A winding, long way around

It has been such a long pause, and so much has happened and not happened.

Tonight I’d like to speak to something that has happened: a major job and career change for Ryan–an unexpected grace.

At first I was incredulous and then was doubtful it would work out, but, lo and behold, he is going to be a social studies teacher and administrator, grades 6-8, at my old stomping grounds, Los Angeles Christian School. This time we are not missionaries, but we remain dedicated, just as clear about our desire to be here, in this neighborhood, with this community, and he is thrilled. To him, this is a long-term decision. He wants to take classes himself, and recalls wondering why he didn’t major in History in college, taking the seemingly safer Business route instead. Life is funny.

The last job was helpful. It gave him confidence. It made him appreciate things he had before. It afforded him the opportunity to offer friends jobs, who still continue with the company. It made us miss him and him us and it made him grow in the art of saying no… Ultimately, he had to say no. It was a big, big job and he did it well, but there was no end in sight to the rigorous demands and it was not what he had agreed to–so less than a year later, he was applying to all kinds of places, closer to home, closer to his heart, and we ended up very close indeed.

This afternoon the family spent a few hours in his disheveled classroom, sorting through posters, wrestling with staplers, and (the youngest amongst us…) playing with clay and computer games. Down the hall was where our time with World Impact and this urban context first began, 10 years ago when I volunteered as a creative writing teacher as a senior at Azusa Pacific. Next door was my Language Arts class–I wondered today if I’d ever return. The timelines of his classroom do not catch my eye like the materials next door, even though I deeply respect and admire the students of the subject. We want this school to thrive, and more importantly, the students in it. He’s excited for the opportunity to encourage that.

A while back I read this:

Listen to me, you who pursue righteousness and who seek the Lord; Look to the rock from which you were cut and to the quarry from which you were hewn; look to Abraham, your father, and to Sarah, who gave you birth. When I called him he was but one and I blessed him and made him many. The Lord will surely comfort Zion and will look with compassion on all her ruins; he will make her deserts like Eden, her wastelands like the garden of the Lord. Joy and gladness will be found in her, thanksgiving and the sound of singing.*

What a wonderful thing to know the rock from which you were cut. To know the grander story that yours springs from, no matter how convoluted and shadowed, how inequitably privileged or under-resourced, no matter how unknown the next step is—the direction from which you hail, the people to which you most belong. The great privilege of teaching Social Studies in a Christian middle school is to offer this footing, this framework, to the developing story of 11-14 year olds. Look to the rock from which you were cut, you who are unsure, you who are lonely, or grappling for someone’s approval. Look to your way, way back family — and know you have been blessed and included.

Get your bearings, young men and women, in history and heritage and build hope for the joy and gladness promised.

This is our scripture too; this is our history lesson. Over a year ago, he was applying for another job. He wanted to be in schools back then and a disturbed and powerful man was set on keeping him from being hired–a man I have not been able to write about because of the risk. We then were spun into a tornado of lies and grief, becoming acquainted in new ways with suffering and injustice. It did not really resolve; it has not yet resolved. But today, Ryan is in a school, working with kids in the city, affirmed and appreciated. It isn’t justice, but it is grace–that despite everything, he’s employed, at a school, doing something he loves, and our family is still intact.

Tonight, we may not have the homework, the class periods, and the teacher that used to substitute under the name “Mr. Razzle Dazzle”–but we have the rock, we bear the family promise. May we find our bearings in the quarries and deserts of our days, and feel the Lord’s compassion on the ruins.

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Cliff-diving

I had the beautiful opportunity to attend Storyline Friday and Saturday and it was like running into an old friend while cliff-diving. 

I took 19 pages of notes and yet they give you the storyline materials. (I will spare you a summarizing essay.) I have no idea how to translate the binder or my scrawl to my husband, my community…oh, and then, my life… but it’s there, in ink, asking and inviting. At times I felt like my heart was overflowing; at other times, I thought I was going to have a heart attack. Yes, cliff-diving with an old friend.

I will (can) say this: I am empowered to renew the fight for the heart. One of the main concepts of Storyline is that our stories are being hijacked and if we don’t plan them out and write (live) them with all the shared agency God gives us, something else will. Something else has. It was so refreshing to sit under a dozen different speakers of all ages in a room of 1700 people who did not grimace when people referred to the heart, emotions, or gut. The material is intelligent. The steps are rational. And the substance is about reclaiming the matters of the heart as legitimate, compelling, and directive. 

I don’t know about you but I have been injured by the ways that modern theology, faith, and church have shrunk the heart and the emotions to unreliable interferences in the path to holiness. To wholeness. It’s like, invite Jesus into your heart and then never talk about that blasted pitfall again! How bizarre to sequester God-given parts of us to isolation in the pursuit of healing. I would guess that I wouldn’t consider my leg to have healed if it was amputated. Yet I have this learned internal dissonance when I say things that begin with “I feel…” (and actually follow it with an emotion or hunch rather than a fact) or when I hear someone say “follow your heart” (you know, like on Disney movies). 

We are recovering captives. We may mentally agree with the Gospel and know all the right answers but we tend to live barely outside the circle we lived in before we knew Jesus. We have been given freedom to love and forgive and feel and explore. He heals and calls the minds and the hearts. And heart-statements and freedom-statements shouldn’t have to shroud themselves in layers of disclaimers. Emotions shouldn’t have to be termed unreliable more than the next guy’s “rationale.” 

So this recovering captive is moving forward. I am trying to slough off some of the apology I attach to my outspoken heart. I am going to try to make braver decisions. I am raising an antennae in hopes of picking up ways that the heart is shut down in conversations. I am re-opening to dream language that I thought was a shameful sign of youth or belonging to my generation but might actually be an indicator of New Life.