Do they know?

We had to expel a student today.  A couple of weeks ago another student was expelled.  A third student is on the cusp of being expelled.  It is so tough when you work so hard to help them to watch them walk out the classroom door for the last time.  You know there is more going on in their lives than what you see–things at home, on the street, with their relationships.  You want to help but there is nothing you can do it seems.

Do they know?

Do they know when they walk out that door

there is a part of me that feels totally crushed?

Do they know that when I get home

I shed tears for them because I hurt for them?

Do they know that when they give up

it feels like I have failed them?

Do they know that every night

I pray for them even when they are gone?

Do they know that if I could

I would do everything in my power to keep them in my class?

Do they know that in my heart

they are my family–my children that I care deeply for?

Do they know?

I was warned when I started this job that if I cared too much–if I cared more than the students did–I would burn out fast.  Maybe that is true, but how do I go about not caring?  This isn’t just a job–it is impacting the lives of these young people.  If I, and the Escape staff/board, don’t care, do they have someone in their lives who does care?  Or will they go through life feeling like they aren’t worth caring about?  I cannot turn my emotions off or simply decide not to care for my students.  Yes, it is exhausting, frustrating, and painful.  But I know I have made a difference to the last two who were expelled.  They just had too much going on outside of school to deal with and so they bent under the weight of the burden of their lives.  But we at Escape have shown them Christ and His love.  We have told these young people that He is THE Way, THE truth and THE life and that He will be there for them if they accept Him as their Lord and Savior.  The seed is planted, it has been cultivated.  I believe that many of them, in God’s time, will produce a faith that will astound us.  Not because of what I did, but in spite of my failures while working with them because God can make all things beautiful in His time.

Amen!

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Kingdom Work

My emotions were on a roller coaster this past week.  On one hand, I was relieved and happy with the relatively quiet work the students kept busy with.  We even got back a student who had to take some time off for personal reasons–I was ecstatic to have this student back!  Yet, I felt like I had failed to meet the need of one student the week before.

The story begins with a young student who had a very rough life.  Neither parent was the primary caregiver for this student.  By all appearances, neither really wanted to be involved in this student’s life.  The student did not dare to let anyone close and was great at being able to manipulate to get what was perceived as needed or wanted.  Sweet and happy one minute, the student was able to turn in an instant and rattle off accusations filled with cuss words that would make anyone blush.  The emotional baggage this student carried due to circumstances was beyond my comprehension.  I wanted so much to show I cared but also held the student to a high standard I felt was reachable in the classroom, but somehow it never seemed to work.

Every time I thought the two of us had made some gains in our understanding of each other, the student would do something that caused me to become very frustrated.  The last straw was the day the student finished the one class she was willing to work on.  The last few weeks she had been working with another Christian agency trying to get them to take over her education.  Because she finished the class, she was under the impression she could leave right then and there but we had no paperwork to show this was the case and so she was not allowed to leave.  Determined not to do any other school work, she decided to do things that distracted the other students.  It came to a head after lunch when she decided to rap in a rather loud voice while in class.  I asked her repeatedly to please be quiet but to no avail.  I didn’t care so much if she was actually working on school work–I had told her she could draw or read; but keeping the others from their work was making the classroom rather loud and I was trying to work on a quiz with another student.  When I could not get her to quiet down, I went to the office for help.  In the end, she was expelled.  I felt like I had failed her.

I know I can’t “save” everyone–she needed help that I was not trained to give and if I had focused more on her I would have had to let others in the class down.  It just hurts every time you lose a student like that.  It makes me realize how God must hurt when we reject His help or walk away from what He sets before us to help us.  I am very thankful that, unlike me, God is able to help ALL His children and never give up on us.  Nothing is impossible for Him.

So, as we head into the final six weeks of the regular school year, I need to remember that God is ultimately in control of that classroom.  He will supply me with what I need according to His riches.  And, I am not meant to make any seed grow.  Sometimes, my job is to plant the seed as I did in the student who had to be expelled.  Sometimes I might water a seed that someone else planted in the past.  But only God can make that seed actually grow.  I am just so thankful He has allowed me to be used by Him for His kingdom work in this classroom.

