cards in my middle school classroom. I explained about this funny day we celebrate on February 14th, and showed my class what a Valentine’s card looks like. Then, we got our hands on markers and construction paper and made our own cards.

Some of my students made cards for friends in other classes, and other made some for teachers at their school. And about half of them made cards for any set of eyes that would care to read them. A couple of the girls devoted themselves to taping them up on the front door of the classroom.

This is what they read:

  • Happy Valentine’s Day everybody
  • Happy Valentine’s Day ❤ you are very kindfully to other people and you are always respectfully. Anyway I would like to say happy Valentine’s day.
  • Have big happy happy I happy Valentine’s happy
  • Saddy Valentine’s Day.
  • My is sister. I love you. I am thankful for you. Thank you for helping me. Love. Thank you for everything.
  • Happy Valentine’s day to everyone. I love you guys. ❤ Happy Valentine’s day to everyone. Enjoy your day guys.

 

– – –

 

IMG_8670

 

Darcy

Do you remember the middle school student I told you about who loves to jump rope? She helped me to jump rope one evening, and promised me that I could do it. Well, her birthday was last week. When I told her my birthday was only a few days after, her face lit up. “Really?” she asked.

When we made our Valentine’s cards in class a few days later, she made one special for me. I hugged it to my chest, and told her thank you.

This is what the Valentine card read:

  • Brianna, your the best teacher that I ever had. I wish that you could stay for ever in after school. Happy Valentine’s Day. Love, Darcy.

Just a few minutes later, she caught my attention again. She held a piece of notebook paper and a small, locked notebook in her hand.

“Miss, this is for your birthday. Happy birthday,” she said, handing it all to me. I opened the notebook paper to see a drawn peacock wishing me a happy birthday. The notebook had a mermaid on the cover, and said, “Always be yourself unless you can be a mermaid. Then be a mermaid.”

It was the first birthday gift I had been given, and one of the most special. The thought counts, and the actions that follow– no matter how big or small—make a difference. I have no doubt little Darcy will make a difference in this world. She’s making one in mine, and I’m supposed to be the one impacting her.

 

– – –

 

Tim

A small, sixth-grade boy named Tim started in our after-school middle school program a couple weeks ago. He’s from Asia, and he’s at that part of growing up where he’s still sweet and isn’t cool enough yet to make my life super hard in the classroom. He’s the only student who lives at an apartment complex further away from his classmates. I’ve driven him home a couple times, and I love getting a few minutes to talk to him quietly. Honestly, opportunities like that don’t come too often in our program. I’m thankful when they do.

This week, when Tim and I began the 10-minute drive to his home, he asked me, “Miss, I have a question: do you like Mario or Scooby?”

“Hmm. I like Mario,” I answered, wondering where he was going with this. It hardly seemed like a fair comparison.

“Really? Why?”

“Well, I liked to play Mario when I was a kid. He lives in an interesting world,” I explained.

It was quiet for a few seconds. I could only assume that he disagreed, so I returned the question, “Who do you like, Tim? Mario or Scooby?”

“Scooby!” he exclaimed, without giving it a second thought.

“Scooby? Why?” I asked him.

“Scooby solves mysteries. And, he isn’t afraid of monsters,” Tim said. My eyes were fixed on the road ahead of me, but I could hear his voice clearly. He sounded happy and excited, and this is something else I don’t get to witness a lot in my middle school students. And again, I’m thankful when I do.

You know me: I romanticize things and make it more poetic. And I knew when Tim answered that he likes Scooby because Scooby isn’t afraid of monsters (which is debatable, ha!), it was beautiful. Everyone has fears lurking in the shadows of their world. We run from them and avoid them. We don’t like talking about them, and many times, we don’t feel like we can fight them. Some people try though, and it’s one of the most inspiring and awesome things humanity does.

Everyone has them. And everyone’s looks different. I have a feeling that the fears and monsters I fight are different from the ones Tim has fought. I wasn’t brave enough to ask, but I have a feeling that he’s come face to face with monsters much bigger than the ones I’ve ever dreamt of. Even though he’s safe in America now, what I do know is that most of his life has been spent on the run. He’s run from monsters, and I have no doubt he’s met them too.

We talked the rest of the drive about Mario’s mustache, and he suggested that I tell my husband to get rid of the beard.

“Maybe you’ll like him without it,” he said. And I just chuckled.

