Because She Cared

“Never believe that a few caring people can’t change the world; for indeed, that’s all who ever have.”- Margaret Mead

The writing I do is largely about my vision of how attentive care impacts within the school system. Yet in my awareness of care that I ascribe to, I truly believe care is fundamental to everything I do. If I care as a teacher, I will care as a human being in all the capacities in which I serve. I write so as to give example to a more innovative way of perceiving care as the foundation to living and learning. It has been my utmost desire to live my life according to these principles.

I wish to share with you a story, and it is a tender one for me to tell. It is a story about my grandmother and her selfless life of service. Her gift of caring for others is the legacy she leaves to me, her granddaughter. She was once a student herself, a young scholar sitting daily in a one-room schoolhouse. Perhaps there was a teacher at some point in her life who was the guiding light leading her forward. Whether this is the situation or not (I cannot ask, as she has already passed from this life to the next), she has been for me a beacon of hope. She has lived out her faith based on the following biblical principle: “Let no one seek his own, but each one the other’s well-being” (NIV, 1Cor. 10: 24). Here is her story.

Born on October 3, 1920, in Cody’s New Brunswick, she was one of fourteen children. But rather than fade into the background, a face amidst the throng, she made a name for herself as being a favorite sister. A confidant, friend and caregiver. A kind soul. That care-giving would come in handy later on as she went on to be a nanny, most famously for the movie star Donald Sutherland. This experience (along with a photograph of her famous client) was her sole claim to fame. But certainly her most meaningful care-giving was saved for her own three children, one of whom—a son, was born with Down Syndrome. Little did she realize, her widespread commitment to care-giving had only just begun with tiny Eldon Berry’s birth in 1956.

For on a cold December day, thirty-six years into her vibrant life, my eight-months pregnant Aunt Jeannie— my grandmother’s oldest daughter, was driving home from her day job as a civil servant with the Government of Canada where she worked with Indian Affairs. It was a clear evening, but snow lay on the ground. She had a little economy car and visibility was quite possibly low. The doctor said later if she had have moved her head an inch to the right she would have avoided that truck’s plow which smashed through her windshield, slicing cleanly through her skull and brain. That inch— it wasn’t meant to be. Neither for her, nor for her baby. And from that moment thirty two and a half years ago, (a time when Jeannie was just about the age I am now), until she finally left this life, my aunt lived the life of an invalid. Unmoving, un-speaking, unable. She was robbed of everything save the compassionate care she would live to receive throughout the remaining days of her life.

Her primary caregiver, my grandmother, gave her life in service to my aunt’s care. She spent thirty-one years daily making trips to the various establishments (hospitals, manors, long-term care facilities) where my aunt was located over the duration of her illness. My Grammie spent thirty-one years holding her daughter’s hand, stroking her hair, wiping the crumbs from her face. Spent thirty-one years advocating for her—both within the various medical establishments and beyond. Spent thirty-one years acting as her accountant, conducting her financial business up until the age of eighty-nine years old. She spent thirty-one years of her life solely dedicated to her daughter’s well-being. My aunt received the best care of anyone in the province of New Brunswick, I am sure of it, and there are several experts to vouch for this fact. After thirty-one years of living her life shut up inside a building—living life shut up inside her head, my aunt’s body released her spirit and let it sail home. Less than one year later, my grandmother said her own farewells to this life and she flew away to join her.

My grandmother is an inspiration to me. She is one of many, but she is certainly among those I consider most influential. She wasn’t perfect- far from that ideal. But she was admirable in her own way. I hold her in the highest esteem in terms of her ability to care for those needful ones in her life. I have watched her carry out her life’s work and calling from the time I was eight years old. We spent many a day as her grandchildren walking the sterile halls of silent manors, the reverie broken by a moan or a cry from one of the residents. We spent many hours bedside, watching our grandmother hover and fuss. And in watching this unfaltering champion of her own beloved child—an unsung hero during her time here on earth, I was given an example from one of the best after which to model my own life and practice.

The life of my grandmother is a shining example of Jean Vanier’s (1998) concept of ‘becoming human’, with regards to being a care-giver; perhaps she is one of the best I might ever find. For I believe in paying tribute to those who have gone on before, we are reminded anew of why we must continue to carry the torch onwards, until at last we ourselves reach the fading light of day. We care so as to carry on the legacy. We care because the future depends on this decision. We care because we must. We care. And this care is part of what it means to become human: to compassionately extend ourselves both for the benefit of our own personal growth as well as for the betterment of others. To care both for ourselves as well as for the world and its inhabitants therein is the mandate of our heart.

