After school on Friday, I stopped by the Teach For America office to drop off some assessments. I was finally on Thanksgiving break - I was excited to go back to my apartment, pack up my things, grab dinner with friends in La Jolla, and head home for the holidays. On my way out, I met Vic.
As soon as I came out the door, a man approached me in some ripped jeans and dirtied jacket who asked for some spare change for the bus. Having no change in my wallet, I smiled politely, apologized, and began to walk to my car.
As I was waiting to cross the street, I saw the man from before walk up next to me. Smiling, he approached me again and struck up a conversation: his motorcycle, as he pointed out behind us, had a snapped chain, hence the ripped jeans. He would’ve called for assistance, but today was his unlucky day: he had forgotten his wallet and cell phone at home. What a crappy day! Everyone he asked for help had turned him down, so he had resorted to walking the 30 blocks to his apartment to get his phone and wallet.
There were a million different excuses for me to turn and walk away: my place is in the opposite direction, I have to pick up my dry cleaning before it closes, I have dinner plans with friends in La Jolla, and.. I’m not entirely sure if this man is dangerous or not. But there was this moment, as the light turned green, where I just saw a glimpse of hopelessness - nothing was going well for this guy today, and the rest of the night didn’t look so fun, either.
We had a nice car ride to his “home.” We swapped stories about our lives and as it turns out, several other things in his life weren’t going too swell either. His business had tanked, and in order to save money, he had shacked up in the back supply closet of his friend’s hardware supply store… life wasn’t looking too bright right now. Yet, here he sat beside me, and could not stop smiling the entire way home.
I’m not sure who got more out of that car ride - Vic, who came up on a ride and a small act of kindness, or me, because, this Thanksgiving, I am even more grateful not only for the people and things I have been blessed with in my life, but the circumstances that surround my life.
What a great way to start off my Thanksgiving break.
Happy Thanksgiving, y’all.
"It’s a song about the polarity of life: the idea that even as we’re living, we’re beginning to die. It’s not meant to be a dark, morbid vibe; it’s more of a thought that while we’re here, while we still have breath, I want to make it count."
-Jon Foreman, Vice Verses
Every Sunday, Pastor Rob closes out the service with an open invitation for prayer. Those who are sick, those who are weary, and especially those who would like to get to know Jesus are invited to come to the front, where we can pray for them.
Last Sunday, he did something a little different. As usual, he called the sick, the weary, and those that wanted to know Jesus up to the front. Then he asked those who were struggling financially to come to the side. Not those that weren’t sure if they could make payments on their BMW or Lexus, but those that weren’t sure where their next meal was coming from or if they would make rent that month. Slowly, but surely, there was a small group of people that trickled to the front.. and as they did, Pastor Rob announced that the pastors had been deeply convicted this week to give out last week’s offering to those in our church that needed it most. As I watched, I broke into tears along with the rest of our congregation as we thanked God for His providence and His goodness…
Why doesn’t this happen more often? Why don’t I do this more often? Beep.
"But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?" 1 John 3:17
Timothy Keller (via hiede)
My first year at Troy Tech, I took an Intro to Programming class with Mr. Reid (who pronounced “robot” as “ro-butt”) and I got a taste of programming in Java. One of the first assignments we had was called “Hello World!”, which looked something like this:
public class HelloWorld
public static void main(String  args)
The past few months have been one of the hardest periods of my life. I miss having free time, I miss having a life, and I miss my friends. It’s been hard to stay connected with the outside world, so I just wanted to take this post to say, “Hello World! I am alive.”
To be honest, this question grieves me because I feel that it represents a much bigger issue than simply a couple Switchfoot tunes. In true Socratic form, let me ask you a few questions: Do Lewis or Tolkien mention Christ in any of their fictional series? Are Bach’s sonatas Christian? What is more Christ-like: feeding the poor, making furniture, cleaning bathrooms, or painting a sunset? There is a schism between the sacred and the secular in all of our modern minds.
The view that a pastor is more ‘Christian’ than a girls volleyball coach is flawed and heretical. The stance that a worship leader is more spiritual than a janitor is condescending and flawed. These different callings and purposes further demonstrate God’s sovereignty.
