Gosh Darnit…Who Knows?  Maybe They Will.

There are so many cool things about working at a community college, and I’ve gotten to meet students and faculty from all sorts of learning, cultural, family and economic backgrounds.  But there have also been far more moments in the past few months of beginning my work here when I have found myself distraught, sad, mad, and frustrated in finding out how behind some of my students are, and then seeing my own limits in being able to be patient with and support them in ways they may need.   If I slow down for some of my students who have trouble keeping up, my other students who are keeping up are disappointed.  And if I go at my usual pace, I lose some students.  There seems to be no pleasing everyone.

Several weeks into class, I found out that one of my students did not even know how to sign into canvas, had trouble reading and writing words that should have been mastered in elementary school (I am not exaggerating), and struggled with a learning disability that he didn’t know to tell me about until I asked him to visit the access resource center.  I would be lying if I said I was always hopeful, patient, encouraged, and able to give him the support he needed.  In fact, he totally bombed his first group presentation with the final product looking something like him facing the wall and stumbling over reading each sentence on the powerpoint (that his partner made entirely without his contributions) line by line.  I’m pretty sure I went home and cried a little.

But today was one of the days I was reminded that all students deserve a chance.  And while not all students might make it, I’ve learned that gosh darnit…who knows?  Maybe they will.  We had another presentation coming up in the class, so I grabbed the same “face the wall and read off the slides” student for about 10 minutes after class to remind him about the presentation and guidelines, showed him how to use powerpoint which he told me he didn’t know how to use, and basically looked over his shoulders to make sure he finished working.  I told him it was unacceptable for him to face the wall and read each line off the slides, and that he had to practice and memorize exactly what he was going to say.  And come presentation day, guess what happened?  He came to class dressed up in a nice dress shirt (which I didn’t even ask him to do), he memorized the darn presentation, and presented like his other classmates!

After experiencing this today, I feel both elated and confused.  I have the same questions I started with, but with even more intensity.  What do I do for the countless other students like this one who may need that extra individual push and support?  How do I balance having high expectations for my students, offering them the support they need to get there, all the while being realistic about what I can offer as faculty and as a human being?  So many questions…so little answers.  But for now, I think I’m going to take a sip of tea, and cry a little, as I celebrate what sometimes feels like a rare teacherly moment.  And then, hope and pray for more in my future years to come.

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Jesus of Gethsemane

 

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*Christ in Gethsemane by Michael D. Obrien

A recent reunion with last year’s short-term mission trip to Uganda brought back a flood of unprocessed thoughts that a year’s worth of time (and some thinking) was not enough to demystify.  A little over a year ago, I had just gotten back from Uganda.  My return kicked off changes in my life that left what happened in Uganda a blur.  People would ask me how my trip to Africa was.  Normally, I would be excited to share.  But I remember just feeling exhausted…and then feeling bad about how I felt when friends asked me about the trip.

I knew, for one, that although I had initiated interest in the trip, I had intended on just paying my dues and coming right back after.  It wasn’t until I invited one of my graduate students along that she had asked me if we could stay there longer to do additional service work.  I remember feeling slightly resistant, but in the end relenting, knowing that I didn’t want to take away from her experience and that I might not have this opportunity again. Being a strong feeler, I felt disappointed by the lack of passion and drive I was used to feeling in accepting what I believed was a divine invitation to adventure (especially as a former worship leader).  One of the last things I felt I would be for someone else as I shared after the trip was inspirational.

I think this is why I find the story of Jesus at the garden of Gethsemane so appealing.  The past month or so, my mind has been caught up in what happened that evening at the garden.  While my experience doesn’t compare to what Jesus experienced, I feel drawn to Jesus of Gethsemane because of the understanding and affirmation I feel from Him.  What strikes me about the picture of Jesus praying before he is betrayed is how emotionally messy it I would imagine it would have been for Jesus as he stepped into His ultimate act of obedience (Matthew 26: 36-46; Mark 14: 32-42; Luke 22:39-26).  He is described to have been sorrowful, troubled, distressed, in anguish and sweating as if his blood were tears.  He even asked his Father if it was possible to not have to experience what he was about the experience (death).  But He was ultimately obedient.