Falling

image retrieved from stock-clip.com

I am standing, a girl of ten or so. My arms outstretched. And behind me, my playmate’s hands are widespread, in anticipation of my falling limply backward into her awaiting embrace. It is a game we play called Trust. We test the limits to which we can trust that the confidant behind us will support us when we fall.

We stand until we are fully ready to let go. And then we lurch wildly- backwards. Flailing or otherwise. Trusting that when we land there will be sure and steady hands there to hold us- just before we hit the ground.

I never quite got the hang of it. I’d awkwardly pitch backwards and try to catch myself just before the final inches were reached. I’d go halfway and then stop.

Trusting was too hard for me- it required letting go.

Thirty years later, we are walking the side road that leads from a little paved lane ambling gently away from the river side. And I pour out my cares and my worries and my concerns to a listening ear, expressing my fear for today, concern for the future. Worrying that there is no soft place to fall when life gets rough. I am, and have always been- a glass half–full kind of gal. I try to see things positively, but my mind is often bent on doom and disaster. I have a hard time with hope and an even harder time with trust.

He walks beside me, feet steady and sure. And he says to me, “This is when trust becomes real.”

It is not a simple childhood game, this thing called trust. This ideal of hope. It is a hard fall into dark places. It is a pitch backward into the dark. It is a leap of faith not always knowing exactly where you will land. It is grasping in the black of night for a hand to hold. It is calling out for help. It is waiting. And waiting and waiting and waiting. It is wondering if it will ever come- that wish, that dream, that desire, that longed after, sought after illusion. It is crying and calling out. It can be messy and complicated and ugly and raw. It is long and hard and often agonizing. But it is what we’ve been given so as to cope in this life.

Trust, hope, faith. There is no other viable option.

Without trust- without faith IN hope, we have only a present fragile moment much like a delicate translucent bubble in flight. It is here and then it vanishes. Gone. There is nothing to follow, no promise of more. No next.

Even when we do not know where the moments are leading, when we do not know if there is a soft place to fall, nor do not know even how we will fall; even when do not know the direction in which the paths of life are unfolding, trust is believing that there is always something more. There is always another moment. Always another way. Always another path. Always another option. For trust believes that there is Someone there waiting to receive us, someone there ready to hold us when we let go and descend into the black of night.

Trust believes.

We have the hardest time to trust when we need it the most. When trust is of absolute necessity, we often choose to sacrifice it for worry or fear. We let anxiety take its place, allowing trust to be shelved for lesser antidotes. We believe that these reactions and responses can compensate best for what we are feeling. We think trust is too weak a response. Too hard, too much work. Too taxing and tedious and demanding and onerous.

Trust requires faith- but we want something tangible.

The moments we need trust the most often occur when there is suffering involved. When we suffer, we look for something beyond ourselves on which to lean. We desire a solution. But often rather than looking beyond ourselves for an answer, we look within ourselves for a fix.

Kara Tippetts, an amazing mother of four wrote these words prior to passing from this life to the eternal after a long, hard battle waged with cancer: “when we trust Jesus to be the carrier, protector, redeemer of our hearts, death is no longer dying.” Amen to that.

Death is not dying.
Pain is not final.
Falling is not fatal.
Anguish is not the end.
Suffering will not have the last word.
There is hope.

Tippetts continues with this: “Knowing Jesus, knowing that He understands my hard goodbye, He walks with me in my dying… Because in His dying, He protected my living. My living beyond this place.”

That’s trust.

Trust believes beyond belief that there are always hands extended ready to catch us when we let go. Receive us when we fall. Trust expects- it is a certain knowing that there will be a place to fall. Trust anticipates that falling is never the end. Trusts understands that I must let go if I am ever to feel those arms beneath me, bearing the weight of my pain. My heartache.

And much like Tippetts, for me: trust is all about Jesus.

Two thousand years ago, those two arms outstretched on a rough, rugged plank. Spikes held those hands ready and waiting. The hands that healed and helped the nations, nailed to a tree. Those arms wait even now for me to fall gently- to fall hard. To simply fall.

Simply trusting.

Jesus.

This is when trust becomes real.

Who We Are

It is hard to understand the whys and hows of human relationships. Sometimes these interactions astound and touch my deepest parts for their tremendous propensity to kindness. And yet sometimes they disappoint beyond what mere words can express.

Why are our connections with one another so prone to such wild swings of the pendulum?

