Tuesday, July 16, 2013

It's REALLY Almost My Birthday This Time

Third Amendment:

Well, friends, on Thursday, August 1, I will be 25 years old!  That's right: a whole quarter of my life has passed.  I would be incredibly sad if I didn't know that I still have three quarters left, and if I was not completely convinced that the next years are the best years.  

(If you hate reading, skip this paragraph.  It is very interesting, but the info is not mandatory.)
This summer has been nuts.  I spent the first half scrambling to get my teaching certificate "in time" to get a job offer.  I then spent three weeks preparing lesson plans for ninth graders at the school where I subbed all last semester.  I finished the first month's plans on July 17.  Then, on July 19, I got a phone call from "my" principal saying the district had made cuts and I would not be able to work at that school.  I was pretty freaked out considering teacher in-service was set to start in less than two weeks (in OKC's district).  But my faith was bigger than my fear (even though my fear was a good size).  I applied to three schools in three surrounding districts (for crying out loud, why are there SO MANY districts?) and was ready to beat the streets finding a job.  I wanted to work in OKC but had reason to believe there were no English Language Arts (ELA) positions open.  Monday I called my old high school (that would have been fun, I think).  Tuesday in the midst of some other chaos (see later video blogs), I got an email from an OKC school asking if I wanted to interview.  Thursday morning I went in to a school three times the size of the one I was at last semester.  68% Latino (que bueno!) with updated facilities and technology.  The interview went well.  Not so well that I would refuse an interview from a top school in the 'burbs, when they called sounding desperate two hours later and wanting a same-day interview.  Shortly after that second interview, where I was very "candid" (read "ballsy") about my bent toward OKC's district, I got a call with the offer from my future employer.  I thought about it a few minutes.  Who doesn't want to work at one of the best schools in the metro (if not the state)?  This girl.  That school will find someone else, someone who is excited to teach their kids.  I am excited to teach the kids who really need good teachers, and to keep them from having to deal with a sub for the first few weeks of school, and to learn their (our) language, and to meet their families, and to watch them become all they can be

So, as I approach this momentous hallmark of adulthood - getting my first ever full-time (and some), salaried job with benefits, I think about what I want for my birthday.  It might be fun to have a huge dinner party where we all get dressed up and get to eat and drink and be merry.  But I find myself not really wishing for anything except the opportunity to be spiritually, mentally, physically, and emotionally prepared to give these kids my whole life - for a year or five or twenty or more (not counting breaks).  This has been a hard transition.  I'll work at the library until Tuesday night.  Teacher in-service technically begins Wednesday, July 31 but I am reporting for professional development Monday and Tuesday (7/29-30).  Classes begin Monday, August 5.  I don't know what grades or specific classes I'm teaching, my last half-check from the library system will be August 8, and I still have regular bills.  If I didn't walk with God I'd be so stressed out, I wouldn't be able to function.  Knowing God really does let you know peace.  Yet and still, when I think about birthday presents and parties and celebrations, my next thought is how sad I'll be if I have to wait until August 31 (my first teacher check) to buy what I need for this huge life transition.  Yes, I have a bright and brilliant personality, but the first 20 days of school will be much more manageable with the right number of dry erase markers, poster board, connector cord from my laptop to the smartboard (Mac user problems), colored sharpies, extra paper, pens, pencils, folders, binders, and things my students might forget or be unable to afford.  I'll need index cards, dividers, paper towels, Kleenex (because those are not provided and I personally hate drying my nose on toilet paper). And of course, prize candy, because sometimes you just can't motivate a teenager any other way.  I need to make an eye appointment and get new glasses.  My new school is 30 minutes from my house instead of around the corner like the old school was.  I'm trying my best to be healthy and drink Shaklee's energizing tea or use our chews instead of drinking coffee or energy drinks.  And I think adding yoga into my routine will help keep the health up and the stress down.  But everything costs money I don't have.

