Real Things

I just started a fantasy reading/writing unit with my 8th graders. Fantasy is not my favorite genre, but it is full of depth, struggle, quests, characters searching for truth; all of these are such relatable topics, which makes teaching fantasy really fun for me. As we were planning, learning, and understanding about fantasy this week, one of my students in a writing conference told me he hated fantasy and asked me if evil can win in his story. Here is what he and I have learned since asking this question…saving the best for last.

First, he discovered that he really just hates the “…and they lived happily ever after.” This is something I’ve been thinking about for a while, and in complete agreement with him, I told him that I hated it too. I needed to know more, the why. “It’s not real life, Miss Youtzy. It’s too perfect sounding.”

For me, I’m reflecting on this standard that we set for ourselves, our friends, our lives. Having all the answers and putting on a confident front…where did that even come from, and why is that a thing when it’s not even real? What about honesty, or anticipating the disappointment, or letting someone else be a better…whatever’s in your blank. I’m currently all about the risk. The determination that the end goal is more worthy than the fear. Than being “perfect sounding.”

Second, he learned that he just wants to show the struggle, that there is suffering, that there’s something in the struggle that’s good. We talked about how all fantasy has to be based in some sort of reality. The audience has to follow you to this place. And that to throw suffering in our stories you can throw your suffering in the story.

Recently I had a friend tell me, “You’re in the suffering, I can see it.” One of the hardest parts of my week was telling my dearest 7th graders I will be Assistant Principal next year. They wanted to celebrate…they hooted and hollered and clapped and cheered. And then I realized they didn’t get it. After explaining, one student even told me, “But you could do both, teach and AP, you’re Miss Youtzy.” And another, “How will I ever get better at reading and writing without you?” The push and pull of this semester.

My same friend also told me “We can only celebrate to the degree we are willing to grieve.” This semester I grieve leaving kids that I love and subjects that I love. Yet, I celebrate. I celebrate new beginnings of starting at Seattle Pacific this summer to get my Master’s and becoming the Assistant Principal of Highlands. I celebrate these four years I’ve been in the classroom and the students I’ve taught and that have taught me. I celebrate one of the best lessons I’ve learned…that I can’t be all business. The incredible moments I remember with the students are when there was no business. Today was no business. We celebrated The Carnaval holiday with water games and of course the epic teacher vs. student water balloon fight. The business drives me, but it is not all me. We have to take time to step into the story of others and invite them into our story. It’s innate. We were created for this.

Last and best, I asked him if it’s possible. If it’s real. If evil can really win? I knew this really wasn’t his issue or what he desired to show in his paper, but it was a good reminder. If evil wins, then everything is dark and hopeless. And so I asked him, “Does evil win in real life?” We already know the ending. Jesus comes back. He wins. Satan gets crushed and destroyed. Even the world’s best attempt at evil with the cross of Jesus turned into the greatest reversal.

Lately there have been so many “evils” in my organization, NICS. Our school in Afghanistan had to close mid-year due to elevated terrorists attacks. My heart is grieved for my friends and their students who lost their school, culture, and job mid-year. The inflation rate in Venezuela is creating havoc for our school and my friends who are trying to live there. North in Lima, a teacher lost his wife over Christmas break to an aggressive and late-find cancer battle. It seems almost weekly that we are adding another school to our prayer requests.

But, evil doesn’t win. God promises to use these things for His good. There are wonderful things coming for NICS. My bosses will be at our annual job fair the next few weeks, recruiting new laborers in the harvest. I’m praying that two of them are a principal (so I don’t have to be assistant to myself), and a woman of God who can step in to my HIS middle school role.

I leave you with a verse that has been on my heart this semester. Psalm 90:12 “So teach us to number our days, that we may get a heart of wisdom.” Reality is flying by, but I know the wisdom is in staying present…in real life.

…because I love you

Yesterday evening I spent some time writing thank you notes to some people in my community in La Paz. Monday after school word finally hit the Highlands staff that while I am staying another year, I will be the Assistant Principal as of July 1. It’s pretty wild to look back and see how God has been working behind the scenes to orchestrate all of this. For me, getting to celebrate with some of the people who have been journeying with me through this process was so honoring. While that night brought many laughs, smiles, and encouraging moments, I couldn’t help but wonder what this semester will bring.

