All Four Seasons

I used to thank God for the changing seasons. Balanced on the stool with the sliding cushion in that second floor 4th grade class. I thanked Him when the lake across the street froze, white lines of frost sketching across the iced surface. I thanked Him when my commute to school was an hour longer than it should have been, and the snow and ice pelted my car, slowed traffic to a hesitant crawl. I thanked Him when the sun’s rays could not pierce the heavy cloud cover, when we stomped our feet and breathed painful, foggy breaths into our scarves.

Thank you for all four seasons. Thank you for this pinwheel of temperatures, storms, weather eternally spinning around us. 

I have a video, barely 10 seconds long. Larissa, still sporting her blue coat, the reflective strip around the collar dull in the bland winter light. She stands on the corner, between plaza and fountains, both of which lie empty in the cold. Do you remember, she exclaims into the camera as the wind plays faintly with the wispy hairs around her face, when it was so cold and Laura and me ran in the snow up there? Here she motions with a baggy coat sleeve towards the plaza behind us. The plaza where, weeks ago, the snow blew in icy gusts through the city, and the open expanse of the raised plaza became like a dance floor for the waves and swirls of frigid air and the ice pellets masquerading as snow. Yes, they ran in the snow. And minutes later, unwrapping scarves, hoods, shedding mittens, we also thawed our eyelashes, watching tiny crystals melt off of each other.

Thank you for all four seasons. Thank you for protecting us when the wind is its sharpest, the roads are their iciest, the cold is its most bitter. 

This afternoon, I’m the first one to arrive at the plaza, across from the fountains. There’s a planter, there on the corner, and I let my bookbag slide down my arm, land heavily on the neat white cement. My shoulders are damp with sweat where the thick fabric straps rested. The planter is home to several sprouting trees, and I pull my feet in, lean my entire body into the shade that they provide. The air itself is hot; the breeze is heated, blowing my skirt, my hair askew. In front of me, a group of 10 high schoolers troops down the orange brick sidewalk loudly, yet their noise disappears almost as fast as they do, almost as if the heat itself has swallowed, muted, their raucous voices.

Thank you for all four seasons. Thank you for the freedom we have to live, to explore, to go, during the warmer months of the year. 

We sit outside to eat. It’s too cold inside- the restaurant proprietors apparently having fallen under the false assumption that the intensity of the air conditioning inside must be proportional to the summer heat outside. But the sun, quickly reaching its zenith, is uncomfortably hot, at least for a meal. How can one eat, how can one sit and converse, when the sun is blank, burning, bristling on one’s head, back, shoulders, face. So we sit in the shade, on the edge of the plaza, and eat our lunch. The napkins blow, attempt escape, in the breeze. My hair flies, knots, my bangs sticking to my damp forehead. The drinks in our glasses, lacking ice, are room temperature in minutes. Standing, we’re sticky, sinking, and yet not buried, beneath the cloudless sky. Walking home, cold drinks clutched in sweaty palms drip condensation. Walkers pause to wipe brows, and then seem to shrug off the heat as they set off again. The sidewalk buzzes, and the beach, I imagine, is even busier.

Thank you for all four seasons. Thank you for this pinwheel of temperatures, storms, weather eternally spinning around us. 

~ Natalia

Dear Kindergarten

Do you know that your voices stay with me long after we’ve parted ways each afternoon? I hear them in my head after I wave goodbye at 3:30, after I leave you under the patient oversight of the aftercare teachers. I hear your voices- distinctly, unquestionably you- as I live my evening hours; eating, working, cleaning. Through it all, I can hear you. You stay with me throughout the day, really.

I prepare for you, each day. That’s kind of a given in the teacher realm; planning lessons, organizing worksheets and activities, inventing ways to reteach a concept again, to help you understand more, grasp deeper. I prepare for how you might not quite master it the first time, or how it takes you longer to write, or how you get frustrated when I erase your wrong answers too quickly. I think about all those things and a hundred other things every morning.

