Wednesday, August 26, 2015

writing wednesday:

I went to a place
I thought I knew.

It turns out
I had just been clinging
to a shadow of the truth.

My voice was strangely crisp
and clear against warmth
of the words floating around.

the others --
distinct,
and so much personality.

When thrown together,
the span of sounds was great,
and yet there was no place
for my voice.

I seemed so
flat.
lifeless, even.

I just
kept
shrinking,
my voice stuck
in my throat.

this was not my home,
so I smiled warmly,
laughed along at our differences,
and moved on.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

teaching tuesday: school supplies

The other day, my friend from my hometown posted this article from The Star Tribune about how Minnesota schools' supply lists are getting a little out of hand.

This is frustrating because she is not in Minnesota and I am.
This is also frustrating because she is a parent and I am a teacher.
We are two advocates that have the same end goal with different understandings of how to get there.

I got pretty worked up about this article, which is mildly absurd considering my school doesn't have any kind of requirements like that (iTunes gift cards? headphones? name-brand supplies?) and generally speaking, the school supply needs in high school are pretty basic: notebook, folder, writing utensil. Honestly, sometimes students complete assignments for me in marker when I am all out of pencils to give to them. Whatever, man, as long as the student can prove to me that they are learning.  (Usually, when given that option, they quickly borrow a pencil from someone. Weird how that works.)

I think I also was riled because our school works pretty hard to meet the needs of students. We have a food shelf inside our school that stays stocked year round with groceries, school supplies, personal care items, and more.

Today, I sat outside the food shelf during registration so that every family that came by knew that this resource was available to students. We started doing this last year and saw a large increase in the number and diversity of students accessing the shelf. There were 160 visits to our food shelf in the first four days of school alone. The weekly visit number stayed fairly high like that for the entire month of September.
I have a pretty energetic sales pitch about the food shelf. And yes, most parents thought I was a student.
I am the co-coordinator of the food shelf with another staff member. She is the logistics to my hopes and dreams.  It would be far too much to run it on my own and I'm thankful our school believes the shelf is important enough to have two staff members work on it. Honestly, I'm pretty sure she does most of the work.

We went back-to-school shopping in early July after receiving a monetary donation.
This year we started buying socks! That's my new hope & dream for the food shelf.*
Just yesterday, a business (who wants no publicity for the donations) hosted their second annual backpack packing event for us. 40 high-quality, high-school-student-sized backpacks were packed for us, plus 10 reusable grocery bags on top of that, plus we were also given multiple boxes of notebooks, more bags, and other things.  This is a huge partnership for us, as it allows us to start the school year off really well. I honestly can't tell you how many backpacks we go through in a school year, but it's a lot, and it's a fairly constant need.

So many great backpacks! We already gave out nearly 1/4 of these today.
They've also been nicely displayed since this photo was taken.
The lady who organizes this backpack donation is the parent of a former student who graduated a couple of years ago -- she learned of the food shelf and decided that we were a worthwhile recipient of their community service. She worked with us to create a very tailored shopping list for the backpacks that they pack for us. Today, I gave the "Top 10 Needs" list out to a parent and this afternoon I happened to be in the office when she came back with 7+ bags of food and toiletries to donate to us. She was actually upset when she realized there was something on the list she forgot to purchase. We have an incredibly supportive community, which is great because our needs keep growing. In a lot of ways, it's actually really easy to run the food shelf because businesses and people keep hearing about us and they contact us about how they can help. It's a little surreal.

The food shelf is probably the thing I'm most proud of that our school does in trying to level the playing field for all students. There are a lot of incredible teachers in our school that are doing a lot of good -- I repeat, good, impactful, long-lasting, life-changing -- work, but sometimes the grand scheme of education and how deeply it can/will ultimately impact students -- all of that good work teachers are doing -- can seem so intangible to the students in the day-to-day grind when there's not enough food at home or school supplies are too expensive or there are just all of these little signs that you don't quite fit in. Our school is able to give students an opportunity to get what they need for their futures in the classroom and out. And that's pretty special.

So, Star Tribune, while you choose to focus on the negatives that come with the beginning of the academic year (when schools are just trying pretty hard to give students a bright future even when it requires more and more stuff in a technologically advancing world), I'm going to be outside the food shelf, squealing like it's Christmas morning** as donations come in and students' eyes light up at the cool new backpack they found.



* I might be Dumbledore.
**This is really not much of an exaggeration of my standard behavior. My co-coordinator is also the calmer of the two of us, and thus why people probably think I'm a student volunteer. I have accepted this.



Monday, August 24, 2015

Monday Musings on God being enough

I have to admit that I have mild trepidation for the coming days. School is beginning soon and this week before it begins is like standing on the side of the road, watching a tornado spiral through the countryside. I will be swept away soon.

It is scary knowing that there will be days on end where I may not have a moment without a to do list weighing on me. Class periods will come that will break my heart and make it hard to breathe. Moments will reveal the most selfish of me and I will kick myself endlessly for my carelessness.

Mostly it is hard knowing that I will never be enough for this life in front of me. My heart isn't strong enough to fight for every person fiercely, I'm not efficient enough to finish my to-do list, not dedicated enough to make it to the gym as frequently as I should, not brave enough to do all of the hard things that come my way, not selfless enough to realize when a person really needed me to listen, not skilled enough to be of much help to anyone, not tech-savvy enough for our new iPad iniative, not loving enough to reach out, not attentive enough to every need, not enough to be fully present and sacrificial for every direction I get pulled.

