The Right Place

You’re right, of course, that school hasn’t started yet.

There are, blessedly, two more weeks before those sweet learners arrive on our doorstep,

take their seats in our classrooms.

But I don’t think the start of school, the chaos and rhythm of learning, will change my mind:

I know I’m in the right place.

A place where I stepped down the cement steps to the basement cafeteria this morning, and my first greeting was a cheery buenos días from the school’s principal.

A place where I slipped my bookbag off my shoulder at a table to the sound of our cleaning lady/staff cook/all around hard worker yelling at me si quiería café, and I was more than content to stir sugar into my coffee with the spork she handed me.

A place where the professor whose wisdom, counsel, and grace guided me through the whirlwind of undergrad spends a day with the school staff, and his passion for the Lord, and for teaching, remind me why I’m here in the first place.

A place where teachers are coworkers and friends, and we call to each other, voices carrying through open doors, asking have you seen a stapler, are you using this bulletin board, did you find your rug? 

A place where each student is a learner, each child is a reader, but more so, ever so infinitely more so, each child is a child of God, an image-bearer of our Creator.

This is a place of value, a place of depth, a place of learning to be like Christ- as a teacher, as a student, as a body, and because of that, this is the right place.

~Natalie

The First Day

I’m not teaching tomorrow. I’ve no students packing last-minute school supply purchases into new-smelling bookbags. There are no navy and khaki uniforms laid out for 7am dressing. No lunches packed, no pencils sharpened.

Not yet.

Here in the city, school starts after Labor Day, and tomorrow marks two weeks until that much-anticipated first day. For me, tomorrow is the first day of official teacher prep; two weeks of seminars, meetings, classroom and curriculum preparation.

For some though, tomorrow is the first day.

The first day of kindergarten, for the one who knocks on our first floor door daily, announcing herself through the dark paneled wood before we can even turn the knob. For her, it’ll be the first day of sitting on the rug, finding her spot, befriending twenty other 5-year-olds with the same gusto that she invests in her playing, her inviting, her living, here at home.

For the one who texted me earlier, the one who sat in the back of my suburban student teaching classroom, it will be the first day of 5th grade. I know the classroom where he’ll be, and so does he. He told me tonight, my  phone buzzing intermittently where it sat on my dresser, who moved to Wisconsin, who went to public school, who joined the class. He knows the teacher; a passionate, fiesty woman whose eyes filled with the tears of a love-worn mother when we talked about her sons, who also were in my class.

The one on the other end of the text conversation tells me he’s excited, he’s got new school shirts, he’s excited to see his friends again. In turn, I tell him he’ll look great, he’ll do great; he’ll work hard, he’ll be challenged, but really, he’s ready for this.

In the kitchen here, in this downtown garden apartment, she stands on the other side of the kitchen counter, blue eyes still crystal clear, un-creased by the lines of exhaustion and stress that threaten to settle as the semester stretches into winter. She starts grad school tomorrow; the first class of what will turn, over the years, into a degree in social work, which I have never doubted she will use to change the world. She’s planning on leaving early tomorrow, in case the classroom is hard to find, in case the train runs slow. She’s calm, collected, there in the dimly-lit kitchen, and I wonder as I listen to her how her passion, her loyalty, her determination might be used to change the world, to rebuild broken lives, someday soon.

There are others, I know. Moody students tucked into bed, ready to rise early for their first day of college, their first day as a senior, their first day as a graduate student.

They’ve an exciting day tomorrow.

And here in the quiet, with the ceiling vent blowing its deep, droning hum, it’s comforting, encouraging to think of all those lives, all those days, all the emotions and plans and people that surround me; all moving forward, all taking the next step. And with every transition, every change, every great leap to higher heights, there are challenges, there are heartbreaks and frustrations and terrors.

But with a breath, with a moment- or maybe a year- everything is okay.

And that is a very good thing.

~Natalia

Purpose in a Parking Lot

What are you looking at? She asks, and in the window’s reflection, I watch her turn towards me.

That parking lot. I tell her, shortly.

Quiet falls over the car then, once more. The CD continues to play, muted beats of the same 15 songs we’ve had on repeat for three hours already.

I look out the window, still. Staring at the same scene I’ve been studying for several long minutes already.

