Why I Teach

The kids in these schools are dying.

Every day is a battle for most of the students that come into my classroom. A vast majority of them are dealing with depression, anxiety, loneliness, crippling insecurity, or all of the above. The hardships and pain that I have seen many of my students go through is staggering. The burdens some of these kids bear is far beyond what should ever be asked of them.

The kids in these schools are dying, and they are struggling to survive and push through the pain in whatever ways they can. The problem is that most don’t know how, and so they end up being destructive one way or another, whether it’s snapping pencils, starting fights, or far, far worse.

Today, I had a kid I’ve never seen before stand outside my class for fifteen minutes trying to get one of my students to come out and talk to him. At first, I thought he was trying to get a girl’s attention, so I yelled at him to go back to class and kept on teaching. When I realized he wasn’t leaving but persisted in trying to get someone’s attention, I went out into the hallway to deal with him.

“What is going on?” I asked. “Why aren’t you going back to class?”

He kept glancing past me, trying to see into the classroom, but my door was closed–I made sure that he couldn’t push past me into the room. “I need to talk to that guy,” he said. “I need to see if we need to take care of something.”

The situation started becoming clearer. “Take care of something,” I repeated. “You mean violence, right? You want to fight him?”

I was lucky that this kid was open with me–many aren’t, which makes coming to a resolution impossible. After all, if you don’t talk, you can’t fix a single thing, no matter how hard you try. I’ve had many a kid shut down on me, but not this one.

He glanced at me, pulling his eyes away from the small window in the door for the briefest moment. “I’m going to be honest with you,” he said. “Yes.”

I told him I appreciated his honesty and asked him what happened. With this kid’s persistence, I imagined the student in my classroom he was so desperately trying to see must have done something truly heinous.

“He bumped into me,” he said, still trying to look into the classroom.

I raised my eyebrows. “He bumped into you,” I repeated, too stunned to make my voice into a question.

“Yeah,” he said. “I was walking down the hall, minding my own business with my headphones in, and he looked me right in the eye and hit my shoulder.” He slammed his hand against his shoulder to demonstrate, in case it wasn’t clear.

“So you want to fight him?” I asked incredulously.

“I just want him to come out and talk to me and tell me if he has a problem with me. I’ve just been back two days, and I’m really trying to keep it cool, so if he can just come out here, it’ll be fine. We can take care of it.”

“Wait,” I said. “You’ve just been back two days? Where have you been?”

Finally, he pulled his eyes away from the classroom and gave me his undivided attention. He told me a bit about his life and what he’s been going through that made him miss school for awhile. He said he’s trying to get his life back on track, and he didn’t want to fight my student, but he was trying to keep his anger under control, so he thought if they could just talk and see if there was a problem, it would be okay. There were so many flaws in this kid’s logic that I didn’t even know where to begin.

They didn’t know each other at all. They didn’t have any issues. They just rammed shoulders in a crowded hallway, and this kid was so full of anger and anxiety, so unable to process his emotions and cope with what’s going on in his life, that he was willing to stand outside of my classroom for as long as it took just for the chance to talk to–and probably fight–some stranger, who in the grand scheme of things made absolutely no difference in his life whatsoever.

“You don’t know this kid,” I told him. “You’re trying to get your life back on track. Why do you think he’s worth it? Why is he worth getting yourself in trouble for?”

He shook his head and said, “You’re right, but I just feel so much anxiety and anger, and I’m trying to keep it under control. But you’re right. You’re right.” We talked for a bit more before he cooled down and decided to go back to class.

Today, this random kid full of tumultuous, irrational emotions reminded me why I teach, why I really do love my job although there are days when I question my sanity. Today, this kid was dying. He was shouldering the weight of his past and all the mistakes he couldn’t undo. He was determined to do better, but he didn’t know how. He had lost his way and was being crushed by a mountain of emotions. He desperately needed someone to come along and just listen to him and help him to think clearly. Today, this kid reminded me that he–and all the kids like him sitting in my classroom–are why I teach.


At a Loss for Words

I don’t read anymore, I realized as I was cleaning my room over Christmas break. I knew my busy schedule was a major reason, but I had two weeks off, and the closest I got to reading was when I shuffled Andy Weir’s new book, Artemis, from the kitchen table to my nightstand and back again. I intended to devour the novel over the break, along with a few others, but I never once opened the cover.

My heart sank with me as I sat heavily on my bed. What happened? How did I get here? How did I go from loving words so much that I wanted to be a writer to not even reading? How did I get so lost?

I knew the biggest reason I have yet to write a novel is that I’m absolutely scared that I’m not actually good enough, and that if I finished a novel and queried agents, I would only prove that to myself. It’s easier to not try than to try and fail. It’s easier to never share my writing than to be so painfully vulnerable.

In that moment, though, when I realized I don’t even read others’ words anymore, I knew I had to do something before I lost myself completely. I have a passion for words and stories–hence the title of this blog; I know it’s a gift, and I know I’m meant to write, so it scares me that I’ve gone so far from that purpose. I had to make a change. I had to try something different. I had to be vulnerable.

My friends, I’m not writing this because I want to be inundated with encouragement. I don’t want consolatory words telling me I am a good enough writer. In fact, please don’t tell me that. Not only will it make me uncomfortable, but it won’t actually help; this is something that I have to prove to myself and no one else.