Me with the new HIS Director, Barry.

Me with the new HIS Director, Barry.

January-June gets messy for teachers and staff. Those who are staying start dreaming about next year and those who are leaving are trying to figure out how to live up these last days in La Paz. And those who are staying and have close friends leaving battle the weird in-between. This is where I’ve been J-J for the past 3 years, this one coming with the hardest weird. My in-between has Educational Leadership Degree, Assistant Principal, last semester in the classroom, finishing well with boss #1 and #2 and their families, and dreaming and planning for next year with boss #3 on my mind.

Over Christmas break, I had the opportunity to visit Seattle Pacific University. I was able to stay with my small group leader from college and two of the other girls from our group joined us in Seattle, making this adventure even more special. The ways that the Lord has led me to this school and confirmed it’s what’s next is unreal. There are many unknowns within this…like when will every detail fall into place and of course, should I cheer for Seattle in the Super Bowl?

Steph, Veronica, and I in front of the first Starbucks

Steph, Veronica, and I in front of the first Starbucks

Public Market!

Public Market!

Snoqualmie Falls

Snoqualmie Falls

While my heart has every right and desire to be excited about the summer and this upcoming fall, it’s also battling to stay present in the classroom. Every moment is one lesson, awkward comment, silly day closer to the last day of this school year. I’m not sure when, if ever, I’ll be a classroom teacher again, and I definitely want to enjoy each and every moment. Like today, a student asked me if he could go outside the classroom to blow his nose. Earlier this week I had to read the end of a book for a student because the suspense was too much. And so I tell myself….Stop. Smile. Laugh. Enjoy. Be.

Harder yet, I’m saying goodbye to great leaders. My roommates joke that when they can’t find me in my classroom I’m probably in the office. They are so wise. Which boss’s office I’m in really depends on the day, but lately I just want to pretend it’s not complicated – living in this semester and preparing for the next.

The week after I found out my new job was a go, I was going over writing expectations with my 7th graders and told them they needed to write the whole warm up time so they can learn to love writing, and while we were talking about love, I also told them that I love them. It reminded me of the scene from Up when the dog appears on the old man’s porch and tells him, “I was hiding under your porch because I love you.” This line is a favorite movie quote in my family, and I had to share it with my students. First, I love that the dog admits to doing what he was doing because he loves the old man. But also, the old man’s reaction makes me laugh because he’s so surprised to find the dog on his porch.

That afternoon in reading, I showed this clip twice because they begged me, but also because they reminded me that I need to stop. To be. To take it all in. To enjoy. To share life together. To feel claustrophobic as 20 students all jumped out of their seats and crowded around my laptop, straining to hear the words coming through its speakers. And while it was playing, I thought about all the things God is orchestrating in my life, just “because I love you.”

With the semester going further into the in-between and the clip still on my mind, I don’t want to be surprised when God shows up on my doorstep at different times from J-J because I long to expect Him. And secondly, I’m choosing to hear His voice say, “because I love you”, as it floats on by.

Change, peace, and peanut butter M&Ms

This isn’t anything new, but I work with middle schoolers, and they are fairly hilarious. From the phrases they say to the trends they start, my heart authentically lies with these strange, created-in-the-image-of-God beings. One phrase that I could truly live without, and, despite the number of times I get on my soap box about it still appears everywhere is never change. It makes me want to throw up a little. It’s cheesy, unloving, unbiblical, and unrealistic to the core. The reality is, God calls us to change. 2 Corinthians 3:18 says, “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.”

Unfortunately, while I know this never change phrase is foolish, I think I find myself living inside the dream of it; the dream place where God doesn’t have to change me or my world to transform me into His likeness. It’s hard, messy, painful, uncomfortable. Earlier this month I had to answer this question, “How do you facilitate change, especially if you perceive it may be met with some resistance?” If I didn’t have to be professional, I probably would have screamed or laughed. Instead, I found myself asking, “What change isn’t met with some resistance?”

