Diego Turned Angel

On Child's Level.pngI’ve never considered myself to be certifiably insane, but – deciding to be a long-term sub for the last month of the school year? – maybe I should reconsider the state of my mental health.

After I resigned from my cushy (and soul-numbing) corporate job in April, I took a three-week long term substitute teaching assignment at a nearby elementary school. I figured it would be a good opportunity to learn some key teaching skills before I started my full-time teaching job in August. And I was right.

What I hadn’t taken into consideration were the facts that:

  • These 5th graders in my class had already finished their state testing and so felt like there was no more learning to be done.
  • They believed that they ruled the world (as the oldest grade in their school).
  • Summer (and graduation from elementary school) was less than one month away.
  • It was a Title I school.
  • I had basically zero experience with classroom management.

Suffice it to say, I nearly died those first few days. I had kids threaten to have their parents sue me when I said the wrong thing, had kids tell me they hated me and I was the worst teacher ever, had parents calling in wanting a parent-teacher conference because they believed their child was being bullied, had to get a counselor involved because a fifth grade boy was following girls into the bathroom and touching them inappropriately… It. Was. Madness.

But I survived. And I am better for it. And, looking back, it was actually a lot of fun. Because – for the first time in nearly eight years – I actually had purpose. I actually felt challenged. And I finally made an impact.

Diego was one of the kids I nearly sent to ISS the first day I subbed. He talked incessantly and, as soon as I got the class calmed down and on task, he (as a natural leader and the class clown) had the power to get them all off task again. I felt like I was constantly battling him for the class’s attention.

And Victor. He was the most simultaneously hateful, cynical, apathetic person I have ever met in my entire life. He loved to argue with me in front of the class just for argument’s sake. He knew I couldn’t physically touch him, so he openly defied me on a daily basis when I asked to speak with him privately outside. He refused to go in the hallway, and I couldn’t physically force him, so for a long time, I lost the daily battles of power struggle with Victor – the most arrogant, abrasive student I can imagine I will ever have in decades of teaching.

But as the weeks went on and I learned students’ names and personalities and values and insecurities, I slowly learned how to individualize not only my teaching but also my motivation and discipline of each one.

On my last week of subbing, the students were supposed to be engaging in silent reading time. Diego repeatedly got off task, reading out loud in an intentionally loud voice and distracting other students. When I asked him to read silently, he claimed not to be able to read without saying the words out loud (this was a lie). He – like Victor – refused to go into the hall with me, so I knelt down on his level and whispered to him quietly.

“Diego,” I sighed. “I know you think I don’t like you, but I do. I think you’re adorable. You’re smart, funny and a natural leader. You have so much potential!”

I shrugged my shoulders and continued as I knelt beside his desk on his eye level. “You are not a bad kid. But right now you are making bad choices. I can see the kind of man you could be, and I really want to see you reach your full potential. You are natural leader with a lot of power to do a lot of good in the world. But in order to do that, you need to start making better choices.”

To my surprise, Diego’s eyes started to water. He was tearing up, and I realized he probably had never been told by anyone that he had potential; that he had value and worth and power to do good in the world. So I went on, “It’s really up to you. I only have a few days left here, so it won’t affect me either way. But every day, you make choices that have consequences, and those can be good or bad consequences. I hope for your sake – and the world’s – you choose good.”

Diego just hung his head and wouldn’t make eye contact with me after that, so I left him alone, but he was surprisingly quiet the rest of the day.

The next morning, the class was working individually on a math worksheet, and – to my surprise – Diego raised his hand and asked for help understanding how to add fractions. He’d never expressed interest in learning before. Encouraged, I knelt by his desk and gently explained to him how to find common denominators so he could add (or subtract) fractions easily. I watched the lightbulb flash in his eyes as he “got” it, and he worked a few problems on his own to show me that he understood the concept.

Later that afternoon, some girls got in trouble for selling homemade “slime” (that ended up clogging the school toilets), and a lot of the kids – exposed to this entrepreneurial spirit for perhaps the first time – were trying to figure out how they could make some side money selling something at school. Diego came up to me and asked simply, “Will you give me five dollars?”

“Why would I give you five dollars?” I asked, not unkindly.

Diego looked thoughtful. “What if I gave you something?”

“Like what?” I asked, forcing him to think through what he was asking.

“Hmm… like a cake?” he suggested.

“That sounds nice,” I told him. “What kind of cake?”

He furrowed his brow, thinking hard. “Maybe chocolate or strawberry?”

