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’ve been Drowning… Unnecessarily

Did you know that the biggest challenge with rescuing a drowning victim is the likely fact that they instinctively will fight against their rescuer? Neither did I, but now we both do.

The sheer panic and fear is so great that they can’t stop themselves from flailing (which, by the way, is one of my students’ vocabulary words that they tell me is not in the Dictionary…. look again students…).

But trying to snap them out of it (the drowning victims, not my students)—to awaken them to their need to simply relax and lean into the arms of their rescuer—is nearly impossible.

Well, over the past few months (since it’s been that long since I have written), I have realized that I’m that girl who’s drowning.

Let me explain.

One of the most wonderful things about God is that you can lean on him no matter what. He will always be there to catch you. Sometimes it is not exactly in the way we would picture it. In fact, it’s usually not in the way we would picture it. But He is our rescuer no matter how deep or shallow the water.

Another truly wonderful thing about God is that he calls us into deep, uncharted water with Him…. 

*clears throat*

Turn to Luke Chapter 5 with me.

When Jesus first met Simon, Simon had been fishing all night long, but to no avail. The Bible doesn’t say it directly, but I believe that God made it so that those fish were too slippery that evening, because the next day Jesus used the entire dock to teach thousands of people that morning. He couldn’t have done that had Simon filled it with tons of fish. God had another purpose for Simon’s fishing dock.

Sometimes God thwarts our own plans as well. He doesn’t do it to punish us, or demand penance. He does it because our plans are too small and His plans are bigger than our worldly desires and intentions.

I promise I’m getting back to the drowning metaphor, just go with me a little longer.

So after Jesus teaches the huge crowd, he tells Simon to go out into the deep water and cast out his net. Simon starts to explain to Jesus why that seems like kind of a crazy idea. He tells Jesus that they have been fishing all night and in the shallow end (the way every fisherman fished during this time), and that going into the deep water at midday just didn’t seem right…. BUT he tells Jesus that at his command, he will do it.

There’s the key.

Simon had been through it. He’d been fishing all night with nothing to show for it. He was tired, hungry, and embarrassed. And he’s about to go do something so silly that all his fishermen friends will think he’s even more of a crack pot than he seems. But he does it anyway. Because Jesus told him to.

And lo and behold, what does Simon find? His nets are bursting with fish! He can’t even bring all of the fish onto the boat!

Jesus messed up Simon’s plans in order to create a testimony for him, then he rewarded his faith through obedience with the treasure Simon was seeking in the first place! 

The piece I really want to grab onto in this illustration is the fact that Jesus called Simon out into the deep. He took him into uncharted, deep waters in order to test his faith and require his dependence, and then He helped him not only survive, but He helped him thrive! God calls us to do this in our lives as well. He calls us out into the deep water so that we cannot touch the bottom, so that we cannot keep our heads afloat, no, not without his help.

The thing is, many times we start to get this whole “drowning” mentality even before He calls us out to the deep.

We like being in the shallow water.

First of all, it’s warmer. It’s clear, so we can see the bottom and we can see any fish or pieces of rock or floating seaweed that get in our path. But most importantly, we can stand in it without fear or threatening waves. We depend on no one but ourselves in the shallow water. We do not need help breathing because out heads are far above the water. We do not need help standing because our feet touch the bottom. We can handle ourselves in the shallow water.

But when God calls us into deep water, when He demands our heart and faith and life, He is not going to let us stand alone. No, He needs us to lean on Him in order to stand so He can use us in the way we were created to be used, and He makes sure of it by taking us from the comfort of ankle-deep water.

But don’t you know? You are much better off with Jesus in deep waves than you are without Him standing alone in the shallow pools, even when He dunks us under that water. Like baptism, He puts us in over our head. We can’t see, we can’t breathe on our own, and we don’t even know which way is up. We fight going deeper down and we fight coming up for air. We fight our one and only Help. But don’t you know? It doesn’t matter how much farther in over your head you go once you’re underwater in the first place!

God will come, with rescue breathes or an air tank, or some goggles, or whatever it is you need out there in the deep. You just have to relax and accept His help.

…. See, I say “you”, but I really mean “I” or “me”. Remember, I’m that girl who’s drowning.

I’ve been fighting against Christ’s calling for me, almost without realizing it. I know that if I just surrender to it, I’ll discover that rescue is only breaths away. But I also know that if I surrender to it, I might just discover that God needs more of a testimony in my life… and I know enough to know that will be difficult.

My fear is that He has given me too much to handle, or that He’s squashing my strong personality. My fear is that I’ll fail or that I’ll become a boring mold without uniqueness or beauty.

I realize how ridiculous this is. First of all, it’s a guarantee that God will give me “too much” to handle because He knows that’s the only way I’ll ask for His help in prayer. And God has made me strong, beautiful, and unique, so following Him would never make those traits disappear, but rather be augmented in His light.

I’ve been thinking to myself, “I’ve got this God! Don’t you worry about me!”