There is an abundance of change coming my way, some of it I’m choosing, some of it I’m resisting, but ultimately I’m working on embracing…because I can’t live in middle school phrase-land, accepting never change as a reality. In 11 school days, fall semester will be finished and I will have said goodbye to two students that I dearly love who are on their way to other countries. In three weeks, I’ll be checking Seattle off my bucket list as I visit a potential college for my Master’s degree that I want to start this summer. At the end of this school year, I’ll be saying goodbye to two of the best bosses I’ve ever had (ok so maybe the only bosses I’ve ever had, but that’s beside the point!). And then next fall, I’ll be returning to Bolivia for my fifth year, potentially embracing more leadership responsibility.

Some days, the thought of all of this is enough to make me want Jesus to return. And when He doesn’t, to eat all of my peanut butter M&Ms stash from The States. Lately, there has been a lot of conversation around this verse in Romans, “for those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit.” Youtzy basic current interpretation-Flesh mind: never change. Spirit mind: peace.

I’ve also been chewing on this verse after my friend read it to me a week ago. Isaiah 54:10, “for the mountains may depart and the hills be removed, but my steadfast love shall not depart from you, and my covenant of peace shall not be removed.” I live at 12,000 feet; hello Andes Mountains. If the mountains disappeared, La Paz would forever be different. A whole new place.

Likewise, God is changing things up, removing a lot of my current “scenery.” Part of chewing on this verse has been rewriting my Youtzy version, “for the students and bosses may depart and your role consistency be removed, but my steadfast love shall not depart from you, and my covenant of peace shall not be removed.” And the swag thing is (more MS phrases for you), I feel it. His love and peace are penetrating the wild and crazy. And at the end of the day, I hope that my students, you, and I are ultimately saying, only to the Lord because we confidently know he will–never change.

Harvest month (or is it year?)

When the month of October started, I knew it was going to be crazy and I knew the weekly events would cause me to go a bit insane as I said goodbye to my schedule and routine. At the same time, I knew that God was and would be on the move, and I was eager to see what He was going to do.

Parent-Teacher Conference week was the beginning of the crazy as that week was full of planning for meetings with parents as well as getting ready for “The Americas” Director’s Conference. Sometimes PT conference season is incredibly hard, and this go round I was really thankful to be meeting with parents of my 8th graders. While I’m not sure anything will ever compare to my “crying because I love your child so much” conferences 2 years ago, these are a good bunch of kids this year, and I enjoyed meeting with them and their parents to encourage them and help them with items they need to be a more successful student.

The Monday of the following week, HIS hosted the NICS Director’s Conference for Team Americas. I was blessed to have the opportunity to sit in on some of their meetings. It definitely created craziness amongst our students to have so many new faces to bombard and craziness in my schedule as many of the afternoons others were subbing for me. At one point, the students cheered when they realized I was actually going to be teaching them for that period…don’t worry, I missed them too.

To kick off the DC, the director from Lima came to share his testimony and the Parable of the Sower to my 7th graders. During this time, he gave students the opportunity to determine what kind of seed they were and to decide if they wanted to follow Him wherever He would lead. Some students rededicated their lives and one came to Christ for the first time.

In the middle of the week, the director from Brasilia, Brazil shared in middle school chapel about the Word. He challenged the students to read the Word even if they are confused by it or if it doesn’t all make sense. Since then, many students have been walking around saying, WORD. I love it.

This week we kicked off Spiritual Emphasis Week, and for an hour and a half every morning, the students heard from John, a youth pastor from a church near NICS headquarters about making disciples. It’s been an intense week. Walking alongside students spiritually is so much harder than teaching them how to read and write in a new language. God has absolutely been at work, drawing students unto Himself. Earlier in the week, John had the students write out their story. What was their life like before Christ? When did they come to Christ? What has their life been like since Christ? Today to close out the week, I watched one of my students share her story with the entire middle and high school. What prompted her to give her life over to Christ? “I got to the middle of my story and realized I had never actually made a decision to follow Him.” SO POWERFUL. After that, I watched 8 other students make the same decision and then 3 more after that.