In short, I am so utterly inadequate, and I have really been feeling the weight of that these last few days. There is so, so much, and so little me.

A friend sweetly reminded me that if God has called me to something, He will equip me and bring me through. Another friend posted this on social media today:

"When God gives you more than you can handle, he is giving you the joy of experiencing his power to do the humanly impossible 'so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God' (1 Cor. 2:5)."


While feeling the beginning whips of wind that are coming, God has started to show me my lack of faith in his power and goodness. A bit of a crushing realization, really.
Of course I would never be enough -- I was never meant to be. Only God is enough because He is the great I Am.



Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Writing Wednesday: on grief

There is a
vast
depth
to being
alive.

at times,
the overwhelming,
all-consuming
nature of grief
is the scariest part --
selfishly, it's not always about
what has been
lost.

like fighting a tide
in an endless ocean,
there is a neverendingness
to feeling.

words of sympathy
plaster across the internet
to our skin,
roll down in torrents of tears
who are the words for?

tired eyes raise,
meeting iris to iris:
a lighthouse
amidst a storm.



Monday, August 17, 2015

Monday Musings on people in context.

This weekend I traveled to Nashville & Mississippi to visit family of whom I have no working memory.

It turns out that my grandmother was one of nine children, all of whom either live in the same town they grew up in, or within just a couple of hours of it.We stayed in a home that has been the home for family gatherings, and when great-uncle Thomas passed away last summer, it was purchased by a sister to keep in the family.

This is the family of storybooks.

I met great aunts and uncles, second cousins and third cousins, and heard about every possible southern drawl that there can be.

My mom had been down to this small town in northeastern Mississippi every summer until she was 22, and then once her mother died, she took a nineteen year break until this trip. I saw her blend into a puzzle that I didn't know she was missing.

There were things that made sense in that context that didn't make sense when you look at the members of my family in isolation. Take, for example, my older brother's build. My parents, my twin, and I all have similar body builds, . He, however, is built like a wall, which comes from neither of my parents. My great-aunts threw us a cook-out on Saturday, and there were at least three men there that were built exactly the same way. As my mom showed off pictures of my family to them, the women were quick to exclaim that he favored the Wilson side of the family, which would be my grandmother's side.

This got me thinking.

1 Corinthians 12 talks about the body of Christ, particularly in reference to the spiritual gifts and how all are needed and good. Verses 14-20 speak about how each individual member works together to create the larger body of Christ: "For the body does not consist of one member but of many...If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body."

Verses 21 through the end of the chapter discuss the importance of unity among all of those individual members. Verses 26 and 27 capture it succinctly: "If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it."

You see, the gift of prophecy wouldn't make sense if there weren't members to receive it. The same goes for healing or miracles or teaching or administration or hospitality (or hugs, which seem to be a spiritual gift Paul forgot to mention). Each of these gifts is important and  helps build the body in very different ways. But you isolate them, and they're not as strong. They're a puzzle piece without the puzzle to surround them, and well, a single puzzle piece doesn't really show you much of the picture. You piece them all together, allow each little gap to be filled, and all of a sudden you've got the whole message.

We need each individual member of the body to complement one another because together, whole, we reflect Christ, which leads to, as Paul ends in 1 Corinthians 12, "...a still more excellent way."

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

writing wednesday: galactic grasses

a chorus
arose
from the
grasses,

a cry
to the great
galaxy above.

the locusts work their way
up into one sound, one voice.
their massive identity is
overwhelming.

one lone cricket
cries out,
an unmatched
pair.

does that make him
a rising star
with his singularly
unique song,

or does it
make him
a tragedy?

the frenetic pace
hides his melancholy and
I wonder how many know
his secrets.

who are they singing to,
this creation?
why do they pick up their tune
each evening
and lull the world slowly
to sleep?

if we were to meet in the daylight,
nary a soul
would dare name a locust
beautiful,
and yet under the cloak of night,
their chorus rings true.

is it a goodbye anthem
to fading Summer?
a melody of welcome
to Fall
who saunters around the corner?

Please keep singing,
lonely cricket;
don't let
the world
put out your song,
just yet.

teaching tuesday: learning how to live

In Hannah Anderson's book, Made for More: An Invitation to Live in God's Image, she has a chapter about women's work & education where she writes this question:
"What if learning is less about how to make a living and more about how to live?"

I think, as it has been discussed and exposed elsewhere, that the educational system is, in some ways, broken. It was designed to create workers in an era that doesn't even begin to describe America now. You can see the video below based on a Ted Talk by Sir Ken Robinson to learn more.

I was struck by Hannah's question because I think a lot of what the language arts world has to do with is how to be a person. After all, literature stands the test of time because of something that deeply resonates with the human soul. This article from The Guardian explores research on developing social empathy through literature. I feel very lucky to be working in a field that is so overtly enriching.

The other departments certainly have their place and function and are as vitally important (no, really! I think it's true), but what if we focused a little less on all of the small details of what students are supposedly needing to memorize to be proficient, well-balanced adults according to state standards and stepped back to see the whole picture? Overall, it seems that Math & Science are about how life works and operates, and Social Studies and English are about how to live within that world.

The thing is, I teach people. Literature and writing is my platform, but at the end of the day, these are developing souls with which I am entrusted. I want to do my best to cultivate each individual.