I have nothing to teach you

I don’t have anything to teach you today. It is just me. My mess, my doubts, my confusion. I have a few clever stories about my very clever girls. I have my exhaustion from the end of a very heavy school year. I have questions. I have a lot of questions and maybe a new crock pot recipe.

But I don’t have anything to teach you.

I hope that is okay. I hope it is okay that there are no a-ha moments or big revelations today. I don’t even think I have any gentle reminders, just a huge stack of papers needing entered into the computer and a mostly empty Styrofoam cup of almond flavored coffee.

I have been slow to show up here recently. I have a half dozen blog posts started, but I just wan’t sure what the point was. Somewhere along the way I got the impression that I had to be sure and pointed and point you to something beautiful right there, second line from the end. I don’t want to show up without anything valuable for you. I like my readers. I don’t take it for granted that you show up here sometimes.

But I don’t have any big lessons, or any particular beautiful moments. I just have me, showing up, opening the doors to show you that things have been hard lately.

I have nothing to teach you. And I am choosing to believe that this is enough, even with my hands empty, even when it doesn’t feel like it.

I have nothing to teach you, but I am here, and you are here, and we are broken, and bruised, and beautiful and beloved.

I have nothing to teach you today, I am learning how to be.

I Love the Internet Vol. 5

I know it has been a couple of weeks, but I still love the internet. I love it for a lot of reasons. Here are a few.

Without the internet, and Kelley Nikondeha I never would have known about what is happening in Burundi, or that these amazing women had a singing, dancing, glorious protest on Mother’s day.

So on a quiet Sunday morning 300+ women walked the winding roads of Bujumbura right into the heart of the city. They prayed with their feet. They sang. They danced. They defied the no-protest order issued by the government just the day before. -Mother’s Day in Burundi

Esther and Emily got real with each other and everyone is better of for it.

I have never made an overture to connect with Emily Freeman, even in these two and a half years of being a blogger and reading her stuff. I have never bothered to show her my face, let alone gift her with my wisdom or my true things. I have already decided for her, that she wouldn’t like me. Before she ever had a chance to decide for herself. -Sitting on a Bench with Emily Freeman

When I read her post, I saw her words as a vulnerable gift, as they reflect a soul that’s similar to my own even though our lives are different. I do what she does, too. I form other people’s opinions of me for them too.

I shut people out and lock myself in even though I know better. –What Everybody Ought to Know about Self Reflection

Shawn Smucker gives it to us straight. I have paid for writing communities, and don’t regret that decision, but I do think people often offer more than they have to give. Be careful, if people could guarantee your publishing dreams, they would likely charge a lot more than a few hundred bucks.

Here’s the point: There are a lot of people out there who KNOW that this is what you want. They also know what to say to make you feel validated, make you feel important, make you feel like the writer you are. And because they know the right things to say, too many of you are following blindly. You’ve swallowed their message hook, line, and sinker, and now you’ve got your wallets out and have your credit card ready. -A Short Note To My Fellow Writers: Be Careful

The internet is forever; sometimes that is awesome. If you haven’t read this oldy but goody from Jen Hatmaker, do it.

So, Mom out there sending Lunchables with your kid, making her wear shoes with holes becausewe’re.almost.there, practicing “auditory reading” with your 1st grader, I got your back, sister. We were awesome back in October; don’t you forget that. We used to care, and that counts for something. Next year’s teachers will get a fresher version of us in August, and they won’t even know the levels of suckage we will succumb to by May. Hang in there, Mama. -Worst End of School Year Mom Ever

And lastly, I love the internet because it gives one of my students a fighting chance of getting a violin. He has a viola and is SO talented, but a violin would allow him to get more paid gigs. His family could use that. Oh, and it would help his Julliard chances. The deal was that if he figured out and produce a good looking campaign I would share it. Every dollar AND every share helps.

My name is Jachai Wilmont. I’ve play the viola for six years and the violin for two, but at the moment, I only have a viola. I would truly love to have a violin to enable me to expand my musicality. It’s been a struggle to know that I have the potential to be a successful violinist and to not have a violin to practice and get better. I am so intensely into the passion of playing the violin and viola that I never stop thinking about it. Jachai’s Violin Fund

He is already preemptively grateful.