I’m not ashamed to say last night I was in bed at 7:00 and was long asleep by 8. I’m exhausted. This is my fourth year in La Paz, and I don’t think there’s ever been a riper harvest. I’m telling you, it’s an honor to be a part of, but such a wild journey. I’m reminded of Jesus’ words to his disciples in Matthew 9. The harvest is ready, and to be honest, we need more laborers. As my students recommitted and committed for the first time during DC, I found myself in tears in my director’s office. I want to walk alongside these kids (and now the kids from SEW, too), but I seriously cannot do more outside of the girls I have already committed to and my other responsibilities in this community. Please pray that workers would rise up, other teachers, high school students, my current discipleship girls, etc. to walk alongside these new brothers and sisters in Christ.

Finally, I want to leave you with this. In our Women’s Bible Study, we have been reading through the book called Grace by Max Lucado. The final chapter is called chosen children, and this is what I love. “Adopted children are chosen children. God saw our entire lives from beginning to end, birth to hearse, and in spite of what he saw, he was still convinced “to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to Himself through Jesus Christ. And this gave him great pleasure.” (Eph 1:5)…To live as God’s child is to know, at this very instant, that you are loved by your maker not because you try to please him and succeed, or fail to please him and apologize, but because he wants to be your father.” My students just got a brand new family AND a perfect Father. Some this week, some last week. Cheers to new members of our forever family.

September and then some

September was a kind month to me as staff and students got in the groove of school and schedules became routine. The craziness of August somewhere disappeared and little by little my other issues got solved as well. I signed final paperwork to release our maid, and everything cleared up between us, her, and the Department of Labor. I also submitted my paperwork for my visa, although I have not seen or heard anything for a while, and I am praying that is a good thing!

I also had a good month with my students in the classroom. It has really been a joy to spend my days with them, and the more I step out of my task-driven teaching and into relational teaching, the more they tug at my heart. We have had some good laughs together this past month, especially when the flies began to overtake our lives and I taught with a fly-swatter in hand for a good week.

Taking down flies, one at a time

Taking down flies, one at a time

Discipleship is also in full swing. The girls and I have been discussing the importance of the Bible, why we read the Bible, how to read the Bible, etc. Out of these conversations came excitement over accountability, reading various plans at the same time, the ways they could check in with one another outside of group, and creating a schedule so that we could pray for one another. Recently conversation sparked after discussing world religions in History about how much there is to know about God, and how we could study and strive to know him our whole lives and still not know everything. One girl said as she was studying these other gods, she was surprised by the people’s ability to believe in them despite them being punitive.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what she said. I serve a really big God. This God gives us dreams and desires. He fights for us. He provides for us. He is a multi-tasker. He gives grace. He doesn’t run out of strength. He goes before us. I’m thankful these truths as I enter into a crazy upcoming October season. This weekend, many representatives from NICS are arriving to La Paz for the South American Director’s Conference at Highlands. The following week is Spiritual Emphasis Week. I’m not completely sure what God is up to right now or even what He plans on doing in the rest of this month, but I’m praying that I will wait upon Him and know that He will be faithful to provide strength for where He leads.

The top and not so top 10

Football season is upon us! For me, that means lots of checking in on ESPN’s website, which always reminds me of their top ten plays of the week. Everyone who loves sports also knows about the not top ten, which often brings more excitement than the good plays themselves. So, in light of my very scattered brain and many circling thoughts, none of which deserve an entire post, I give you the top and not so top ten of life this past month.

Top 10
10. Getting really excited about teaching writing and implementing Penny Kittle philosophies to really make my students better writers
9. Purchasing an iPad over the summer and getting a kindle donated to allow students to read and write on technology in their classes
8. Allowing life to happen in the middle of class. For example. When asked to write down prior knowledge about Cinderella, one of my boys shouts, “she was hot,” which sends all of them laughing for the rest of class and into the next.
7. Starting discipleship with my girls and working through the ways Satan tries to destroy us so that we can live in truth
6. Starting up family groups in chapel again and hearing one group rant and rave about how much they love teaching the lesson to the younger students
5. Tutoring with a student and coming up with characteristics of God for homework and then turning the conversation into his favorite characteristic and why
4. Challenging, pushing, and watching my students dive into my craziness that I like to call teaching.
3. Launching a request to my students to find bravery and be brave and then see an example that nearly brings tears to your eyes of a student making a hard choice to reach out to another student.
2. Reading through Max Lucado’s book Grace. Thinking and the thinking some more about what the world would look like if we followed Jesus’ model..”Sequence matters. Jesus washes first; we wash next. He demonstrates; we follow. He uses the towel, then extends it to us saying, “Now you do it.” Walk across the floor of your upper room and wash the feet of your Judas.”
1. Deciding that it’s worth it to live out this quote…to find the edge and take risks. “People who take huge risks aren’t afraid to fail. In fact, they love to fail. It’s because failing mean’s they found the edge.”-Love Does, Bob Goff