There’s more she could have asked; the same question I’ve been straining, reaching, to answer, sitting here at this hillside traffic jam.

Why?

Why has this scene so mesmerized me? Why can’t I look away? Why does my heart catch, heavy and yet somehow expanding, lightening, as if my heart itself is pumping helium, not blood, through my veins as I gaze down at the scene below me.

The lot lies yards beyond our right lane stand still, separated from the traffic above by a sloping, uneven hill. The hill itself is carpeted in vibrant grass, blowing exuberantly in the summer breeze.

It’s the parking lot of a restaurant. The square brick building, its back side windowless, stands resolute, comfortingly confident in its independence.

There are six cars in the little lot. A hatchback, two pickup trucks, an old, rusting jeep, and two small SUVs.

There’s nothing to see, really. Nothing unlike what I’ve seen before. There is nothing remarkable about this small, halfway occupied patch of cracked black asphalt.

And yet I can’t tear my eyes away.

It’s the cars that have me entranced. Not the vehicles themselves, really, but the differences between them, and more, infinitely more, the people who arrived in them.

My eyes move from the cars to the back of the little restaurant, with the black garbage bins lined neatly beside the gray emergency exit, and I’m overwhelmed by the complexity, the richness of what’s before me.

Six cars, and yet more people than that. Each with a father, perhaps one who works, perhaps one who has custody every other weekend and for three weeks straight during the summer.

Each with a job, a school, a place to be. A place that belongs, uniquely to them, but with enough others, enough exposure to the raw struggle of human interaction that they can still come home in the evening, tired, frustrated, ready to vent to the one on the couch, the one cooking dinner, the one sitting on the Michigan porch, waiting just for them.

Each one with a reason, a home, a purpose. Their reasons for being there, for stopping just then, right here at this northern Michigan restaurant, are many and twisted; a tangled mess of reasons and moments that have come together, formed one single thread of purpose: to be at that place, to be eating, talking, sitting quietly, at that very moment.

I’m looking at a parking lot; a random collection of empty cars, temporarily abandoned. But where we’re taken, where we’re lead, is never a random choice, and I’m sitting there in my own car, transfixed by the evidence of design, the proof of intention and purpose, right there in those cars, and the people who drove them here.

~Natalia

This is Where I Want to Be

It’s been a rather quiet several months on here, at Leadmewhere.com. It’s not been an accident, really. And truly, there has been much to live. January, February, March brought student teaching in a 4th grade class in the north suburbs; 19 students, one beloved cooperating teacher, and long hours of planning, preparing, and reflecting.

As March faded into April, the pace of life become near-frantic and uncertainty, deadlines and decisions flew past, one after the other with barely a moment to rest. I agonized over writing cover letters for jobs that didn’t seem quite the right fit. I interviewed for a job that would only last two months. A relationship ended. I got the two-month job, becoming a full-time kindergarten teacher only three days after ending my student teaching. I moved out of the home of the pair of professors who taught and mentored me for years, and welcomed me with open arms into their home for the duration of my student teaching.

I remember what I wore on April 20th, my first day teaching kindergarten in the city, but many of the other details of that day- and the ones that followed- have slipped away, melting, blending together to form the eight weeks that I spent eating, sleeping, breathing- even dreaming- the care and education of 13 little children. Their struggles, voices, accomplishments, and futures consumed me, and I didn’t stop until June 10th, when those tiny people graduated from kindergarten.

I breathed, then, and even took a roadtrip to Ohio, in which I listened to Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban in the car, spent four days with the Jen and her sweet family, and attended a wedding to which I was not invited. Once back, I dived once more, for another year, into the planning, the preparation, the excitement of WOW Camp.

Family trips to Michigan are the order of the day in August, and it was 2am when Stevy and I finally rolled into the garage last night.

Now it’s the middle of August, and I’ve three weeks until school- and my career as a 5th grade teacher- officially begins, but I was at school today, and I know that there is work to be done, lessons to be planned, a room to be set up, even now.

There’s been so much, and there will always be so much, because this is life and it’s not meant to be spent simply willing the hours to pass. I’m doing and I’m going and I’m learning and I’m living, and really, it has been good.

