Just Look...

Just Look...

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Walk Beside Them

This is a post I have had half-written since June when I delivered it as the devotional at Royal Family Kids' Camp. Last Thursday, it wrote the rest of itself. :)

August has been a tough month for me. I feel like I started it on a major high and, as major highs typically do, it became a major low. Two weeks ago today, I just wanted so desperately to give in to a major breakdown in morning worship. I told myself that if one person went to the altar or if he paused the service for one second, I would go running. It didn't happen. And I left there feeling like I was just so parched and dry... picturing a field of soil cracked from lack of rain. I wanted an outpouring of rain that morning during church. I realized that I was all poured out and needed to be refilled in order to have enough to give this school year. But I didn't get that moment of breakthrough, that moment of refilling, that emotional earthquake that sometimes we in Pentecostal circles think is the only way (or at least the preferable way) to go.

What I got instead was two weeks of "normal". I woke up Monday morning and felt more like myself again. I didn't come home from school that week and collapse onto my bed, wishing I could just give up on everything and stay there. I didn't ache inside from that emptiness I had been feeling. I didn't get the monsoon I wanted, but I did get a sweet outpouring out of His vessel of blessing, just a trickle, almost indistinguishable. And it has been exactly what I needed.

On Thursday, though, I started to feel overwhelmed. I checked my twitter feed only to find more terrible news from Egypt, a rapidly deteriorating refugee situation in Syria (to Iraq and Jordan) with now 1 million children who are Syrian refugees, and another case of senseless violence in the shape of the beating death of a WWII veteran which joined the murder of the Australian student baseball player. I know that it seems like a logical answer here would be "Get off twitter. Stay away from the news." However, I typically don't see that as an answer. I believe, at my core, that it's our responsibility to be aware of the happenings in the world around us. And some days, I am torn between a desire to stick my head in the sand and a responsibility to open my eyes. Thursday was one of those days and I just felt so burdened and overwhelmed for our world. What can we do, anyway? How can I help Syrian refugees? The world is too big and the problems too immense for me to have an impact. I feel like a hypocrite even saying that, because I teach the exact opposite, but I need to admit that I struggle with those feelings all the time. 

Kids need to be sponsored, families transitioning from homelessness to housing need furniture, under-privileged schools need supplies, foster kids need a permanent home, terminal illnesses need cures, students crying over issues so much bigger than any I have ever faced need support, people dying all around need life. And I can't do it all. In fact, some days I feel like I can't do any of it. 

And then I remembered this Word God gave me this summer for Royal Family. And I think it still applies. 

"Walk beside them."

Janusz Korczak was a pediatrician, educator, and author who eventually ran an orphanage in Poland. There were 192 orphans in his Warsaw orphanage in the early 1940's. Korczak was an educated man who was very aware of the situation around him. Several times, he was offered an opportunity to escape, to be delivered from the plight that was sure to come to his children. Korczak chose to stay. He knew that the walk he would inevitably take would lead to his own death but his answer to that summons was that his own life didn't matter, that his presence with the children of his orphanage mattered more. So...

He walked beside them.

Korczak couldn't change the circumstances of Warsaw, Poland, in 1942. He couldn't save the lives of the children or stop the Nazis. He couldn't change the world, but he could stay and walk beside them.

So on August 5, 1942, Janusz Korczak walked with 192 orphans and orphanage staff to the train, destination Treblinka death camp, where they were all murdered.

Below is an eye witness account of his final act of sacrifice.

"By then he was already very ill, and yet he walked straight as a ramrod with his face like a mask, seemingly under control. He walked at the head of that tragic procession, carrying the youngest child in one arm and leading a second young one by the hand. The children were dressed in their holiday best. They wore blue denim uniforms. The whole cortege advanced four by four, buoyantly, rhythmically and with dignity to Umschlagsplatz- to the square of death!"
~Irena Sendlerowa
Ephesians 5:2 tells us to "walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God". Some days, we are called to act, to make grand gestures and participate in things larger than ourselves and change the world around us. But some days? Some days the best we can offer (and exactly what is needed) is just to walk beside them. To be aware and bear witness and hold the hand of the defenseless, to walk in the way of love is the our sacrifice to God. Because sacrifice doesn't always involve changing circumstances in order to save lives or change the world... sometimes the sacrifice is in the pain of knowing. It hurts to walk beside someone because, in doing so, you are putting yourself in the midst of the pain and danger. But your presence--your awareness-- is the best you can offer some days.

So just walk beside them.

