This Peaceful Fall

Fall 2015 found me single, living in a garden basement apartment in Uptown, and teaching 5th grade in Logan Square. Being a first year teacher, with a class of various and occasionally overwhelming behavior and academic needs, my job kept me on my toes throughout the week. Yet I knew for sure, without a doubt, that I was in a peaceful, less complicated phase of life.

I knew it when I woke up on Saturday morning with nothing on my schedule besides any errand that might occur to me.

I knew it when I made easy meals just for myself, and let the dinner hour stretch long, as I sat on the counter with my dishes beside me, engrossed in a book.

I knew it when I stayed out late (rarely), or went to bed early (often the case), just as I pleased, every single night.

I had no man, no children, pleasant roommates, and I knew it wasn’t going to last forever.

I honestly believed that children would come into my life first. I knew, even then, that Safe Families and foster care are close to my heart, ministries I will pursue until the Lord says otherwise, and I wondered if a little one might come tumbling into my care sometime soon.

But, quite unexpectedly, it wasn’t a child, but Jonathan who appeared, first in my mind, then my test messages, then my heart. And then, in a way that was both completely unplanned, and yet obviously and unquestionably the only right thing (as God’s things often are), we were together. Talking, then dating, then engaged, and then, in a blink of an eye, and also after a lifetime of waiting, we were married.

And so I was right, during those fall months of just me, but I was also wrong. I knew that that season of life was just for a time, but I wasn’t quite sure how it would change, what the Lord was thinking of next.

I feel the same way now, two years later. I still teach, although I’ve (mercifully) come a long way in the last 24 months as an educator. I’m married, of course. Living in a rented house in the suburbs that we know we’ll vacate in the new year. I plan for my time at school, I work with my husband to maintain the house. I do laundry (because I love it) and mop the floors (because they need it).

But I know, just as I knew in my heart that a change was coming two years ago, that this season will not last forever.

Life is peaceful, right now. Busy, yes. Hectic, on some days. But there is a peace, a predictability, a warmth and a calm that I feel in my body, that rests in my heart, and I dare not fail to acknowledge it.

So I make a list on Saturday morning, taking joy in the things I might accomplish, the sun in the windows, the serenity of the house, the music playing over the kitchen speakers.

I treasure the time Jonathan and I spend together; afternoon hours between my commute home after work and his evening trip into the city to hit the Chicago music scene. We create dates when we can, as we find precious weekend hours that he’s not working. We have fun together, we talk together, we’re growing together.

I do what I have to do, and I do it well. Because I have the time, because I have the peace. Because I know that this unhurried, newly-married, suburb-living season of life will not always be, and I want to use this gift as best I might, as long as I have it.

~Natalia

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Sit Right Here

Love and belonging are irreducible needs of all men, women, and children. We’re hard-wired for connection – it’s what gives purpose and meaning to our lives. The absence of love, belonging, and connection always leads to suffering.  

Brene Brown, Daring Greatly 

Amongst the pages of Daring Greatly (subtitled How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent and Lead), Brene Brown expounds upon the concept of shame; outlining both the power of shame, as well as how vulnerability and other forms of “shame resilience” work to combat shame.

My copy of the book is laced with blue ink; ballpoint parentheses and brackets around significant lines, such as the one above. Underlines tracing short phrases; curling, half-way-legible notes tucked in the space between text and binding. I read the book last spring, some six months ago, but lessons I learned, notes I wrote, ways to apply the text still come to mind; nuggets of truth rising to the surface whenever applicable.

I’m more mindful now of the language I use when correcting my students. Shame thrives when labels are placed on individuals, rather than behaviors. Is my child rude, or did he say something rude? Is she a disruption, or is she acting in a disruptive way just now? Seven hours a day, five days a week, I hold the souls of children in my hand; I dare not shame them into submission, even less into conformity to whatever my preferences happen to be.

Yet there is another kind of shame; a more furtive, perhaps self-serving variety that can wend its way into the classroom unannounced, unnoticed. It’s the shame of isolation. The shame of your mistake has made you unworthy of interaction just at this moment. 

It’s easier, of course, to send the loudest child across the room. To tuck him in a corner, or to correct him from afar. It’s easy to snap when I’m just tossing words into the air anyway.

Hush. Stop talking. Sit still. Move away from them. 

But I can feel the shame trickling in, collecting in small pools around me feet- and his- even as I scold and order, pushing him further away in my annoyance, or my eagerness to no longer be inconvenienced.

Its ineffective, too. Distance from authority, from positive peer interactions, from reconciliation, can do very little to reinstate the small noisemaker, the over-energetic learner. How can she do better when she has no more chances to even try? How can I guide her when she’s so far away that my voice must be raised just to speak to her across the crowd?

No, I’ll not send them away anymore; to the far table, to their own corner, to the back door. Instead, each correction comes with a beckon, drawing him in, motioning her closer. Come here. Come talk to me. Come sit by me. Come towards me, just as I reach out to you. I don’t give up on you, I don’t push you away. 

You’re worthy, you’re important, and just now, you’re sitting right beside me.

~Natalia

This is Summer: Season Six {Episode 1}

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An empty bare room

an end and a beginning

every year changes.

~Natalia

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

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)