I smiled. “Diego, if you bring me a chocolate cake tomorrow, I will give you five dollars.”

I had little to no expectation that the little man who’d given me so much trouble would actually follow through in baking a cake, but the next morning, Diego bounded into my room, beaming with delight he tried to hide a bit as he dashed up to me holding a little 9″x9″ foil pan.

“I brought it!” he exclaimed, and I peeled back the foil to see chocolate icing covering what looked like a homemade box cake.

I smiled at him and pulled a $5 from my wallet. “Here you go,” I told him. “You earned it!” His delight as he accepted the money made me smile all the more.

In retrospect, I probably couldn’t have done that exchange with Diego if I was a full-time teacher or if I hadn’t been about to leave that school campus, but I’m thankful for the way it worked out because not only did I finally make a meaningful, positive connection with a formerly disruptive student, but Diego also learned some important lessons about entrepreneurship, determination, and the power of our choices. He finally had someone show him tough love and believe in him for becoming more than he was.

The next day was my last day, and I had essentially no hope for a reconciliation with Victor, but even he surprised me. Early in the day, I kept Victor outside of the computer lab to talk with him before he went in. I gave him a similar speech to the one I’d given Diego, and like the other boy, Victor started to tear up. I don’t think either one had ever experienced a loving “I believe you for better” heart-to-heart. And at the end of that school day, Victor – the thorn in my side and bane of my existence – was the first to volunteer to stack chairs on the desks before recess. He picked up loose papers and helped me tidy up the classroom without being asked, and my heart was warmed by his transformation.

After a tough few weeks, God gave me two amazing reminders of why I’m going into teaching. It’s going to be hard but good. It’s going to be challenging but worth it. There are days I will want to cry in frustration, but I believe there will be great purpose and impact on individual lives. And that’s what I want to be about in this next year and in this next season of life.

A few weeks later, Seth and I were at dinner with some friends – old and new – and one of the new girls asked what I did for a living. After a few moments, we made the connection that she had formerly been a teacher at the elementary school where I’d subbed. “Oh my gosh! You’re THAT sub! I heard you did an amazing job, and all the teachers there want to have you back as the sub for their classrooms!”

I smiled and thanked her, storing up those words in my heart. As we drove away in his truck hours later, Seth turned to me and said with a squeeze of my hand, “Your reputation precedes you. I’m proud to have you by my side.”

I’m glad to be there. It’s nice to be appreciated.

Authentically Aurora

Caught in the Undertow (Part 2)

Undertow

“Trust in Him. The waves and wind still know His name.” – Bethel Music

Living Situation

On Monday morning last week, after being displaced from my apartment while management aired out the infiltrating marijuana smell, I got a frantic call from the leasing office asking if I was moved out of the model unit where they’d temporarily put me up for the night. I explained calmly that, no, I was at work but could move out that evening, provided that management had completed the air filtration of my unit.

The anxious leasing agent explained that they need the model unit immediately for another tenant, so he asked if he could move my personal items out of the model and back into my apartment for me. I was not comfortable with someone touching my personal items, as I had not yet packed up my private toiletries, and I also had some expensive electronics that I would rather handle myself. Additionally, I continued, I would have not needed the model unit at all had my apartment maintenance been carried out on time. But the leasing office employee pressed me to provide my approval of being moved out, so I reluctantly granted permission over the phone to have a female leasing agent move my personal items from the model unit and put into my apartment.

However, when I returned home at 5pm on Monday evening, I found that the air filtration system was still running in my apartment and – still further – none of my personal items had been returned to my unit. I walked over to the model to retrieve my personal effects and found it dead-bolted. The alternate tenant had moved in but allowed me to search the apartment. As it turned out, my belongings were in the leasing office. I gathered them from the office staff, walked back to my apartment, turned off the air filtration system myself and left my apartment for the evening to allow the air to clear from the residual effects of the air filtration system.

On Tuesday morning, the air filtration system that I had to disable myself was still sitting immobile in my apartment unit. I contacted the leasing office, and someone finally came to get it Tuesday evening. But between the poor service I received and the fact that I need to start saving money considering that I may be without income in the near future, I started building a case to be released from my apartment lease a few months early.

I scheduled an appointment with my allergist and had her write a note that my living situation is detrimental to my health and is exacerbating my allergies.

I searched the legal terms of my lease and found that I could be released from my contract if I provided written notice about unsatisfactory living conditions. If no improvements were made to the root issue after two written notices, I could submit a final notice without financial or credit ramifications.

