My New Job as a PHM: On quitting teaching, walking labyrinths, and foolishness (part 1)

A lot has changed in a matter of about a month.

I quit my job. That was probably the biggest thing.

No longer am I a CPS teacher on the Southside of Chicago. In fact, no longer am I a teacher at all, unless you count fitness classes, but I don’t. No longer am I getting a large paycheck every 2 weeks either… which is also quite an adjustment.

Can I be honest? Oh, you know I will be no matter what you say– I’ve been wanting to quit my job at CPS since about the second week of school this past year. Going there everyday for the rest of the school year was very hard for me. There were days when I could barely keep it together before the kids left, and sometimes when I had to physically leave my classroom to keep from breaking down in front of them all. The end of the weekend was hard, and so was the close of a long break. Getting out of bed was hard. Walking through those doors was hard.

But do you know what as harder?

Actually making up my mind to leave. 

That was way harder.

“I am not a quitter.”

— This is what I kept telling myself day after day. But inside my soul was crying out. Inside I knew that I could be so much more alive and so much more fulfilled in a different environment, doing a different kind of work– a different calling.

After wrestling with God about this for month after month, I finally felt it deep down in my bones: the only reason I would be staying is for the financial security; I was afraid to leave only because of the pay cut it would mean for me. Was that a reason to hang on to a draining job that was quickly squeezing the life out of my passion? Would staying be truly acting out of my identity in Christ?

“For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons and daughters by which we cry out “Abba! Father!” The spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God” -Romans 8:15-16

My heart burned with the conviction that God would be with me, wherever I went and whatever I was doing. Being a CPS teacher was a calling— for a time— and leaving my job as a CPS teacher was also a calling–for this time. I couldn’t live as a true Child of God if I was acting out of fear– being a slave to it, and in doing so, a slave to my identity as a teacher.

I mentioned before about how God took my identity away from some things, and so doing, healed me of a 7-year-long battle with bulimia, and so I knew that if God wanted to take away my identity from the role as “Teacher”, then some serious healing or blessing would probably follow. See, whenever He takes our identity from something, he places it in Himself. This way, we are never defined by this world, but by He who overcame the world. This, in and of itself, is a blessing.

What could I do? God did not give me a spirit of fear! I informed my principal that I would resign from teaching at the end of the year. 

As more and more people “found out” about my departure from CPS, there were mixed opinions.

Some were proud of me, wishing they could do the same with their disliked job.  Some were confused– why would I quit a high-paying job that I was having such success in? Some were supportive, encouraging me to do what what was best for me and my family. Others were discouraging, implying that I was quitting and giving up too soon.

I would be lying if I told you that I didn’t let any of their opinions effect me. But after some Spiritual Direction and time of solitude at the Portiuncula Center for Prayer, I found myself ready to truly say “Goodbye” to my former job, be utterly grateful for every part of it– the good and the bad– and to fully embrace this new and refreshing season in my life.

At the Center, there is this blabyrintheautiful labyrinth that the hermits can walk while meditating or praying. There is only one way into the middle of it, but you must walk the entire interior of the maze. There are no dead ends and no ways to skip or even look ahead in anticipation. You simply have to follow the path, trusting that it will lead you to your destination.

This is how it is when you follow God. You cannot look ahead but a few steps. You cannot fear getting lost, because He is guiding you, and although you may stumble, you will not fall off the path (Psalm 37:24). This takes a lot of trust, and many people on the outside will probably just think you are taking the long way, going around in what appears to be meaningless circles and odd turns that make no sense. But…

“..the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.” -1 Corinthians 1:25

What appears foolish to the world is often the wisdom of God. What appears like weakness to humans, often is taking the mighty strength of God. These facts have comforted me as I think about how my career change may be perceived by others.

All this to say that I now have a new profession.

I call it a “PHM”.

I’ll be explaining what that is in a later post, but rest assured that is it far more energizing, fulfilling, and live-giving than my previous job, and I am so grateful to God that this job is part of my journey on this labyrinth of life. Even if the rest of the world scoffs, I have the reward of my Savior shouting “Well done faithful servant!” in the far corners of my heart.

Stay tuned for more… I’ve got  to get back to work.

