Fragility and the help of Emmanuel

Getting ready to move makes you very aware of how much conversational give and take is really for other people. As I get closer to moving away, I feel as though some of my friends are more delicate than they would be otherwise. I feel like I’m walking on eggshells sometimes, trying to soften the things I’d normally be saying full strength, not wanting them to feel afraid or angry that I’m leaving, trying to hedge against burning bridges on both sides. When people sense that the end of a season is coming, in the frustration of changing, we can sometimes lash out in ways that wouldn’t be wise in a longer relationship. When people feel threatened, or they sense that a relationship is disposable, they don’t always act wisely.

I have some trouble with my boss sometimes, who is somewhat type A. She is not a fan of change, and she gets overwhelmed easily. Like some family members I know, she feels uncomfortable when I am not always sunny and happy. If I come in thinking about something complicated, or if I say something that shows too much frustration or mourning, she gets defensive and finds creative ways to take things personally. Sometimes when we have a lot going on, it can be difficult to work around my boss. She can get overwhelmed and make rash decisions that she wouldn’t make thinking clearly. There is tension because I’ve been there longer than her, but I just try to do what she asks of me. The nature of our work is to constantly answer questions that are both broad, complicated, and more often than not, somewhat critical. If you don’t keep a level head and pick your battles, you are liable to lose it.

I think my boss is afraid. Whenever there is a lot going on, she feels more helpless dealing with the situation. Sometimes, she will talk aloud or take a lap around the office just to calm her mind and break out of any discomfort. Though I think she would probably prefer a more predictable and less high-stress work environment, I’m just doing what I can to keep the peace. When she gets frustrated, she can be slightly verbally abusive and condescending. She makes choices without consulting anybody, and uses a tone of voice that is disrespectful towards the students we work with. Because there is often a language barrier, her stress makes her unable to helpfully work through counseling a student with limited English proficiency. When she gets overwhelmed, she relies on attitudes and actions that aren’t often professional. She took offense the other day when I told her that I don’t feel comfortable when she takes up so much of my personal space without asking (she was trying to explain something with her hands on the back of my chair and I really didn’t feel comfortable). She found a way to take that personally also.

When you allow difficult circumstances to make you afraid, that fear controls you. When you work in stressful work environments, you have to be skilled at de-escalating situations, not building them. Though my boss doesn’t yet understand this, I do my best to get out of her way and stay level headed. Since I leave soon, her taking my matter-of-fact statements personally is not ultimately my responsibility. My responsibility is to do the best work I can do, and try to set an example that may rub off. When she takes a second to cool down, she acts more respectfully. She does make an effort to understand where I’m coming from after she’s had a minute of peace. She does try to make me feel appreciated when she finally calms down. I just feel a little bad for her because I remember what it’s like to deal with all that anxiety and have to go through the emotional fireworks. Looking at it from the outside, I feel sorry for her because I know the ups and downs are unnecessary. And I know it’s something she tries to control, even if she can’t on her own strength. Those kind of patterns are exhausting.

The more I work with kids, the more I believe in being a facilitator instead of a judge. My job is to encourage the ones I love to come to productive conclusions by listening and giving supportive advice. My job is not to control people’s every waking action. A lot of parents try to control their children without really teaching. A well taught child learns how to teach others, and is useful to society. A micromanaged child doesn’t make sense of the constant ebbs and flows of life’s changes, and learns to be afraid instead of to take initiative.

I see God’s presence a lot more in this “Emmanuel” kind of role. “God with us” walks us through our problems and provides his own strength for us to work through them. Teaching is a reminder to rely on God’s strength, because it’s true that those who teach will be judged more fiercely. If you seek responsibility, you become liable for all that responsibility means.

I think that it’s a lot easier for people to come into a relationship with God through Christ by having teachers in this kind of “Emmanuel” position. If we aren’t willing to serve, we should not be teaching. If “Rabbi” was a good enough title for Christ, then teaching is an honorable position. Good teaching requires you to serve. You have to be patient.


Use respect to your advantage: Against academic pandering

For some time now, I’ve struggled with how to be productive in my classes. I find that I either participate too much and make others think I’m trying to earn the teacher’s approval, or I freeze out my classmates because I’m doing the bare minimum that I need for the grade. I think I’ve found a better way.

School is easier for some people than others, but that doesn’t mean you have a right to develop an ego. I know a lot of people who have natural talent at school, but take it easy because they can. To be honest, that bothers me. If you’ve been given a gift, it is important to use it.

But more often than not, people resent the people who have an easy time at school. I know a lot of academics who have made their entire identities about school and how smart they are, and I think it’s because they want to learn and not be rejected. People sometimes develop an ego as a crappy way to deal with how other’s don’t respect them. Instead of security in your own identity, people resenting your giftings can make you withdraw from others. It’s a circular cycle that can be hard for people to break out of.