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The Places We are Pierced

You would think, as a Jesus blogger, I would write and write and write about that time I got miraculously healed. I mean, miraculous healing, that is some good click bait right there. A year and a few  months ago I had a publisher tell me they would be interested in that book, the one about my miraculous healing and how my feelings about it are more jumbled and complicated than I ever expected. I should at least write the proposal. And I meant to. I did. I meant to write the book proposal about waiting and waiting. About the grace in between. About the teeny tiny miracles of good friends and understanding teachers that sustained me. I meant to write the book proposal about the ways other healing stories were used like weapons against me, how I hold mine close so that no one can be hurt by it. I meant to, I mean to, I want to. But it isn’t just messy inside that story. It is tender and raw and just feels so precious and precarious. But I think it might be time. This story is leaking out bits at a time. It is very dear to my heart, as is this piece I wrote for the Mudroom.

“Wondering what it means to follow a God who points to his scars as a sign of resurrection.” – Antonia Terrazzas

It is the Thomas part that they always harped on in Sunday school. Thomas, the guy who was doubting, the guy who didn’t believe. It was not the Jesus part, and it certainly wasn’t the scars part.

But if we believe, as Thomas believed, once the proof of the resurrected body was in his hand, then we must believe that our savior was resurrected, scars intact.

Scars intact.

I was twenty-six when I was miraculously healed. Five years free of fibromyalgia I am still trying to learn how to function in a body that is no longer broken. I had spent so much time shutting down the mis-fires that I still have trouble knowing when I have to go to the bathroom, or when I am totally exhausted. I still push my limits too far, because I think I must to survive.

I was just one year healed when the son of a friend was diagnosed with chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia. I could not believe how angry I was. All the rage that I thought I had expended on the lap of my mother in high school exploded in my living room. Him too, God? Really? I found myself red faced and weeping in front of a Facebook status asking for prayer.

I may have been healed, but there was still plenty of evidence of where I was once wounded. So deep I could put my hands into them, the places I had been pierced.

You can read the rest here

It is Teacher Appreciation Week and We are Desperate to be Heard

It is teacher appreciation week. There are so many memes, so many blog posts, so many heart-felt thank yous. It is teacher appreciation week and #thankateacher is trending on Twitter. It is teacher appreciation week, I am trying to be grateful for the little note in my mailbox every day. I have worked in places where the teachers organized and paid for the only recognition they would get that year. And I am  grateful to the PTA at my school, not just for the little thank you gifts, but also for the army of moms who come in and make the copies of the teacher more organized than I, I haven’t had to wait in line for the copier all year. I am grateful for the room in the budget to buy as much paper as we need, and for the grants that I have applied for and gotten. I am grateful, I don’t mean to sound less than thrilled.

But it is teacher appreciation week, and the second week of standardized testing in the great State of Georgia. I finished my ninth graders on Friday (english has two tests), but math and history started today. It is teacher appreciation week and the kids are in and out and the bells are off to make sure that there are no testing irregularities. It is teacher appreciation week and the kids and the teachers are beginning to crack from the pressure of these high stakes tests.

Even with the best testing coordinator in the state, even with a group of students who understand the value of education, even with a supportive community, even with everything going for them, my students are cracking under the pressure of the test. Today I spent the beginning of third period talking a child down. She couldn’t even really tell me what the problem was, only that her teachers had been really stressed out lately and she didn’t really feel like school was a safe place for her. This girl is very tall, and very astute. It is easy to forget this one is barely 15. But she is, barely 15 and she simply doesn’t have the emotional bandwidth to test for two weeks.

It is teacher appreciation week and I am afraid that if I tell you that the tests are out of control. that I am cracking, that my students are cracking under the pressure of the tests that are so high stakes, that I will be labeled a whiner, a black sheep, one of those teachers who is mad about a higher standard, who simply doesn’t want to do her job.