“I Feel You Girl”: Sexual Assault, and Diana the Hunter of Bus Drivers

Last week a pregnant 24-year-old college student was walking to her car on a lunch break when she was approached by a man with a knife. He forced her into her car, made her drive a short distance to an ally, where he raped her, then locked her in the trunk of her own car before he fled the scene. This happened near Chicago State University, on 98th and Indiana, which is roughly 5 blocks from the school I work at. Continue reading

It Was Personal: Ferguson, ALS, Christian Genocide, and Tay-Tay

shutterstock_123429226

On August 12th at 11:30pm, a 17-year-old African American boy was riding his bike on 92nd and Dobson when a silver car pulled up and fired shots at his chest. He was rushed to the ER, and was pronounced dead just after midnight. The police report stated that this boy was a documented gang member, whatever that means.

On August 13th, my husband’s and my 3rd year anniversary, I checked the news and discovered that my former student, Tay-Tay, was that documented gang member, that 17-year old bike-rider, that boy who was shot in the chest and who was now dead. I discovered this, and all the color drained from my face.

I knew there were shootings in Chicago all the time, and I had even known of kids at my school that have died, and Mike Brown was just fatally shot by a police officer only a few days earlier. All of these facts made me upset, made me outraged, made me sad.

But I don’t know. Maybe it was because I knew Tay well. Maybe it was because I recommended him for my AP Lang class and I was looking forward to teaching him next year. Maybe it was because he came late everyday to my first period class his Freshman year but still aced all of the exams. Maybe it was because of the contrast between celebrating a marriage and celebrating a life that was taken too early.

But this, this rocked me.

I won’t go into too many details about Tay-Tay, one, because he was in fact a gang member, and pretty high up on the totem pole too, and I want to respect his family’s privacy. And two, because I have other things to discuss.

But I will say a few words to explain, and a few words to commemorate.

So, many of the kids out here, they are sort of forced into the gang-banging lifestyle. Yes, it’s true that they ultimately make their own choices, but joining a gang is a survival tactic in some cases. It’s part of life here, and honestly, you don’t have to do much to be affiliated with a gang. You just have to stay on a certain block. Where you live determines what gang you’re with. It’s really that simple sometimes. And because you’re automatically affiliated with a gang, it’s easy for you to get caught up in the activity of the gang and the hierarchy of it. It’s like a snowball effect. Or at least it can be.

I have reason to believe that Tay-Tay was a higher-up in the gang. He didn’t advertise it at school, but he didn’t need to. The kids that talk the most about it are usually affiliated, but not too involved. The ones who don’t talk, don’t talk because they are involved, and sometimes, heavily so. Tay didn’t talk about it. He was so intelligent and so talented, and he could play one hell of a game of basketball. He was cute, funny, and he had the best smile out there. He was one hundred percent a natural-born leader. I loved him like I love all of my kiddos. Yes, he made some silly choices, he had a little ‘tude some days, and his ability to show up late to class and out-test the ones who came on time drove me absolutely insane!– but I loved that kid. I really did. And now he’s dead.


I can’t help but connect Tay’s death to the world around me right now. People everywhere are getting up in arms about so many issues, from Christian genocide in Iraq, to the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge and whether or not to dump the ice or donate, to Michael Brown’s brutal shooting by a Caucasian police officer in Ferguson, to the journalist James Foley’s ugly and filmed beheading, and I can’t help but wonder if they are all somehow related.

And the funny thing is, as many times as I’ve seen people speak out to voice an opinion or simply to raise awareness, I’ve seen just as many twitter feeds and Facebook posts and even news quotes that bash the ALS Challenge, or that question the facts of Mike Brown’s case, or that deny the global relevance of any of the issues mentioned previously. We insist that one outrage is more outrageous than the other, and that the cause of another’s choice isn’t worth caring for as much as our cause is.

But even though we are quick the point the finger, and quick to reference another tragedy, the truth of the matter is, we are really just scared of our own selfishness. Scared that we actually might care about our own lives more than we care about the lives of those people who have suffered greater than we ever have.

When I found out Tay was killed, I was celebrating my anniversary. I wanted to have fun, to laugh, and to be romantic with my husband. But when I thought about him bleeding on the ground, scraped up from his fall off the bike, a bullet buried in his chest, in the same spot where he had buried into my heart, I felt utterly guilty for being alive. And somehow, I think that maybe we all feel that way when we look at a tragedy.