I believe that if you are smart, you should set goals apart from just school. You should have a variety of different goals that also benefit others. If only to help you steward the gifts you’ve been given in a way that keeps you from just thinking about yourself, find a way to pay it forward. It is more important to be kind than it is to be intelligent. If you respect others and their opinions, and you treat people with a sense of shared dignity, people want to help you out.

There are people who are not fully convinced that what they have to offer is worth something. They constantly try to flatter professors in the hope of getting ahead, and many professors out there live to endorse their egos. I think these people also need Jesus, but it’s a lot easier to have compassion on them leaving college. If people only knew how much God loved them, they would have no need to resort to flattery, pandering to people’s egos, and petty favors, and they’d have no reason to expect that of others.

The easiest way to get people to help you is pretty simple: be the type of person that people want to help. Be steadfast. Follow through with your commitments. Help when it’s not required of you. Don’t always expect a favor in return. It’s better to be simply kind and steadfast on the day that you actually need something than to be trying to cut corners for an advantage. It means more when someone offers to help you freely than when you ask to be reimbursed.

Being respectful to your teachers isn’t the same as pandering to them. In fact, if you treat them fairly without pandering, they often think of you better than if you were trying to get in with them (even if they themselves promote that). I think people with big egos feel trapped by the ways they expect others to treat them. They crave for people to accept them without the whole shtick, but don’t feel like they’d be accepted if they stopped it. Either way, I can’t accept endorsing people’s egos in exchange for social favors. I work with children, and if I’m ever in a position for them to replicate that kind of manipulative behavior, it will be like having them consume poison. It is better for them that I model respect and allow others to help me when it’s necessary. I don’t want them growing up to always feel like they are trying to prove themselves.

Complaining about church people is getting old

While not all of you have the distinct pleasure and short-circuiting obligation of living in a bizarre liberal enclave in the middle of red state Kansas, it can be stressful. I love my friends regardless of their faith backgrounds and belief’s about God, but bitterly complaining about the church only goes so far.

I go to a church full of people with church wounds. Many people at my church understand what it’s like to be hurt in the name of God, and we certainly can empathize. But after a while, that line of rhetoric gets old. Do you hate the church, or do you hate God? If church people weren’t like “church people”, would you actually be here?

I’m calling the bluff of the people that say they’d show up if ________. If you want the church to be different, love God, love him fully, and bother to be here. You don’t have the right to mock churchy people while relying on convenient caricatures. If you want to actually make the church a better place, show up.

Is it about the church, or is it about God? Is it about surrendering your life, or not wanting your life to be like the people you don’t get along with? Ultimately, your worship is unto Christ. Would you be willing to be on board with that, or are you just wasting everybody’s time?

I don’t complain about atheists, and I don’t complain about agnostics, and most of my church friends are accepting of more offense than the non-Christian friends I know. Most of us actually care. Many of us show up for things. A lot of us care for your children, and are a generally helpful and kind bunch. I’m sick of you insulting an entire group of people because you are sublimating your resentment of God. It’s not about those churchy people who that one time hurt you, because ultimately, it’s you that has to forgive. Even if forgiveness absolutely sucks. A lot of people wouldn’t come to God if he clapped his magical nail-scarred hands in front of their faces and screamed, “Hey, I’m here!” I resent the fact that you find it easier to complain about God’s people than growing a pair and taking your complaints to the Creator, who already hears them. If you want answers, go to God. Stop complaining fruitlessly in a way that makes it impossible to forgive. A lot of us church-folk have been in the place where you’re standing right now, and a lot of your apprehension is at most convenient.

If you want to get legitimate answers and deal with your wounds head on like an adult, ask the one who can answer you and stop blaming the rest of us, regardless of how we actually are in person. There is nothing church people can give if you aren’t willing to let God be God. Maybe you’re hurting because you expected church people to be Jesus and they couldn’t have been, or will never be. Maybe it’s time to accept that expecting other people to be perfect is a short-sighted freaking problem. If you want Jesus, go to Jesus. The rest of us cling to faith, and do our best to talk about him. You should probably seek out the real thing.

Reasons not to idealize college

I may be beating a dead horse here, but for those of us who have pushed through the 4-5 years it takes to get a bachelors degree, the end of this specific life season can be much expected or a complete disappointment.

For a lot of people, leaving college is like a bad dream. No more are your friends in close proximity. No longer can you justify eating crap food for most of your diet. No longer will your parents treat you as a junior adult.

I have a hard time having sympathy for college graduates facing this degree of disillusionment. I honestly want to feel sorry for people, but having worked every semester that I’ve been in college (1-2 jobs at a time), I find it difficult.

