Friday, September 30, 2016

A dove at rest under leaden skies.

Al de firme propósito guardarás en perfecta paz, porque en ti confía. En arrepentimiento y en reposo seréis salvos; en quietud y confianza está vuestro poder. Isaías 26:3

O God, You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are fixed on You; for in returning and rest we shall be saved; in quietness and trust shall be our strength. Isaiah 26:3

This morning’s New Testament reading is from Revelation, and how the dragon who has led the world astray rages, knowing that his time is short. That he is going to lose this eternal battle, so he strives to wreck as much damage and pain as possible before the end of time.

Time, the glasses with which we view life, is going to be smashed and will be no more. We will see clearly then, the huge expanse from Your perspective.

And in that understanding, I can rest. In perfect peace.

Don’t worry about anything, instead pray about everything. And don’t forget to thank Me for My answers.

A dove at rest under leaden skies.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

A humility that passes understanding.

Al de firme propósito guardarás en perfecta paz, porque en ti confía. En arrepentimientoy en reposo seréis salvos; en quietud y confianza está vuestro poder. Isaías 26:3

O God, You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are fixed on You; for in returning and rest we shall be saved; in quietness and trust shall be our strength. Isaiah 26:3

The LORD’s will stands fast forever, and the designs of His heart from age to age. Psalm 33:11

So I just did a walk around the arroyo across the street. The sky is the classic representation of the “leaden” sky that authors such as Keats and Doyle and London are so very fond.  As in ”Where but to think is to be full of sorrow and leaden-eyed despairs.”

It never rained as promised yesterday and the desert is quite sullen.

And stark. A great black bare branch stuck up awkwardly from an ancient tree. That I was quite sure the owners would chop off if they could afford the thousands of dollars that it would cost to remove such a hazard to their home.

And a hawk settled comfortably and began preening his pin feathers. Black against the still leaden sky. But then I noticed two doves also perched in a nearby lower branch. Quietly. In rest. And my understanding of this branch shifted. Suddenly I started thinking words like “timeless” and “stand fast.”

And perfect peace.

Yesterday I tried to re-rip through The Problem of Pain by Lewis between the neighborhood Fourth-of-July parade and the packing of books and bowls for my friend and Colombia losing to Brazil.  Pain is a problem. And I thought ol’ Lewis might offer up a flashlight of clarity as I hold some recent conversations in my heart and prayers. Well, first of all, The Problem of Pain is not a rip-through book, no matter how many times one has read it, Lewis is of course full of brand new pregnant pauses that demand sorting and reflection.

And this weekend I am going to revise and “polish” (my instructor’s term) and submit my thoughts on the silently angsty ram strapped down and headed towards a clicking MRI machine. And that picture makes my soul ache. As do the thousands of children and single mothers warehoused while politicians pontificate in McAllen, Texas.

And Lewis sets forward his philosophical rationale for pain, and the tangle of purpose and human will and Omnipotence, as well as approaching Christ’s declarations from yesterday: Blessed are the poor, blessed are the persecuted. But most of all Lewis explores capitalized Love. And one of my most memorable teaching moments ever was when seventh-grade Ben Winslow lit upon this idea, that pain is God’s megaphone to rouse a deaf world, and he was so excited that I think he couldn’t even sleep that night just thinking about this capitalized Love. 

But mostly this morning I am full of the George McDonald quote with which Lewis leads:
The Son of God suffered unto the death,
not that men might not suffer, but that their
sufferings might be like His.           Unspoken Sermons, First Series

For the joy set before Him. Arms lifted up in love, to draw all people to Himself. Purposeful.

And I think about those early-morning doves. They were not huddled. Or shrinking. Or picking nervously.

And in my returning, or repenting in Spanish which means re-thinking, there is rest. And may my thoughts be fixed on Him, in quietness and trust. May I not be the naughty little toddler of my imagination sticking her hands into dark octopus holes, or Lewis’ puppy after the hated bath, shaking myself as dry as I can, and then racing off to reacquire my comfortable dirtiness, May I, through practicing His presence, grow past the needed megaphone, and listen for the quiet, steady voice of His capitalized Love.