For here we are, all just walking around inside our little outward shell, thin veneer- pretending to be brave when we don’t always feel brave. Pretending to be strong when we don’t always feel strong. Putting on our game face even when the game is over. Showing up even when we don’t have the strength to take another step. We are all, I believe, giving this ‘here and now’ our best shot- this moment, this day, this life. We are who we are- cover-ups, disguises, masks and all. Doing what we have to so as to keep our head above water, to stay afloat. And it’s a hard-knock life sometimes. Hard enough trying to get by without having another soul, another Body: push you over. Knock you down. Hard enough trying to be a person living through the day without having another soul, another Body step all over you. Rain on your parade.

Isn’t it high time we gave each other a chance?

Is it so hard to see ourselves, our weakness- as through viewing our brother’s face? So hard to see our own proclivity to sorrow by looking in our sister’s eye?

She orders a coffee and a chicken sandwich for her husband. And all the while, she is given the five-star treatment by the waitress on duty. No request denied, no favor spared. She is Chosen. Somehow, special. But when it comes to him- he who is different, suddenly the mood alters. The temperature drops or so it seems. He who is seen as ‘other’ is disdained, disparaged, despised. She wonders, as she waits for the remainder of her order: why? Why him? Why her? Why such vast discrepancy? Why is she singled out to receive the good and he left to suffer the mockery, the subtle abuse? Why such different treatment when the same blood that courses through her veins, pumps slow and steady through his also?

Are we that blind that we can no longer see each other for who we truly are?

And who are we anyway? Who were we made to be?

We were made to be His Beloved. Loved, cherished, held, treasured. Longed for by the Father and precious in His sight. And when He sees us, He sees the beauty in the workmanship, the exquisite detail in the masterpiece. He sees us for the value and worth and tremendous significance we were designed for.

Each one of us.

And He doesn’t judge us for the fading shell without, that holds us.  Piece by fragile piece.  That damaged armor we wear to protect, we put on so to endure.  Doesn’t judge us for our persona.  Our outward presentation- He just loves us.  Loves us for the lasting treasure we are within.

And because He loves us, we too can love. Wildly, unabashedly, freely- with abandon.

We are free to love each other.

We are Loved.

Offering gratitude

I remember the Christmas I was about seven or eight years old. I wanted a Cabbage Patch doll. It was all I really wanted that year, to be honest. I had made that much clear to anyone who was listening (Mom, Dad, Santa….God?). I think I dreamed about her, my doll: those chubby cheeks, that rag-doll yarn hair. Those two lumpy pig-tails tied with ribbons, along with the signature on her rounded derriere that guaranteed she was truly made by ‘the’ Xavier Roberts. To have a Cabbage Patch doll would have been to have a dream come true. An answer to prayer, even. (I am not sure if I prayed for her, my non-existent dollie- but to think that I might have makes total sense.)

So imagine my surprise when I opened my Christmas gift that year to find a beautiful china doll with porcelain skin staring back at me instead of a dimpled plastic one. This replacement other- this actual doll was a fine toy complete with dark, wavy hair, finely stitched Victorian dress and a velvety blue bonnet that just never would stay put on that her head. She was lovely, but she wasn’t a Cabbage Patch Kid.

I don’t remember feeling very thankful.

What I do remember was receiving that doll and the disappointment I felt. She was beautiful, elegant and far more of a classic in comparison to the trendy Cabbage Patch doll I craved. But she wasn’t what I asked for. I felt quietly disappointed about the whole thing.

Years later, I find myself still asking. Only this time, my requests aren’t as trivial and innocent.

“Please God, protect them…” “Please God, allow rest…” Please God bring healing…” “Please God, more time…” “Please God….please.” Sometimes the litany of request feels like a shopping list of needs that I rhyme off- with hopes that I will get everything on my list. But what if what I am asking for is no longer in stock? What if it is not available at this time? What if what I am asking for is something not the very best for me- nor the very best for those for whom I am requesting that certain something? What is best, anyway? Do I even know?

What if prayer was less a list of ‘please give…’ and more of an “I thank you…”? What would prayer be like then? Would it change?

Our lives are full of blessings. Some of those blessings come through rays of sunshine and hope. Some of the blessings come through tears and storm clouds. But through the joyous moments and through the difficult times, there are slices of time when light shines through and we see the absolute beauty in life. Yes, our lives are precious in all their complexity- even in the midst of absolute darkness and sorrow, beams of light will radiate.

These little moments for me can be seen as answers to prayer. True, these little blessings are not always the big ticket items on my proverbial prayer shopping list- sometimes they are just those little somethings I noticed out of the corner of my eye. The little things. Things like…

• A friend stopping by to say they are thinking of me
• A phone call just when I needed it
• A message, email or note
• A smile timed just right
• A hug
• A drive to Tim’s
• A rainbow
• My flowers blooming
• A found kitten

The little things in life are sometimes what bring the greatest joy in my darkest hour. They are what get me through.