Monday, August 12, 2013


I'm kind of a romantic. Maybe not so much a romantic as an "over-the-top, elaborate-celebration, gigantic-gift-giving" kind of girl... And today is my 13th wedding anniversary.

Know how we celebrated? We went to a quick dinner last night, just the two of us and enjoyed some conversation and nice food. For tonight, I had grand plans of a cool and creative night. Gradually that plan evolved into its B, C, D, and E versions until what remained looked nothing like the romantic evening I had planned but ended up OHSOMUCH better.

I got a bunch of finger foods (bagel bites, hot wings, potato skins, oreo pie) and cooked them up. We hung a sheet on our living room wall, turned the couch around, and set up the projector and computer to watch a "big-screen" version of "42" while we snuggled on the couch and munched on snacks. It should be noted that the "we" in this activity turned into four Davis's rather than just the original "established in 2000" two.

And it was honestly one of the best celebrations I can remember. In fact, Kelsey pronounced it her "best anniversary ever", which is ironic in that A) it's the only one she's been invited to and B) it's not even hers. :)

I put my phone in the bedroom and just let myself be pulled into the movie and the moment. I cuddled Emma under our warm red blanket .... while she's still young enough to be willing to cuddle. I explained the segregated South and the momentous actions by Jackie Robinson and others to Kelsey... while she's still innocent enough to be outraged and confused. I cast sidelong glances at Kraig over the top of the girls' heads from different ends of the couch... while there are still little people at home who want to share our time.

And it was glorious.

As anniversaries often bring one to do, I have spent some time today reflecting on mine and Kraig's relationship. The adjective that most commonly comes to my mind? "Easy." That may not be the sort of word teenagers and young adults imagine wanting for their marriages when they are fantasizing about them and making wedding Pinterest boards, but it is a wonderful and beautiful thing. In a crazy hectic life, a world that feels upside down more often than rightside up, a jumble of relationships and dynamics that will make a sane person crazy, a stress level that remains def-con 4 (I'm NEVER sure if I'm using that right), calling something "easy" is high praise indeed. My marriage is a refuge for me, a storm shelter in a tornado, a hammock in a state of exhaustion. Kraig and I very seldom argue or fight, we are co-parents to the nth degree, we share a foundation of faith in Christ and we have similar senses of humor and interests.

I also thought some today on how my relationship with Kraig came about (another story for another day and names will need to be changed to protect the guilty, haha!) and realized that we actually got to know each other through our college and career outreach at church. We spent one Saturday a month giving out clothes and other needed items to people in our church neighborhood. I think the best way to both get to know and grow closer to a person is through service. I have to believe it was that solid foundation that has held our relationship firm through the years.

So now I go to sleep on this last night of our thirteenth year, feeling so blessed that I have the people in my life and the partner with whom I share my everyday.

Monday, August 5, 2013

To My 22 Year Old Self on the Eve of your First Day as a Teacher:

***Number one, stop whatever you are doing and TAKE THE SIZE STICKER OFF YOUR NEW PANTS. Granted, it's a blessing it is the size of your 22 year old self and not your 35 year old, but still. It's going to be an embarrassing moment when the sweet tenth grade girl in your THIRD PERIOD CLASS whispers to you that it's still there.


Take a moment and breathe. It's times like these that one of your favorite quotations later in life would have really come in handy.

 "I am not afraid. I was born for this." ~Joan of Arc

Yes. I know that you are terrified beyond what should be the human limits of terror. I know that you aren't a public speaker and you never intended to teach and your teeth are itching and your stomach is rolling and your heart is exploding. But you know what? You were born for this. God called you straight into this profession and He would never put you in a place without also giving you the grace and strength to handle it. (This is certainly NOT the time to tell you that these feelings of fear remain, even 13 years in, although they become more bearable. The first day might continue to scare you for your entire career!) But honestly... you've got this. These are your people and this is your place and this is your stuff. Let the fear invigorate you and drive you, but don't let it overcome you.

Be willing to accept help. You are in the luckiest position on all the earth because the people you are teaching with are not only the best of the best, they are YOUR best. You get to work with and be mentored by so many of those who taught you and you are so stinking blessed. They are invaluable resources to you and no one expects you to have all the answers in the beginning. Ask them for help. Let them guide you.

Choose your company carefully. It might sound terrible to say aloud (in blog form), but schools (and let's be honest, MOST jobs) are really just life-size versions of "Survivor". There is an aspect of just "playing the game" and you might have to bite your tongue at times and be friendlier than you might feel and make alliances with people you wouldn't otherwise have chosen. That's part of being an adult. Stand up for yourself but be careful not to thoughtlessly step on others.

