Sticks and Stones

“Beenie! Fuckin’ Faggot.”

On Tuesday, April 12th, the Los Angeles Lakers played, and beat, the San Antonio Spurs, 102-93. During the game, there was a moment when former MVP and 13-time NBA all star Kobe Bryant got a technical foul for screaming at a referee. After he sat on the bench, he gave the lovely soliloquy mentioned at the top of this page. Viewers of TNT, who know English on a first name basis, didn’t need volume to understand what he was saying. The ‘I-didn’t-mean-for-it-to-be-on-air blunder cost him a cool $100,000 in fines, which may ruin his weekend.

Now, it might be because this story has turned into a gossip story (TMZ has covered it), or because Bryant is my favorite athlete, but this statement/story/train-wreck struck me.

When I go to work, I get called all kinds of names. Think of the nastiest phrase you can think of, and I guarantee I’ve been called worse during one of our lighter moments in class. It’s just something that you become immune to, you hear it so much.

But you know what? Name calling hurts. This isn’t the elementary school teacher side of me speaking; this is a legitimate human problem.

Can you think of time somebody said something that legitimately crushed you?

Growing up, I got called faggot pretty frequently. Still do to this day, though not as often. And you know what? It Hurts. I have to say I am not innocent in calling a few people names over the years, and I can’t figure out why I would ever stoop so low, even with me receiving the sting of a derogatory comment.

But I think I know why we do it.

To be honest with you, we do it because we are insecure ourselves. It is the easiest way to prop ourselves up, by tearing down everybody else around us. It’s easy. We can’t think of a strong and well thought out way to deal with words, instead we are overcome with weakness and just react.

“..If someone strikes you on the right check, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have it as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two…”

I think…well, I know…that Jesus knew that to take the easy way out was not a reflection of his Father. I want to do the same. I’m not perfect, but hey, working in Special Education is good practice.

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Hopelessness

I have found the perfect metaphor for hopelessness: cheese.

For those of you who are reading this, both of you probably know that I can’t sit, run or stand dairy. When I was 4 years old, my mom started to notice that I was frequently sick and I would have constant and merciless ear infections. Upon taking me to a doctor, it was diagnosed that I was lactose intolerant. All dairy was cut out of my diet, and for the rest of the Clinton administration I avoided anything that came from a cow utter.

The summer before my freshman year of high school, I wondered if I had outgrown my intolerance. One day, with my family at a restaurant, I decided to challenge myself with a glass of chocolate milk- and loved it. I tried ice cream after that. Loved it. Milkshakes, love. Buttery popcorn, adoration. It was a summer of exploration. But I will never forget the first time I tried cheese again. Taking a bite out of a slice of American cheese, I immediately removed it faster than you can say, “I did not enjoy that at all, and I hope that I never have the misfortune of consuming such a product again as long as I live.” Trust me, it was fast.

Let me describe for you my opinion of what cheese (and plain dairy) tastes like: There…are…no…words.

I’ve tried, God knows I’ve tried, to explain it to people. The sight of sour cream makes my stomach turn a double-windsor.  The smell of alfredo sauce makes me belligerent. Being from Wisconsin is a curse.

But how does such a raw human experience relate to cheese? Far be it from me to compare Hopelessness to Gouda, but my point here is this: They both have no words.

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I teach kids who experience hopelessness. They deal with it by bringing weapons to school. Yelling “Fuck You” to everyone within spittle range.  Wrapping belts or shoelaces around their necks in an attempt to commit suicide (twice in one day). The un-Speakable things that have been Spoken to me about some students from my class or from other classes of which I Speak, leaves me Speechless.

And in the midst of teaching Classroom 7, I have experienced hopelessness myself. I would often ask, “Does hope exist?” I reached a peak this last October, and can honestly say it is the darkest, lowest and most broken time of my young life. Homelessness, homesickness, busy-ness, loneliness, depression and a ban on USC playing in a bowl game this year all seemed to converge at the same time. I would go into details about it, but there…are…no…..