What’s interesting about my trip to Africa, was that despite fighting exhaustion, I did so much on the trip.  I’ve been on a number of service trips before, but this was the one trip I saw all of the things God has been developing in me come together for the benefit of other people.  He used my expertise in adoption to speak to other Ugandan educators about special needs orphans at an academic conference.  And then my background in child development on a traveling panel, where we sought to meet and exchange information with educators and practitioners in different towns throughout.  Even my dreams to speak encouraging and even directive words to the leaders there.  I was so impressed at how missions was done there…what seemed like the perfect combination of grassroots, ground level work (e.g., home visits) and top-down systems change (e.g., partnering with the government leaders, teachers and professors, parents to develop better teacher preparation programs).  I knew I had experienced an example of how I wanted to do missions in my life.

Lately, I feel Jesus of Gethsemane beckoning me to come close and commune with Him.  It’s humbling that He isn’t afraid to show me what could appear to be the “ugly and messy” side of His perfect humanity.  In thinking about the Mount of Olives, I felt Jesus’ great acceptance of what happened in Africa.  That despite the fact that during the trip, I at times felt resistant, conviction-less, exhausted, and scared…He could accept my actions as adoration.  I felt a vindication from the lies of the enemy that plagued me, condemning me that my feelings showed I didn’t love God.  God, indeed, recognized my “ugly and messy” act of obedience as a true act of love.

On this side of the cross, I am so grateful for Jesus’ obedience.  Who knew that one of the “ugliest and messiest” processes in our history would be the first step in what I believe to be the greatest breakthroughs in human history?  We would be profoundly mistaken if we always took our “ugly and messy” process (or other aspects of the flesh) as a gauge for the meaningfulness of our experiences.

 

 

Workplace Culture

 

One of the big questions I’ve struggled with as I began a career as a faculty member was how my Christian faith might influence the life of my classroom.  This question especially came to a head as I took on a course this semester on controversial issues in the field. We covered tough topics that many people tend to avoid talking about like racial discrimination, gay/lesbian parenting, and sex education.  I stepped into the class with a great deal of anticipation for conversations we could have in class, but all the more fear of the unknown, that I would mess things up or miss an opportunity to allow God to do something powerful.

I wanted to create an environment where students felt safe to express their opinions, could wrestle through difficult issues together, and challenge one another respectfully. After seeking the counsel of other Christian colleagues and mentors, I knew I had two goals as a Christian academic—

1) to pray for the class and class environment regularly (that I would be able to walk in truth and love, not fear and that students would be able to get to know Jesus more through the class), and 2) to create a class environment that allowed all perspectives to be expressed and discussed (including the Christian).  From a practical standpoint, I did the latter by trying to include both secular and religious perspectives on the controversies during lectures, having students themselves create ground rules for discussion during the first class, and protecting ideas that students might normally shut down during discussions without much thought.

Just last week, one of my students sent me a message in response to what had happened in class that day.  Our topic was social media and adolescent development.  Little did I know, the student’s niece had recently attempted to commit suicide because of cyberbullying, she had shared about what had happened during class. Her message to me that evening after class read:

Hi professor. I just wanted to say Thank You, Thank you for creating a safe environment in the classroom. I was struggling with sharing and not sharing what happened to my niece since it was so recent. At the last moment I decided to say it. And it felt so good to just to talk about it, to know that I can talk about it without being criticized. No one pressured me to give details, they accepted what I had to share. I think I was holding it in for the longest time. And I felt comforted because I felt like the class and you understood me, giving me amity. No one stared at me like they were judging me, no one made a comment on how I lost it up there with wanting to cry, no one laughed. So thank you, one of the only classes I have had in years where I felt safe to share one very personal experience. 

For me, it was a day just like any other day.  But God was faithful to answer my prayer that afternoon as I walked to class. He is Almighty God, and He can even work through class norms and lectures to reveal His divine nature. And I believe that for this student, Jesus revealed Himself in the classroom as a God of safety, understanding, and comfort.

