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

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Why Do You Work?

Job Arial view

Which is more important to you: time or money?

 

Why do you work? To be successful, to maintain a certain standard of living, to find your identity and purpose, or for some other reason?

 

I decided in 2nd grade that I was going to be an engineer. My reasons were varied and diverse:

  • My dad was an engineer, and I wanted to be like him.
  • I enjoyed math and science; problem solving was a fun hobby for me. I was always up for a mental challenge.
  • Smart people become engineers, and I wanted to be thought of as smart and successful.
  • I liked objective subjects, where no one could give me a bad grade without being able to justify their actions (like when I got a C on my first history paper because my teacher “just didn’t think it was well written” even though all of my facts were accurate).

Having earned an engineering degree and having worked at a major oil company for seven years now, I have come to find that working in the business world is not all that I imagined.

  • Though my dad was an engineer, he worked at a small company where he rose through the ranks and set the tone for a culture that appreciated creative problem solving and new ideas. This is not the case at a Major. When my dad’s little company got bought out by a giant, he disliked his once enjoyable career as much as I do now. Although my company recruits creative, self-motivated, intelligent individuals, it takes those brilliant minds and sticks them deep within the confines of The Machine, where they are no more than a cog in the wheel, and all individual thought is not only stifled but punished.
  • Problem solving is fun when dealing with a closed set – like an Agatha Christie murder mystery where all of the suspects are snowed in to a log cabin, minimizing unforeseen variables. But the real world is messy, and there are an infinite number of variables that are impossible to control or calculate into a solution. This is significantly less fun than the problem sets I solved for fun as a kid.
  • As I have written about multiple times, simply having an engineering degree – and even being a well spoken and intelligent person – does not mean that people will think you are smart and successful. My boss thinks I’m incompetent just because our working styles don’t align.
  • Although in school, math homework has a right or wrong answer, in Corporate America, workers get graded based on subjective opinions and perceptions, many of which are more a reflection of the manager than the employee being evaluated.

While our parents worked primarily to earn a living, Millennials are generally driven by a need for purpose and identity; to find meaning in their work. I hate to ever be a part of the crowd, but of late, I find myself fitting the generalization. Money is not much of a motivator for me. At this stage of life – having experienced all that I have at the hands of Corporate America – I would rather earn less and be more fulfilled in my work. Which is why I have started working on my Teaching Certification in the hopes of teaching junior high math.

Some fellow Christians will tell me (and have told me) that I should find my identity in Christ and not in my job. That’s true, but that’s no reason to stay at a miserable job. The bible says in Ecclesiastes that “there is nothing better than to enjoy food and drink and to find satisfaction in work” (2:24), and again, that “that there is nothing better for a person than to enjoy their work” (3:22).

Some lower-income friends will tell me (and have told me) that money is not a motivator now because I’ve never had to go without. While that may be true, I imagine there is a lot of character development to be had from learning to restrict spending as a result of voluntarily taking a pay cut.

Some friends will tell me (and have told me) that every job will have its frustrations and disappointments. While I acknowledge that to be true, I also believe that – if every job has its challenges, and every work environment has a couple of “difficult personalities” to deal with – I may as well enjoy the work itself. I’ve spent seven years not enjoying my workload in addition to dealing with difficult people.

There have been countless closed doors over the past seven years of trying to change careers. But I’m prayerfully considering yet another attempt at a new career path, and hopefully God sees fit to swing the right door wide open, whether it’s teaching or something else I have yet to even consider.

I’m hoping it’s teaching though. After all, teachers have the best blogging material.

Authentically Aurora

Identity: Remembering Who You Are

Princess - Daughter of King

My dreams are not too big. They are too small.

Sometimes I wonder if the hopes and dreams I have for myself are unrealistic and unattainable, but hearing the story of Levi Lusko at the Passion conference reminded me that God’s ways are higher than our ways, and His dreams for us are often bigger than the dreams we have for ourselves.

We operate in the visible realm, but God operates in the spiritual realm. We set our eyes on earthly things, but God is concerned with heavenly things. He has eternal purposes in mind for our lives, and He is the God of “infinitely more”. God is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or imagine (Eph: 3:20-21). Our dreams are too small.

But often, in order to bring God-sized dreams to fruition, we must first undergo a time of refinement. It’s possible to walk through valleys of suffering without any good coming from them, but if we fix our eyes on God, He will create purpose in even those circumstances that feel purposeless. What the devils intends for evil, God can use for good (Gen. 50:20). No season of life need be useless.

There is purpose in the pain. To take away our suffering is often to take away our ministry. And there is purpose in the waiting. Seasons of waiting are how we are refined. As frustrated as I felt after being convicted of my impatience to prematurely leave the sheep field for the throne room, I was also encouraged to be reminded of God’s good purposes interwoven into even the most painful of circumstances – be they the heartache of a broken engagement or simply the monotony of a paper-pushing desk job with seemingly no end in sight. There is purpose in the pain, and there is a reason for the waiting.

An important revelation for me at the Passion conference was that our Identity is not our Calling. We live in a culture where people tend to believe that what we do defines who we are. Sometimes when I’m in a stagnant season of life where I don’t feel like I’m doing much good, I start to believe that am worth less to God. But my Identity is that I am a Daughter of the King. I am a daughter of God, and my calling – my anointing, the good works I have been ordained to live out – are secondary to my Identity as His child. Our level of intimacy with God may ebb and flow over time, but once we have accepted Jesus as our Savior, our relationship with God remains constant, and therein lies our core Identity: unconditionally loved children of the God of the Universe. 

God loves us and has good plans for us, but fears and doubts sometimes keep us from believing that God has gifted us for His Kingdom work. If I’m honest with myself, I often worry that I am the problem; I am the reason I am stuck in this season of waiting instead of walking out my anointing. God wanted to do great things in and through me, but I am beyond hope of healing. I’m afraid that I can never change; I’m doomed to this intense personality with all its flaws. I’m afraid I’ll never fully recover from my bitterness and cynicism. I am shaped by my past, never to fully heal. I am not married because I am not marriageable. I don’t have a job I enjoy because I am incapable of being a joyful person. I am the problem. God cannot make me usable, and that is why I am stuck in this season of waiting.

These are lies from the pit of hell. God is good. He loves me, and He has good plans for me (Rom. 8:28). He has begun a good work in me that He is carrying out to completion (Phil. 1:6). I am being sanctified, little by little, day by day, being grown and developed and refined to be more like Christ.  Who do I think I am, to be powerful enough to thwart the plans of God?! How ridiculous, ignorant and narcissistic to believe that I am capable of getting in God’s way; that I am beyond God’s power to redeem! While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; the new has come. It is God Himself who works in us, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.

It’s imperative that, as God’s children, we know what our Daddy says about us. When Christine Caine spoke at Passion, she told a story about when her daughter was in kindergarten. Evidently, one of the boys in the daughter’s kindergarten class called her “dumb and ugly.” According to the teacher, Christine’s daughter – instead of shrinking back or crying – threw her shoulders back and declared, “No, I’m not. My daddy says I’m smart and beautiful!”

And that made all the difference. We must know what God our Father says about us. We are not beyond redemption. We are not beyond the hope of healing. I am not too broken and bitter and hard-hearted to be used by God. He is able to transform me, and He is able to use me for good purposes in this broken world. Yes, Lord. Take my imperfect ability and do a perfecting work!

Authentically Aurora