It is teacher appreciation week, and we are sending notes and small tokens into my daughter’s preschool classroom. All over social media people are remembering their favorite teachers. I am being bombarded by blog posts about what an important job teachers have. And I believe that you believe that, especially when you think so fondly upon your own favorite teacher. I see the look on your face when you remember that one teacher who made you feel safe, taught you how to love learning, told you, you were good.

It is teacher appreciation week, and I need you to know that every person I work with became a teacher to become their favorite teacher for at least a few of their students every year. We want desperately to do right by our kids, we want them to do well. But the tests are not designed to do right by our kids, and the pressure to succeed at them is becoming unbearable.

It is teacher appreciation week, and I appreciate the pats on the back, the notes in my mail box, the extra cookie at lunch. But what I really need is to be appreciated enough that I could be trusted to do my job, that people would here the cries that the testing is crazy and bad for our kids. I am grateful to be appreciated, but I am desperate to be heard. Testing has gotten completely out of control. It is in direct opposition to the teaching that you remember as life changing and important. The tests are placing an undue burden on teachers and students, and we are cracking under the pressure.

John Oliver has the best explanation I can find about the absurdity of standardized tests if you are unclear about how damaging and arbitrary these tests are. 

To Juliet, on her Fifth Birthday

Dear Juliet,

You are five. The line between little girl, and full on kid has officially passed (though you busted through that line about six months ago, running and laughing, like you do). I understand now why some moms stop writing about their kids at five. I understand why that is the line. This year was big for you, and I am aware more than ever that yours is a story all your own, that I am a witness to it, a major player in it, it is a story that is between you and your God. It is my hope that these letters, my writings (especially about you)  are a gift to you, and not a burden. I know that it may be both sometimes, but I am hoping to model what I want for you, to be woman hearing and following a wild and free God.

This year you went to pre-k. Five days a week your dad gets you out of bed just as I am walking out the door. He cuddles with you on the couch until you are awake enough to put on your uniform, and then off you head, out the door to school. You no longer have most of your day with us, with your dad or close friends of mine that let me know all the ins and outs of your life. You have your own world that you are a part of, and you love every second. I don’t know how to tell you that in a few short weeks school will be over and Ms. Rudolph won’t be your teacher next year. To say that she is beloved is probably an understatement. You adore your teacher this year.

A few weeks ago a song came on the radio that you declared “YOUR FAVORITE!” (you generally speak in all caps.) As I listened to the lyrics I laughed. Oh, oh-oh-oh-oh, oh this is gonna be the best day of my li-i-i-fe my li-i-i-i-i-i-i-fe. You wake up every day and fully expect to have the best day of your life. Most days you do, you do have the best day of your life. May you always remember that you find what you are looking for.

You not only love life, you love people. All people. You just love people. On weekends, and during school breaks, I am learning that your dad, your sister, and I are not enough social interaction for you. We need to go to a park or a bounce house where you can find new friends, talk to strangers, interact with the masses that live in this world with you. When I ask who your friends are at school, you tell me that they are all your friends. You mean it. Why would you not be friends with every kid in your class? You cannot wait to share your cupcakes and prizes with them today. You still genuinely love sharing.

Most dear to my heart, you insisted that Priscilla get to come to your class and share in your celebration. You two are each other’s constant companions. You like each other, you watch out for each other, you don’t even like it when she sleeps in the bottom bunk. I know a little something about sisters, and I know that this relationship will not always be this simple. I know you may go through a rough patch. But I also know that this relationship will be one of your greatest gifts. Your sister will always know you in ways that no one else can, simply because she was always there.

This year your world has expanded, and gotten more complicated than you want it to. You wish to separate the world into good people and bad people; you wish to separate behaviors into good choices and bad choices. I wish it could be that easy. I wish it could be that simple. I hope that I am teaching you how to hold those labels lightly, how to understand that all people are made in the image of God. I hope that I am teaching you to empathize with people, even when we don’t understand the choices that they make. I hope I am modeling this well, but I need you to know I am struggling with this too. This big and beautiful life is just really confusing sometimes. At five, I see glimpses of this in your understanding. There is a part of me that wants to protect you, to give you easy answers and make sure that your world is always safe. But I know that isn’t the answer. You are smart, and your heart is just so big. Even at five, there is room to hold space for these contradictions.