Woman with the Alabaster Jar

Lately, I’ve been contemplating the life of Mary of Bethany.  In the Bible, we see a small portion of it in a story of a sinful woman who came to Jesus’ feet, covering it with her tears and expensive perfume.  Luke 7:36-50; John 12:1-8; Matthew 26: 6-13; Mark 14:3-9

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Mary of Bethany was known by her entire town to have lived a sinful life.

Yet she stepped into a place where she knew she would be subject to judgment (the house of a Pharisee) because Jesus was there.  She did not withhold but took something of great worth (a year’s salary) and poured it on Jesus’ feet.  She viewed herself as a maidservant before Jesus…not even worthy of looking Him in the face as she stood behind him, taking on the role of washing His feet and preparing the ointments.  She showed her affections by kissing His feet, perhaps because she felt unworthy of the kisses on His face or body.  She took her hair, a symbol of devotion and a woman’s beauty, and used it as one would a towel to wipe her tears off His feet.  The curiosity and astonishment that such a scene would invoke in a person watching would only highlight the object of her affections, and what it was so great about Him that she would seem so blind to all else around her.

The realization of great forgiveness means potential for giving great love…the extravagant, humble, worshipful, and courageous love that this sinful woman had.  Works, because of the faith she had (not the other way around).

I am reminded of what worship leader Kim Walker said in talking about her current challenges with motherhood in relation to her growing relationship with God.  She described it in these words, “I understood in that moment what He [God] wanted. He was asking me to reach down deeper inside of me and to bring him something more. He was saying, Kim, every time you think you’ve given it all and surrendered all, there is still something deeper, something more inside of you to bring and to give to Jesus. Because the reality is Jesus is worthy of every single thing that I have inside of me. Jesus is worthy of all of my praise and all of my worship….And just when I feel like…I have nothing left to give….But yet, I still will reach down inside of me and I just reach so deep…and I find something in the depths of me to bring and to give to Jesus…my sacrifice of praise, my offering, my worship” (Kim Walker, Embracing the Season Sermon).

Makes me wonder, though…what would be my posture if ​”​Jesus came into my house”​?  Would I be able to give great love?  ​Seems like a question and a challenge I will have to continue answering to for the rest of my lif​e.  But ​if what it takes is not even dependent on what I’m capable of…maybe there is hope for me.

Rise up, Daniels and Esthers!

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Messages on a bridge in Seoul are meant to remind residents of their family and friends. This one says, “Have you eaten yet?” Reuters/Lee Jae-Won

South Korea, also known as the Republic of Korea, is the southern part of the Korean peninsula in the East that holds about 50 million people.  Behind the country’s progress as one of the fastest-growing economies in the world is a story of great heartbreak.  South Korea has the highest suicide rate of all OECD member countries.  These graphs only begin to tell of its long struggle…

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Suicide is the leading cause of death among 10- to 19-year-olds in South Korea.  Most young South Koreans who commit suicide are believed to do so because of bullying and family problems, and every day, 219 cases of school violence are reported.

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This past summer, I had the opportunity to go back to South Korea through a program that brought 9 Stanford students to teach English in a more rural part of the country called Geochang.  We worked with over 200 middle school students, teaching them various subjects in English.

I had participated in the program as a teacher the previous year.  But through a series of different events, I was placed into a position this year that would allow me to develop the curriculum and supervise the teachers. The really cool part was that in one of our classes this year (social studies), we decided to integrate social justice themes on bullying.  The curriculum is by no means perfect and needs more work for sure, but we had hoped that it was a start in a good direction.

bully 3bully 4Besides learning the English to talk about bullying, students participated in an anti-bullying campaign where they were able to vocalize their stand against bullying through posters.  Students also learned the different terminologies and strategies of dealing with bullying and becoming an upstander.  Teachers, of course, had the academic and professional freedom to adapt the lessons in their classrooms, but were given a curriculum that both implicitly and explicitly reflected Jesus’ example (John 8 – “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her”).