I have been asking God for some pretty big-ticket items lately. I have a feeling a few of us might be in this same boat. But I wonder if we have sometimes forgotten how to pray gratitude into our prayers. To thank instead of ask. To offer gratitude.

To thank God for the gift of time- what a precious commodity that is. To thank God for the gift of memories- we have such precious recollections of the ones we love- even as we make new memories each and every day. To be grateful for each moment we’ve been given. Even for today. To just relish the very minutes we have right now and breathe a prayer of thanks for this priceless gift.

We are so blessed.

Our lives may seem complex, complicated, rushed, maddening, stressful, anxious and short. But viewed through a different lens, they can also be seen as beautiful, intricate, intense and precious. Our lives are a masterpiece- and this life is only the beginning.

For every breath we’ve been given, our grateful hearts say “thanks”.

Why I care

We talk a lot about white privilege, but it is a little more discomforting to broach a discussion on white poverty. Somehow it hits closer to home.

I grew up in the heart of the Annapolis Valley, a small rural farming community known for its potatoes and apple orchards. My community was aptly named Melvern Square, as it was a squared off corridor firmly anchored by three pillars: family, community and faith. My father was one of two pastors called to minister in this area, ensuring that I lived my life firmly fixed within the public’s eye- on first name basis with most everyone I’d meet.

It was an idyllic life in ways. We were poor but we got by. I remember trips to the country store- a one room building with wide wooden clapboards filling in the floor space, glass candy jars containing five cent goodies lining the back wall. When the front door was cracked even so much as an inch, an old-fashioned bell signalled both your appearance and your exit, ensuring you would never peruse the ice cream freezer or chip rack anonymously. Our house was sandwiched between the community center on the right and my father’s little brown country church on the left. Behind our property was the community pond for skating on in the winter and avoiding in the summer- as we all speculated that alligators or other forms of creepy-crawlies might live in there. Across the street was the consolidated school housing grades 1-6- a school which I never had the privilege of attending.

The school I attended was a private institution located in a neighboring community. When I entered the educational milieu, I quickly realized that my life was not what it had seemed to be. I became the “other”- teased for my different religious affiliation, tortured for my family connection, belittled for my appearance. Separated for my difference. I was disconnected in many ways. And I soon came to understand the term “white trash” and its unflattering connotations, as that is what I began to feel I was while in this school. Trash. Unloved and undesirable.

My schooling experience was thus one in which oppression was very visible. This same private school I attended later came to be exposed regarding “issues” of a very serious, abusive nature. These privately held secrets of the upper echelon came to be outed in a very visible way via news media when I was in high school. When I now see images of residential schools, it brings to mind sordid mental pictures of what that time of life was like for both me and my classmates. That experience has forever changed the way I look at education.

So then. As long as I have been a student, I have been interested in ethics of care in classrooms. As I did not have the privilege of being exposed to ethics of care in most of my formative years of schooling, I now spend my life advocating for these pedagogies of love and care along with the foundational rights that I believe all people- young and old- are worthy of receiving and deserve to experience as a basic human right. By virtue of their humanity.

One of the specific memories I have as a student took place when I was in Grade 7, attending this same school mentioned above. A young man in Grade 10, who had been having a particularly difficult time in his life, went around one day after school saying good-bye to everyone he could see in the hallway. It struck me as strange that he would seek me out, as I was quite a bit younger than him and outside his social circle. That night, as I would come to discover, he drove his car into a wooded area and shot himself in the head. This was my first exposure to suicide.

Rather than taking time to counsel us in our grief and confusion, the teachers at this school used this opportunity to tell us how this boy, and thus his classmates, had been and were heading down the wrong path and needed to get things straightened out. It was one of the most poignant memories of my schooling. I can still hear the judgemental voice of the female teacher who told me and my classmates that Donnie* had obviously been in the wrong, and I will never forget that mental picture of him the day before he died, his face resolute: epitomized by soft spoken words and a calm demeanor. Although there are many layers to this story that I could pursue at length, my experiences as a student living through a deficit of care in my schooling, along with the many, many others of my classmates who echo this sentiment, has convinced me that care is the absolute number one priority of educators in the classroom. We are educating students for academic learning, yes. But I trust we are first and foremost developing caring, compassionate human beings in the form of both students and teachers who will live empathically in an interconnected, interdependent world. As an educator, this is fundamental to my practice.

