Ashes For Beauty

 After a school year spent sitting in other people’s chairs, I was eager to have a chair of my own as school started this fall.  After a roller coaster where I thought I had a job and then I realized I did not, now I am back sitting in someone else’s chair again in an interim position next door to a classroom I thought might be where I’d spend years.  Then last week the school I was non-renewed from 14 months ago had a few spots open and I decided to apply. The principal was no longer there, and I felt like I had great relationships with the people left there.  I knew it was a risk, but I decided to do it anyway.  I could tell you this really long story about how I had an army of people behind me, amazing recommendations from principals, and a fantastic interview, but I’ll just get to the point and say about the time I was listening to Journey sing “Don’t Stop Believing” in a T-shirt shop the size of a postage stamp in a tiny village in the North Georgia mountains my phone rang with bad news. Despite all those awesome things, the job was not mine.  Once again, I was not enough.  I’ve come to live with rejection so often these days we need bunk beds.  (With my dumb luck, rejection probably snores and sleepwalks.)

If you are going to have really bad news thrown at you, the best human to drag on a road trip with you is a guidance counselor.  She can talk you through it, help you laugh at yourself, and drown your sorrows in a river when she takes you tubing.  So, on our adventures the next day we decided to zip-line off a mountain, and we saw a pottery shop as we left where we thought you could paint pottery.  As it turns out you can no longer paint pottery, but we took a look around.  We saw this set of mugs on the shelf and the lady told us those mugs were really special for a big reason.  They were wood fired.  This made little sense to us, so she explained further.

Wood fired pottery is special as the process is not only time consuming, it is labor intensive.  Few people use wood as a fuel to fire pottery.  It is hard to produce identical pieces because where each piece is placed in the fire creates the results.  It’s chaotic in nature, and though it can create beautiful pieces, most potters would rather have a consistent result.  Fire will have a range of temperatures throughout the kiln, so each piece will be unique.

The mugs she showed us were created identical, but the mugs were not all exactly alike.  She explains that there was no glaze on the mugs at all.  The fire created the glazed look as the flames hit the surfaces.  Flashing is the name given to where the fire hits the piece directly and in the places where the fire touches the unglazed pieces those places are the prettiest.  So, if you are a piece of pottery, you want to be directly in the flames.

She directed us to another shelf where two bowls were.  She showed us they had the same markings, but they were completely different.  One bowl was amazingly beautiful up close.  The sister to this bowl was okay, but not shiny at all, and would fetch less money.  The only difference in them is how much the fire touched them.  She took the beautiful bowl down and showed us the inside.  It has this amazing looking interior in the bottom and she explained that that was ash glazing.  This type of firing made even the ashes beautiful.  The ashes get so hot in the kiln, they actually turn into glaze and glass.

I was amazed by all of this and then I had this striking thought. Sometimes life burns us when you expect one thing and get another.  Sometimes you put a lot of time and effort into something you think is going to be amazing just to be disappointed.  Then there are times that we realize that on the other side of the intense heat we feel, we will be better.  I guess I’m not ready to leave the fire just yet, but on the other side of this I will be stronger.  I will have marks where the fire touched me, but they will be beautiful.  Even the ashes will have purpose.  Even the ashes leave beauty.

Sitting In Someone Else’s Chair

I remember the day I got the key to my first classroom. I was shocked someone trusted me enough with a key to something I saw as so valuable. That key represented I was part of something bigger than myself. It was acceptance. To some people that key was a paycheck, a duty, or stacks of papers to grade. All I could see was the difference I wanted to make.

Today, in sharp contrast, I waited for an assistant principal to unlock the door of the classroom where I was to spend the day in someone else’s chair. I thought about the lack of a key, and how locked out I feel right now. The difference I wanted to make does not go away with the absence of a key. Without a chair of my own it would be easy to feel not quite a teacher, and not just a babysitter either.

What makes you a teacher? What makes anyone what they are? Is it the key that fits in the lock where they work each day? Is it the chair they sit in? What about the papers on their desk? All of those things I no longer can call mine, but I still feel like a teacher. I still hold teacher credentials. Are those the key? But I’m reminded of the months I was still in school to get my teaching license, and I was an intern at a local elementary school. Even then I felt like a teacher. So, a teaching license doesn’t make a teacher a teacher either.