But I will say this though, and it may not be what you expect to hear: feeling hopeless has been a blessing. Despite the feeling of not wanting to think, see, hear, taste, smell, feel or do anything at the time, I have found it to be an experience that has helped me grow.

When I went home to the Seattle area this last winter break, I went to a church service with my dad and listened to one of the best sermons I have ever hear. The pastor, Scott Wilson, explained that “Jesus restores once broken people”, and that “broken people abandon themselves to Jesus, and therefore heal those in their position” (John 21:1-25). “Brokenness is an honor”, he even said. Digging through the Word, I have come across Romans 5:2-5, verses that have stuck with me for the last couple months now:

“…we rejoice in the HOPE of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our suffering, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, HOPE…”

It isn’t that Hope doesn’t exist; it’s just that suffering is a part of the journey. Through it all, I have received so much guidance from you- my family and friends. I just wish I could be half as supportive to my students as you have been to me.

Hope isn’t found in 45-carat diamonds, comedians named Bob, or presidential campaigns. It is found in the one true Hope, our Lord Jesus Christ.

“…And HOPE does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.”

It’s time to Speak Up.

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Perseverance

I haven’t cried since February 12th, 2004. This past week, I came close twice.

Let me tell you the worst kept secret about myself: Teaching at my school is the greatest challenge of my young life. Throw in lonliness, homelessness, and a demanding online class schedule to pursue my second teaching credential, and life is a constant ass-kicking. I can’t even begin to describe the number of times I have complained to myself or thought “whoa is me”. Sometimes I’m like Eeyore. Seriously. No one is harder on myself than me.

Perspective is a child.

2 times last week, I had 2 different students tell me 2 haunting things that almost brought me down all 2gether. I don’t want to describe or detail too much about what was said. Neither incident was the child’s fault. One has to do with drugs, the other sex. That’s all I will say.

What are you supposed to think if an innocent, helpless, not-given-a-chance-in-life kid tells you these stories? My mouth stuttered, “Thank you for telling me. If you ever need to talk to me, or the therapist about this, we will always be there for you.”  My heart pumped cold blood. My sweat glands exhaled. My mind thought, “Holy Shit.” My eyes blinked back tears.

Then little children were brought to Jesus for him to place his hands on them and pray for them. But the disciples rebuked those who brought them.

Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”

I pray that our generation, or generations that have came before us, would take these verses to heart. Yes, those same “wiser” generations that have created war, poverty, famine, disease, prostitution, drunkenness, greed, and Marshmallow Peeps.

My outlook is changing. My complaints are transitioning from “Why me?’ to ‘What am I doing about it?’ I think God doesn’t care as much about what happens to you, then how you actually respond to it. I hope, pray, ask that everyday I do everything I can to provide an alternative to the evil that exists in the world. Sometimes I will fail, but I will never be convicted of not trying. There is after all still a lot of good in the world.

We may complain about where we are. Or what is going on around us. Or that the waiter at the Olive Garden forgot our Diet Coke. But if we magnified blessings as much as we magnify disappointments, we would all be much happier.

Oh yeah, want to know what happened the last time I cried? I lost my final basketball game when I was a senior in high school. I almost find that comical now.

Perspective is a child.

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Teaching

A student spit on me today.

When I say spit, I mean full-on-in-your-face-reach-for-a-beach-towel-and-wipe-yourself-off spit. It happened towards the end of the school day…a day full of activity: 5 fights, 5 restraints, 3 AWOL’s, 2 turtle doves and an exhausted teacher. I don’t know what it is about those three day weekends, but it seems to bring out the worst in some of my students. At my school, I have been bitten, punched, kicked, flipped off, and sworn at, but there is something about the level of disrespect that comes with getting someone else’s saliva in your eyes and up your nostrils.

Driving home, I remember not-remembering anything. My ipod played a Lil’ Wayne song followed by a Jeezy song…I think. My hands steered the wheel. My foot hit the gas, then break, then the gas again. My mouth was open, my mind was full, and my heart was breaking. ‘What can I do tomorrow that will be better than today?’ I thought. The answers are coming and going, but I still can’t quite seem to figure it out. But it is gradually starting to hit me that I NEVER will “figure it out”.