I believe that when people learn to care, their learning is enhanced and their growth is furthered. Students and teachers are all the better for the care that they have cultivated, and I am not alone in holding this belief. Miller (2010) cites Nel Noddings’ work as being premiere in the encouragement of educators in fostering this care ethic. She suggests that educators pursue caring as one of their main goals in schooling and education, teaching students to learn to care for themselves, others and the environment as well as to care for ideas and learning (Miller, 2010, p. 63). Noddings has laid out a very systematic, comprehensive approach to caring that entails teachers be clear and unapologetic in their goal: “the main aim of education should be to produce competent, caring, loving and lovable people” (Noddings in Miller, 2010, p.64). I can attest to the fact that many, many others hold this belief as I have heard from people writing in response to my blog on what students remember most about teachers. They almost unanimously stated the same: students remember that their teachers care.

We are a culmination of our past and present experiences- and the breadth and depth of these same experiences will hopefully lead to a brighter, more positive future as we learn and grow.  When we know better, we do better.  I trust that this statement will always be true of my life and that my legacy will be one of care and love.

Love is the Answer

I watched the on-line news coverage tonight featuring Torrence Collier, of Baie Verte Peninsula, Newfoundland. I watched and I listened to this young boy, in between the ages of my own two oldest daughters, as he describe what it feels like to be the only black child in his town of Westport. The only black child in his school. I took note when he began to talk. Because being the only one who’s different is one thing: being bullied for that difference is quite another. My heart broke for him as he began to share what it was like to be bullied, what it was like to be assaulted. How scared he was. How afraid.

“I feel horrible about myself, and sometimes I wonder if they’re right. If I am all those things they call me.”

That this is happening is a travesty. That this is happening at school is both a travesty and completely unacceptable. It shouldn’t be. School shouldn’t be the breeding ground for hatred. But the sad truth of the matter: it sometimes is. And it will continue to be that unless we as people (students, teachers, parents and concerned citizens) start to realize what is missing in our schools. What is necessary for our schools to heal and recover from this sickly disease. We will not be what we were meant to be unless we realize what is the one thing that must be prioritized if we are ever to see change.

Nelson Mandela (1994) had this to say about love, with regards to his oppressors:

I always knew that deep down in every human heart, there is mercy and generosity. No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite. Even in the grimmest times in prison, when my comrades and I were pushed to our limits, I would see a glimmer of humanity in one of the guards, perhaps just for a second, but it was enough to reassure me and keep me going. Man’s goodness is a flame that can be hidden but never extinguished.”

Love cannot be taught, but it can be fostered. It cannot be bought, but it can be grown. Love cannot be forced on anyone, but it can overcome even the hardest heart and break it in two.

Love conquers, gently, persuasively, perfectly.

And the purest examples of love shown down through the ages, chronicled in history and lived in the flesh, exist because a foundation of perfect kindness had first been laid. Jesus- the perfect example of loving, active gentle kindness. And from His example, one can follow a trail through the ages of lives touched and urged to live better. Bolder. More beautifully. And that this kindness works so well is for the simple fact of the matter: that kindness is active. You have to DO kindness. It has to happen. And it is exhibited in countless ways:

Through exercising patience.

Through offering grace.

Through showing mercy.

Through understanding.

Through care and concern.

Through attentiveness.

Through listening.

Through forgiveness.

These are skills, these are gifts. And for those who display them on a regular basis, you can be sure that these fruits of a spiritual life are not acquired easily. One must make it a mindful habit, a prayerful habit to make these a priority. They are gifts one must never take for granted.

But when they are given priority, there is no end to the possibilities for hope. For change.

Our lives are better when we live them connected to others in positive, healthy ways. And when we see people for who they truly are, we come to better understand why love is all the more important. Why love is the answer.

It always has been- and it always will be.

Pray For Moncton, New Brunswick

“Can you stay with me until I fall asleep?” she asks trustingly. I kiss her baby cheeks and cuddle in close.

When disaster strikes, everyone is afraid. And while it is hard for us as adults to understand the travesty of it all, for children it is unthinkable. Hard to believe in hope when all you feel is fear. Children everywhere are scared- I cannot even imagine what terrors are being played out in the minds of those children directly affected by this tragedy. I cannot even fathom.

We are two short hours and a bridge away, but even with that safety net, there is fear. Tonight, my children are fighting sleep because they are afraid. And as one daughter said, “I never had something happen this close to me before in my life.” Even earlier in the evening, another daughter weathered a cramp in the side just to go for the walk that Husband and I take in the evenings to catch a bit of sun and fresh air. She didn’t want to be at home without an adult. And at bedtime tonight, there were a lot of questions. And many, many prayers. Lots more reassurances.