I am writing this post and starting this blog because writing requires you to open up your soul and bleed onto the page, and if I can’t be vulnerable about my deepest desires and darkest fears with the people I’m closest to, how can I ever write a novel? So if you want to help, keep reading this blog. Ask me how writing’s going when I least expect it. Talk to me about books. Tell me crazy stories about your life. Above all, just walk this journey with me and let me be akwardly vulnerable with you. That alone is more than enough.

Just Don’t Become a Nun

“I have something to tell you, and you’re going to think I’m weird.”

It was Thanksgiving week, and my parents were over to visit. I had made a huge decision a couple of weeks before and was waiting to tell them in person because it wasn’t really a conversation to have over the phone.

My parents hesitated.

“I’ve decided to start going to a Catholic church.”

“Oh,” my dad said. “Well, that’s fine. It’s a personal choice, really.”

“No, I mean I’m converting. I’m going to become Catholic.”

“Really?” my mom asked. I nodded. “Why?”

I shrugged. How do I begin to answer that question? “I don’t know, I just feel like it’s the right thing to do. I’ve started researching some of the issues, and I believe in communion.”

They nodded and that was about it. My parents and I are close spiritually, and they have been amazing shepherds to me when it comes to faith (and everything in life, really). My mom, however, is very opinionated, so I expected a bit more resistance and questioning from her.

Oh, the questions did come, but not for a couple of weeks.

“Now don’t hang up the phone,” my mom said. I would never hang up the phone on my mom, no matter how angry I was or how much I didn’t want to hear what she had to say, but apparently she doesn’t know that. I am the woman I am today because of her; I respect her far too much, and she has more than earned the right to say whatever she wants to say to me. “We asked you before, but we didn’t really get a straight answer. Why are you becoming Catholic?”

They had just went to a Catholic wedding service, and although she agreed with much of what the priest said, she had a hard time with the rituals and “pomp and circumstance.” She told me that after attending Lakewood for most of my life and being filled with the Holy Spirit, she didn’t want me to go “back into bondage.”

I tried explaining it to her. This is what God is calling me to do, and I’ve been praying about it for awhile now. I’ve researched all of the issues and looked into the theology, and I believe the Catholic church is the church that Christ founded on Peter, the rock, the man that all Popes can be traced back to. We discussed a few of the issues although we didn’t come to agreement on most of them, and the conversation ended with, “Well, just don’t become a nun.” That was a promise I could easily make.

I tried to explain it to my parents, and it was more than I gave the first time, but I still know it wasn’t enough. I often struggle to explain myself verbally, especially when it comes to things that I feel deeply. I don’t feel linearly, so getting my emotions out in logical order without writing them down first is very challenging. I’m also very shy and have become very protective of my faith, so talking about my personal faith is often so difficult that it’s nearly impossible.

So let’s try this again. This is why I’m becoming Catholic.

It started with a trip to Dallas. Theresa and I went to visit Sandra over Easter weekend in 2015, and Theresa had only one request–she wanted to go to the Good Friday service. We didn’t have to go with her, she said, but it was important to her that she attend. I’m always curious to see how other people and denominations experience God, so I wanted to go with her.

It was the first Catholic service I had ever been to. It was beautiful. The stained glass was awe-inspiring, and the music–though definitely not the modern affair I was used to–was heart-felt and real. The Adoration of the Cross really brought home the reason for Easter, the purpose of this annual remembrance. It was different than any church service I had ever been to, but I walked out knowing one thing for certain–Christ was in that church, and those people loved Him.

The next year, I asked to go to the Good Friday service with her again. I was slowly changing. My Protestant prejudice against Catholicism was changing. I never thought that Catholicism wasn’t Christian, but I definitely thought that they had so many things wrong and that the church was dead because there was no way Christ could be there among so many rituals and laws. I was very wrong.

Towards the end of the summer, I was washing dishes and listening to a sermon from Pastor John Gray from Lakewood. I had been bad about regularly attending church the past year, but I tried to catch sermons online as often as I could. The sermon was about how the season is changing, and with a new season, you need to put on a new garment–a garment of praise.

I felt this so deeply within my soul that I started crying. The past two years have been the absolute hardest of my life. I have grown and changed more than I could imagine, but along with that change came a lot of pain, and it has been relentless and overwhelming. I desperately needed the season to change.

As I cried and thanked God for the change that was coming, I heard Him clearly say within me, “I’m calling you to the Catholic church.”

I sat in stunned silence. “Okay, God. That’s weird, but okay.”

It was really weird. The only person I told was Sandra, and she had a similar response. “Huh. That’s weird. I’m curious to see what God’s going to do with that.” Yeah, me too.

I kept this in my heart for a few months, letting it gestate. I didn’t know what God was going to do, but I was going to wait and see. In November, suddenly it hit me. I need to join the Catholic church. It took time to click, but finally my heart understood. My brain, however, didn’t. I had so many questions, so many issues that were barriers to me taking that first step.

So I bought a book, as one does. It was about a man’s journey from fundamentalism to Catholicism. It started with the biggest issue that always kept me from understanding the Catholic faith–the Eucharist, or Holy Communion. He delved into the theology, pulling apart scripture word by word until slowly, over the course of a couple of days of deep contemplation and prayer, I saw it, and once I saw it, I couldn’t see it any other way.

Once I believed in the Eucharist, none of the other theology really mattered; my target was set, and I knew where I needed to go. Of course, that didn’t stop me from devouring the rest of the book and discovering answers to questions I had about Catholicism for years.

So here I am–I’m becoming Catholic. I still think it’s weird. I still have a ton of questions and even more questions that I don’t even know are questions yet. It’s been a strange journey, and it’s only just begun, but I’m very excited about this next step in my life.