I think about what you need, too. I know your mom just had a baby and you’re feeling a little displaced. I know you’re feeling clingy and your five-year-old words just can’t tell me that. So when you stand up during math, lean your head on my shoulder while I teach, I let you stay there. I know you had a busy weekend between parents, I know you didn’t get nearly enough sleep and Monday morning beforecare was a hard shock to your little system. So when you fall asleep right there on the floor during phonics, I let you stay there, I let you sleep. And when you wake up two hours later, rubbing brown eyes groggily, I greet you gently, with a smile, because no one likes to shouted at when they’ve just barely woken up.

I know you’re frustrated that you don’t understand, I know you’re upset with yourself for making wrong choices, for not following directions. I know that she hurt your feelings, that he bosses you around, that he won’t let you look at his Pokemon book. I know, I know. And it hurts me, too.

I wonder sometimes what you think about me, if you know how I feel about you, how I love you. When there are just one too many calls of “teacher! teacher! teacher!” and my tone is exasperated, fed up, I wonder. When you come tattling to me for the eighth time on the same kid, and I sigh and tell you I don’t care what he said and can you just play somewhere else for a little while. I wonder then if I’m doing the right thing, if I’m caring for each of you as well as I could. I wonder when you still throw a tantrum, even though I used a sticker chart, spoke gently, clearly stated the expectations beforehand. I wonder when the math pages come back half right, hard evidence of confusion on concepts I thought I taught well.

I wonder if I’m enough for you.

But really, I know I’m not. I know I never will be enough for you. Teaching you, discipling you, molding you is an unbelievable responsibility, especially when I spend more waking hours with you during the week than your own parents. I carry that weight, heavy on my heart and my mind, but I’m not the only one. I am part of a team, a family, of teachers and administrators, PE coach, art and music teacher; we all work for you, we all care for you, pray for you, love you.

And around us, beneath and above, encircling and encompassing everything we do, Christ guides and Christ gives. He provides and He encourages and He pours out. And what I have is nothing compared to Him, and what I give is a drop in the ocean of love and grace that He is. But He’s working through me and He’s working above and beyond me, and every morning, every afternoon, every evening with you, my precious kinders, that is enough.

I love you.

~Miss Shull (aka Teacher)

Bullet Point Post: The Fourth Grade Edition

• I’m required to journal every week, as a part of my student teaching requirements, and I’ve come to relish the weekly opportunity to process through the things I’ve seen, experienced, and learned.

• I also secretly dream of all those pages of reflections and classroom stories becoming a part of a book someday. Although I imagine there’s a wide range of experiences and wisdom I need to gain before anything I happen to type could be considered “book material.”

• I’ve been student teaching for seven weeks thus far, and the experience of teaching, of being in the classroom, has yet to lose its charm. I remain completely captivated by each of the 18 hearts in the class, and not a day goes by that I do not look forward to seeing them, and to what the school day might hold for us.

• I’ve been the sole teacher in the classroom this week, responsible for every element of the day, and have thoroughly enjoyed the odd sense of both increased freedom and greatly heightened responsibility. Of course, the wonderful woman whose classroom I have taken over is just a few doors away, and I treasure my conversations with her at the end of the day.

• Math class today featured a test for which we have painstakingly prepared, as we slogged through hours of long division over the past four weeks. As to the results, I’ll say that I am pleased with our mastery of the subject in the good moments, and reminding myself that the grades of my students do not directly correlate to my value as a person in the slightly less stellar moments.

• I really am proud of my little mathematicians, though.

• I’m on lunch duty this week, which entails the highly sought-after thrill of lunching with 50 4th, 5th, and 6th graders, and also affords me an invaluable view into the lives and minds of the kids with whom I spend my days. I alternate between the 4th grade boys’ and girls’ tables (the natural- if occasionally awkward- gender mixing begins to occur in 5th grade), and the difference in mealtime conversation is literally night and day between the two tables. On Tuesday, I heard about play dates and fights with sisters, and about the time Lala’s mom made these really, really great tacos. On Wednesday, I heard about last night’s episode of Flash, discussed my favorite Star Wars movies, in order, and watched in awe as seven Red Velvet Oreos become one mega-Oreo.