And so I drafted a second email explaining that not only had the filtration of my apartment been handled poorly, but I was concerned that management had still not addressed the root issue of smoke coming into my apartment from nearby units.

And I scheduled tours of other apartments nearby, looking forward to not only getting out of my drug-filled apartment complex but also to saving about $400/month in rent.

Work

Last week as I stared blankly at my office computer screen, willing myself to get motivated, a bright orange square started blinking at the bottom of my screen. I had a new IM from Stephanie, one of my technical stakeholders for the contracts I manage.

When I read the IM, I was surprised to find that she wasn’t contacting me about some new IT service line that she needed supported commercially. She was asking me if I knew any open roles in Procurement, my department and area of specialty. Apparently she was looking at moving away from the technical IT space and into the more commercial realm of Contracting.

After answering her questions about different line managers and Procurement in general, I shared confidentially that my role may be open soon. HR had shared with me that they were trying to do a “talent placement” – essentially moving me into another team to try to get me out of my current situation.

Stephanie was really excited about the role and thought it would be a great fit, combining her technical IT background with the commercials of Procurement, which was the direction she hoped to move her career. Her only concern, she voiced at the end, was timing. “Do you know how soon HR is going to do your talent placement?”

“No, I don’t. Why do you ask?”

Apparently through our latest organizational restructuring, Stephanie’s role is being made redundant, and she’s on track to receive a severance package if she doesn’t get a job by March 31st. She really wants to stay at the company, not only for career purposes but also because she just adopted two kids and cannot afford to be laid off.

At the same time, I am already pursuing a career in teaching and am hoping to land a job starting in August for the fall semester. I don’t have a job lined up yet, but a severance package would go a long way in helping to bridge the financial gap between now and August. As if she was reading my mind, Stephanie asked, “We’re the same Job Grade, so our salaries are comparable. Would you be interested in a 1:1 switch? Or are you holding out for the talent placement?”

Talent placements tend to be a joke. The only roles that are open are ones that no one else wants. And I’d still have a black mark on my record from the poor performance scores. I’m mentally and emotionally checked out at work, and taking Stephanie’s severance package – while allowing this new mom to keep her job – sounded like the perfect plan to me.

Hope for the Future

Everything seemed like it was finally coming together. I planned to get severance from work (about 6 months’ pay), get released from my apartment lease, move into a new (and cheaper) apartment, use the summer to explore fun, odd jobs (like maybe helping to flip a house!), and land a teaching job for August.

I’ve learned over the years to hold my plans loosely in my  hand, so as I started to get more and more excited about the possibilities of what could be, I also reminded myself that even if things didn’t work out as planned, I wanted to remember that God is faithful. And He is working. I wanted to believe that even if this plan didn’t work out, it was a reminder to me that God can move and orchestrate events we never could have dreamed.

I didn’t know Stephanie was getting a severance package. And she didn’t know I wanted to leave the company. God dropped the perfect scenario right into our laps, and this was an encouragement to me; a reminder that He can do infinitely beyond anything we could ask or imagine. Sometimes we just have to wait and trust His timing.

Authentically Aurora

Freedom from Boredom

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Boredom and Restlessness, Boredom and Restlessness, over and over again: This has been the cycle of my life for the past few years. I’ve been so underutilized and unappreciated at work – where I spend 40 hours each week – that I’ve allowed this discontentment to infiltrate the rest of my life.

During seasons of Boredom, I’d click around on the internet all day at work; then come home and eat junk food and watch Netflix until bedtime, starting the routine again the next day. My life became one of comfortable complacency, where I didn’t feel passionate or motivated about anything. I was so disheartened for so many hours during the day that, ironically, my boredom at work sapped all of my energy and rendered me utterly unproductive during my off hours as well.

After a few weeks of Boredom, I’d kick myself into gear and start desperately trying to do something meaningful and significant with my life. I didn’t want to be a binge-watching, dispassionate Netflix couch potato. So I’d enter a season of Restlessness, where I filled my time trying to find new hobbies to learn and new projects to tackle.

I got certified to babysit foster children, but only one family ever called to ask me to babysit. I offered to take maternity or newborn photos for a ministry that helps pregnant teens, but the seemingly excited director of the organization never took me up on my offer to work for free. I’d volunteer for complex analysis at work that never got used, and I stepped up to arrange songs for a choir that ended up being more of a drain than a joy.

