Friday, May 13, 2016

On Risk (and quite a vulnerable look into the current state of my heart.)

It started last year. She came to my little table/classroom in the too loud hallway and quickly got sassy with me in this really beautiful, ornery way that made me catch a glimpse of myself in her.

"Whoa, now sister. Take it easy and have your ears open." She made direct eye contact with me - that sparkle that people always talk about was there -- reaching out at me. I could've never known it was going to seep into my heart and plant itself firmly with no intention of leaving.

From that day forward she would tack on "sister" to just about any sentence or phrase she could when it was directed at me.

"Good morning, sister."

"Sister, I have a question on this math problem."

"What's your favorite color, sister? Your middle name, sister? Can I sit next to you on the bus, sister?"

And she became a student I not only loved dearly, but also found myself rising to defend, lovingly correct, and garnering the ability to reprimand, when necessary, with just a simple look.

She's a fourth grader now. That means she rarely comes to my table/classroom because she has surpassed the requirement for extra tutoring, but she always seems to find herself a reason to stop by. This morning she plowed into my back, full force, giggling musically.


And then ran back to her classroom.

We have cried together not just once, but many times over the course of this year in regards to me leaving. She had a bad day and we took a time out in the hallway to talk and she placed her hot, damp, tear-riddled, olive skinned face against mine and threw her body on mine, hanging on with a vice-like grip.

"What will I do when you aren't here next year to calm me down?" she whispered in my ear and then bellowed, deep and guttural, into the crook of my neck.

Oh, my little sister, but what will I do?


The swings sang a rusty, twangy, Conway Twitty-like song on the playground. The sun was warm on my cheek, my name had been screamed out across the soccer field three times in a row now, and I was taking a moment before my name would, inevitably, be called again -- most likely because of those two Turkish boys fighting over a pink football and the fierce and feisty spirit of the Julianna girl who never stepped down because a boy told her to.

And the swings kept their melody going; cacophonous in the midst of the rustled grass and occasional bird, but I took joy in their tune, anyway.

Three Hispanic sweethearts racing against their 15 minutes of recess time to get high, higher, highest on those swings, all the while, speaking fast and passionate about something sounding remarkably like the root of happiness and adolescence.

It is my last Friday like this. It just kept beating in my blood, with each thu-thump of a heart that is perpetually learning its own rhythms.

Oh, my sweet, crazy, too much attitude for your own good, middle schoolers, but what will I do?


She walked into the cafeteria in the chaos of snack time - that rush of adrenaline on a Friday between freedom from the school day and actual freedom to leave the school. She's pure grace, when she walks. She always has been. And you see her hair before you get to her heart-stopping smile - because it's all degrees of the best kind of curly and it's got a bandanna around it all in a way that most females dream about being able to accomplish.

She was a part of the first after school class I taught on my own. Her sweet nature and kind ways made me love her immediately and then we both realized we were kind of kindred, just many years and cultures separated.

She's so grown now. She's a kid, but she's growing fast; boys notice her, girls adore her, and she always finds time to come see her old teacher, kiss her on the cheek, and then head up the street to home on her own.

"Miss Steeeeeeeph," she says in her eloquent, accented speech, "I leave in less than two weeks! But I'll come see you before the last day of school is over. I promise, girrrrrrl."

She hugs and kisses me fast and hard and prances out the door.

Vivacious, full of life, spirit, but what will I do?


Humble baby girl has no idea how stunning she is; her hair is piled high in her signature 'do and she rocks Converse high tops like I dream about filling. She's still innocent; her momma protects her, has rules for her, and she follows them. And she's funny.

We talk about music, inevitably, everyday.

"Check out this new song, girl," she says, pulling out her phone that she has simply for music. And we dance and sing off key.

She is the little girl I was and wish I would've been smart enough to fight to hold on to. I see myself in her - in her smile, in her attitude, in her desire to  honor what adults in her life think and say about her.

Her rotten, but undeniably lovable, brother comes to get her and she rushes over to me and bumps my hip. "Girl, I will see you Mondaaaaay." She winks and walks away.

Little mama, but what will I do?


He is, by far, the hairiest eight year old I know. He walks, no stalks, down the hall, fists clenched at his sides, trying to look lean and mean and full of fury.

Sometimes he is all of those things and it scares me.

But the other day, they all brought stuffed animals in for a point of view assignment and he was allowed to borrow one from his homeroom teacher; he gripped it and made it dance to the corny POV song we were playing for them. It was in that moment I saw a glimpse of the little boy he should always have the permission to be.

He doesn't like me; he tells me nearly everyday. But he races to the seat next to me.

"You give me one million dollars, I answer this question," he barters. Rolling his r's in only the way a young, Turkish man can roll them. He wiggles his eyebrows and laughs. HAH-HAAAAH!

