This is Summer: Season Five {Episode 3}


We rode a limo

Special class trip for ice cream

Came right back to peace

{Humboldt Park, Chicago}

~Natalia

Upon Turning 24

If it was possible to postpone a birthday, I would have put off turning 23. I dreaded December 24, 2014 with the same defeated heaviness that I felt as I anticipated turning 18 several years before.

The months leading up to 23 seemed nearly indecipherable from those preceding 20, 21, or 22. I was still a student. Still structuring my days around the same things that had owned me for so long; classes, homework, commuting to work, working. I felt almost ashamed to be turning 23 and still tottering on the edge of adulthood, not yet having scrambled up the craggy summit of a job, an apartment, or bills.

But days turn to weeks and  birthdays don’t wait, and I turned 23.

Three weeks after my birthday, I drove in the evening darkness to McHenry, IL, the back of my car stuffed with stacks of clothes I’d pulled right out of my closet, a bag of bedding buckled into the  passenger seat next to a bin of books.

Tiny snowflakes twirled lazily in the moonlit air as I crunched through the snow to the door of the beautiful house on the corner. The family of the house, both Moody professors whose counsel and kindness had sustained me through many a long semester, made me a member of the family, and my four months living with them, while I student taught 4th grade at a nearby christian school, were a dream.

When April came, December seemed both a blink and a millennium behind me. My time as a student teacher had ended, it was time to move on.

Driving the back roads of rural Illinois to and from school, dinner with friends, or errands, I rolled the windows down in the warming spring air and cried.

A semester of tears, I called it, later. Tears of exhaustion, as I adjusted to the relentless schedule of a teacher. Tears of frustration, of anger, of uncertainty as a six-month relationship ended. And deep, deep tears of loss as I mourned leaving the safe haven of living with mentors who had become family, of the training nature of student teaching, and ultimately, the safety of college itself.

Having left student teaching, real life began very, very quickly.

I moved out of the McHenry house on a Saturday evening, late in April. Two days later, I walked into the basement gym of a little christian school deep in the heart of Chicago, and lead 13 kindergarteners up the stairs behind me.

I spent two months teaching kindergarten, while the woman whose students I inherited gave birth to a beautiful baby girl. I held on, during those long days and incredibly short weeks, to the words a professor had spoken months before, during my last week of classes at Moody.

What you have to give, she said, is enough.

When diffusing one tantrum a day was a good record, I held onto that. When emails about retaining students in kindergarten began to fly, when I wondered what measurable gains we had made in learning, when teaching became parenting and my training felt barely sufficient, I heard her words once more in my head. And somehow, we got through.

The closing weeks of kindergarten brought the A-Z Countdown to Summer, and also brought a new anxiety, as I waited to hear if I would be able to stay on in the fall. I had fallen head over heels for the school, the staff, the students, and I wanted nothing more than to stay right where I was.

The right door will open, I said then as I waited and worked, half-heartedly researching other jobs in the area. The door that I’m supposed to go through will open, when it’s supposed to open. And I’ll pursue that until it closes. 

And then, one June morning while my kids were in PE, their excited shrieks echoing through the concrete stairwell, the door opened, and I sat in the principal’s office while he extended an official job offer for the 2015-2016 school year.

To teach 5th grade.

And after a summer filled with reading, beach trips, and road-tripping to my beloved Michigan every chance I got, September 8th dawned bright and warm, and I once again stepped into that basement gym. Except this time, it was not chubby-faced five-year-olds following me up the stairs. It was 11 eager, incredibly unique 10-year-olds.

And so the school year began.

And every week of the past three months, I have stepped into our top-floor classroom, the lights still off, the heater not yet humming. And I sit at my desk, in the early morning minutes before my kids appear at the door, waiting for my morning hug, and I think about the words that I have for this season.

Several long weeks ago, I cut a greeting card to fit the case on my phone. Be who you needed then, I wrote on the card, in the looping writing that peppers much of my classroom.

It’s a reminder, texted to me months ago, that I never want to forget. Because when I was in 5th grade, well, I needed many things. But more than anything, I needed Christ.

And I still do, and so do my students.

My year as a 23-year-old ended with many of the things that I found so noticeably absent 12 months before. A job, an apartment, the life of an adult.

But the same need, for Christ and for grace, runs deeper still. And the same purpose, to know and worship God, remains supreme.

And even though I’ve very little understanding of what 24 will look like, what I’ll be writing about at this time next year, I know Christ will be the same and I hope so very much, that when 24 ends and 25 begins, I really will know Him more.

~Natalia

Kind 

  
Be kind with your words. 

Be generous with your kindness. 

It just might be the encouragement, the lifeline, the kindness that someone else most needs. 

{And with these sweet words from a parent, I move on. To another day of teaching, of loving, of begging God for grace to show, because I’m running a little low.} 

~Natalia 

Growing Up

I actually predicted this, months ago.

In the late August heat, moving quickly, almost randomly, from classroom cleaning, decorating, planning, meetings, and back to cleaning once more.

Sometime, standing in the doorway between the classroom that held you last year and the one we share now, I said it.

She’s gonna grow up this year, I think. 