Not So Top 10…life and middle school blunders
10. Walking out to get in our taxi for school and the taxi man had a flat tire
9. Getting ready to go outside on pedestrian day, only to have it start down pouring
8. Winning $15 USD at the grocery store but not having my ID aka couldn’t pick it up
7. Finding grass in a student’s hair and then realizing it was because they were having a grass party and someone threw it in there
6. Waiting forever for a Skype chat only to realize that the keypad had been locked and kicked my friend out for a long time
5. Playing softball with the staff and my fielding capabilities being so rusty that I got a giant bruise on my shin that still exists today
4. Miss Youtzy, I just dropped my locker key in the toilet.
3. Thinking the lady who wanted to talk to me on the street was a stalker until she said she’s been wanting to meet me forever, we have mutual friends, and then hands me a plate of homemade cinnamon rolls
2. My maid quitting, then her going to the ministry of labor to create a month of complete ruckus.
1. My visa pretending to be fixed but actually just entering complete crazy.

Happy September! Looking forward to whatever this month brings!

Disruption

Mornings always come sooner than I like, and it was no different when I was leaving for Bolivia. Spoon and yogurt in hand, I zombie walked out the door, thankful my dad had already loaded my suitcases in the car. I remember driving down the interstate that morning (or was it still night since it was dark out!?) smelling the fields of corn and feeling like I could drink the humidity right out of the air. Unable to go back to sleep, I found myself asking God for a disruption free day. For me, it had been a solid two years with airplane and airport drama. “We’re sorry, the weather, the airplane, the flight, the flight crew, your baggage, blah, blah, blah.” I just wanted to get to my apartment in Bolivia without hearing I’m sorry, having to rebook, and find my luggage.

Flight after flight, everything fell into place, all the way to my nice taxi driver who offered me a blanket he had when he looked in his rear view mirror and saw me shivering. “I keep it just for the customers,” he said. “Isn’t it cold outside?” I had to smile. This man wasn’t even going to allow the cold air to disrupt my transit back. With the morning glow on the mountains as we descended into the valley, I couldn’t help but think that God was really showing off.

Looking back to that moment, it seems like so long ago. Work week came and went with lots of hours in meetings, lack of motivation and sleep, and Bolivia Department of Labor drama with our maid-which continues unresolved. This week I found out that my visa is a mess, spent too much of Tuesday in student issue meetings, and last night my boss called to cancel school today due to marches.

In the meantime, I’ve been trying to schedule a conference since I’ve been here and recently got a reply, “I’m sorry, I should have anticipated more disruption than I have.” I had such mixed thoughts reading those words. I laughed, oh the disruption; I smiled, yep it’s real; and then I was angry. The beginning of the year always brings out stories of those past; for me recounting awkward dentist and doctor visits, trips to the ER, and anything and everything that I’ve now learned to laugh at. But sometimes I wonder if anything in this country is easy. If there is any reliability, any justice, any stability.

About two weeks ago, a friend sent me this quote. “Our desire for stability is a God given desire designed to draw us closer to God, the alpha and omega, the only stable thing in this broken world. We don’t have to feel guilty for wanting stability – we just have to direct that desire towards Christ rather than try to find it in controlling ourselves and our surroundings.”

I keep thinking about this disruption, about my desire for stability. The more I chew and process, the more I believe it’s less about anticipating the disruption and more about trusting myself and my surroundings to Christ. Truth is, the disruption, whether I am in the United States or another foreign country, is always there, but I feel it to a greater extreme here because I’m less in control. I wonder if God’s smiling at me, wondering when I will embrace the disruption, the willingness to trust that He knows about my instability.