• I’ll let you guess which meal was spent at which table.

• After having tasted them for the first time this past summer, I’ve allowed myself to develop a rather specified dependence on Combos. Specifically, the Buffalo Bleu Cheese flavor of Combos. More specifically yet, Buffalo Bleu Cheese Combos that are slightly stale and 100% frozen after sitting in my glove compartment for an undetermined amount of days prior. I really go for those.

• Although, I’ve not had any this week, and am wondering if I should carry my accidental abstinence further, into a kind of self-imposed, cold-turkey intervention.

• But I probably won’t because, well, I like them.

• Every Thursday morning, my kids turn in their Words and Sentences. Which are, as you might imagine, a list of their weekly spelling words and sentences written using said words. One sweet girl- the same angel who spent an entire week of recess attached to my side as I made my recess duty rounds, wrote 20 sentences about herself and me. She recounted (imaginary) adventures, stated preferences and distastes, and made jokes, each and every one with a reference to Miss Shull.

• Upon my return to the classroom (I grade Words and Sentences while they have art), I casually mentioned to her that her Words and Sentences made me smile. She beamed.

• I pray for all the kids, but on days like today, I especially pray for that one. And for myself. Because I’m living my life in large part exposed to these 18 pair of intent eyes, and I know they’re smart enough to see through what I do wrong, where I fall short, where I need to grow so much more.

• I pray for their hearts, and for mine. I pray for their futures, for their families, their friendships, their gifts. I pray for wisdom and guidance and a soft heart to hear what He’s saying, and go where He’s directing.

• And I thank God for them. That I do quite a bit.

~Natalia

If For No Other Reason

There could be books written, although I hope there never are, containing the things to which I do not know the answers.

At this very moment, I would nominate prayer to be included in these vast books.

I’m really not sure how it really works.

I know the speaking, the writing, the wordless, soundless begging. I am familiar with all of those.

I know the Lord and the listening and the greatness of hearing it all and knowing it all and answering it all. I’m not Him, but I know what He’s said and I trust what He’s done, and these are some things I really just know.

But the other things are harder, really.

Like, the balance and the movement of my heart becoming words lifted high, which become, in turn, an answer returning to this ground once more. Not always an agreement, a desire granted, of course, but an answer, nonetheless. I just don’t get that, quite all the way.

Or, how words I pray now, over the one sitting to my left in small group, over the small students whose desks I sometimes slip into while they’re gone, whose very places in the room I have murmured quiet prayers over- how does what I pray now affect their lives, change their hearts? How does it come to fruition, really?

Those are things that I don’t know.

We’re commanded to pray, some say. And I don’t think I’m really one to disagree with that statement. In fact, I’m pretty sure it’s in the Word of God, which of course, lends a rather strong amount of credibility to the mandate.

But why, really?

Why are we praying?

For obedience, I suppose. At least to begin with. But there’s more there- there really has to be. There is a relational depth, a sense of knowing God, of interacting- conversing- with God Himself that I often sense in prayer. My journal pages are littered, emblazoned, honored, with the capital letter scrawl I use to mark what I believe He says, what He would have me feel.

Pray for that, of course.

Pray for decisions, the life changes and shifts and open doors approaching closed that mark the path of every person living, moving through the days and the weeks that God stretches before us.

Pray for guidance and grace, compassion and kindness, forgiveness and the heart ability to forgive. Pray for strength- no, more than that, fall on the floor before God, asking for strength, because what we have is not coming from me, nor from you. That I know.