As you have begun to understand good choices and bad choices, you have begun to ask if you are good, if your choices are good. As your mother, I will always tell you, you are good, you are good, you are good. As many times as you need to hear, you are good Juliet, you are so so so good. But know that the world will not always tell you the truth, there are voices that will tell you all kinds of ugly things. If there is one thing that I could gift you on your fifth birthday, it is this, for you to always know how very good you are.

Love always,

Mom

How to be counter-cultural

Counter-cultural. I was probably in middle school when I first heard the phrase, understood the word, was told that I was called to it. It was at a Christian music festival, and I was listening to an abstinence speaker claiming she often got mistaken for an albatross speaker when she told people what she did. THAT was how counter-cultural keeping your pants on was.

Abstinence wasn’t the only counter-cultural thing mentioned in my youth group days, but it was probably mentioned the loudest and most often. Mostly abstinence from sex, but drugs, alcohol, and swearing were also mentioned as things the cultural wanted me to do that I should also abstain from.

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I wanted so desperately to be counter-cultural. I wanted to be different, for Jesus, for myself, for the world. I wanted to counter the culture. I wanted to save the world. I’d be lying if I implied it wasn’t all still true. And I don’t think I’m the only one, the only counter-cultural hopeful out there. I know because I see you.

I see you. I see you worried about the state of this world. Me too. I am worried about this beautiful world of ours too. I see you angry at the state of the environment, the political systems, the world. I am angry too. It isn’t fair. It isn’t right. It isn’t Godly. I agree.

We need something to CHANGE! We need a REVOLUTION! We need to FIGHT THE MAN, man! We do. It’s true. We need to counter this culture of ours.

I see you in my classroom with your funky colored hair, with the patches on your book bag, with your rolling eyes. I see you with your hard back copy of the complete works of Poe, with your indie band t-shirt and your hand crocheted slouchy beanie. I am for real, and unironically jealous of your flowered Doc Martens. I get it.

I get your teenage angst. I don’t know if you will ever grow out of it. I haven’t completely grown out of my. You are right to be giving the side eye to this world. You are right that there is sometimes nothing to do but sigh.

I see you on my Twitter feed, with your furry, your frustration, your sub-tweeting. I see you with your sarcasm and your rage. I get it. ragey and sarcastic are important and humor is one of the best ways to subvert an empire. I too want to subvert the empire, to counter this culture that I know is so damaging.

I see you on Facebook. Your deep and strong desire to protect the things that need protecting. I get it. I do. I have two little girls of my own, and 180 students that I also claim. I understand how scary it can be living in a world like this. Surely we can do a better job of protecting our most vulnerable.

I too want this world to be headed in a new direction. I too wish that something would change. I too long to see the church become radically different from anything this world has to offer. I can work myself into an angry, anxious, pessimistic ball of hardness if I let myself. I can run myself into the ground circling round and round the brokenness of this world. I wish to be counter this culture. I think maybe you do too.

I am learning that there are big bold ways to be counter cultural. I am watching people do it. I am proud of them. But I am not sure I am called to living on a mountainside in a yurt I have built with my own too hands. I am learning the quiet radical ways to counter the culture that is burning me out.

 

If we want to be counter-cultural, perhaps we should start here:

Take a nap when you are tired, even when you have a to do list a mile long. Decide that your body is telling the truth            and rest in the Sabbath that was created for you.

 Be kind. Be patient. Even when you get cut off, even when you are short on time. Even when it is hard and makes you feel like you are getting the short end of the stick.

Tip well. Especially when the service is bad. Assume your server is having a bad day.

Let people merge in traffic.

When someone who has a different political view starts talking, listen. Ask questions so that you can actually better understand their viewpoint.

Look the mom of the tantruming infant at the grocery store dead in the eye and tell her she is an excellent mother.

Be quick to praise your colleagues, your children, your friends, your spouse.

When someone tells you they are hurting, believe them.