I let third grade know a couple weeks ago this was my last year with them. He looked at me, grinned the most terribly ornery and infectious smile and said, "Good! BU-BYE!" and then found a reason to reach for my arm.

Young, impossible, lovable, rotten man, but what will I do?


He is the perfectly coifed young dude. He came late in the third grade year, speaking very little English, but his clothes and hair were impeccably on point.

He started "sneaking" up behind me humming the Mission Impossible theme song (duh, duh, duh-duh, duh, duh, duh-duh . . .) about three weeks ago. It always hits the climax of the song when he throws his arms around my neck and whispers, "Hola!"

I receive a hug every morning when I walk into the room; and the Impossible Mission occurs right around lunch time every day. He enjoys asking me to repeat things in Spanish and I've realized I should only oblige when my college-level Spanish classes come back to me enough for me to know what he is asking me to say.

He hopped up, at the end of the day today, as I walked into the room and snuggled up against my side, squeezing tight, his little arms around me.

"Good weekend, Miss Steph-a-neeee." And that smile.

You little, handsome man, but what will I do?


Little sister, my middle schoolers, you full of life spirit, sweet, little mama, that lovable, rotten man, my little handsome -- you will never know the ways you shaped me. You may never understand the detailed ways you changed me. But I pray you take chances, you believe in your own power, you remain good and kind. And sweet Lord, I pray you know that, with all my guts and nerve-endings, I love each of you in impossibly large ways. And that's forever.


I am realizing, in these final days, just what I'm walking away from. And it terrifies me. More often than not, they make me crazy, but their little arms and mighty voices - always fighting to be heard and embraced in return - they've found a way of thumbprinting on my heart. And there is no coming back from that, I've come to see.

Without question, what I am stepping in to is by design, crafted intricately for me by a King that knew just how hard and painful this was all going to be. These very moments - with the sneak attacks and the tears of confusion - He placed them in the rise of my story so long ago.

So I will trust Him. I will trust this new page.

But I will go into it slightly tender; the days to come will be doused in the bitter and the sweet. It is a strange and wondrous thing to want to bottle and capture so many personalities and little loves to keep with you forever.

I just started this book today called Wild and Free and in the Foreward it says, "God designed us for adventure because He knew following Him would be one. . . . It isn't wild in rebellion; it is wild in obedience. And it isn't free to do whatever we want; it is free to do whatever He calls us to do."

And then, "Risking for God is the greatest choice you will ever make."

Y'all, when I accepted that job back in September, I accepted it as a girl who was feeling more like the shell of her former self than a woman who was following a calling. I felt Jesus, no question, leading me to that decision, and I felt His assurance as I said yes. But I was under a horribly bad assumption that I could no longer love my current job, or allow myself to think about what I might miss, because then it meant I wasn't all in with the next one.

You know what they say about assumptions . . .

And in transparency and vulnerability, guys? I wasted a lot of time this year wishing for May to be done and June to arrive because I had convinced myself, I had believed a story in my head, that I couldn't be joyful in the current job while anticipating joyfully the next one.

And now May is preparing her leave and she is ushering June in and I am the most complicated and beautiful trembling mix of terrified and utterly hopeful.

These characters you've just met, they're just a few of the multitude. And each of them, for better or for worse, has altered the map of my heart and the trajectory of my future.

God designed us for adventure; my time at Ruskin has been to the brim full of it. And I will carry each of these kids, each of these memories, and the friendships I've built ,with me forward. They're stuck with me, whether they enjoy it or not.

Risk is a good choice, it turns out. And this is such a blatant, thrumming, intoxicating risk. This job is all I've known since college. My coworkers and these children, they've become my family. It is a harrowing, terrifying, sometimes crippling, risk of a leap. But I'm all in.

I'm in because, in these last days, I've realized that this was all molding me for this next step. Each beautiful, obnoxious, laughable minute of this has been preparation.

But what will I do?

I'll keep coming back. I'll fight like hell to maintain what I've been privileged to build these last four years within the walls of an elementary school. I'll choose to show up. And I'll keep showing up.

He called me to this four years ago and now He is calling me to the next adventure in His name. And I'm in.

Because risk is a four-letter word I can't be afraid of any longer.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

On This Exact Moment

I opened my back door after work tonight and found it lying right in the center of the cement of my back porch; I felt it call to me, in the way nature sometimes does to a heart that beats a little out of tune and wants to gallop more often than not.

It was delicate, but most nearly perfect. The green of its stalk was pure and had promises of summer coming. And its puffy white soul was the puffiest and whitest I'd ever seen; just lying there beckoning to me.

It's a weed, but I think the frailty of it makes me want to cup it under a glass jar and hope it remains just as is.