Perfect peace. 

Thursday, September 29, 2016

The LORD will make good His purpose for me; O LORD, Your love endures for ever; do not abandon the works of Your hands. Psalm 138

Not to us, O LORD, not to us, but to Your Name give glory; because of Your love and because of Your faithfulness. Psalm 115:1

Yet the fact remains that we are invited to forget ourselves on purpose, cast our awful solemnity to the winds and join in the general dance. -Thomas Merton

So the older I get, the rougher it is to meet my standard of learning all of those kiddos’ names the first day. Part of it is that of course my hippocampus connections are just not as perky as they used to be, but also there is the other problem, that I have filled my brain shelves with so many names and faces and mostly the soul-wrenching images of eyes looking back at me, overflowing shoeboxes of them, so every time I stare Zack in the face, my mouth calls him “Eric,” because of another off-the-charts-clever-boy who also did not like to stay in his seat. So sometimes the little memory trick of association messes with the task at hand.

 And that very first day one of my students had a very convenient name that I was able to immediately associate with her very loud and dramatic and aggressive self. No problem. I never ever forget it. And she is always late. And perhaps a cloud of weedy perfume trails along behind her, because that is the family business, running one of those medical marijuana shops. Except I think it is her foster family business. And she is as smart-as-a-whip but is always dragging not-so-cognizant students down her bunny trails and then they get lost in the woods and never seem to find their way back to the task at hand.

And there I was, just a few feet away from her, because of course she is sitting front and center so I can give her the stern look, shooting her hand way up high so we both know I see it. And really what I want is for everyone to begin working on the dry ice investigation lab procedures. That is what I really wanted to happen when I asked, “Are there any questions?”

And her question could be quite helpful and penetrating. Or it could be a plaintive complaint about the bathrooms being out of order once again. Or the ever popular, “Miss, what are we supposed to do? You never know.

So I called on her.

And she announced in her bullhorn blare, ”You don’t have to do this, do you, Mrs. Voelkel? I mean you could be doing any job in the world; you could do anything. You don’t have to be teaching us do you?

 I just want to tell you that I appreciate that you are making me learn. Thank you.”

So I am packing off to Food City once again this morning. And I have my shopping list for Gatorade and canola oil and rubbing alcohol and Mentos and Sprite and lots and lots of dry ice.

And I have a sheaf of essays that show that the whole idea of citing sources is still as foggy as that mist pouring out of a bubbling graduated cylinder. But I have a whole year of again and again.

But I did dump the backpack of ahem, “Eric” upside down yesterday on a table and shake it several times and then we sorted through every single sheet of paper that literally has been crumpled up in his fist and shoved to the bowels of the bag since the beginning of school. And we pulled out his as-yet-unused brand new plastic folders that his grampa bought him since before the beginning of school and who know how long it will stick.

And "literally" is the word of the year, and I hear it a jillion times a day. 

And Facebook reminded me that this battle is shared in classrooms across the world. Life is not for cowards.

And as I pulled into the parking lot, bright red claws ripped at the sky. Sailors take warning.

Not to us, O LORD, not to us, but to Your Name give glory.


Friday, September 23, 2016

Every common bush afire with God.