Weep with those who weep.

Be honest about the doubt you have in your own house of faith. Honor the doubt of others and trust that the mystery of God is enough to cover both of you.

Break bread with people who are not like you.

Decide it is okay to be uncomfortable. Seek it out even.

Give away your power, your privilege, your seat at the table, especially if you have earned it.

Know your neighbors, walk your neighborhood. Look people in the eye and talk to people when it is inconvenient.

When you feel the inescapable urge to do something/eat something/get out/go home/post something/check Twitter, don’t. Instead, be still. Be alone with yourself, with your thoughts, with your God.

Don’t buy it, whatever it is.

Believing that every small change matters, that every kind word matters, that love does and love wins, that is counter cultural. Believing that it is here and now and in my own heart that the change takes place, and not later, when I have more money and influence.


So you want to be counter-cultural? Believe beyond a shadow of a doubt that you are enough, that God’s love covers a multitude of sins. Then act out of the radical understanding that every single person is an image bearer of God.

I Love the Internet! vol. 4

I still love the internet, and all of you for making it such a great space. Today I am happy to include people you will recognize as weekly favorites, those I have loved for a long time but never told them, and some brand new to me spaces and voices I found and already love.

D.L. Mayfield wrote an essay I totally identify with for The Toast, which I love. I too am sure that God and my mom think I am awesome.

“When you grow up believing both God and your mom think you are awesome, you become woefully unprepared for the banalities of life. This is a side-effect of growing up self-assured and evangelical, a case-study in what happens to a teenage girl’s psyche when she believes that she truly can do anything she sets her heart on.” -When God and Your Mom Think You’re Awesome

Do you know about John Blase? Sometimes I stop class to read his poems to my class because they are just so perfect. They are fantastic!

I thought the moment I was most proud of yesterday 
was stopping to watch two early bird sparrows gather
twigs from beside the wooden gate and fly them
up to our sleeping neighbor’s gutter. And it was at first. -Love Poem No. 24

You are Here Stories posted a poignant set of pieces on gentrification by Jennifer Pelling. She tackles this subject with grace and honesty.

Take-over. This was the phrase my friend used as we sat together in the car after Kendall’s presentation. “I know that he’s got a convincing argument,” he conceded, staring out the window, “but there’s just this sense that people have, this sense that their world is being taken over, and there’s nothing they can do to stop it. It feels like a take-over, and that’s scary.” –Gentrification Part 1
No one got shot. The police arrived, they talked, the next door neighbor came out, and soon everyone was laughing amiably. As the cops drove away, embarrassment settled in, hard. “I hate this,” I thought, “Why are we always the ones to overreact? It’s the middle of the day, of course they weren’t doing anything wrong.” My housemate came back in and noticed my discomfort. – Gentrification Conversation Part 2
 

Nicole Romero guest posted a de-tale for Cara Stickland that I adore on motherhood and her daughter’s ducky. This is the most relate-able understanding of motherhood I have ever read.

Each pull was a manageable time to survive. We could do anything for one length of the lullaby. Hold her for one lullaby. Let her cry for a lullaby. Sit on the floor and let myself cry for one lullaby. Stand over the crib praying reminder-prayers that she is God’s child not mine and He is using all things for good… even this… for one lullaby. Hold her tense, little body and Ducky close together on my chest for one lullaby.- de(tales): ducky

I loved the most recent entry to The Angry Women Blog by Ellie Ava. That space is really interesting and the internet makes it possible. Those stories need told.

You chose the people who would reject another Christian for befriending people who were different, for daring to question Conservative politics. People who would reject a woman who was genuinely, honestly, compassionately facing the hard questions of her faith because she spoke about things that the bullies couldn’t even tolerate having a reasonable discussion about. –You Chose the Bullies

Lastly, I absolutely adore these portraits of shelter dogs. If you are wondering what happens when you put dogs in a photo booth, the internet has the answer. See all of them here.

And that is why I love the internet. Why do you love the internet? I love finding new reasons so if you see something or write something you love, let me know! Tag me on Facebook or Twitter so I can share in the love.