But in reality, I’m fighting against His help, thinking I can swim downwards and get air from the sand.

Fighting His will is too exhausting to be good for me. I know that if I let go and give in, if I cease flailing, throw my arms upward, and let His current take me under, I know His Grace will find me there and that I’ll be stronger for it.

I’ve been a drowning girl flailing around, trying to escape the very one who holds my entire life’s breath. And that…. well it’s just kind of silly. So I’m going to stop drowning out there on my own and start being Saved with Jesus Christ, my life boat.

 

What deep water is God calling you to? Are you fighting His Help? What testimony has God created in your life? 

From Crisis to Christ

Hello world,

Again I have neglected to update for a bit of time, but I assure you all that I have good reason.

Instead of reflecting on my convictions, I was packing up a life and moving to another location. Dennis and I just now got settled in our new home in Roseland, a community on the South Side of Chicago. It took us eleven hours to  pack  up in Bloomington, and a half an hour to get all of it moved into the house thanks to our Chicago neighbors across the street.

Cookie, Robert, and Dominique were the helping hands we needed back in Bloomington when we attempted to move heavy boxes full of books and oversized chairs down our steep staircase and into the U-Haul trailer.

It is a completely different world here. Our sense of community and our definition of neighbor has already changed quite a lot, and we have never been more aware of the fact that we are white and middle class.

In Bloomington, we definitely lived in a lower-income part of town, and crime (as in theft) was fairly high, but  it was not the same as Roseland. I am not even sure how many people live the house across the street, but it is enough that all have to share a room with at least one other person, if not more. I have already heard gun shots not too far away, and I know that most of the students I will be teaching have had at least one loved one lost due to the violence that has run rampant in Roseland.

Before anyone begins to worry about us or our safety (or sanity for that matter), I want to tell you that I truly am not afraid here. In fact, I have never felt braver, and it’s not because of me. No, not at all. God has called both Dennis and myself to this community and we have no doubt in our minds that this is where we will do His work. Now, on the other hand, our fearlessness will not cause us to loose our senses. I am quite aware that we must be much more aware and alert and cautious in a neighborhood such as ours. So don’t worry; we’re not eager to become martyrs out of stupidity.

Nevertheless, we have been met with some skepticism and raised eyebrows, but God has been so good in these past two days, which have been incredible!

Dennis and I were on a quest to get involved in a church. We had met and hung out with the neighbors and we had recently gotten prayer from our former church members, and were ready to get connected and tapped into what the Lord was doing in Roseland. We headed up to meet Ms. Pearl of the Roseland Community Day Care Center at Christ Temple Cathedral. The children were all supposed to be napping, but were rolling around on their cots making eyes at us and playing with their sheets. Ms. Pearl had to get up and scold them several times and one little girl even lost the privilege of having sheets on her cot!  Meanwhile, Ms. Pearl pointed us in the direction of Roseland Christian Ministries  as well as the Agape Center. She shooed us away to go meet Brad and Mark at the Agape Center, and we went on our way.

We were greeted at the Center with smiles and great advice once we introduced ourselves. Ms. Pearl was right when she said there were more than a handful of other white people living in Roseland (something she described as “amazingly enough”). She was also right in telling us that it would feel very familiar to us, but to not simply stop looking for a church home there. This place did seem familiar, and it wasn’t only because most of the people there looked like us; there was a sort of comforting and comfortable sense that I felt, and I wasn’t sure how I felt about it.

Dennis and I were remembering one of our first conversations when had just met. We spoke about how neither of us ever wanted to get comfortable about our lives. I think we meant that we never wanted to settle or get complacent with our current situation to the point where we were never taking risks or pushing past routine.

Now, that has come to mean something completely different to both of us. It means living a life for Christ rather than for ourselves. We are called to die to ourselves so we can truly be God’s hands in whatever situation he puts us in.

One of the Pastors at Christ Temple said it really well:

In a community where crisis is everywhere, where death and destruction are common day occurrences, and we are pushed to the breaking point as a church, we must remember that God controls all and he even controls evil. He puts us in difficult situations for a reason because he knows that when we reach our breaking point, that’s when we have our break through and call upon Jesus to save us. When we reach our crisis, we push past and receive Christ. 

So many people in the Bible were pushed into crisis: Elijah, Moses, Job, Ester, Ruth, David, and especially Jesus. And they all were put there to display the Glory of God. See, many times, the Preacher said, we think of our troubles and crises as the Devil. We are going through temptation or struggle or hardship and we assume that the Devil is attacking us, that Satan is on our back and we’re pressed down by him.

But in reality, it’s all God. What Satan means for evil, God means for good. And we can be rest assured that it will always be this way for believers and followers of Christ Jesus.

So no, I am not afraid of this new life that we are thrust into. I am not afraid of this violent community nor the responsibility of being a full time teacher for the teens who live here.

When I have Christ to guide me, and God’s calling to keep me here, I have everything I need.