I think this trip was significant for me because I not only realized that God often puts very precious things into our hands, but also, that we always have some degree of freedom to decide what to do with it (Matthew 25:14).   I remember feeling a weird sense of “fear” when I realized I actually had a strong say in deciding what got taught and how.  And that it was God Himself who favored me into this position.  It’s scary and exciting at the same time.

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I believe that as Christians in graduate/professional school…just like Daniel and Esther…we may enter into a time of preparation in which we are called to learn “the language and literature of the Babylonians” (Daniel 1:4) or even to complete “12 months of beauty treatments” (Esther 2:12).   But soon enough if not already, we may also enter into times when we are given an opportunity to decide what to do with it the very precious things God has placed into our hands.  

Daniel and Esther responded with integrity, excellence, revelation and courage, and I believe that we will too.  

 Rise up, Daniels and Esthers…may we go forward in boldness! “Who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this” (Esther 4:14).

the object of Jesus’ heart

A little over a year and a half ago, I began a  journey to discover God’s call for my life.  He brought me through an adventure that ultimately asked me to surrender everything I was holding onto other than Himself.
A year and half later, I find that I am no where near figuring out where He is leading me in my career.  What I’ve found instead was that God was more interested drawing me toward a more intimate knowledge of His heart than in giving me the clear directions I thought He would give me.
This would ultimately be how He would transform me.  Because once you see the contents of His heart, He will inevitably begin to expand yours.
I thought I had narrowed it down when God showed me His heart for “orphans” through His Word and asked me if I wanted in.
I said yes, and then He spent the rest of the year and half defining it.
I learned that I had signed up for something far beyond what I had originally thought.
This is what I’ve learned.
God’s love is so deep and expansive that our human minds and hearts cannot contain it.
I asked God to influence my work.  He said yes.  You will know me.
Not exactly what I thought I had signed up for.
…but far better.
How bad do you want to know Him?  Because He will show you and it will blow your mind.

*Hephzibah, **Beulah

Today was a long, but good day.  I spent the whole morning handling some paperwork at De Anza and got my faculty ID card….BAMM!

I guess it’s really gonna happen…
Anyway, I came back to school and worked a bit on my fellowship application and on one of my study breaks, I went to Old Union and read an excerpt from “Surprised by Jesus.”  There was this one section that talked about one of my favorite passages in the Bible (Isaiah 61) that goes:
“The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.  He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
And the author said something that made me think.  He said something of the sort that in context, the passage was not intended to be about the literal poor, brokenhearted, captives, prisoners.  But about the nation Israel, which was in exile in Babylon.  They were separated from their God because of their iniquities and their sins hid their God’s face from them.
And then years later, Jesus proclaims that this prophesy has been fulfilled in the people’s hearing when he reads the scroll of Isaiah in the synagogue.
What surprised me was that I had always taken this passage quite literally, but in Jesus’ ministry, I can see that there had always a deeper mission than the mere physical.  Yes, he heals so that the blind can see, the lame can walk, the dead man live.  But could it be that these physical ailments were pointing to a deeper human need?  Could it be that Jesus was showing in the physical that in the same way we yearn for a doctor to heal our physical wounds, our soul yearns for a Savior to heal our souls?
It’s almost as if I need two sets of eyes.  One that sees the physical, and the other that sees the spiritual.  A powerful thing happens when the two worlds collide.  It’s like being taken into a new dimension of reality where we as human beings are given physical access to spiritual realities.  So much so that we can taste it, see it, smell it, feel it, touch it.
In the same way my heart can break when I see parentless children, I can feel Jesus’ heart for spiritual orphans who don’t have a Daddy.
And the joy of Christmas is this, that the prophesy of Isaiah has been fulfilled through Jesus.
No longer are we fatherless, but we have someone we can call Abba, Father.
“The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.  He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
And Israel will again be called Hephzibah and her land Beulah.
*Hephzibah=my delight is in her
**Beulah=married