After a few weeks of feeling rejected and unappreciated even in my skillful volunteer efforts, I’d return to a season of Boredom. And so this cycle would continue ad nauseam: Boredom and Restlessness.

In July last year, during one particularly uplifting sermon, I sensed God speaking to my heart that he wants to change this cycle. The Christian life was never intended to be boring. And there is no reason for us to be restless, striving desperately for passion and purpose. We’ve been given both identity and purpose that inform our passions. And the new cycle God has spoken over me is Passion and Rest.

I long to throw myself wholeheartedly into what I love. I’m wired to run hard; to be singleminded in the pursuit of my passions. So in seasons where I don’t feel passionate about anything, I feel dead and purposeless. Even in the mundane – which is a natural part of life – I believe we can be passionate about the people around us and investing in them. Any job and any season of life can have something – even the most minuscule or ordinary – that gets us fired up. And I’ve been missing that in my life, but I believe God is ushering me into a new season where my passions are lit anew.

But we also weren’t created to run headlong without a break. We are called to rest – commanded to rest – and this is for our good. Man was not made for the Sabbath; the Sabbath was made for man. And our Good Shepherd makes us to lie down in green pastures. We shouldn’t protect our rest so that we can be rested when we rest some more; we rest so that we can work hard – get back out there and do good work for God’s kingdom.

So Passion and Rest, Passion and Rest… that is what I’m praying for in this New Season.

Authentically Aurora

Hope Deferred

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Sometimes it feels like God is really mean.

Sometimes it feels like God allows me to have false hope, knowing full well that my hope will soon be snuffed out into the darkness of despair. Why does He do that? Despair is never darker than in the wake of hope, and God knows the effect it has on us; the bible itself declares in Proverbs: “Hope deferred makes the heart sick”.

After my frustrating and hurtful performance review this week, I became a flurry of activity. I started asking around internally about any openings in other departments of my company, and I also started asking my broader network about external opportunities. Anything to get myself out of this very toxic, damaging work environment where I feel neither challenged nor supported; neither empowered nor appreciated.  

Within 48 hours, I had three leads – all of them promising:

  1. Internally, I found out about a Senior Reporting & Analytics role that sounds absolutely perfect or both my interests and skill set.
  2. Externally, a friend in Consulting told me that his company is growing and looking to hire people with supply chain backgrounds and industry experience. My degree is in supply chain, and I have seven years’ worth of pertinent experience. It couldn’t be a better fit.
  3. Thirdly – completely out of the blue – a headhunter contacted me through LinkedIn to ask me about my interest in a Senior Market Intelligence position at a well-regarded company in my city. They were specifically looking for someone with experience evaluating electricity markets. Guess what I did from 2009 – 2010? Market analysis for regional electricity markets.

All three of these possible job opportunities not only showed up within two days of my hitting rock bottom, but they also each felt like Godsends – direct answers to prayer. Each one of them had a job description that was very specific to my exact interests and experience – uncanny in their specificity and perfect alignment with my work history.

I allowed myself to feel hopeful about my career for the first time in months. It looked like God was finally moving, after literally years of crying out for me to be released from my work situation. The only question was: which one of the three options did God intend for me to take?

Answer: D – None of the above. 

When I started inquiring about the internal Reporting & Analytics role, I was told my boss had to provide her sign-off and approval. The chances of that happening are minuscule, although I continue to explore this option.

The Supply Chain Consulting role ended up being a no-go; with the continued low oil price, this company is now on a hiring freeze, though they were actively recruiting three months ago.

And the headhunter for the Market Intelligence role ended up contacting me back and saying that, although I have extensive experience in analyzing the Gulf Coast electricity markets, they are really looking for someone with experience in the Northeast markets. Really?! The skill sets are the same; all that is different is the market. They are significantly narrowing their skill pool with such restrictive requirements.

I am trying not to be angry with God. I am trying not to lose perspective on the fact that His ways are higher than mine and that He has a purpose in this. But why did He give me such false hope? Would it have been kinder not to show me these false leads at all? Or am I to be comforted by the fact that God CAN provide, whether or not He WILL?

In times like this, I have to remember to take my thoughts captive; to make them obedient to what I know to be True. God is a Good Father. He loves me and has good plans for me. And “a bruised reed he will not break, and a faintly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice.”

Authentically Aurora

Today is a Day for Chocolate Cake

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Sometimes you have a boss who says that you don’t ask enough questions and are therefore incompetent, resulting in a poor performance rating (no matter that one typically asks questions when one does not understand anything; not vice versa).