Love back, is the only true answer.

Love is not something that anyone has, did, or ever will figure out. 1 Corinthians 13 (yes, that same often-used, sometimes-abused passage in the New Testament that is read out loud at 12-out-of-every-11 weddings) says that:

If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient, love is kind.

It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.

It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.

Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.

It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Sometimes we tend to overlook this passage. Does it sound eloquent? Yes. Is is nice to hear when you are in need of comfort? Yup. Do we read it because it is a good time filler/Christian reminder at weddings? Most definitely. But do we ever really think, pray, meditate, drink from, or agonize over? Maybe it is for some of you, but for me, I am guilty without bail.

Every single day, I can’t help but do my best to display this. But here is the thing: I don’t want to display it- I want to BE it. The display of love should be a natural result of being full of love. The only way that I can achieve this is through understanding my students. Reading about them, listening to them, helping them. With each passing day, I grow closer and closer to my students. My love is growing.

I might only be 24, but if there is one thing I have learned in these last couple years, it is this: The more we get to know and understand people, no matter who they are, the more we love them no matter what. It doesn’t matter if they are a Muslim in favor of a mosque in NYC near the WTC, or a student who spits on you in the face. If we understand, we love.

And love never fails.

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Globalization

I recently heard that Basketball isn’t a well known (let alone popular) sport in Africa.

For me, I found this to be odd. Growing up in the Seattle area, I ate, slept, drank, breathed, talked, walked and somersaulted the game. I continue to follow the immortal words of Warden Wyatt in ‘He Got Game’: Doctor James Naismith knew what he was doing. But Basketball isn’t well known in Africa?? What about other places in the world…India, Indonesia, Iraq…am I mistaken to think that only the United States plays the game to such a level? The answer to that is simple: No (although it may not be resounding). It is played in the Olympics every 4 years, there is a World Championship every 4 years (unrelated) and the NBA has representatives from 73 different countries.

Now, I probably fit the mold of many citizens of the United States these days. What I mean by this is that “if I grew up this way, others throughout the world did too”. As I get older, (and smarter) I find this to be completely untrue. Things are different. And that’s not a bad thing. Let’s move on.

But something else struck me: Why not basketball?

Football, as it is known across the pond- or “Soccer” to all you Arizonians- is played, loved, worshiped throughout the world. I have no problem with that. Methodical, yet free. Team-oriented, yet individual. Patient, yet ubber-fun. It is a sport everyone can appreciate.

Can Basketball someday be considered the same?

I see videos and pictures throughout the world of kids loving to play sports and games (highly creative at that):

Basketball could be the same way. Deflated basketballs could be brought to countries, and pumped up on arrival (This is a chance for some of you to donate as well. Some houses could contain 3+ basketballs. Maybe 1 ball could be given up). The bottom of actual baskets can be removed for hoops. Bring nails. Find an open area with a wall or poll (A more advanced version could be actual hoops, nets, polls…gotta think progressive here). The game could be taught, played, and ultimately, loved. It would be a long, sometimes arduous process, but the greater the challenge, the greater the outcome.

Sometimes things fly though my head and I have to get them down on paper…or cyberspace…whatever the hell you call this (I’m new). But what if the Gospal could be brought to other countries and regions through this beautiful game? How many things can be taught? And…

Why do I feel like this should be taught in America, maybe even more so then the rest of the world?

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the best you are capable of becoming.

Starting the blog.

I wanted a theme that would capture what I’m about, and what I want to convey. I chose a portion of a quote/theme by John Wooden (the greatest teacher of the last century), who said that, “Success is a peace of mind which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you did your best to become the best you are capable of becoming.” I know, it’s kind of drawn out at first glance, but take another look.

Simple, yet challenging.

In any regard, welcome to the blog, I hope a seed can be planted.

I can’t believe I’m doing this.

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