When someone with ALS’s body slowly shuts down while their brain remains the same, when a black man can’t walk on the street without fear that the law enforcement might take his life, when a pregnant Muslim encounters Jesus and is executed by her own government, and when a 17-year-old boy is gunned down while riding his bicycle home from a friend’s house, we are stunned with the guilt of still being alive.

So we rage, and point fingers at those who aren’t raging enough, or raging in the wrong way. We take personally what doesn’t usually effect us personally, and we feel better about ourselves…. for a little while.

Maybe this is a first world problem. Or maybe it’s just the byproduct of being raised in a middle-class, white, suburban family and being launched into a violence-riddled, urban neighborhood where my lack of color now is the minority.

Yes, maybe it’s my white-guilt… or my privileged-guilt.

But whatever it is, it’s the same reason I broke down last night after shots were fired a block away from us and we heard the shooter– the murderer of human life– running through the empty lot next to our house. All I could think about was Tay-Tay and the hand of God that protected me in this neighborhood. I sobbed into the humid air and demanded to know why God hadn’t protected him, and whoever else might have died tonight. 

We can’t help what race we are. I know. We can’t help what hereditary disease we contract or don’t contract. We can’t help where we were born, or how we were raised, or how much money our parents had, or whether or not our government is tyrannical or just. I know this. But I still think it’s unfair that we haven’t found a cure for ALS, that we haven’t found a cure for the plagues of racism, a cure for religious discrimination, a cure for white-guilt. I think it’s unfair that Tay-Tay, the boy with the bright smile and the big potential, had his life cut short while I’m still here breathing and teaching the class that he’s still on the roster for. 

And I think I’m more upset about Tay than I am about Ferguson, or about Christian beheadings, or about ice buckets. I think my outrage at his death has caused more genuine and heart-felt tears than anything in the news ever could cause. And maybe that’s cold of me to admit, but it’s true. I felt the loss of his life on a personal level.

I knew Tay. He taught me to value my students, even if they drive me crazy. He taught me to value my life, because it can be cut short. He taught me that sometimes the greatest injustices are the ones that aren’t publicized or argued or even remembered. He taught me all of this, not during his life, but he taught me this through his death.

So I guess what I’m saying is, we need to find out what all of this death and disease and destruction can teach us–what ALS, Mike Brown, and James Foley can teach us. And when we find out, we need to learn that lesson well and never forget it. We need to let it change us. Don’t get into a contest about who can be the most upset or who can donate the most money, and don’t let the privilege of being alive make you feel guilty when you witness those that aren’t.

Instead, value life–all life, especially your own. Because it is a gift.


Photo Credit: Tay's Memorial Obituary

Photo Credit: Tay’s Memorial Obituary

This past Saturday, I looked over the body of my former student. 

I didn’t have Tay-Tay in my class his Sophomore year, although he should have been in Honors English. But he would always pass by my classroom and give me a big ol’ smile, playfully asking, “you miss me Ms. Flo?” 

Yes, I miss you Tay. I will always miss you because you taught me lessons I needed to learn. You taught me that I am selfish, and that I will always care about the things that directly effect me more than I will care about the things that don’t. 

I miss you. And I think that’s the reason why your death hurts the most. Because your death meant a loss for me.  

It was personal. 

What my cat has taught me about connection and people

As many of you may know, I have a cat. She is the cutest kitten in the world (in my high opinion) and I love her very much, even when she gets vicious in her playful-kitty mode late at night (she thinks that biting our faces as we try to fall asleep is a very fun game…)

IMG_1169Now when I really stop to think about the purpose of a pet, the purpose of Evee–that’s my cat’s name in case you were wondering, I can’t really express what that purpose is. Is it to have a little companion all to yourself? Is it to own something? It is for protection? Is it for friendship? To stay busy? To teach kids how to be responsible? To practice love?

What is the purpose of a pet?

In Genesis Chapter 1, God creates the Earth, then, along with a bunch of other stuff, he creates animals….