I think what makes you a teacher can’t be tangible. I think of Jesus sitting on mountains, roaming around with followers. He had little with Him. He needed no Promethean Board, paper clips, or red pens. He didn’t need a textbook or a list of important words hanging on a wall. He had followers, or students, because of the example He gave. He taught with kindness, loaves and fishes, and a fisherman’s net. He taught with stories, ones that made you think. He never held a teaching license, never had a key to a building, never graded a stack of papers, and never had a chair to call his own. His teaching was nomadic, but clearly effective. I have to wonder if He knew the difference He was making. I’ve always heard that if a student didn’t know how much you care, he won’t care what you know. I’d say Jesus probably understood this better than most.

So I guess I am left having to take a note from what Jesus never said, but instead did. I’ll travel from classroom to classroom sharing a chair with some great teachers. My message is different, and not as important, but it is what I am supposed to do. I’ll do it with a willing heart knowing I don’t have to have a key on a key ring, a red Swingline stapler with my name emblazed across the top, a bookshelf full of curriculum, or a chair to call my own. After all, the greatest gift a teacher can give his or her students is to never stop learning. So far, I’ve learned a lot about teaching from students, content that I normally don’t come into contact with, and about myself.

Who needs a chair? Real teachers never sit down anyway.

Not Quite Found, But Safe and Sound

When I was about 13 years old my friend Kelli and I decided to walk to another friend’s house.  It didn’t seem like that far of a walk, there was safety in numbers, and we thought we were adults. (We were really really wrong.) Really long story short, we got lost.  We thought we knew where we were. We had our landmarks, were in the woods, and after walking for at least 2 hours we never made it to our friend’s house.  The woods simply got the best of us that day.  To make matters worse just as I stated that things could not get worse the heavens opened and poured rain and we heard a sound of thunder.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this the last few months.  You think because you know your way around somewhere and you have landmarks,  you are safe from getting lost.  This is just not true.  I got lost on my way home this year, metaphorically speaking, and I felt like I knew exactly where I was going.  I felt like I had a plan on how to get there, and just when I thought I had it all figured out, the metaphorical rain started pouring from the sky.

Every little piece of us makes up the whole.  When we feel broken, we forget that even while we are broken, our parts are still there.  You can be broken and still be a whole person.  Sometimes we find the pieces of ourselves in the places we wouldn’t think to look, and for me the place I wouldn’t have thought to look is in the rear view mirror.  While I’ve been feeling lost I’ve come into contact with a few folks that I felt like had already come into my life and had gone out of it forever.  I think sometimes people are in our path to remind us of who we were before we got lost.  We all can use a reminder sometimes.

When my oldest child started middle school she joined  a club sponsored by my former 8th grade middle school teacher. She came home and said she wanted to join a club, and she told me the teacher’s name.  A few weeks prior to that the same teacher and I had a conversation at the front of the school on registration day.  This teacher played a huge part in why I wanted to be a teacher in the first place.  I was a teacher’s aide for him in 9th and 10th grade during my study hall because the schools were right next door to each other.  I was allowed to grade papers, decorate the bulletin board with wild abandon, and help students if they needed extra help sometimes.  So, here I was, fresh out of a teaching job because my contract wasn’t renewed, and here he was reminding me of the things that caused me to want to teach in the first place.  I needed that reminder, and I’m glad to have crossed paths again. I’m blessed that now his legacy will extend to my child.  I picked up a piece of myself that day that I had neglected to think about in many years.

This week I was substituting my final few days  in Algebra 1 and my 7th grade homeroom and math teacher walked in the door.  She smiled a big smile.  She came straight over and hugged me, and said my name.  She said my name, and I hadn’t seen this lady in 22 years.  She was one of my favorites, but more importantly she was the first person that showed me what it meant to be in a middle school.  That was a scary time, but she helped me grow my confidence, and her sense of humor always made math fun.  I knew she was important to me, and she held relevance to my life.  But it was her that said my name first.  That meant somehow my life in her class hadn’t been forgotten.  After she left I found myself smiling the biggest smile and tearing up at the same time.  A teacher makes a huge impact, and to be remembered brightened my day.  It made me hope that one day, I will remember a student’s name I run across, even 22 years after they sit in a classroom with me.  It was just a moment to her, running across a long lost student, but I picked up another piece of me.