My dad's best friend was called home yesterday. And I feel paralyzed by the knowledge that I am now reaching an age in which parents passing isn't abnormal. I looked in the mirror last night and found myself asking aloud, "when did you age to this age where saying goodbye wasn't such a startling reality of your current reality?" At that very moment I was the oldest I'd ever been and it's been hitting me lately just how human my parents are; this man and woman who brought me in to the world and raised me up in it, they are fallible. They need let off the hot seat of that pedestal I anchored them to so long ago.

I am older today - maybe more wise. My need for my parents isn't diminishing, but each of our days is, aren't they?


There are moments I want to capture. Like that fluffy weed that greeted me earlier today, I want to capture them under a wide mouthed Mason Jar and just spend more time lingering and longingly staring at them.

But they are fleeting - even in their most precious of states. Learn from them, glean joy from their existence, and then let them go.

Is life a perpetual lesson of letting go?


I crawled down on my hands and knees, right there in my doorway, that had mud imprinted in its grooves from all the rain that's pounded the roof these last days. I crawled down on my hands and knees and tried to gather the perfect angle of the weed resting against my back porch.

It wasn't until later, when I was washing my hands and preparing dinner, that I noticed the mud attached to my elbows. The sudden and distinct urge to harness that moment of beauty required my joints get a little dirt on them.

I brushed it off and let the words of that song I've had on repeat the last three days wash over me.

If you want your people and to be seen, your joints - your organs - are going to have to settle into the being dirty. The very center of your soul is going to have to understand the grit that must be developed when capturing the fleeting moment of whimsy is ingrained in your veins.


Take the picture. Replay the song. Wear the favorite shirt, even if it doesn't match your pants or whoever it is you are wanting to be that day.

Hug your parents. Tell them you love them, even when you don't get them or like them or you feel like you're wiser and have seen more of this world than them.

Form a tribe. Know who'll have your back when the shit hits the fan. Because it will hit the fan. Know your siblings. And if you don't know them, get to know them. They are the only ones in your story that share the foundation of your history. There's magic in that.


Here's to wild. To realizing our parents are human and flawed and that it's unfair to place them on the pedestal.

Here's to coming to understand, with each minute we grow older, that fallibility courses through our blood. And all those "I can't even imagine" moments just might, too soon, become moments we're no longer trying to not imagine, but succumbing under the weight of.

Here's to grabbing the camera when a perfect weed, that promises wish granting, is on your back porch waiting for you. To playing the song, that feels more like an anthem, over and over again until your pulse begins to thrive within its beat whether the song plays or not.

Here's to now. To showered or unshowered, jeans too tight and the shirt that hides the gravity of your bodily situation. To saying what needs to be said, what should be said. To sending the text or making the call to say I love you, I miss you, it's stupid we aren't saying bigger things, even if you know you'll likely not get a response.

Here's to staying true to yourself, but always being open for the lesson.

Here's to the bittersweet - to walking away, even if your body says not yet.

Here's to saying cya soon to people you want to keep RIGHTHERE; to having the last dinners, last hugs until next time, to wiping the tears quick -- here's to all those agonizing moments that come with being the variety of species that will inevitably grow and change and move -- and to trusting the binds that tie, the laughter that links, the go on, girl, I'm with you looks silently shared across rooms are deep and strong enough to gather you back together once more.

Here's to trusting the world gives us all sorts of soul mates and bonds like that just don't shatter.

Here's to praying about the big and scary right after the last big and scary came true -- to asking for something you always said you'd never want. Here's to listening to that heart of yours -- because He places the desires there, so trust it. Trust Him to know you better than you know yourself.

Here's to you. Here's to celebrating this very minute with you - we're the oldest we've ever been, you and me.

Let's make it count.

Monday, May 2, 2016

On Marking the Day, Whispering the Prayer

I've never really had myself together. I was always the girl turning the glossy pages of a magazine with dirt under my fingernails. I recall thinking, as a tween and then teen, that when I got older, I'd figure out how to not get dirt under my fingernails.

I'm still working on that part of this complicated equation called adulting.

My hair is never creamy and smooth. It's various stages of big and flirting with frizzy. Some of my best friends have long, glossy, shiny hair; I always assumed I'd get that figured out, too.

You'll likely see the hurricane that is my hair coming before you see my physical body, though.

I've never been good at math. Or science. Or social studies, for that matter. I have always felt most true to the beating, pumping organ in my chest, with a book in my hand or frantically scribbling notes for an idea that I'd like to write about. If I'm being honest, I always wished I was better at math. Maybe budgeting would be significantly easier and more successful if numbers didn't turn me into an absolute shivering, exposed nerve of terrified.