So here's what I'm asking: if I told you I was throwing a huge 25th birthday soirĂ©e at a restaurant of my choosing (probably the Cheesecake Factory), would you come?  And if you came, how much money would you spend on dinner?  It would bless my heart to no end if you would give that amount in cash, check, or via PayPal on the Internet into my keeping so that I can spend it on starting this school year
right.  I would love to gorge myself on cheesecake and sangria swirls, but my health and productivity are the kids' effective lessons and progress.  They come first.  Make a choice, make a change, make a difference.  Send me an e-card or hand-written one, and tell me how much you love me and how much you're praying for me and these kiddos, and then wrap your head around this: I believe that God will richly bless you if you choose to give into their lives through me.  You would be sowing a seed into the Kingdom.  Pay it forward past me to them.  Please.  Contact me in the comments, via email, or on Facebook or Twitter for my mailing address if you need it.  If you're using the PayPal method, just click the "donate" link to the right and follow the instructions.  When you do that, if you are then curious what HEAR OKC is click here.

In addition to your monetary donation to the dream, please include a mailing address and something that you would like me to support you in, stand with you on, or pray for you about.  A wise man (my pastor) told me to give out of my abundance, and I have been abundantly blessed with insight and the ability to encourage and intercede.  Give me a chance to use it for you.

P.S. I promise not to buy new clothes or new shoes, not get my hair dyed, not get a manicure or pedicure.  All of your money will go straight into the "Najah as a healthy, not-stressed teacher" fund unless you specify otherwise. 

P.P.S. Why cash, check, or PayPal rather than gift cards? Because there are things I will need other than what I listed above.  I might need a stool to sit on at the podium.  I might feel the need to paint my podium.  I might want to use material instead of paper borders.  I have to buy lunch at school everyday.  Who knows what stores I will find my materials at, or what kind of deals I’ll be able to make.  I don’t want to be limited to Target, Wal-Mart and Staples.  Also because you can just give me two dollars, if that’s what you feel led to give.  

P.P.P.S.  If you are not able to give anything, I totally understand.  If you are one of my Leo friends and I am not getting you a present because I have no extra income, I totally understand (and apologize)!  Please, at the very least write a little note and give me some encouraging thoughts and words as I prepare for one of the biggest changes in my life AND tell me what I can pray for you about.  I will most likely keep the best of these notes with me at school to encourage me when the kids are acting like knuckle-heads or when my lesson plan flops. 

Thank you a million times in advance (and expect a thank-you card)!! I love you!

Friday, July 12, 2013

Writer, Bridge Builder

I apologize for the long delay between posts. And for picking it back up on a Friday when people aren't really online that much.

I had opened a discussion about identity.  Who do you identify as?
Today I'm going to discuss the aspect of my identity that is a writer, and why.

"Write what disturbs you, what you fear, what you have not been willing to speak about. Be willing to be split open." - Natalie Goldberg, Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within

Why write what's disturbing and scary? Sometimes so I can get it out of myself. Sometimes what we are silent about settles in our bodies and festers creating not only unhappiness, but sickness. Sometimes you have to split open and empty out before you can begin to heal.

"Writing is thinking. To write well is to think clearly. That’s why it’s so hard." - David McCullough

Many people say I over-think. My rebuttal is that it's because I'm a writer.  When I don't export my thoughts onto the page, they run circles in my head and it makes conversations with friends a little confusing.  That's part of the reason for this blog.
Also, I believe that the thoughts I have are probably similar to the thoughts some other young women have.  So if I can think clearly about a topic and write about it, maybe I can help someone else think clearer.

"There are books of the same chemical composition as dynamite. The only difference is that a piece of dynamite explodes once, whereas a book explodes a thousand times." - Yevgeny Zamyatin, A Soviet Heretic: Essays by Yevgeny Zamyatin

I want to explode someone's thinking about love, about why we live our lives, about God, about religion, about America, about beauty.  I want someone to read a book of mine and have their whole thought process changed. 
I want to help you get from here to there, from please to thank you, from amen (so let it be) to there it is.  Wherever you are in life right now, no matter how great or terrible, there is a better place. I want to help you get there.  For me, writing (and to a vaguely lesser degree, performing and speaking or preaching) is how I show people the bridge from where you are to where you want to be.  A blog post, a poem, a story, a book can be your bridge. 

That's why I teach high school, to help kids get from childhood to adulthood. 
That's why I teach reading/English/language arts, because if there is nothing else available, there will always be a public library with Bibles, books and periodicals to help you build your bridge.
That's why I write, to move people from one emotional or intellectual place to the next.
That's why I perform, to draw out people's feelings and inspire them to take the next step.
This is my heart, my calling, my ministry.