The people who couldn’t afford binge drinking, or don’t accept it as a legitimate habit actually find jobs. People who have settled for convenient relationships without actually challenging themselves for four years have a really hard time moving on. They are often disappointed when friends who were “really close” when they lived across the hallway become distant. When your entire social circle has to redefine it’s existence in order to conform to the rest of the world’s demands, you might get disappointed. If you don’t have to face the reality of what a non math/science bachelor’s degree is worth until the very end of your college career, that cynicism is going to suck coming all at once.

It’s a lot easier to remain a little skeptical at all times. By taking what you are told with a continuous grain of salt, you develop stronger friendships, and even if some of those friends don’t stick with you as you leave, at least if you meet up again in the future you can say that caring for them was worth it.

Whether or not parents or students want to hear it, the undergraduate experience is over-hyped and over-priced much like Disneyland. Everything, from the lodging to the theme park (classes) to the food is difficult to maintain, and you feel pressured if you can’t keep up with appearances. Some savvy families find ways to eat their own food and lodge off of Disneyland property, but still, most people leave with a handful of pretty decent memories and an overpriced bill. Given all the companies that advertise to students and how students are taught to believe that they need special furniture for their apartment and that their primary goal should be to enjoy college, of course graduating broke and without having invested in long term dreams is going to suck. That should be a given.

A bachelors degree on it’s own really doesn’t prove much. It’s a piece of paper that says that you’ve hopefully learned something. There are so many people in my classes who rarely show up or play on their computers the entire class, and honestly, our work is not hard to turn in and never have to be there. A bachelors degree alone is not why you should do college.

Do college because you want to put work into your classes. Do college because you want to develop long term goals, and learn how to achieve them. Do college because you want to apply yourself to the process of finding a good job. Do college because you want to be capable of providing for a family. Do college because you want to make the world decent, and you have goals outside of yourself. Do not define college by only what you do in your classes, or the friends you meet in your dorm, or holing up in the bars like it will earn you something. It’s a lot easier to know what to expect for getting a job if you manage to work as you receive an education. It’s a lot harder to live blind to what things actually cost and abuse what you can borrow in loan money if you work a job where you only make up to $600 a month. Even if you take out loans while you work, you will look at borrowing money entirely differently.

Take responsibility for yourself and pursue a decent way of living, one that focuses on being a decent friend, a good student, a decent employee, and learning what it means to take care of others. Actually understand what your salary will look like once you leave, and ask people while you are in college (and not just as you are trying to stay above drowning at the end) what career paths or people they would have you consider. Don’t overly rely on their opinions, but have an assortment of people you trust who can give you legitimate feedback. This means you have to go outside of your comfort zone.

Instead of getting the job where you can do your homework, get a job where you actually learn something. Think of it as a paid internship, and invest in growing your skills outside of social trends.

Transitioning from school to work naturally sucks if the time you’ve spent in college lacks substance. Even if it feels like everyone is taking it easy as you are working your butt off, let them. When it’s time to actually look for a job and make good on the skills you’ve been accumulating, things are going to look differently. I won’t say the tables turn completely, but just about. The people in your classes who never contribute to a meaningful discussion and seem to pressure the class to lower their standards are the ones who have a hard time finding gainful employment. Eventually, we all have to leave school, and it’s easier to leave knowing you actually learned/gained/wanted something than to drown in student debt and realize that you’ve wasted your last four years.

Articulating the dark

I’m at this weird spot where God is showing me how he works by absolutely suspending my ability to articulate it. I’m watching him weave through a bunch of different people’s lives, and when it comes to my life, we are just at the beginning of exploring wounds I didn’t even know I had. This is gonna be great. (lol)

It’s like staring at the bottom 98% of an iceberg you really thought was only gonna be an icicle, but it’s here now, and you have to deal with it. Have fun stumbling through that dank and dark cave. You better get used to feeling your way around in there, because so help you, you wont be able to see.

Which honestly is awesome. That’s exactly what I needed to follow a season of gathering confidence to use words in a way that directly makes sense to me. My sense of bravery and the ability to cope was just cut off from me. Ironically, there went my courage.

So it’s weird metaphor soup and verbal surgery, trying to explain the work of the Holy Spirit. But I can see it. I can try to explain it. Still, my words won’t get at that sense of permanence that you get when the spirit really moves. It can’t demonstrate what you see when you are watching chains fall off. I am not God. My words will not do.