And pray, if for no other reason, because the praying is the talking, and sometimes the listening, and there’s another there, and He talks and He guides. He guides and He answers and there is something to be said, and there is something to be heard. And if there is no prayer for just any other reason, pray because this is the One who is greater than all, and He is listening, He is waiting, He is willing, and that is a peace that I dare not miss.

~Natalia

Every Bit

I’ve told you before, I know, about the conversations in my little books.

My own scrawly writing, squashed letters filling pages,

some in blue pen, ink spots scattered across the pages

where my thoughts lingered, and the pen bled.

Some is written in black ink, the fine tip rolling seamlessly across the page,

unbroken ys, gs, entire words melding into one.

Amidst those scattered, chaotic, heart-real pages,

there is bold writing;

letters written in caps, spaced wide, set apart.

Maybe I told you before, maybe I’ve explained;

I’ve no magic powder, to high-powered instruments to hear

the the voice of God,

but I’ve His Word in the Bible,

in the world,

leading and shaping my own heart,

and those big letters, those capital shapes running across the pages

of my little books?

I believe those are the Lord.

The same Lord I listened for this afternoon.

Nearing the end of a two-hour drive, the second of my day’s travels,

I leaned against the headrest behind me,

allowed my mind to wander, ever so slightly,

over the weights, the thoughts, the conversations,

that have run through my mind, raced round my heart, in the past days.

I thought and I listened,

and I talked, too.

Maybe a little odd,

maybe at interesting choice,

but five hours roundtrip is a long time to be alone in a car,

and yes, I admit it- sometimes I talk to myself. Out loud.

Audibly.

And this was talking, too, but I was talking with God,

just as if He was sitting alongside me,

buckled into the passenger’s seat.

And I explained and I wondered,

and I stated and I reasoned,

and as I talk,

I felt doubts, responses, rebuttals, rising unbidden to my lips,

and I pulled them out, turned them over,

once and then yet again,

considered them.

And, those words considered, I spoke again;

another response, another word, and so forth, on and on.

Because that’s how conversation goes,

and that’s how people learn

and trade

and grow,

and in the things I said

and the thing I heard,

I came to see a little more,

to understand a little more,

and I settled a little deeper into the hope I cling to daily.

Hope that He’ll not leave me,

and that He’ll not leave me the same.

Because His voice, working in my heart, bringing thoughts to mind,

whispering into my own conversations,

would see me grown,

would see me changed,

would see me following Him more and more.

So I open my eyes, open my ears,

open my heart,

and I listen and I speak and I live,

and through it all, I pray, I trust, I hope,

I’ll becoming more like Him every bit of the way.

~Natalia

I Just Remembered

I just remembered Sunday afternoon in Guatemala,

muffled songs from a local congregation drift over the dusty mountain streets;

we can hear the praises from where we sit in the house,

breaking bits off of pan dulce while the dogs shuffle around our feet,

the little cat arches her back, stretching lazily on the bench next to me.

I just remembered two houses half-made, their cinderblock walls awaited corrugated roofing.

I remembered hardware shops closed, a morning without building,

a morning without shoulders bent under the hot sun,

hands in too-big gloves swinging dull machetes,

over and over against those long strips of wood.

But a morning with no building is not a morning without work,

and I just remembered leaving that house on the hill with four teenage girls,

setting out along the narrow cobblestone streets;

a list of names in our hand, vague directions based on minute details running through our heads.

We’re to visit the widows.

And I just remembered those five houses, those five women.

Some are older, their dark skin softened into deep wrinkles that spiral and wind across their thoughtful faces.

Some are younger, looking up at us even as they work, their nimble hands roving over tasks they’ve learned by heart.

One cannot speak, and we stand in her garden,communicating in an odd shuffle of four languages: English, Spanish, Cakchiquel, and exaggerated motions, smiles, and kind nods.

I’m the oldest in our little group of visitors, but I’m not really the one in charge.

We’re all a team, all a body, and we bring different things to this Sunday morning mission of compassion.

At each house, we greet, swapping handshakes and embraces.