And God said, “Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds: the livestock, the creatures that move along the ground, and the wild animals, each according to its kind.” And it was so.God made the wild animals according to their kinds, the livestock according to their kinds, and all the creatures that move along the ground according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good.Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”

So God makes a specification between wild animals, livestock, and creatures that move along the ground. Wild animals are untamed, they are not the kind of things you would probably be able to train very well… they aren’t domesticated. Livestock is usually used for food or clothing (cows, pigs, sheet, and so on). But now what about these creatures that move along the ground? Are they tamable? Are they domestic? What category would say a Golden Retriever or a Calico fall under?

One thing is for sure though, God created them so that humans, men and women, would rule all other living things. So is the purpose of owning a pet simply to have dominion over them?

To be honest, I like having Evee because she fulfills a part of me that is designed for nurturing, a part of me that desires connection and to take care of another living being.

That being said, I have come to recognize how dangerous this can be.

1.) My innate design as a woman is to nurture, but the primary purpose of that is to nurture children, not pets. Granted, I don’t have children of my own, but I do have 90 some students that come in and out of my classroom that need a heck of a lot of nurturing on a daily basis.

2.) If I am fulfilled by connection with a cat, it can take away my desire to connect with other people. In other words: I can start to turn to playing with and loving on my cat instead of playing with and loving on the neighbor kids across the street who really need some love and attention.

3.) There are many people, in not just the world, but in my own neighborhood that need a lot of taking care of. There are a lot of poor, sick, homeless, needy, uneducated, undernourished, hungry, and impoverished people living all around me. They truly need taking care of, and if I’m already feeling good about myself because I fed my cat and cleaned her litter box this morning, then will I be as apt to feed and clean the homeless man outside of the post office on my way to work?

Now I’m not saying that I want to get rid of little miss Evee. You all already know I love that cat to death! What I am saying is this: we need to be careful about where we place our caring, loving, and nurturing attention.

Yes, kittens and puppies are cute; it’s pretty easy to love them to pieces and give them treats, and pet them, and show them a ton of affection and attention. But as Jesus said in Matthew 10: Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.”

Many times we walk by a homeless person on the side of the road and avoid making eye contact. Many times we see dirty, sloppily-dressed kids and turn our nose up. Often we see people starving for attention and categorize them as annoying; we walk away and say we won’t pay them any mind. But when a stray kitten winds up on your porch, we bring her inside, dry her off, cuddle her, and give her some food and drink. When our puppy makes a mess in the mud, we wash him off and get him nice and even spend big bucks on a nice grooming. And when our pet wants our attention, meows, barks, or squawks, we pet them, give them treats, and play with them.

Why is it so easy for us to connect with our pets, but it’s so hard to connect with people who really need it the most?

Isaiah 58 gives us clear instructions about how we are to connect with one another as people:

Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injusticeand untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed freeand break every yoke?Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—when you see the naked, to clothe them,and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?Then your light will break forth like the dawn,and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you,and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.Then you will call, and the Lord will answer;you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.

Now these are “if-then” statements people. It’s a cause and effect that God is explaining. IF we end injustice, free the oppressed, feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, clothe the naked, and welcome other people into our own homes, THEN we will be healed, be righteous, see God’s glory, and the Lord will answer us when we cry out for help or guidance.

Now I know this seems kind of silly, analyzing why we have pets and if they detract from our love of people, but it’s only because I take the scriptures very seriously, and it doesn’t seem to have much in there about loving little cute fuzzy animals, who are, frankly, pretty easy to love. Rather, the scriptures have a lot in there about loving people who are hard to love.

I see a lot of people, including myself, who care very much for their pets, and I don’t think that’s bad at all. But there are a disproportionate amount of people who are also inviting the homeless into their house, feeding people who need some nourishment, giving away clothing off their own backs to kids who need it, or helping others get out of the cruel cycle of prejudice, poverty, or oppression.

Jesus says that people are worth more than sparrows, implying that people are worth more than cats, dogs, and guinea pigs as well (I don’t think he was strictly talking about only birds). So if that’s true, then I need to be caring for and loving people more than I care for and love Evee. If that’s true, I need to be getting my need for connection fulfilled through other people, not my kitten.

When I see a kitten meowing out in the rain, I think “awwwwe poor little kitty-cat!” and I immediately want to adopt the creature and dry it off and feed it.

When I see a homeless man out on the street corner with a cardboard sign getting drenched in the rain, why don’t I have a similar reaction? Why don’t I immediately want to take care of this poor human being, dry him off, give him some warm clothes, and feed him?

