Monday, May 23, 2016

In this room...

This is a picture of the lab set up for my last dissection. I'll miss this place more than these words can capture. 
I spent this morning packing up my classroom. I took down my street sign poster that says "U Turn in Homework, U get better grades." I plucked all of the graduation photo announcements, going back three years, from my bulletin boards and sealed them into Ziploc bags. I took down Planet Preston, carefully tucking the blue-and-silver Styrofoam ball into a box.

When I came to Hill Country five years ago, I was a decent enough teacher, I guess. I had the opportunity to watch excellent teachers in North Carolina, and I learned a lot from emulating them. I'll forever be in their debt. And I was a pretty passionate worker. During my time here, I've worked a lot of hours, and taught a lot of subjects. I told a couple of other AP teachers last week that I've gotten more sleep as a new mom than I did the first year that I taught AP Bio- they could relate. I leave here with more knowledge and more experience, but, none of that stuff was on my mind as I packed up today. Because the most valuable things I learned while in this room can't be packed up in a box.

So, in an effort to trap some of those intangible items, I'm trying to throw words around the things I've felt so deeply here, the things that have changed me into the teacher I am today. They're hardly duct tape, and they don't seem sufficient to describe all that has happened, but they're all I've got. Here are the most precious things I take with me when I step out of this room for the last time.

Comparison is the thief of joy. This wisdom was shared with the Hill Country staff at the first in-service I attended in August 2011. I think the context was in helping Hill Country identify who we are as a school, so that we can make wise choices as we grow. But those words have impacted every aspect of my life. They're the reason I sometimes take long breaks from social media. Who hasn't experienced something perfectly good, only to look on Pinterest and see someone else doing it way better, and then felt completely deflated? These words have encouraged me to continually go back to God to find my value, rather than looking around me to try to one-up or, more often, crumble under the pressure of the images that surround our lives.

It doesn't matter. No, this isn't an ode to apathy. It's an expression that Robin and I used to say to one another after we read Tim Keller's The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness. The gist is that according to the Bible, it doesn't matter what others think about you- good, bad or ugly. That message is fairly widespread these days, but what Keller emphasizes is that it not only doesn't matter what others think about you. It doesn't even matter what you think about yourself. What matters is what GOD thinks about you. And when you belong to Him, through faith in Jesus Christ, it turns out that He's crazy-nuts about you. Like two people madly in love. Or like a parent with a child. Now that I have Story, and I think about how I am crazy-nuts about her... especially when I first pull her out of the crib in the morning, and she is so wonderfully heavy and perfectly round and impossibly soft. The love that I have for her in that moment- it's unspeakable. And she hasn't done anything. She's just mine. It's all that matters between us. That she's mine. God feels that way about me, and there really is true freedom in that.

Margin. After watching some Andy Stanley sermons and reading a book with this title with the Hill Country staff, and after my own personal supplementation of some Tim Keller podcasts, and the encouragement of friends and family, especially my husband, I finally started to practice margin as a regular part of life. In our overly-busy, YOLO culture, margin is a concept that's not simply forgotten. It is, in some ways, risky. People who develop the habit of saying "no" risk the disapproval of others and the opportunity to get ahead. But, the principle of margin- in your time, your finances, your emotional health, your relationships- it's not really something you can actually live without. You can survive without margin, but you can't live. This year is really the first year that I've walked away from things- work, opportunities, "stuff"- to be able to live with a little more margin. Andy and I find ourselves healthier financially, mentally, emotionally and spiritually as a result of those choices.

Shalom. A couple of years back, our spiritual director chose this word to be sort of a "theme" word for the year. It turned into a joke of sorts because it was used so frequently in meetings and lesson plans, but it wasn't all for naught. Most people know that shalom means peace, but Biblical shalom is not just the absence of conflict. Shalom is a concept that involves a deep sense of spiritual, emotional, physical and relational wellness. Conflicts arise, and I've seen my fair share of conflicts while I've been here. In private education, conflicts come and conflicts go, but sometimes the resolution offers something hopeful and real that shows us something about the heart of God. In the Bible, God instructs His exiled people to seek the shalom of the city of their exile, to bless it with their presence, to build it up while they are there. This context is huge because it shows that, with God's help, we can build on ground that we didn't choose for ourselves. I've seen a lot of people at Hill Country be part of situations that have not been their choice- tough situations that have involved hurt feelings, misunderstandings, broken hopes and major disappointments. And yet, in so many of those situations, I've seen many different types of people, work in their unique way to create "shalom" in this community. I hope that I've been one of them.

Love does. Bob Goff wrote a book with this title, but his message was working its way into my life long before I read it for staff development. I think that, of all of the messages that I'm packing up today, this one is the most precious and also the most fragile. Because it's a lesson learned from brokenness- my own, and the brokenness of others. If you have any moment in your history where you have felt rejected, misunderstood, or betrayed by a Christian (and probably most people do), then you'll understand the shaky emotional and spiritual ground on which I stood when I first started teaching here. Life had dealt me an unexpected soul-wound that hadn't even really started healing. There were a lot of people God put into my life during this time He used to help me heal, but, two of the most important are a set of very different brothers. I remember when I met these boys, I would do a lot more talking at them than listening to them. I would assume things about them, try to "preach at" them- and tell them I was trying to "speak the truth in love" and "challenge" them. And that actually was true. I've always had a heart for them, and wanted the best for them, but I was absolutely terrible in my delivery. My pride was too tightly wound around my words for them to be life-giving. I came across as a "know-it-all," rather than someone gentle and humble, like the Lord Jesus. Gradually, I realized that my words and actions were the very type of thing that can turn people off from Christianity, leaving them feeling gutted and worthless. But by God's grace, these boys kept talking to me, telling me honestly how I made them feel, and each conversation was a chance to change. And I did change. Not just with them, but with a lot of kids. I learned to listen as much, if not more, than I talk. I stop what I'm doing now, and look into kids' eyes, and ask them the hard questions, but only when the time is right. I don't feel like I have to force that now. Somewhere in my lessons with the brothers, God taught me how to adapt my timing and my questions to the person, rather than expecting the person to meet my demands in my timing. Sometimes, when the occasion is right,  I do speak the truth in love. But I find that the truth that I'm speaking has a lot more to do with who God is, and what He has promised is true about these kids, than giving some angle on life that comes from my personal experience. Paul wrote to the Romans that they were supposed to really love other people. Not just to pretend to. He later told the Corinthians that even if they said wonderful, wise spiritual words, but didn't love in action, their words would amount to no more than an annoying, empty sound. I know that sound. It still reverberates in my life from time to time. It's a heart-breaking sound. But God gave me so many chances here, to learn the most excellent way. I learned to love in this room. And that is the thing that can't be packed up, but that's okay. There's been a lot of love in P1B. But it never stayed here. It went out with the lives that shared it with me. Such things were never meant to be contained.

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