I suppose we were talking, there in the paused moments between aching backs and piles of supplies yet to be organized, about children turning to preteens turning to teens. And I thought of you, weeks before you even called me your teacher, and somehow I knew that I’d watch a young woman appear where a little girl stood, this year.

I had forgotten about that conversation.

Until today.

I saw a glimpse of that young woman this morning. In the chill of our drafty room, you pulled your scarf, coat, gloves from the hook over your cubby, swaddled yourself in layers right there in the middle of math.

I glanced around the room; a teacher’s constant- even subconscious- survey of who is tracking, who is struggling, who is counting imaginary clouds, and I saw your profile. Round cheeks thinning, face lengthening, your gaze fixed peacefully, intently, on the work at your desk.

You were older, in that instant. Beautiful.

You’re goofy, talkative; an 11-year-old bundle of passion, your uncertainty and desire for approval vaguely masked under your loud laughter and all-in approach to everything you do.

We clash, occasionally. Your enthusiasm, your giggles in conflict with my desire to communicate something to you and your peers. I ask you to tone it down, to track with me, to allow your peers to focus.

And you do.

But I was reminded today that your days as a 5th grader are limited. In the blink of an eye, really, you’ll be beyond my doors, beyond my classroom, beyond my reach, almost.

Every day here- in our class, at home, no matter where you are- is a step towards your adulthood. The pieces, the glimpses that I see now will come together in the years to come. You’re becoming now who you’ll be then, although really, we’re all still growing, learning, becoming.

But I want you to know, now and forever, that you’re beautiful. You’re dynamic and opinionated. You’re creative, organized, and a leader- even when you don’t mean to be.

But most of all, I want you to know, I promise you, that the seeds of growth, the tiny movements you see in your life today, will only grow bigger. Following Christ, allowing Him to make you and teach you and mold you can only bring you further, take you deeper, teach you more.

And that, really, is the most exciting thing about growing up. And in you, my girl, it’s a wonderful thing to watch.

~Miss Shull

p.s. I totally can tell that you have a crush on him. And even that weird, complicated, painfully funny thing will be okay.

Rooted

I would be perfectly content staying in Chicago forever. 

I made that declaration two days ago. Sitting at a thrifted dining table, across from a blue-eyed beauty who shares the sentiment. We sat, two floors up in her apartment on the western side of the city, and dreamed about next week and next year and the years beyond.

I’ve been a fan- a proponent, a supporter- of Chicago for years, of course. I own it more now though. I’m no longer a student at school in Chicago; I live here, I work here now. I grocery shop in Chicago. I follow crime reports in Chicago. I know intersections and neighborhood borders in Chicago. I’m a proud resident of the city.

But my heart’s dedication runs deeper than that.

I’d be perfectly content staying here because right here in the city, I am watching my purpose, the things I have most wanted to do, dreamed of doing, become reality.

In this city, I teach. I fight every day against my own sin and brokenness, and that of the eleven small hearts I care for each day. I teach math, language arts, the truth of God’s Word, and one hundred other topics every day, and it is the hardest and the most fulfilling thing I have ever done.

I am building a community in this city. People whose passions fuel my own; conversations leaving us starry-eyed and enthusiastic. People whose lives have come beside mine- like CTA tracks swinging into sync besides each other- and who have walked with me as we both ask questions, stumble, fall, regain balance, and take another step.

I’ve never been more aware of the brokenness, the disgrace and violence, in a place than I am now, of this city. I’ve never before prayed earnestly that Jesus come back, to take us home now. And yet, I’ve also never been more invested in a place either.

Will I really be here forever? I don’t know. But I’m here now, and it’s been so very wonderful.

~Natalia

Back and Coming Again

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Elementary Education and Bible Secondary Education class of 2015. Photo taken in Hampshire, Illinois, where, unlike the city, the leaves change color in the fall, and it is gorgeous.

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Snapped a selfie in the choir room in the moments before our walks down the aisle.

It’s been a handful of days since I was here, I know.

Moody’s Missions Conference began last Tuesday night, kicking off with an evening of multi-cultural and multi-lingual preaching and worship. The night ended with a praise-dance-party, to the soundtrack of cheering, and the organized chaos of hundreds of students moving, worshipping, celebrating.

Wednesday meant saying goodbye to my last Missions Conference as an undergrad student and joining my fellow future teachers for a two-day education conference in the far suburbs. We dressed as teachers, relished time spent together, and learned from teachers, leaders, and professionals whose careers are years beyond our own, and whose wisdom we note on scrap paper, in notebooks, store away in mental notes and memories.

Friday brought a wedding on the horizon, as Kat prepared to so “I Do
with Fred. There was rehearsal, dinner, preparations, conversations, planning, organizing, decorating, and a heavy dose of conversation and catching up with old friends in between.

Saturday, wedding day, brought all the excitement and action you might imagine, and a wonderful reception to boot.

And now it’s Sunday night, nearly 1am, and I’m nodding, fighting sleep, even as I write.

So I will leave for now, but I’m back and I’m here and you’ll hear from me in the coming days, I bet.

~Natalia

This is Summer: Season Three {#7}

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Pick Dad up at work,
Sitting in the pouring rain,
Party car all mine.

~Natalia

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