1 Samuel 2:2 says, “There is none holy like the Lord: for there is none besides you; there is no rock like our God.”

The beginning has been crazy to say the least, and this year will have more disruption. Every moment, though, God promises to be my rock in the midst of it. I’m not great at remembering that and far from perfect at trusting, but in faith I completely believe that God will make His name great here in Bolivia. And it will probably be more wild than calm.

I updated my top 5 so you can pray for my disruption!

The last melon

My siblings and I have been known to quote movies. It’s kinda this weird sub lingo that just happens. There seems to be a perfect line for all occasions; thus, enter the last melon. This quote from Ice Age when the dodo birds are protecting their three melons is hilarious. If you haven’t seen it, go. Right now.

Anyways, around here, the last melon can really mean about anything-the last piece of homemade pie, last cinnamon roll, the last steak, the last whoopie pie. Enter fight scene, complete with five boy fighters and one girl fighter. How will the battle for the last one end? Nowadays there is less crying than there used to be, and tonight it ended with the last ear of Iowa sweet corn still on the serving plate, our tummies full to the brim. Tomorrow, for me, the last melon means the last time waking up Stateside, last day with no agenda for a while, last breakfast with non-runny yogurt, I could go on!

When I think back on my summer, I can summarize it in one word, blessed. Whether I was on my couch, laughing with friends, catching up on all the best restaurants, enjoying English everywhere, or driving across the USA, I watched God pour himself out, just because He loves me. I shouldn’t be so  blown away by his goodness, but I am. We have a good Father. 

So many have asked how I feel about a year FOUR. Spoiler alert: the dodo birds loose all three melons. And while I think I might be just as crazy as those dodo birds, I know God has used the three years I’ve already served to impact so many for God’s glory.  It’s a wild ride every time, but I’m strapped in, ready to go, for whatever’s ahead…and savoring the last bit of summer! 

The End…

I’ve been wanting to blog all week.  My heart, mind, and soul is itchy to write, but THE END OF THE YEAR IS CRAZY. To be a little more honest, the students have been WONDERFUL this week. I really appreciate their willingness to finish strong and work until the very last second…or else! I’m thankful to have days that are more laid back because my nights and social calendar is NUTS! It’s hard organizing the perfect schedule so that you can see every person possible at the best coffee shop or restaurant with the most incredible quality time. AH! Thus, I haven’t sat down to write. And to be completely honest, I didn’t know exactly what to say.  I’ve been stuck.

My grades are all posted, checked, and rechecked. Tomorrow is the last full day of school. Friday is our party day, complete with family group basketball tournaments, locker clean-outs, snacks, and lots of yearbook signings. Everyone at HIS needs your prayers on so many levels, especially because Expats hate June. 

I hardly ever link articles to my blog, but this one was too good to pass up. Please read, enjoy, and then pray for me!

“You’re Still Working” – God

First and foremost, thank you to those who were praying for my “identity” week.  Many of the students had positive responses to this week.  I pleaded with them when it was over, telling them it’s not enough to just HAVE the knowledge, it has to be heart knowledge of those truths; tried, tested, and proven.  Please join me in praying that these kids would transfer it to their hearts and begin LIVING it out. Here are some encouraging reflections….

“I really liked learning that I am secure in Christ because as an MK sometimes there is a lot of pressure on me, and when I can’t meet these standards, I get insecure.”

“It’s really sticking with me how we have to know God’s Word so we are not blown away by other beliefs and the world’s teaching. I don’t want to be blown away.”

“Ms. Youtzy, you have showed me the way to find who I really am.  I was struggling because I couldn’t find my identity or my purpose. Thanks for helping me.”

And then God reminded me I was still working. I wish I could say that I was confident that God had enough power to save these students. But if that was true, I think I would have had a different immediate response to those who rejected it.  My heart was ripped up. Some of them were disinterested in the week, upset that they had to answer hard questions, and claimed to be bored. I yearn for these students to choose Him.  I have to remember that God’s Word is offensive and because someone rejects it doesn’t mean I failed. Even better, I have to remember that others have planted seeds, too.  The best truth to remember, though, is that God is SOVEREIGN. God is not done with them. Even if they go home to frustrating families, go off to high school, or even decide to leave the school, God is already where they are and will be.  God desires a relationship with each of them. He will continue to knock. So now I channel that yearning into praying that they would open the door.