But this page, the hundreds of posts I have written, are here because in the living, in the learning, I also want to remember. I see scenes that sear my heart with their beauty, and capture my imagination with what has happened, what might happen, and I want to remember that. I live moments, experiences, days, that overwhelm me with their significance, even in the mundane, and I want to capture that, record that, write that all down. And this, here, is where I do that. And I never want that to stop.

So yes, I know it’s been sparse. I know the words have been few here. But the moments have been so very many, and I treasure the opportunity to write, even though what I say is so small when compared to what I see, what I hear, what I live. And I know that it will not always happen, I will not always find the time. But when I can, when the lights dim and the hour is late and it’s quiet all around, this is the place I want to be. This writing, this remembering, this celebrating and savoring, is what I want to be doing.

~Natalia

Even the Bathrooms

April, 2012. Eight months into my undergraduate career and I’m feeling spontaneous, flippant, perhaps vaguely overtired by and underconcerned about the outcome of my semester. Riding the El for hours each week, commuting to and from that beloved poolside job, I stop one night, on the walk from city stop to city school, and step into Walgreens. Ten minutes later, I’m down $11 and carry a bag containing one box of semipermanent hair dye, swinging from my hand all the way up the street, up the elevator, to my room.

Two days later, late on Friday night, after another afternoon spent pacing the pool deck, dodging splashes, cheering on Friday Fun Day relays, Mary dyes my hair in the bathroom down the hall from our adjacent rooms.

We take a selfie first, a kind of Before Picture. Except there is no After, and the flash from my phone goes off, reflecting oddly off the bathroom mirror, and it takes five tries before we’re both looking, both smiling, both content with our expressions.

She dyes my hair, and late that night, I post that selfie on Instagram.

The next morning, Saturday, my homework-in-bed, no-breakfast-early-to-lunch day, there’s a notification on my phone, a comment on last night’s picture from a friend who graduated this very school several years before, when my own dreams of attending Moody were middle school fantasies.

Ah, those bathrooms, she says, I remember them well! I have many treasured memories from my time at Moody! She exclaims.

The comment makes me smile, and I pause for a moment, phone tossed haphazardly onto the bedspread beside me, and imagine the treasured memories that I will make, in the years and months to come. I wonder who my treasured friends will be, I hear the question echo vaguely, not even fully articulated, in the back of my mind. I wonder what we will do, what we will look back on as our own precious memories, the intangible and unrepeatable moments that define our time at college.

I wonder, and it never occurs to me, sitting there in my room, the heavy scent of hair dye still thick around me, that I am living those moment, with those treasured people, right then.

Now, August 2015, I still have red hair, but it’s only the ends and this look cost me 85 cents of Kool-Aid powder and a pot of boiling water. Now, I haven’t lived in a dorm in nearly eight months, and the hours that I spend on public transportation have significantly decreased. Now, I have a Moody Bible Institute diploma in a school-issued cover, and no papers to write, nor reading assignments to check off of my to-do calendar. Now, my neighbors are families, my phone is the primary way in which I communicate with Mary, and no one bangs on the wall of my room when I laugh too loud after 11pm.

And I miss it all.

And I know now, I see now, that those were the treasured memories.

The three times Mary and I dyed each other’s hair, sitting on one of the mismatched chairs we dragged from the kitchen down the hall, old towel around shoulders, looking up intermittently as the door swished open and closed.

Showering in those shadowy showers, risking scalding with every clink of the pipes, every near-unnoticed change in water pressure potentially signaling the impending loss of valuable skin cells. Yes, it burned, yes, I stormed out of the bathroom more than once when my preferred shower had been taken, but even that room, with the odd rock-patterned floor, the green tinted tile bricks, the ever-running toilets- even that bathroom holds a wealth of moments, all its own.

Running in on my way to class, backpack dumped on the flat carpet outside the door, just to check my outfit in the full length mirror next to the sink.

Getting ready in the early morning light in front of that same mirror- when the hour was just too early to justify bumping and shuffling around the room with a roommate mere feet away.

Early morning, late night, and everything in between, that bathroom down the hall is a part of the vast array of moments, places and memories that fold, that weave, that meld together to create the Moody that I treasure, the years that I cherish, the relationships that I’m still overwhelmed with gratitude to have.

~Natalia