 

– – –

 

Sara and Milad

I know I talk about Sara and Milad nearly every week, but we connect in ways that I don’t experience with many of my other students. I believe we have a special relationship, and I pray that even long after my role as their teacher is finished, I will continue to know them.

This week, they served me breakfast, as they always do. On my plate was a beautiful heart-shaped doughnut, covered in red icing and pink sprinkles. I asked them if they celebrate Valentine’s Day. They looked at me incredulously, “Of course. It’s a love day.”

Honestly, I had decided against teaching my students about Valentine’s Day this week because I knew that many countries around the world have banned the holiday. Out of respect for my students whose religious beliefs might discourage them from celebrating, I chose to forfeit that fight. Plus, I was super excited to teach about American birthdays instead.

I tried to explain this in low, introductory English to Sara and Milad. The world “Muslim” came to my mind, and I decided to go there.

“I know you’re Muslim. I didn’t know if you liked Valentine’s Day,” I told them, curious to hear their response.

There are good Muslims, and there are bad Muslims. We are good Muslims,” they said. They told me they loved to celebrate and parties. Milad went further, “There are many Christians: Catholic, Protestant, Jews–“

I stopped him there. “Only people who believe in Jesus are Christians.” And I think that proved his point.

There are good Christians and there are bad Christians. Same with Muslims,” he said.

I empathized. I understood what he meant. He, in simple English, was making religious comparisons that stretched around the world. And you know, I felt what he said. I felt it deeply.

There are Christians who shame the name of Christ, instead of letting His name shame them. They abuse His Gospel and carry it without much care about who could be watching. They don’t esteem His Words, and they twist it into their own words. They teach what’s wrong, and glorify the gods of their comfort. They speak up when it’s best to be silent, and vice versa. I know, because I’m one of them. Even when I try to be the “good Christian,” there are many days I fail.

And here is my student, talking about a different religion, but still explaining that there are some people who harm the name of what they claim to believe. They do more harm than good with their actions on the altar of their beliefs. And for those who are passionate for the “good” version of their religion, they feel the sting of those who shame the name of what they love.

Readers, I hope everything I write makes it evident that I love Jesus and Jesus alone. However, I also hope these words can show us the similarities we have with people who are so different. I hope we can find a common ground, and a safe place to meet the people we think we could never reach.

I hope we can realize that at the end of the days, we’re all broken people trying to do the best we can with what we’re given. As we all seek the same answers but look in different places, I hope we can find the reality that we’re all in this humanity thing together. And sometimes, maybe the people who look the most different from us are the ones who are more alike than we can even imagine.  

 

– – –

 

 

IMG_8720

Birthday Party

I shared with you all several weeks ago about how I told some of my students that I wanted them to visit my home for dinner. They loved the idea, and even suggested having a birthday party instead. I didn’t think I’d have the guts to go through with it, but once I told Travis, we were sold. All in. Nothing was going to stop it.

I dedicated last week to teaching my students about the basic birthday traditions in America, and the necessary words they need to know too. At the end of each class, I handed them a printed birthday invitation and explained that they were invited to my home for a party with students from all my classes, my family, and my friends.

On Friday night, we made a trip to Sam’s Club for bulk queso and a huge cake. On Friday morning, I left a class and then recorded myself driving into my apartment complex to send to the students who had RSPVed. Finding the address is easy, but finding the apartment number is the hard part.

Would you believe me if I told you that almost half of them came?

I invited 15 students, and watched in amazement as 7 of them came to our home with some of their families. These students were stretched across 4 different classes, and the only people most of them knew were me or their spouse. And then our friends and family began arriving too. There were knocks on the doors, and my parents kept coming to me saying, “I think there are some people looking for you.” They’d motion toward to the door, and I’d recognize familiar faces.

“Teacher, where do we put shoes?” they asked me, stepping into my home for the first time.

And before I knew it, there were Burmese, Kurdish, Cuban, Sudanese and American people piled into our tiny, one-bedroom apartment. We didn’t even have enough chairs for everyone to sit, but I’m not even sure anyone noticed. We ate pizza, we played pin the tail on the horse (seriously- ha!), and sang the most beautiful round of “happy birthday” I’ve ever heard.

Friends, do you know how brave this whole experience was for these people?

I thought I was brave for going out on a limb and hosting a party for such a wide range of people, but the ones who came were the brave ones.

The students who came to an apartment complex they had never seen before, and knocked on a door not knowing who would be on the other side or what they would say—they’re brave.

The friends and family who gave up time on their Saturday to come and meet people they might not ever see again, and can barely communicate with—they’re brave.