Many songs are worthy of being written. Switchfoot will write some, Keith Green, Bach, and perhaps yourself have written others. Some of these songs are about redemption, others about the sunrise, others about nothing in particular: written for the simple joy of music.
None of these songs has been born again, and to that end there is no such thing as Christian music. No. Christ didn’t come and die for my songs, he came for me. Yes. My songs are a part of my life. But judging from scripture I can only conclude that our God is much more interested in how I treat the poor and the broken and the hungry than the personal pronouns I use when I sing. I am a believer. Many of these songs talk about this belief. An obligation to say this or do that does not sound like the glorious freedom that Christ died to afford me.
I do have an obligation, however, a debt that cannot be settled by my lyrical decisions. My life will be judged by my obedience, not my ability to confine my lyrics to this box or that.
We all have a different calling; Switchfoot is trying to be obedient to who we are called to be. We’re not trying to be Audio A or U2 or POD or Bach: we’re trying to be Switchfoot. You see, a song that has the words: ‘Jesus Christ’ is no more or less ‘Christian’ than an instrumental piece. (I’ve heard lots of people say Jesus Christ and they weren’t talking about their redeemer.) You see, Jesus didn’t die for any of my tunes. So there is no hierarchy of life or songs or occupation only obedience. We have a call to take up our cross and follow. We can be sure that these roads will be different for all of us. Just as you have one body and every part has a different function, so in Christ we who are many form one body and each of us belongs to all the others. Please be slow to judge ‘brothers’ who have a different calling."
Jon Foreman, when asked if Switchfoot was a “Christian” band
“Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.” 1 Corinthians 4:16-18
Let the paint dry
School is starting in less than two weeks, and my classroom is not anywhere close to being ready. I still have to put up borders on one of my bulletin boards, half of my walls are still bare, and I still need to scrub off damn sticky tape residue from the cabinet doors. I still have the year’s curriculum to plan and last, but not least, the trim on my walls need to be repainted.
Yesterday, I decided I needed to take care of the trim. I got the colors identified by the teacher who painted it two years ago, and got myself a brush, a pan, and two cans of paint. As a poor teacher, I couldn’t afford new paint.. so I had to dig through the janitor’s closet to find 2 half cans, and I only had enough paint in the cans to do some touch up work on scruffed areas.
1. Opening old rusty paint cans is hard as eff. I first tried using my keys but almost bent my house key in half, so I freaked out and grabbed some scissors. Almost broke those in half, but finally got the can popped open. Can you get TB from touching rusty paint cans?
2. The label on the paint can matched the name I was given, and when I opened the can, the color seemed to match the color on the walls. Everything looked good. But I never did touch up painting before. I know how to paint an entire wall, but just a part of it? How do I make it look natural?
3. I started to do some touch up work on the trim, when I realize that it’s the wrong shade of green. The paint that I’m using is alot brighter and lighter than the green that’s already there… eff. So I freak out, and bring Kara (my fellow TFA corps member and next door neighbor) to ask what she thinks about the camouflage trim. She’s too sweet to tell me how hideous it is, and reassures me that no one will notice. Basically, everyone will notice. Dammit.
4. But still, the camouflage trim looks a lot better than the white and black scuff marks from before, so I decided to just go with it. Because, I’m a poor teacher, and I have no money to buy new paint and I have no time to go back and paint again. I guess I would have to just learn to live with it.
This morning, I came back to school to see that all the paint had dried - and it dried dark! Hallelujah!!! It looks perfectly new and I was freaking out about nothing. What a noob.
Life lesson #19837: Before you cry, let the paint dry.
Open your eyes
During our induction for Teach For America, we were taken to a park to do some team-building activities. When we got there, we were split into groups and assigned to one of three boxes on the ground. They were different sizes, and we had no idea what was inside. Our task was simple: we had 20 minutes to build the tallest free-standing tower using the materials found inside our boxes.
My group had the biggest box. Inside, we found a pack of printer paper, a pack of pencils, and a roll of packaging tape. We got to work, and started by using our box as the foundation. We got into an assembly line - one person rolled pieces of paper into “logs”, another cut pieces of tape, and the rest began to tape the paper logs together to build our tower.