We have family in the triangle currently being cordoned off for the search effort. In talks with my Great Aunt this evening, her gentleman friend’s driveway was two over from the scene of one shocking tragedy last night. My Mom and Dad, traveling through the area yesterday, were on the very streets only three short hours earlier where the horror unfolded last evening. Second and third cousins warned by police to vacate the premises were thus unable to get down their streets to their homes. Little did they know that at that very moment, the unbelievable was happening.

This is real. And it is frightening.

And because it is real, it is hard to know what to say to the little ones who are fearful in my house tonight. We take comfort in knowing that there is one Wiser and Stronger than we are who holds the whole world in His loving hands. Who holds us together in those moments in life when we fall apart. Who has knowledge and understanding of all things and Who can keep us in His perfect peace as our mind’s are fixed on Him. But we are so frail and prone to our humanity; this is so real.

So close to home.

Pray for our men and women in uniform tonight. Our heroes. We are so grateful to the ones who put their own lives in harm’s way to protect the greater good. Pray for courage and for safety. Pray for a quick, swift end to this nightmare, a return once again to the peace we so often take for granted.

And may the Good and Right win out over the evil we have seen. An evil which some have tragically experienced.

And may justice prevail. As we know it will.

As we know it will.

‪#‎PrayForMoncton‬

http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2014/06/05/justin-bourque-moncton-manhunt_n_5450318.html?utm_hp_ref=canada

To The Teacher Who Is Considering Leaving…

Dear Teacher Who Wants to Quit:

I am sorry.

Sorry too that I must start first with regret. What a poor way to begin. But then. You are leaving teaching. And a void has already been left in the wake of this momentous decision. I feel that void. And sorrow too; for when decisions like this are to be made, it is grievous. It is hard. And it brings with the complication of the matter a complexity. Complemented by muddled thoughts and sincerest compassions.

I wish this were not so. But you must do this for you. I understand that. I respect that. I get it.

It’s still hard. For everyone. I hope you get that too.

You and I have never met. Our paths have never crossed. And oh!, but I desire they would. Would that they could. I felt the weight of the words I read tonight. Your words. You are done teaching now, after twenty-one years. Done. You say it’s over, even though doors have still been left ajar. Open in the event you change your mind. You won’t, you say. And so this decision (you so plainly express), it is thus a painful one. A pulling away, a separation. The full effect of which you have not yet felt, its raw intensity the afterglow.

You are leaving teaching.

Permit me to say this: what loss we as educators feel tonight. What collective pain we bear. You are a needless casualty. Sidelined. Left injured on the battle grounds. What other words to use but wounded, for we as teachers fight wars we’ve never bargained for.

Those left standing, one of which am I- we feel weak. Feel lacking without you. We do not know each other, you and I, but we joined forces when we stood united in our common desire to educate. Fellow comrades from different points across the globe. Teachers: called to inspire and educate and lift our students. We are fellow cohorts even though our life path lead us down different winding roads.

We have not met. But my heart aches. For your presence will be missed. You leave a void. Your spirit, soul and heart will forever carry forth your call.

You are leaving teaching.

As are so many, many others.

There are battles raging even now that we as teachers seemingly cannot fight. There are forces by which we feel overpowered. All around us, the pressure is to standardize, regulate, assess, quantify, qualify.   It seems teaching is currently more about data than it is about children. It is seemingly more about numbers than hearts. More about facts than about minds. More about records and statistics than about the big and little bodies which come to school as their very best selves, ready to face the giants day in and day out. Ready to climb mountains.

The children we teach are people. Not numbers to crunch. Figures to analyze. Data.

They are souls.

But so are we, dear friend. So are we.

So you are leaving teaching.

Could I ask you to humor one last request? Think back to the first day you knew- knew that you would one day be a teacher. Think back to that one, isolated moment. And ask yourself to stay in that moment. Rest there. Remember. Can you recall that reason you chose to teach? It’s meaning for you personally? That call to teach- it still matters. It does.

The why for what brought you here is still alive, buried though it might be.

Could you ever find it in you to reclaim it? Can you stir to life the embers of a dying dream?

You said you thought you’d be a teacher until you die. I wager a bet. You will be.

A teacher is less a profession and more a mindset. More an outlook than a physical position. Teachers teach because they are hope spreaders, love sharers, compassion spreaders, grace bringers. Teachers teach because they believe. Because they believe that there is something good in this world to know and be. Something good in this world to remember. And something good in this world to aspire to, to reach for. To hope for. Teachers must then teach for freedom and justice. For awareness and love. William Ayers has said it better than I in his writing on headaches in teaching:

The teacher in this way of thinking is one who challenges the taken-for-granted, problematizes solutions, and questions received reality. The teacher, like the writer, can be a philosopher, a scientist, an artist, a citizen, and even an activist, but only if he or she stays alive to the possibilities and attuned to what has yet to be achieved in terms of freedom, justice, understanding, and beauty.