Health and finances are my personal areas of struggle where I needed someone or something to help me build my own bridge, and help me walk across it.  I am embarking on a journey to tackle both of those areas of opportunity at once. When I get to the other side, I can tell my story.  I need to be healthier so I can live a long life telling and retelling the story, helping people build.  I need to be more financially stable so that I have freedom to travel and give into the ministry and Kingdom.

I'm trying to get like my friend Jabee: "Build a bridge and get over it. I went from never leaving home to flying over it."

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

My Identity

This blog was more or less created around the idea of identity. 
I identify myself by who I am and who I will always be no matter what: human, woman, Black, Latina...
...by what I am right now and love being, but have to make a conscious decision to remain as: natural, Oklahoman, following God, a high school teacher, not married (yes, this is a conscious decision), striving for justice and love, a writer, a performer, an editor...
...by what I love doing: a book lover, a baby snuggler, a thinker, a music lover, a dreamer...
...and by a couple things I know are temporary: a master's student, not married, trying to stay healthy.
For the purpose of not letting this be the world's longest blog series, I will narrow it down to the few identifiers I want to talk about. I have already discussed my God-following and health at length (and I'm sure there will be more in future). Over the next few posts, I will discuss being Black and Latina (or Latinegra or Afrolatina), being a woman and being natural (probably together), being a woman and being unmarried, being a writer, and being human (which will have a spiritual focus, of course).   
Here is a teaser quote:
"I am an endangered species, but I sing no victim songs. I am a woman. I am an artist, and I know where my voice belongs." - Dianne Reeves
How do you identify yourself? "Hi, my name is _______ and I am __________"???

Monday, July 1, 2013

"Don't Be Such a Martyr"

We have all heard the phrase "Don't be such a martyr."
It means, stop glorifying your struggle. But it also means stop struggling, or sacrificing, for no reason. More often than not, people don't choose to sacrifice for no reason.  Fairly often, the reason for the sacrifice is something friends and family don't understand.  So it is seen as unnecessary and they are encouraged to quit when it hurts.

Now, we all know victims whose lives are hard because they imagine pain and trial where there ought to be none.  I have played the victim many times in my life.  And there is real pain bound up in that behavior, real fear that must be actively replaced with faith.

Majority populations and people in power often say that minorities or lower class people are acting like martyrs, claiming to be persecuted when really they just are not driven enough to rise above their circumstances.

In the predominant definition of a martyr, someone gives his/her life for a cause they believe in.  Many of us don't use martyr to mean that anymore because in western civilization in 2013 it is rare to give your life on purpose.  You either unintentionally die from illness or are killed in some tragic accident.  We are not a group of cultures that die for causes.  

So many believe that God's dominant desire from us is that we live as those who follow Him, rather than die in a blaze of glory.  As a general rule, I agree.  I know it is easier to die than to live through certain pains, struggles, and battles with losses as well as victories.  Martyrdom has been historically considered the ultimate sacrifice - giving up something you want, your life, for something you want more.  But for me, personally, giving up my life would be easy.  Staying alive and fighting through is the hard thing.  I have to give up simplicity and ease and predictability in order to glorify God in the way I have been called.

Some people might wonder why I am doing this forty-day book study A Call to Die, why I am making myself write so much, study so hard.  It's summer break, I could be relaxing. Relaxing can't serve God? (Of course it can. Sometimes it's the only thing that can.)

I never go many weeks without being approached by a man.  In general, it doesn't progress very far because we don't see eye-to-eye about the purpose of life and faith.  But in recent years I have met a couple of men who do hold to all the same ideals I do.  But it's not my time to focus on them or on romance.  Right now is a preparation season (another one) for my next several months of teaching and building bridges (more on that later).  So I have to give up romance, even healthy romance, for personal development.  Not every opportunity is the best one for this season.  Sacrifice.

Check out this poem by Janette...ikz.  It's called "HypoChristian."

Normally poems like that make me uncomfortable.  She is asking for too much (although everything that she challenges us to do mirrors the Bible) and she is asking for it so intensely.  But what she is doing right that so many are afraid to do is forcing us to come face to face with our priorities.  Do we want to be "Christians," to follow God, or do we not?  Because if we do, we have to do what God has said we need to.  We have to sacrifice.