You know that old "Don't smile till Christmas" cliche? It's RIDICULOUS. Here's the thing about you (and probably all teachers, otherwise they would be making more money doing something else): You are a people person. You THRIVE on relationship. The only way you are going to be the teacher God called you to be and get the pleasure He intends for you to get from this job is to connect with your students. More importantly than taking pleasure in your work, you are here for them. There will be kids in your classes who need a gentle disciplinarian... provide that structure. There will be kids in your classes who need a friend... walk beside them. There will be kids who need the love of a mother.... be that mother, even though you aren't sure how that looks quite yet (and don't worry, eventually you will become a better teacher just by being a mother-- and vice-versa). There will be kids who need inspiration... open their eyes to the possibility. There will be some who need a kick in the pants... deliver that kick with care. There will be some who need food, clothing, money to pay a locksmith (took 13 years, but it happened)... hand those over. There will be some who need guidance and motivation and drive and a listening ear and a loving heart and a challenging mind... extend those things. You are all some of these kids have... the only person in their lives who can show them care and concern. It's on you. And there will be days and nights that it feels like an awfully heavy burden, one you didn't ask to bear. Stand strong for them, because it's so so so so worth it.

Keep learning! I know that you just finished your Master's and the thought of this makes you nauseous, but the best teachers are the best students. You don't have to get further formal education, but read and study and dig. Your students will benefit and you will enjoy your time so much more. Push yourself to new challenges and new levels.

Get involved. The absolute best way to gain ownership in a school is to serve it. Sponsor clubs, volunteer to teach elective classes, serve on committees... Don't sit around and talk about the things you WISH your school was-- get out there and do what you can to make it the school you want, the very best version of itself.

Have fun! YOU GET TO BE A RAIDER! It's all you've ever been and all you've ever wanted to be. Go to the games, get into the pep rallies, tap your foot along with the band, clap for the plays, decorate for the proms (CHECK.), buy the tshirts, sway with the choir, be dazzled by the art, have Cosmetology do your nails... Being a high school teacher has to be the most fun profession in life. Embrace it!

It's your day. You've had the best examples and you are going to bring some new things to the field too! So try to push the fears down tonight and get plenty of sleep because the ride of your life is about to start.

Buckle up, but don't forget to throw your hands up on the hills...

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Three Snapshots

I said these things at church tonight but I wanted to remember what I said, so I'm going to just add it here.

These are just three little snapshots that sort of stopped me in my tracks on the trip.

When we were in the school, all dark and crowded and hot with all 2233453 kids (it seemed) and basically NO ONE who spoke English (including the translators, it seemed), I was feeling pretty overwhelmed as I walked past one of the small groups, the music one. They were singing in Khmer so I couldn't understand any of it except one word: "Jesus". When they got to that word, for some reason, they sang it in English. And it really made me stop and think that no matter what the language barrers are, no matter how many different cultures are present in the world, we are all united in His name. Our common thread is Him and the love He desires to share with His people.

Our second location, Siem Reap, was extremely interesting. We were at an orphanage that had a real standing in the village. The village children attended the camp and the orphanage personnel explained to us that they reach out to the village children for a feeding program they do three times a week and a weekly service, as well as just allowing the children to come and go and play on the grounds. It is apparent from just being there a few minutes how entrenched the orphanage is in the community. The director told us that the villagers refer to the orphanage as the "Jesus House". The moment he said that, I immediately thought, "That's us! That's exactly what we are called to be! I'm to be the Jesus House to people. Our church should be the Jesus House in Cleveland!" Our pastor had mentioned three weeks ago (and again today) that our question should be, "If SCCOG were absent in this community, would our presence be missed?" That's exactly the point. Matt even told us a story about a night when something was on fire and it looked like it was the orphanage. The villagers ALL came out with a bucket, ready to put the fire out at "Jesus House". Wow. What a testament.

Last of all, it should come as no surprise to anyone who has ever talked to me, I teach about the Holocaust. I have studied the topic (and genocide) for over fifteen years. But for the very first time, I see it in a different sort of way. My theory on Holocaust education has always been that you educate the young in order to prevent it. I still see it this way, but I have been completely blown away by the fact that these genocides? They look the same. The accounts I read of the things that happened to Pol Pot's Cambodia could have been taken from the pages of the books my students read in Holocaust Lit. It doesn't matter if it's 1940's Poland, Austria, Hungary, Germany or 1970's Cambodia or today's Darfur and DRC... the face of evil looks the same. It does the same things. It has the same purpose. And you know the only way to counteract that kind of evil in the world? With the love of Jesus Christ. I had never made the connection between evangelism and genocide. I felt a responsibility to work for human rights in the world but, for some strange reason, I had never considered that a burden for Gospel to be shared with the world is going to be more effective against future genocides than anything else. When people love their fellow man with His love, they are unable to destroy families and murder children and rape women and imprison youth and decimate populations.