As soon as we got started working, someone from one of the other groups came over and asked to collaborate. “This is a test, so we should all just join forces and build one HUGE tower.” We turned him down, laughing because we knew they were just jealous of our awesome teamwork, and went back to work.
Time was up, and we won. We had the tallest tower by far - our tower was 8 feet tall, and the next tallest tower was a mere 4 feet tall. The third team didn’t even make it off the ground… Then came the punchline to our activity.
Our director asked each team to share their experience and observations:
The last team went first, and shared how their small post-it box had 3 sheets of paper, 5 strips of tape, and 2 pencils. No matter how hard they tried, they didn’t have the resources to build a structure tall enough or strong enough to call a tower. When they looked at the other groups, they got even more discouraged because they saw that everyone else had more than they did. So, they gave up pretty early, because, what was the point? They weren’t going to win anyways.
Just like the others, the second team noticed pretty quickly that there was a disparity in the allocation of resources. They had a small popcorn box had half a pack of paper, half a pack of pencils, and half a roll of tape. So they sent an ambassador over to the team with the most resources, asking them if they would be willing to team up to combine resources. Surely this was a test of teamwork, and they wanted to beat the test by creating one large tower.
Suddenly, winning didn’t feel so good anymore. In our flurry to utilize our resources to beat out the rest, our team had not even realized the uneven playing field that we were standing on. What had we done to deserve such a greater pool of resources to work with? In our blindness, we had even turned away someone who had come to us for help - who did we think we were?
The second team had the right idea - but they didn’t completely understand the test. The point wasn’t to collaborate to build the tallest tower. They had already beaten the test when they realized the disparities in resources amongst the teams and sought to collaborate for the best of all those involved. Here comes the boom: this is the work that we are embarking on the for the next two years with Teach For America. We have schools that are not on a level playing field with resources, etc., and the point isn’t to create one mega school with all the resources - that would be impossible. But the point is to open your eyes. See the disparity, and see the need to partner together with other schools and your community to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to receive an excellent education, regardless of where you live.
Butterflies in my stomach
When I was in 5th grade, Ms. Michalski took us out into the field because there was a swarm of monarch butterflies that were migrating through our city. I remember just sitting in the field with my friends and being mesmerized. There’s something distinctively mesmerizing about a butterfly, because it doesn’t buzz around like a fly or soar like a bird. It flutters. It’s hard to follow a butterfly’s flight pattern, and it’ll make you sick to your stomach if you do… kind of like having butterflies in your stomach. Its ladylike flutters yet still have a poetic sadness to them, when you begin to realize that they don’t really have a home. Where do butterflies go to sleep? Is that why they flutter here and there? Because they’re not really sure whether to go here or there?
During my induction for Teach For America, I had the opportunity to visit an amazing school in the Barrio Logan community - the Monarch School. So aptly named, because they only served homeless kids. 100% of their students were, or still are, homeless. Wow. There were a lot of things running through my mind: I take so many things for granted. I never realized how many homeless kids there are in this community. This is beautiful. This is beautiful.
There were so many amazing things happening at the school, but here is my favorite: the Butterfly Boutique. Of the many things I took for granted, I don’t think I ever realized how blessed I am to be able to have had the experience of going shopping. It’s easy to count my blessings: food, shelter, family, clothes on my back. But it’s easy to forget that, other than family, I am able to go shopping for those things. These kids never have had the opportunity to experience retail therapy, or retail at all. They don’t have the money or credit to walk into a nice store and shop for their clothes. But the Butterfly Boutique offered that experience. Neighborhood moms, community partners from major clothing brands, and other kind souls donated NEW clothes, shoes, accessories, and set up the Butterfly Boutique so that kids could come in and “shop” for what they needed. On each item, was an encouragement tag, reminding them of their beauty, their worth, and their potential to do something in the world.
We all cried in that room. It didn’t matter that this was part of our day at work, and that we were together with our coworkers in suit and tie. What did matter, however, was the profound impact this school was having on these little monarch butterflies that came wandering in through those doors but fluttered out having found a place to call home.
P.S. Did you know that in Australia, monarch butterflies are called wanderers?
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” 2 Corinthians 5:17, ESV
You owe it to me