We spend time with the women; standing, sitting, together in our group and together with them.

Talk about families and work and worries and children.

We hear them.

And then, always then, we ask for their needs, ask for their burdens,

and those we carry to the Lord.

I pray, often. Head bowed, hand on shoulder, arm, hand of the one besides me.

We all bow and it’s Spanish then,

and then goodbyes, handshakes, hugs once more.

And I just remembered the last house we visited,

a home restaurant behind the central park.

Standing in the dim, smoke-filled kitchen,

the youngest one with us,

a girl 12 years old and already a missionary, a servant, to all around her,

she nods to me, her cheeks still child-round;

I’ll pray, she says.

And we bow and she does and I listen to the words

and I listen to the heart behind them

and I just remembered how much I loved that no work Sunday afternoon.

~Natalia

Dear Lala,

You arrived on December 1st, and your presence in our home was so much a part of my Christmas break, I realized recently that a part of my heart expects you to be there again this Christmas. I opened my iPhoto earlier today, looking for something entirely unrelated to you, but your grinning face and dark eyes shone out at me from nearly every picture in the file, and my heart got a little heavier with every image I clicked through.

We miss you, Lala.

And there’s a lot to miss, too. You might have only weighed 27 pounds on a good day, but you left your mark in our lives and hearts every day of the weeks that you were with us. I spent a lot of time at home over Christmas break, soaking in the noise and movement and rhythm inside those brick apartment walls, and I could write a book of moments from those snowy winter days, many of them including, or ever featuring, your antics.

The fleecy-soft pink footy pajamas that Aunty bought you. The ones with the red and blue puppies on them. The ones you’re wearing in the pictures from Christmas morning, your face vibrant with glee every time we let you open another gift, another book, another stuffed animal.

The way you said “take a shower” as “chake a chower”- something that Glendy and Larissa and I still say, while exchanging meaningful looks and smiles softened with the far-away look of remembering months long gone by.

The Hello Kitty blanket that you slept with, wrapped tightly around your tiny body, and the way your Spanish and English blended every time you asked for your “kitty-cobija” before bed.

The time you sat on the counter while I washed dishes, our conversation bending between Spanish and English as the suds soaked into my apron and you took advantage of your temporary height to touch the knick-knacks that Aunty keeps on the windowsill, out of little hand reach.

The way your turned the nickname “Lala” into a mutual term of affection between you and I. For every time that I blew kisses, waved goodbye as I stood in my boots next to the front door, you returned my call of “Bye, Lala, I’ll see you later!” with a call of your own: “Bye, Lala! See you later!” And so we bid each other goodbye, said goodnight, greeted one another. Both of us Lala, by your own design.

The way you called play-doh “tomato” and the long, riotous laughter you brought us when Glendy tried to teach you otherwise. I have that conversation on video, Lala. You’re sitting in the high chair, wearing the velvet leopard-print outfit that you always thought was pajamas. You’re in the middle of devouring a plate of pasta with red sauce, and Glendy is sitting across the table from you, beyond the camera’s view. She leads you through the syllables, one at a time, while you repeat:

Her: Lala, can you say ‘play’?
You: play
Her: ‘doh’
You: doh
Her: ‘Play-doh’
You: TOMATO!

And then you’re smiling with success, your little hand still gripping your pasta-d fork, and in the background, we shake with laughter.

I’ve other videos, too. Just a few, thirty-second clips of conversations with you. I adored, was fascinated by, the way your little lips moved when you spoke; puckering out ever so slightly, to match your unique voice, faint preschool-lisp. I treasure those videos, watch them occasionally on my phone.

There’s a lot to remember, Lala. Some long nights, of course. Some three-year-old cry-outs, doubtless. But a lot of good, too.

I don’t know, of course, where you are, who’s with you, what you’re thinking and learning, right now. But I do know that you are loved, you and valued, and you are prayed for, so prayed for.

And for now, that is what I can do.

I miss you, Lala.

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~Natalia

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