The LORD is near to those who call upon him, to all who call upon him faithfully. He fulfills the desire of those who fear him; he hears their cry and helps them. Psalm 145:19–20
Spiritual joy has nothing to do with anything “going right.” It has everything to do with things going, and going on within you. It’s an inherent, inner aliveness. Joy is almost entirely an inside job. Joy is not first determined by the object enjoyed as much as by the prepared eye of the enjoyer.
You don’t have to be a priest on the altar or a preacher in a pulpit, that’s for sure. You can be a homemaker in a grocery store or a construction worker at a work site; it doesn’t matter. It’s all inherently sacred and deeply satisfying. As the nineteenth-century poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning put it, “Earth’s crammed with heaven, and every common bush afire with God.”  -Richard Rohr
So dear Lord, as I head out to my construction site, building dry ice lab conclusions and forming background research papers with MLA Works Cited and crafting propaganda posters with fourteen-year-olds, let me see the bushes blaze with You, see You in each one of these faces.
I am oh so weary, and those 14 Points and Treaty of Versailles compare/contrast essays await.
May I see. May Your Light fill my heart and chase away whatever darkness might be lurking.
Nicole is taking her bike over the Italian alps and her photos are full of light.

I love you, O LORD my strength, O LORD my stronghold, my crag, and my haven. Psalm 18:1
Every common bush afire with God.
Since last night was sleepover night, Everette and I drove home this morning singing out loud with Uncle Cameron, “My heart is yours, my heart is yours, my heart is yours in the morning.”
And there are lots of common bushes wandering around downtown in the early morning hours, mostly with large black plastic bags holding all of their earthly possessions. But some of the have two smaller bags, like with a big red Target on them. And most of them are pretty skinny and reframe my whole understanding of “so weary” with shame.
And there is a lot of road construction going on downtown too, as they put in yet another high rise hotel and yet many more hipster condos, and a still-blinking but smashed roadside sign lay in the middle of the intersection. And a guy with not only tattoos crawling all the way up his neck but landing in the middle of his forehead ran out into the ongoing traffic and dragged it out of the way.
A bush afire. Crammed with heaven.
I always try and see grown-ups, especially the more tattered ones,  as middle school students because that is an immediate entrance into tenderness for me. I really get how hard it is, and we are all trying to just make it through another day.
May I see.

That I might go forth and shine, overflowing with Your joy.
Every common bush afire with God.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Flotsam and jetsam, part II

September 18, 2016

Come, let us bow down, and bend the knee, and kneel before the LORD our Maker. For He is our God, and we are the people of His pasture and the sheep of His hand . . . Psalm 95:6–7

Mary Anne Voelkel: Transition is in your future.
We have no idea what lies ahead. Transitions are the valley between where we were and where we’re going. There is no growth without change, and there’s no change that doesn’t cause us some kind of loss, pain or fear.

The bookends of Matthew 4-9: Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness of the people. What HE did alone. After this, Jesus steps aside and sends His disciples out on their own.

1. Follow Me. And Matthew got up and left everything and followed Him. I know the plans I have for you, plans for good and not for evil to give you a future and a hope.
2. Look at situation with His heart and through His eyes. He has compassion on us, the crowds, because we are harassed and helpless. Compassion is caring enough to do something.  He will meet each one of us where we are: torn, lacerated, knocked down.
3. The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. We are called to action, not withdrawal or retreat. First we pray, that we may be thrust outward. Then we need to reach out for our neighbor. Freely we have received, freely we give. We don’t go alone.

September 19, 2016

Search for the LORD and His strength; continually seek His face. Psalm 105:4

Yesterday a coworker said that I sort of marched stone-faced through the day, my eyes looking to the horizon as I swiftly passed by. I imagine that is true. Tick, tick, tick, long trails of to do lists unravel in my brain of dashing across campus for a few more photocopies, grading that last stash of compare contrast graphic organizers, setting up the dry ice lab, updating the grades in Schoolmaster and calling that kid’s mom pronto and not forgetting to fill out the STEM field trip form.

September 21, 2016

Then people brought little children to Him, for him to lay His hands on them and pray. The disciples scolded them, but Jesus said, ‘Let the little children alone, and do not stop them from coming to me; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of Heaven belongs.’ Then He laid hands on them and went on His way.

But really, what a great calling I have. And wow, I also have super great friends, family, and coworkers who welcome the little children, even if they are sort of big and towering and quite sweaty from playing basketball every five minutes they get in between classes.