I'm sure more will come over time, but these three little snapshots are what I chose to share tonight with our church.

Simple Math

I remember when I was pregnant with Kelsey and I was an emotional wreck. Emma was not even two yet and she was just such a baby to me that it seemed like a complete betrayal of her to be birthing another child. I felt so guilty about what a new baby would do to her world and the ways she was going to suffer. I also worried terribly about the new baby because I was certain that she would always be in second place because there was simply NO WAY I could love anyone else the way I loved Emma. I didn't see that there could be enough love in me to divide by two.

 I also remember the very first moment I looked into Kelsey's (angry) (screaming) face and how quickly my fears about not loving her enough vanished because I couldn't imagine life without her from that moment on. Then my precious 22-month-old came in to see her baby sister and oh how my heart was full... No love was divided. As any parent of more than one child knows, it multiplies.

I started my summer of 2013 in my very favorite place on earth with my favorite people, serving my favorite cause-- Royal Family Kids' Camp. I've loved this ministry as long as I have loved Kraig. :) I've grown up with this ministry. And though the faces of the kids change somewhat each year, RFKC is my first-born. It's my heart.

As the summer wore on and we planned for our Cambodia trip, raised money, practiced (my first) stick drama, I'll honestly admit that I felt a little torn. I never doubted that I was meant to go but it's like my heart wasn't fully opened to the work God wanted to use us to do. I didn't see it this way at the time, but I think I was worried about the way my heart would respond to this new baby.

That distance lasted exactly a fraction of a second upon arrival at the first orphanage in Phnom Pehn. As soon as the first dark-haired beauty, sweet Rebekah, threw her arms around my waist, it vanished. I fell in love as deeply with those beautiful brown-skinned babies as if I had known them their entire lives. One smile gave way to dozens more and their easy acceptance of us was so beautiful.

This afternoon, I've been trying to make space on my computer for my trip pictures. Because I am always scared to delete things (even when they are burned to a hard drive), I finally had to sort my Royal Family pictures (all almost 6,000 of them) to download these new photos. As I have sat here and gone through the pictures from my first week of summer in order to make room for the pictures from my last week of summer, my heart is so full. I remember the awe I felt seeing B's face light up at Penelope's antics and the joy at the way H got off the bus so timidly and was hugging and holding by the end of the week and the sweetness with which A crafted a plan to make Royal Family last TWO weeks instead of one and the delight in reading the letter D sent to the church in the weeks after camp about how much he loves us and remembers us.

See, loving kids across the world doesn't take a thing away from the love I have for the ones across town. Love just multiplies!

I'm so grateful to God for allowing me to take part in these two ministries and for the heart He has for children. I hear (and read) discussion at times (often even from pulpits and on high profile Christian blogs and websites) that seems to indicate that international mission work somehow detracts from domestic or even that people should feel guilty for "getting on a plane to go across the world when there are people who need us right here in the United States". You know what's awesome about your hands and feet and heart? You aren't limited by anything but yourself. Want to work with foster kids in your own city? You can. Want to serve the poor in a neighboring state? You can. Want to get on a plane and present the Gospel to 300+ kids in a dark, hot school across the world? You can. Want to take purses and paper dolls to orphans in Cambodia? You can. God's love (and therefore OUR love) is not divided when we take part in multiple ministries and work for Him in various arenas... it multiplies.

So I officially end summer tonight with a whole new prayer list and a whole new treasure of memories and a whole new group of children who share my heart with those from Royal Family. And what a glorious blessing it is...

Friday, August 2, 2013

Because I Can't Find Words...

 I didn't write while I was gone. I intended to, but various circumstances prevented it. I have intended to write every day since I've been home. I took some notes for posts while we were there and I hope to write those at some point, but I can't seem to make myself do it right now. I'm still mulling it all over... Still coming home... Still wrestling with why my home looks so different from theirs... Still trying to figure out what my life is going to look like now... Still finding the words to tell my ten year old why I can't bring myself to spend $28 on the personalized zipper binder from Land's End that she had picked out before I left... Still feeling overwhelmed and soul-weary and still tearing up every time I try to pray, even if it's just a simple prayer for a meal... For now, I'll give you some of what I believe to be the most powerful anonymous images from the trip and let the pictures speak for themselves...