Some pieces of ourselves aren’t pretty.  Some pieces have doubts, confusions, hurts, anger, and failures.  It’s the rare person that can tackle those parts of us and not grow weary, but another person I knew from long ago came back into my life last year and did just that.  This friend is the reason I told my students in Algebra on the first day to be very nice to people this year because you never know if your friend that can help fight your worst battles in a few decades will be sitting near you in Algebra class.  Some people don’t just give you one piece of yourself back.  Some people hold up a mirror and make you see the whole person again.  You just can’t put a price on that.

Some words aren’t big enough.  Some words attempt to convey meanings, but never can cover exactly what you are trying to say.  Sometimes your heart is so full you can’t fully impart upon others the exactness of the spirit of your words. I have had moments in the past year that have helped me pick up pieces and decrease the amount of lost I feel.  I am surrounded by fantastic people.  Grateful doesn’t quite cover it, and even when you are still kind of lost, grateful feels pretty good.

Headed Home

It has been said you can’t go home again, and I can attest to that. Home changes as you go through life. Home isn’t a real place. Home is a feeling, and depending on how you were raised or what your life was like up until this point those feelings can vary. When I was young, home was many places. Home was my house, my grandparent’s house, school, and church. I dwelled in those places, lived there, made them my own, shared memories there, and finally left them. Those places are actual places, but the memories are the real “home”. Once my father died, my grandparents died, I finished school, and the church ceased to be home because of the people I lost no longer attending I didn’t consider those places home anymore.

Home, once I married, was a place where my family was. It was a place where my children learned to walk and talk. They grew and made memories there. They lost teeth, they celebrated birthdays, they played outside, they hunted Easter eggs, and Santa showed up. Once again, those places ceased to be home once we moved on and moved to another home. Each time we moved more memories were made, and each time those places took on a sense of home.  Memories are the childhood.  Memories are the home.  You might not be able to go home again, but you can’t lose home totally as long as you have your memories.

So what happens when you lose your sense of home altogether? It turns out you don’t die. You feel like you might at first, but you don’t actually die. A few weeks ago, on the heels of moving out of my “home” because of my impending divorce, I lost my job. That job was what kept me afloat this past year. You see, I teach. Every day was something new and every day I lived to go into the building and see these tiny humans and share their lives. I loved the pictures they drew me, and their smiles fed me. They kept me human. They made me laugh at times when I didn’t feel like I would ever laugh again. They got me out of bed each morning and made me sad to leave each day, and they never even knew it. They were my home when my own home felt like a war zone.  I lost two “homes” in one week, and now I have a clean slate to start with. Sounds empowering to some, but it’s a daunting task in actuality.

What should home be? Home to me is a place to feel safe in your own skin. It’s a place to share conversation and laughter. It’s a place for inside jokes and great food. No one judges you at home. Home is a place you hate to leave, and you love to return to as soon as you can. It’s a place to make memories. Home is where your desk can be a bit messy, or you can read tacky fiction and no one is the wiser. Home is where you can decorate however you want. Home is where no one tells you how many books is a tolerable amount. Home is a place to be you with no one telling you differently. It’s a place for your people, or your person.

Being in search of home is an odd place when you are in your 30’s. Most people my age have it together, and here I am feeling a little lost. The good thing about being lost is you can’t stay lost forever. Even if you don’t move, the places you are become home. Memories are made there, and you can develop a sense of home anywhere. It is okay to feel lost. It’s okay to wake up and feel like you don’t belong somewhere. It’s okay to know you are on the way to somewhere great, but you just aren’t there yet. In a way that’s where we all are. We are all on our way to somewhere great, and we aren’t there yet. And that? That’s okay.