To be honest, this is a season that comes after a brief but seemingly lengthy season of people legitimately appreciating my gifts. So I now know that what the Holy Spirit is legit, but whatever I’m supposed to do with them is still a running joke that operates smoothly due to my blindness and God’s omnipotence alone. I have no idea what I’m doing most of the time. The things I say and do; I swear it feels like doing the hokey pokey blindfolded. I don’t think I could embarrass myself at this point, because I’m not even sure what standard I’m supposed to be meeting. I can definitely be afraid, and most of the time, I definitely am. Lord only knows why. Cue the underside of the iceberg.

I am curious as to how God wants to unravel the icey block of my cowardice. Feeling the weight of failed opportunities to grow closer. My sense of security is going to have to die. Good thing I can only make sense of other’s understanding and how they are being woven into God’s story, right? Now I know that when the good stuff comes, I can’t make it up. I have no idea what logically follows after this. One day, maybe it’ll make sense strung together, but I doubt I will be the one to make sense of my own words. I guess I’m going to have to get used to speaking things I don’t even understand as truth, and go with the flow of whatever the hell they mean. For the record, that feels really uncomfortable.

Speaking something that somehow blesses someone but having no idea what did it (other than just God at the maximum level of vagueness) is really uncomfortable. Do I smile and nod or just keep listening? Like, cool? If I could understand what I’m doing then I could see what I’m doing and I could make up my own gospel, but that is no longer a reality. It feels like that tunnel in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. All images, some scary stuff, some weirdly graphic insect pictures, and an indecipherable stream of consciousness. Ironically, I think that part of the story was meant to symbolize what it’s meant to grow up.

I know that my weakness is probably a clever scheme by which God will (hopefully) be glorified, but in the meantime, I’m just a tad bit confused. Stay tuned to stumble with me, and figure out where exactly that sense of clarity comes from.


Passion but also Joy

As I listen to one of many worship songs that I’ve recently searched on Youtube, I imagine what it would feel like to listen to any one of my students sing these words. To know that they have the God of the Universe on their side. That they have the Name above all names to trust.

One day I’ll be a mom, and one day I’ll be a teacher. I can already tell you that when those things finally arrive, I’m going to struggle to do my personal best, let alone measure up to what those children need. My hope for all of them is that they can at least have the opportunity to know Christ. He can give them so many things that on my own, I just can’t. I can’t remove their pain. I can’t wave my magic wand and provide healing. I can pray for them. I can listen to them. I can walk with them. But I am not Jesus.

I have an important interview next week. I’ll be flying myself out to do my best to apply for an Alternate Teacher Education Program that makes me want to up my game. I feel prepared. I’m not afraid.

Honestly, if I get into this program, that’s when the real work starts. I can put myself out there and interview, but that’s like an introductory footnote in comparison to actually learning what it is to teach. I just want to know that the ways I want to lead a classroom are legitimate, or to have evidence-based practices for how to do it better. I’m telling you, if I hadn’t trusted in the Lord, none of these things would have fallen in line.

Contrary to what so many people think, teaching is hard. It’s a balancing act between constantly problem solving other people’s problems, creating a support system for developing learners, intensive planning, and organizing. It’s kind of like community organizing and being a service provider combine, except you also have to know and teach content. Balance that with being a fierce advocate for your kids, and it’s no wonder that in many ways, to me, it resembles being a mom.

Either way, I’m happy with what I have. I believe fundamentally that it’s not about racking up accomplishments, but trying to invest more and more in my love for Christ. So regardless, I’m going to be fine. Jesus can’t be taken from me. Regardless of what happens, I’m covered, and there is a limitless expanse of peace in that.

Whether I teach or preach, whether I reach out to people formally or as just another human, I will carry the love of Christ with me wherever I go. I’m going to have a joyous life because I will be free to enjoy it. To have the rest of my life before me (even if by some unforeseeable circumstance, it doesn’t turn out to be long), and to know that I have the option of freedom from pain whenever I want to come to Jesus is a blessing that I am not able to articulate. I don’t think it gets any better than this.

Thought 11/20

If you pray for someone and then it just so happens that you are presented an opportunity to minister to them, that is by no means an accident. I don’t mean busting out your bible and going to town despite the desire of your audience, but being kind and supportive (like Jesus). I believe in telling people about Jesus, but more often than not, it is more helpful and mainstream to demonstrate Jesus. We need comfort when loved ones are sick, we need to laugh when we feel like we’ve messed up, we need someone to listen when life feels over the top, we need someone to just generally stay and act as consistent. More often than not, if you genuinely care for a person (regardless of how personally close they are to you) and you keep your eyes on God as you lift them up in prayer, things work out in such a way where you can be helpful. Ultimately, we are called to represent Christ even when people don’t accept what we believe (or legitimately attack it). Even if a friend or acquaintance never comes to a saving knowledge of Christ, my job is to love them. You don’t have to worry about insider-outsider politics and whether or not they are “saved” enough for you to talk to them. You can just care for them genuinely and let love be that.