But numbers still terrify me and the budget and I are still dancing and attempting to not step on each other's toes. He should probably lead, but I've always been a little more strong-willed than is best for me.

More often than not, I feel like a fragile mess. I can encourage and hand out Truth and compliments - and mean them to my core - but please don't tell me I'm good at something; you'll swiftly be met with a poorly timed joke about how little I wash my hair or how I, literally, own one fork and 4,271 pens in various colors.

So you do the math on this chaotic sister -- because I don't like numbers and I'm busy dipping bananas in peanut butter and trying to figure out how to not get it all on my hands.


I remember the first thing I ever wrote. It was on a black computer in the "junk room" of my parent's house. I was young - not really understanding words and the weighty heat they possessed, but I pumped out a poem, change the color of the font, and added some clip art because Fancy is my middle name.

I recall showing it to my mom and she said, "you wrote this, Stephi?" I don't recall the actual words I wrote, but I do know it was about love and it was a little intense.

It seems I entered this world with the propensity to miss someone I haven't yet memorized with my fingers and to feel exactly every little thing half a degree hotter than everyone else.

I don't know where that poem ever went to, but something was born that day, behind a closed door, when a little girl realized it didn't hurt her brain to string words together.


The teenage girl grew into a twenty something girl who wasn't wholly convinced she was ready to be a grown up, mostly because she still didn't have all those things figured out.

I still don't.

So the twenty something girl, with the dirty fingernails and messy hair and even more disastrous heart ,found herself praying over these words:

Look among the nations and see; wonder and be astounded. For I am doing a work in your days that you would not believe if told. - Habakkuk 1:5

I am doing a work in your days. . . Yes, okay. Let's see it. Blow the lid off this life of mine. Yes, do a work. Please, God, do a work -- make sense of this mess that's me.

Make sense of this mess I've made for myself.


The little girl, in the dark room with only the light of the computer screen illuminating the green in her eyes, sat tap, tap, tapping away on that keyboard, never knowing she was beginning a love affair that would carry her to a King and rescue her from herself time and again.

She was messy then. Her room a perpetual maze of clothes and cds and boxes of triangle-folded notes.

Here's what I'm learning.

God is in the mess.

He is in the beautiful and the pain. He's just as much in the raindrop that smells of worms as He is in my favorite shade of lilac that sweeps across the sky at my childhood home. He is in the books that I read and the words I wish I could say, but didn't get the chance to. He is the flicker of the flame burning cinnamon in my house and He's the hushed whisper of the smoke as I close down my home for the night.

He's in my wild hair. He knows each strand - He's counted them, you know. He's the dirt under my fingernails - because I'm hugging kids and scratching backs and cleaning countertops and He is most certainly in the grit that comes with loving people and places deeply.

He stands next to me as I panic over numbers in the grocery store and He knew I'd love bananas and peanut butter and I'm wholly certain He stood just right behind me as I typed out that too mature poem all those years ago.

He is in it, ya'll.

I've spent so much of my time trying to figure out how to be more together. So many minutes have passed and have found me trying to smooth down, cover up, scrub clean the fingerprints left behind of the life I've been living.

I prayed over those words up there - I begged Him to step up and step in and astound me.

And then the little girl became a woman at some point in all this chaos and said yes when she'd been so comfortable with the no. She said yes and He met her there - in the hurt and confusion and discomfort - and so she kept saying yes.


She grew up. She understood the messy was part of the story and, for goodness sake, just accept the hair for what it is - unruly and reckless - a little bit like her heart.

She started writing poems and then she got to see the prayers over feelings and watching of astonishment come to life.


I am reckless. My house is piles of clothes and stacks of books and one fork and more pens than I'll ever use. I feel too much and much too often and I believe, firmly, that sour patch watermelon sustain giggling.

He stepped into it. He was with me all along. He knew where I'd end up before I was wise enough to ask Him to take the lead.

Look among the nations and see; wonder and be astounded. For I am doing a work in your days that you would not believe if told.

April 27, 2016. He came through. He left me astounded and giggling in wonder.

Hear me, ya'll -- when desires and dreams and hopes are born in the palm of His hand, under the protection of His wing, He will step in, show up, and come through.

And it does not matter, one inch, what your house looks like or how maintainable your hair is. He doesn't measure your worth by how clean your hands are or what the ratio of forks to pens currently is in your home.

He sees our potential far before we even realize we possess any. He's our Father. Our Lover. Our Protector. He is the Keeper of our dreams.

And He delights in bringing them to life. No matter how disheveled or disordered you believe it all to be.


Write down your dreams. Let Him have them. Let Him take the lead with the dancing.

And when the dreams become your life, write down the date. Whisper the prayer, you cried and moaned and screamed out to Him, to yourself and know, for certain, one thing.

He will come through.