Sometimes that same boss, once you start forcing yourself to ask more questions, provides the feedback that you require too much oversight, resulting in a poor performance rating.

On days fraught with such inane and contradictory feedback, one must go home and eat a small piece of dark chocolate.

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Sometimes you have a boss who happens to be a micro-manager incapable of delegating meaningful tasks, and this boss may present you with strong criticism based on your supposed lack of independence or ability to provide meaningful contributions to the team.

Sometimes that boss will refuse to let facts get in the way of her predisposition to dislike you – facts like your track record for never delivering a project behind schedule, and facts like your negotiating millions of dollars’ worth of savings for the company despite your boss’s inability to provide meaningful work.

On days filled with such frustration and injustice, one must stop by Starbucks for a Grande Mocha Frappuccino.

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Sometimes you have a boss who is so disrespectful and maddeningly incompetent at her role as manager that you have to run into the girls’ bathroom to cry at the office, and you’re not sure if it’s out of anger, frustration, sadness or hopelessness.

Sometimes after you’ve already had a long day of work, the bridal boutique where you returned your wedding dress two years earlier when your groom got cold feet right before the wedding – that bridal boutique sends you an email wishing you a happy wedding anniversary and inviting you and your nonexistent husband to be featured in their magazine.

On days like that, one must go home and bake oneself an ENTIRE FREAKING LOAF OF CHOCOLATE CAKE.

To be eaten alone.

On the couch.

In one sitting.

Today is a day for chocolate cake.

Authentically Aurora

ACAscuse me?

Screen Shot 2016-07-21 at 11.02.54 PMI called my mom crying after work on Tuesday. It had been a hard day, and my insecurities were running high.

“Hard day” is of course relative, and I tried to pep talk myself that I really am blessed; I have a good life, and my day wasn’t that bad, all things considered. Then I beat myself up for not being more grateful, which of course made me feel all the worse about myself. I found myself in a vicious cycle of feeling awful about my life circumstances and then feeling guilty for feeling awful.

Head in HandsThe basic gist of my hurt and frustration was that I didn’t feel valued in any arena of my life. I have felt unappreciated at work for years, so that is something I have come to expect. But Seth said some things this week that made me feel unvalued by him, and that was a new and unexpected sting of hurt. I volunteer with a lot of organizations outside of work to ensure that I am adding some semblance of value to society (since that’s nearly impossible to do at my workplace), but lately – in addition to my occupational and relational hurts – I recently started feeling disrespected and manipulated by some of the officers in my a cappella group.

AuditionsI constantly go above and beyond expectations for this group, arranging music, quietly paying cover charges for open mic nights, finding and booking videographers for performances, creating T-shirts and banners and flyers… I do so much that goes unnoticed and unappreciated. Not only that, but my voice has been picked on lately – something that had always been a source of confidence for me. Singing is something that I do for fun – because it normally brings me joy! – but instead I found myself feeling more beaten up than ever.

So when I called my mom on Tuesday after work, crying about how I felt unvalued in all these areas of my life – at work, by Seth, and by my vocal group – she reminded me that she and my dad love me and hold me in high esteem. “You have to say that,” I sniffed through my tears. “You’re my mom.”

She patiently reminded me that God loves me and values me, and then she told me that she would be praying God would give me a little reminder that very week – a reminder that God is on my side and that I am valued by Him and by the people around me, even if they don’t express it all the time.

That night, I went to choir rehearsal and was shocked to get the solo for our Adele mashup. I was feeling so beaten down that I almost didn’t audition, but of the four auditionees, our group voted for me and affirmed my singing ability – something God knew I needed this week.

This morning, I got an unexpected voicemail from Seth that said simply: “Hey, have I told you yet today that I like you a lot? Well I do. And I just wanted to call and tell you that.” I put down the phone in bewilderment, feeling surprised and pleased.

I was amazed at how quickly God answered my mom’s prayers for encouragement in my life. God is such a good Father, and He loves to give good gifts to His children! Things don’t always go as we hope or expect (or even understand), but in the times where God is so obviously lavish in His blessings, I want to take notice and remember that faithfulness for those seasons where He does not seem present. God knew I was at the end of my rope and needed a lifeline to keep me trudging through this week. And He delivered!

Now I’m just waiting on some sort of affirmation from my workplace… But I’m not holding my breath.

Authentically Aurora