My friend, do not forget that you are still a teacher. And wherever life leads you, whether away from the chaos of our schools or back into the fray, never stop believing in the hope of possibility.

You are a teacher. And you always will be.

Where there is life, there is potential. Wherever desire and stubborn resolve are found, there is a hope of achieving possibility.

Yes, you are leaving teaching. But dear friend, teaching will never quite be done for you. You will always be a teacher, it’s written on your heart. So go forward, do what your heart is calling you to do. Heal. Mend. Grow. Love.

And always keep alive the possibility that there is room for you here. There is a place for you. If you should ever feel the call within you rise up once more.

Sincerely,

The Teacher Who Has Been There Too

On secrets and toppling walls…

I watch him build the wooden walls of his tower, painstakingly. One by one.  They stand in solidarity for mere moments, only to topple before even I can add another brick. This is child’s play, and it is fascinating to watch him. These walls are made for crashing, in his view. In his mind’s eye. This is amusement and discovery and cause-and-effect. This is pure delight. His sole reason for creating is to therefore demolish. To knock down, tear down- flatten. He is happiest when things fall over. When walls come down.

And so am I.

These walls we’ve built up to protect us- they are false protection. We build them high and bolster them with whatever is at our disposal. We claim we haven’t enough time to explain the reasons for their existence- we’re too busy. And no one would even understand their purpose anyway. That’s what we say. We say they’re necessary- we need these walls. They are protection. It’s a cruel world out there- someone is always trying to attack. To assault. And we’re always on the defensive. We need these walls, or so we think- we’d be devastated without them. We’d be naked. Wide open for onslaught.

Our walls. Built to shut the world out. To keep the world from knowing. Knowing our little secrets, that is.

Those shameful, little secrets.

Secrets…that we are trying to keep hidden.

About marriages which are failing.

About struggles we’re having with anger. With doubt. With depression. With disappointment. Fear. Anxiety. Disillusionment.

Secrets about our struggle with abuse.

Secrets about our addictions.

We keep these secrets because we are afraid. We’re scared.

Petrified that someone will find out.

Because if anyone ever knew our secrets, they might come to discover our frailty. Our weaknesses. Our imperfections. We’d be exposed and heaven help us- what could happen then?

No one ever enjoyed feeling bare and exposed.

Wide open for humiliation.

But what if in toppling those walls, we were known. Truly known.

Known for our humanity. For our beauty. For our uniqueness.

What if we were known and loved for our imperfections. Known and loved in spite of our flaws and failings?

What if telling- what if sharing secrets brought us freedom? What if speaking our truths allowed us to breathe again?

What if we were lovingly held, even in our brokenness? And rebuilt anew?

Again and again and again.

Because that’s what living sometimes entails: a process of starting over. A renewal. A chance to have a new beginning. A chance to say, “I’m not hiding anymore.”

What if beauty were to come from ashes.

Sometimes it takes feeling scared to bring us closer to the Sacred. And while we might falter, while we might fall- we are held. In Arms of Love.

May we never forget: Our secrets are merely precious stories waiting to be told.  And walls are meant for toppling so those stories can be re-written. Retold.  Time and time again.

In This World…

In this world, you will have trouble…

There will be trouble.

There will be sorrow.

I sit one row back as my heart grows heavy. Prayer request after sorrowful request for those needing a special touch are called for. Requested for those needing a miracle. I turn to speak with a man behind me and his head falls to his chest as we converse, tears close to the surface. He isn’t able to finish his thought; mid-sentence, his grandson steps in to finish the story where he left off. The grandfather’s cherished grand-daughter and the young man’s sister: she is dying. “It will probably be today” the younger of the two men says simply. I am at a loss for the right words to say, offering only what I have to give: my sorrow. A young sister, a granddaughter: dying, even as we speak. She chokes and fights for life while I dispassionately sing the choruses about joy and living. Truly her short days on this earth have not been easy. She has never run or walked or played. She has missed those taken-for-granted moments, trading them in for a life of long-term care. It is too close for comfort- this story, and I fight back emotions.

We just buried my aunt not even two weeks ago.

As I turn back around in my seat, the stark reality of another struggling family hits me square in the gut: a local family from the next community over has lost a home. It burned down Friday night- the cause, an electrical fire: they escaped with only their lives and the clothes on their backs. The weight of these and the many other accounts of adversity that I am hearing begin to cover me in grief: a friend whose has been inflicted with a near-detached retina, who might not regain her eyesight back even within the year. Another friend who put her knee out. Church friends who feel more like family: hospitalized, bed-ridden. Cancer and various other long- term illness the cause. My own back and shoulders ache with tension.