My husband who willingly let us budget for a pricey grocery trip to make my dreams of seeing unity among all people and serving them in our home—he’s brave.

All of my students brought me gifts. They brought Easter bunnies, perfume, flannels, house shoes, blankets, purses, a scarf from the tribe of Mara—way more than I deserve or expected. When my dear friend, Sara, handed me the gift as she and her family left, she hugged me tight. “I love you,” she said.  

I held her for a minute and told her, “I love you too.”

It was the party of a lifetime. It was the most tangible reminder of why I labor, day in and day out, to know these people and to seek to build long-standing relationships. It’s difficult, exhausting, and sometimes feels unfruitful. But the start of 23 years old told me that it’s not in vain.

Here’s to a year of more building, unity, loving, serving, and crazy, impossible, mountainous ideas.

I’m their teacher, but when it comes to learning about love and courage, I am their student. God, bless them.

 

 

Advertisements

Going off the Trail: Reflections from a Winter Day’s Hike

Cummins Falls State Park
Cookeville, TN
2/14/15


IMAG3583

Do you trust me?” she said to us. Without hesitation we answered yes. Yes.

After walking on the path through the woods we stopped at a light brown fence where a couple stood overlooking the water below. It looked so far down, and I wondered how we would get there. I wanted so badly to get there.

She walked around to the other side of the fence, and we followed. “It looks like we’re going straight down, but it’s not that bad,” she promised. I looked over the cliff and had my doubts; the water looked farther down than it had on the other side of the fence.

We’re going off the trail?” I asked with a small ounce of hope that I could change her mind. The pieces clicked in my head, and I repeated to myself: we’re going off the trail.

Still, we followed when she headed towards an opening on the left, curving around a small tree. As I followed the narrow path, curving around the cliff at a downward slope, I eyed every root peeking through the dirt. I followed her path closely, watching where she placed her feet and held on to the rock. I tilted my head up to catch one last glance of the wooden, light brown fence looked; it looked so far above now.

Having only moved down the rocky path a few, small feet’s pace, I looked down. Immediately my world began to move. I pictured my hand losing hold, the dirt under my feet slipping under my weight, and wondered how I would get back up if I fell the wrong way. A wave washed over the pit of my stomach, and I looked back at the rock I was surrounded by—both beside and underneath me.

Focus,” I repeated to myself– “Don’t look back and don’t look ahead. Right here. Right now. This is your world.”

And I quietly continued. I watched helplessly when they stopped below me to help our four-legged companion make it down the steep incline too. Out of fear the world would move on me again, I focused on them and on me. Not what lied ahead, not what was left behind, just where I was. The here, the now, this very moment.

We covered more and more ground. The dirt left my marks on my pants and I began to wish I had worn gloves on my raw, red hands. I realized, too, how absolutely weak I felt. Even more than a feeling, I took it to be true. I was weak then. And as I type this today—sore legs and arms and all—I am still weak. Maybe a little less weak than I felt in that moment, but I know today I’m still a feeble, little thing. Truth is truth even when it’s hard, and how considerably small I felt to imagine myself moving clumsily from rock to root.

If I had been watching the clock, I guess I could have told you we slowly climbed our way down the rocks and trees in 10-15 minutes. But honestly, concept of time left me; it felt neither longer or shorter. It just was. It just happened. We just did it.

And I guess that’s what it’s like facing fears. Even as I think back, “What fear did I have? Not heights, right? Falling to my death? Having an intense movie scene, except without the camera or the stunt double?” I can’t give an answer. All I know is this method of travel was so beyond me—beyond my comfort zone, beyond my routine, beyond the smallest scope of imagination telling me I could actually do this.

Once we finally reached the flatter land and stood only feet away from the water’s edge, I glanced back up at the path hidden by the trees and the great heights that stood between us and that light brown, wooden fence we had crossed so long ago. I didn’t want to think about how we we were getting back up. Our path for the next minute continued much flatter and closer to the clear, clear water as we climbed over tons of rocks and fallen trees.

I didn’t notice the sound of the falling waters become louder until I saw it. We had followed those waters, listening to its sound become louder and louder as we trekked closer and closer. And now we stopped. The journey to get here far behind us, we stood in awe as the cool wind filled with droplets from the close water fall hit our face.

The tough travel to this spot came full circle as I realized why she had led us off the well-known path.