And Dre posted on Facebook way last night…about doing research after a very long hard day at work… she was doing research for three of my eighth graders whom she has never met, so that they can Skype interview her today about Black on Black violence. And this is the note she wrote them: Hello, I am so excited to talk to you about this topic!  It is something I am really passionate about and those are great questions you are asking! I have studied this topic quite a lot and from a lot of different angles. I would love to give you a ton of resources and ideas for your project (but not so many I overwhelm you- don't worry!) I will warn you--this is a very very tough topic that gets into some of the more difficult issues in our country. It will take a lot of thought and maturity to dig into this--but I know it will be very interesting and important topic to look at. 

How cool is that?

And Marco is submitting to yet another Skype interview about “Collective Efficacy for Diabetes Management for Mexican American Families in the US-Mexico Border Region: Instrument Development and Testing” which happens to have been his honors thesis a bunch of years ago, and I always have students who really want to help their tata or nana live better lives without daily insulin shots. And how exciting is it to interview an expert from Italy during lunch break?

Or a guy who lived in South Sudan getting rid of the guinea worm? And even though Steve Crabbe is pretty busy with his first year of med school, he took a bunch of time directing my little gaggle of girls who are investigating what we can do about the Zika virus that has already arrived in Tucson. He wrote me: So I got this nice message from one of your students. I am 100% up for helping her out, but I wanted to check with you first. My first inclination is to push her in the direction of doing a bit of her own research (even just sending her to the WHO and CDC), but do you think that is reasonable? Trying to balance helping out with giving a little agency to nudge her to answer some of her questions on her own.... Let me know what you think. Always happy to help!!

Then there’s the guy who is working on his Master’s in aerospace with emphasis in fluid mechanics, with a thesis on hypersonics simulations helping a boy who, surprise, wants to do something with lasers. He was going to help another kid with his research on mining from asteroids, but, unfortunately after a ten-day suspension for a weapon on campus, he brought some drugs on campus and is no longer enrolled here. Hi Christy, I would love to help.

And Alan wrote a great big long recipe for worm compost for a shy little girl and gave me some sort of gizmo for another kid’s experiments with citrus fruit batteries.

And the boys’ letter to Adam made him smile so much he read it out loud at San Augustín Market on Friday.

And Colby is helping a girl with her desert arrollo project, since I couldn’t figure out something with snakes.

And Elizabeth. And Heather. And Robert. And Liz. And Sophia. And Kathleen. And David.

And Jerry Bowen wrote another letter late last night. Jerry Bowen who lifted his eyebrow so many years ago and suggested that this would be the life for me, middle school. Crazy.

And over the years he has shown me what it is to writing into the heart of the issue at hand, but now, wow, his words rip the heart out and squeeze it. And this letter is entitled “The flotsam and jetsam of life,” and it is about sorting through what is of value as he and Shelley and Megan sort through closets and boxes and bags wondering, wondering what will remain and what will be carried off in the tide of life, never to be noticed again.

What will be found and discovered by others at the end of my life? Perhaps some packs of unopened Costco underwear? Some old watches? Personal journals of the various epochs lived, engaged and forgotten? Photos best forgotten and fashion statements misunderstood? Guitars once played, but now long dormant? Letters from a young man to a young women, both deeply in love and caught up in the thrill of impending nuptials? Well-worn bibles with notes and sermons begun, but never delivered? Some treasured memento that now has only some obscure meaning or value? Who will have the joy and the chore of sifting and figuring it all out, most of which will eventually find its way to some box, basement, storage shed or dump? It causes one to pause.

And this morning I am so grateful for my companions, my companions who know what is of value, these young lives, and are willing to push aside their well-deserved rest and relaxation and heavy lists of things to do, to listen and respond to young lives who are trying to investigate what is of value, what is important, what is the world all about.

Thank you.

Grant that I, Lord, may not be anxious about earthly things, but love things heavenly; and even now, while I am placed among things that are passing away, hold fast to those that shall endure; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.