I can’t bear all this sorrow.

And my mind wanders to my own immediate family coming to terms with the death of our only aunt on my mother’s side, a woman who had been bed-ridden for thirty-one years. The death of her baby: our only cousin from that side of the family- a baby taken before his time. Jesse Robert Maclean. And the questions still unanswered burn within me: why. Why her? Why him? Why them? Why us?

Why all this sorrow?

In this world, we are promised many things.

There will be joy.

I pull together a meal: pork-chops with seasoning, rice laced with chicken broth. Corn, fresh garden salad, rolls and angel food cake topped with cherry conserves. My sweet friend has just given birth to her second child: a darling baby boy. I hold him against my shoulder and breathe in the sweet fragrance of his baby smell, while his mama and I talk. He is a joy- a precious gift to cherish and gaze at in awe-struck wonder. I take in the ease with which his mother tenderly nurses her child and we both revel in the moment. The joy and the wonder of it all.

The absolute miracle.

Later, my own family of six head down to my in-law’s sprawling property, grass growing greener by the day. We are here for an impromptu birthday party, of sorts. Cats lying lazily on the back porch greet us while hot spring sun shines brightly overhead.  We will celebrate my mother-in-law’s birthday with a still-warm-from-the-oven banana chocolate chip cake topped with whipped chocolate icing. Cake, ice-cream and candles- can afternoon snack get any better than this? She beams with pride as the grandchildren envelope her to help blow out the dwindling candles, wax dripping down onto the icing below.  There is easy banter and laughter. This home is filled with love and joy. Filled with happiness.

For in this world, there will be joy. There will be celebration. Pleasure, delight, elation.

But we are promised this surety as well: there will also be sorrow. It’s a promise.

I wonder at this prospect.  This reality. There will be trouble.  There always has been and there always will be.

There will be pain. There will be suffering. There will be disease. There will be hardship. There will be persecution. There will be loss. There will be adversity. There will be poverty. There will be destitution. There will be difficulty. There will be obstacles.

There will be death.

We stand over the grave and I try to process my feelings and sadness. A body is buried. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. This is the final resting place for her, indeed for all of us: a grave.

When we as family leave the graveside, after singing “What a Day It Will Be”, the caretakers will cover over that coffin with dirt. It will be lowered six feet under. And the shell that she was will be buried underneath the soil and grass.  A tombstone remaining to commemorate her life and death. The sorrow and mourning will also remain as the reality of this closing chapter of a mortal life that is now over. The sadness and sorrow lingering long after that final mound of dirt has been patted down.

The thought of this all is so very troubling. So difficult to deal with.

For the troubles of this world remind those of us who still remain, those of us who remember: that death is waiting in the wings. It lurks in the shadows for everyone of us.  It is coming.

We will have trouble.

And with this reality as our surest promise, I wonder still at the hope one can garner so as to carry on. So as to continue.  So as to press forward and live, in spite of it all.

How do we find that hope to face trouble in this world? To face pain and suffering?

How then shall we now live?

In this world, you will have trouble. But take heart, there is One who has overcome the troubles of this world.

There is One who is over trouble. Who is over heartache. Who walks through adversity with those who call His name. There is One who has crushed Death underneath His feet with the words, “It is finished.” There is One who has gone on before us to prepare the Way.

And He has not forgotten us. He has not left us alone.

He is God with Us: Immanuel.

He knows our deepest longing, our darkest fears. He whispers into our soul that He is near. He reaches out, extends His love and peace and hope to fragile souls like mine in our greatest moments of need.

And He has overcome.

It’s a surety, a promise. There will be trouble, but His Word is true.  He has overcome.

Prevailing over trouble and suffering and disease and hardship and persecution and loss and adversity and poverty and destitution and difficulty and all other obstacles this world has ever known.

He has triumphed over death.

So we take heart.   In this world there will be trouble.  We will endure much hardship, much suffering.  We will suffer, forging forward through this time of trouble.  But in a little while, we will be with the Father- can’t you see Him smiling!

He waits for us with arms outstretched. He encourages and calls out to us in the brutal harsh reality of the here and now.  And one day when this life is over, He will welcome us home.

Where He will remind us of that other precious promise, that hope and joy: that He was always with us.  Even through the storm.

Even in the distressing trouble that was our painful reality.

He was always there- and forever, He always will be.

He has overcome.  And one day, we will too.

It’s a promise.