“Isn’t it awesome? It’s so pretty! Ah, I love it!” we smiled at one another as we attempted to out-yell the waterfall that stood just ahead of us. Resting our bones and our backpacks on a large, flat rock a little further back, we just sat. I looked around, trying so hard to take it all in—the towering cliffs, the water rapidly moving over the stones, the gray sky so high above us—I thought to myself again, “I am so weak. So, so weak.” And somehow as the words filled my head this time, peace and contentment filled the cracks. This time when I felt those words, it wasn’t because of the shaking in my legs and my struggling muscles. It wasn’t even a mind game, or a weakness of struggling to focus on the right thing at the right moment. This time, I felt weak at the core of my soul. Even as I sat safely on this cold, gray stone, I felt powerless compared to the vast beauty I sat among.

So, what do you think?” she asked me.

It’s so quiet,” I replied. But then I thought again, “Well, I mean, it’s actually really loud, but—

It’s quiet in a peaceful way,” she finished.

Exactly.”

We ventured around, leaping from rock to rock, to catch every angle through the lens of both our camera and our own eyes. As we sneakily took candid shots of each other, and laughed at our four-legged companion as he  up on the couples sitting nearby, everything in the world seemed to fade as we lived in this moment, at this valley, with these people.

Eventually, I made my way alone to one of the rocks closer to the fall. Wrapping my coat tighter around me, I lied down. My eyes drifted from the bare trees overhead, the falling water in the distance, and the couple that stood gazing from the brown, wooden fence on the cliff. From the rock next to me, I heard her sing, “Then sings my soul, my Savior God to Thee / How great Thou art, how great Thou art.” I closed my eyes, as I tried so hard to put this moment into words. Falling short, so short, my thoughts kept coming back, “Just be here. Be here now. This moment is enough. Just be here.”

At some point, the cold wind became more noticeable to me and I couldn’t wrap my coat any tighter around me. Jumping from rock to rock, I traveled farther back where my backpack and spare sweatshirt waited for me. Pulling the hard-back notebook from my bag, I shivered as my gloved hands attempted to find a grip on my pen. Scribbling words on the lines, I fought to ask what I felt. To know what I felt. To feel anything at all.

Make me like the waterfall: boldly full of grace, moving without stopping, a beautiful fingerprint of Your creation—

I don’t know how long I tried my best to take these moments for what they were. I don’t know how long I glanced at my paper and shifted my eyes to the world around me. At some point though, my thoughts were put on hold by our 4-legged companion. Jumping from me to the backpack to every other piece of space around me. Deciding it best to pack up, we did a timed-selfie and read a chapter of Scripture aloud, and as quickly as we had made our trek here, we turned to make our journey back.

Once we met the opening to the makeshift, off-trail path, I paused for a second and tried to find the wooden, brown fence so high above us. I didn’t wonder how I would get there. I didn’t wonder if I would lose my grip, or if my world would spin again. I set my focus on the moment I was in as I crouched down to take hold of every root and rock that looked sturdy enough to support my weight.

We followed one another as we made our way up the steep incline, just as we had watched each other coming down. When our 4-legged companion stopped at the most challenging part of the climb—right on a narrow overhang of stone, I watched helplessly again as they cooed and hoisted him up to the solid ground. As I came around the other side, curving around the tree and finding solid, walkable ground again, I spotted the brown, wooden fence.

Meeting them just a minute later, we all smiled out of relief and began walking on the marked path towards the car. From the other side of the fence, I turned one last time to glance at the water so, so far below us.

And just like so many other things hard and worthwhile in this life, I thought about what it looked like to climb down these obstacles and to feel the world shake at the magnitude of it. I thought about how crazy we might have looked—or felt—and the thing that made me want to keep reaching, making it closer and closer to those clear waters. Never mind the waves that overtook my stomach until the peace came—the stillness we had discovered in front of the falls made the hard journey down worth it. So, so worth it.

I couldn’t have traded another path for a missed opportunity to gaze at those falls. I couldn’t have stayed in my own comfort zone instead of throwing my arms back with a sigh, “I am here.”

Those are the things I wanna live for—the moments that have no reaction but to let go—

And now I know: I want to seek the off-trail opportunities more often.

:: bm

IMAG3581

:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

Thanks so much to Elisabeth for driving and for keeping me on my toes with awesome conversation and music, Anna for the invite and leading us down the cliffs to the falls, and to Apollo for being the faithful 4-legged companion and adding excitement to not only our trip but also to the couples’ romantic moments at the falls. Galentine’s Day was a hit, and I’m stoked to have spent it with cool friends in a cool place in the middle of cool moments.