Which does your heart go out to? The man or the dog?

For this week’s Monday Musings, I really want your feedback.

What do you think? Do you have a similar experience with your pet or am I just a weird animal lover who needs to get priorities straight? Have you ever had these kinds of contemplations before?

“It was just self defense!” my prayer for young black men

Two weekends ago there were over 71 people who were shot in Chicago. 54 people were killed by gunshot in Chicago during George Zimmerman‘s trial. In 31% of the killings, the victim was 19 years of age or younger. 76% … Continue reading

Do we really need to give to anyone who asks?

thirsty thursHappy 4th of July everyone!

Today for Thirsty Thursday I am drinking an Orange Spice Iced Coffee with Soy from Starbucks. I received a Starbucks gift card, and I am putting it to good use. Although… when I ordered this drink, the woman apparently did not know they served anything “orange spice”, so I am guessing this drink is not as popular as it should be. So I am doing Starbucks a favor now and letting all of you know that it is a good investment. Go order yourself one today!

Now that you have your fancy drink, let’s get on with the rest of our post…

Last week my church conducted something called “Compassion Sunday”. This is a day when our church members go out into our surrounding community of Roseland on the far South Side of Chicago. Some pray with people, some give food, some provide a service, others visit shut in members or sick members, and some hold services in the local shelters or hospitals.

This particular time, I was in charge of a clothing drive. The process involved collecting clothing donations from the church, sorting them, organizing them into nicely folded piles, and then spreading the word!

The spreading the word was probably the most fun. On the Saturday before the Compassion Sunday Clothing Give-Away, I snagged a neighbor girl along with 40 fliers, and we hit up Michigan Avenue (between 107th and 115th  street, not the Michigan Avenue in the Chicago Loop).

During our jaunt down the block, the two of us just wandered, looking into the famous Roseland Doughnut Shop, watching with several others as men made giant globs of apple fritter. We stopped to talk with a family of 5 who were parked on the side street and eating melting popsicles with open van doors. We tossed out granola bars to men sitting on the side of the street, claiming that they had the “munchies”, and complimented a girl on her nice dress and intricate nose ring.

We stopped to hand one man a flier, and asked if he wanted a granola bar. He said yes, reached in the bag and pulled out two handfuls. My face must have shown surprise, or perhaps even disapproval, because he said, “Oh, I’m sorry. Can I have a few? I’ve got some kids down the block…” I nodded my head and smiled.

“Of course. Take as many as you need.”

My neighbor squinted her eyes; she has been trained (and trained well in my opinion) to be distrusting and wary, especially of men on the street. “You know he was prolly lyin’ right Claire?”

“Oh I don’t think it really matters.” I say, but really it’s not me whose speaking, because…well, me? Well, I’m thinking the same thing in my own head. It was the voice of the Holy Spirit inside of me who spoke, and I was reminded of Jesus.

To him who strikes you on the one cheek, offer the other also. And from him who takes away your cloak, do not withhold your tunic either.Give to everyone who asks of you. And from him who takes away your goods do not ask them back. And just as you want men to do to you, you also do to them likewise.” Luke 6:29-31

Jesus’s instructions are clear. We must give to who ever asks. Even if that man had taken all of our granola bars, I know Jesus would instruct us not to ask for them back, just as this passage teaches.

I was reminded of this yet again during Compassion Sunday. A woman’s hungry eyes were darting all over the clothing racks and tables of purses, belts and shoes. I handed her plastic bag after plastic bag, and she took as much as she could carry.

My natural, judgmental instinct would be to glare at her, ask her if she really needed all of these clothes, and request she think of others rather than herself and to please save some items for the rest of the people.

But Jesus is pretty clear. This woman was asking for more.

It was not my place to judge whether she needed more; it was my job to give her more, and to not even withhold the clothing off my own back from her (if she for some reason wanted to put my shirt in her bag too)!

It is the same with the Gospel. We are to share it– to give it to others. What they do with it after we give it to them is on their own conscious, not ours. In the same way, our job is to simply give to those who ask, never denying anyone. After we give, it’s up to them to decide how they choose to use the gifts. 

Jesus is the joyful giver. He is the Spirit of giving, and He gave his life for us.

How are we reflecting His precious gifts to us by giving to others who ask? How are we using our own gifts from God, including the gift of giving?