Struggles along with the joys

It has been quite the roller coaster ride lately.  It seems that every time there is something exciting and promising happening, something else comes along to make me feel like I am crashing and failing.  It is so easy to say the devil is fighting against the good that is happening, but it isn’t so easy to actually stand against those flaming arrows.  When I first started this blog, I wanted it to be all positive and exciting; but guess what–that isn’t reality.  Sometimes there are struggles and it is hard to get back up.  Sometimes I feel like giving up and just want to curl up in my house with all the doors locked and the curtains shut and read a book to forget about real life.  Lately, that is where I am at.

Maybe it is just because spring break is almost here and the students are feeling itchy to be done with the school year, but it seems they have started to lose focus and are determined to push my buttons.  I am often feeling exhausted before lunch time which is not a good thing when dealing with these students.  I wonder quite often if I am making any difference in their lives–do they know I really do care?  Does it matter to them that I care?  Do they care about themselves at all?

In the past month or so,  I have felt one blow after another.  First, one of the students knew he would test dirty when his parole officer came, so he took off and went into hiding (test dirty means drugs in his system).  Last I heard, he was thinking of turning himself in.  He has so much potential but has been caught up in the gang life since he was born–a majority, if not all, his male relatives belong to one of two gangs.  It has been a week since we last saw one of our students.  He is classified homeless as he lives in a hotel with his older sister–we aren’t sure where his mom is staying, but we know it isn’t with them.  Today, a middle school boy told me his girlfriend is pregnant.  He doesn’t want to be like his dad–he wants to be there for his child.  But he is only a child himself!  These real stories tear at my heart and make me cry when I am home and alone.  To top it off, my uncle passed away today and it hurts because I didn’t get to say good bye and I won’t be able to have the finality of the funeral since we live over 700 miles away.

Yes, I am emotionally, physically, and mentally exhausted.  I have been doing my Martha thing and need to start being more of a Mary.  For many of you, you won’t quite understand what I mean so let me explain.  I just finished studying a book called “Having a Mary Heart in a Martha World” by Joanna Weaver.  Often we spend so much time serving in the name of Jesus but we don’t take time to be intimate with our Lord and sit at His feet to learn from Him.  I am studying the book of John now but still feel the need to be more intimate with my Lord so that I can be rejuvenated to better serve Him.  I spend much time in prayer for my students and my loved ones, but I do not simply sit and be still.  It seems like there isn’t enough time in the day for everything and I have let that part of my life suffer.

But, Sunday is coming–Christ’s resurrection will be celebrated Sunday–and spring break is almost here.  I will need to consciously take the time to rest and sit at the Lord’s feet during this break.  He will refresh me and give me what I need to continue on.

Changes

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As the vision for ESCAPE Ministries (official name ESCAPE YFGK or Youth For God’s Kingdom) continues to grow, there are many changes taking place.  Rooms are being re-purposed, new staff members are being added, more programs and partnerships are being developed.  It is so exciting to be a part of all this.  I am overwhelmed with what God is doing in Escape as well as through the ministry.  One of the exciting additions is Theda Fields.  Willie has great vision for the ministry and Theda has thirty years experience leading nonprofits and the knowledge of where to get grants and what donors are and so the two of them are a team that can’t be beat.  Their enthusiasm is so contagious and has infected the entire staff.  While we have always had a positive attitude, now we have an excitement that is palpable and visible to anyone who walks in the door.  They compliment each other and are working together to make some awesome changes.  I am so excited to be a part of this and to be able to watch how their visible faith and trust in God carries them to do the work God is calling them to.

However, I have had some tough days lately, too, as some students have left the program for various reasons.  One has run away/disappeared which is breaking his parole violations so he will end up in JD.  This young man has quite a background but at the same time has so much potential and my heart breaks to see him walk away like that.  Another is suffering from depression and just can’t deal with school right now so he is no longer part of the program.   At the same time, there were hearings for two middle school students who were able to get back into school after being suspended for several weeks and one student was readmitted to high school after a one year expulsion.  We rejoice when those things happen.

It is always an up and down roller coaster in the classroom with the individual students as well.  I always tell them I will trust them until the prove to me I can’t.  Then they will have to earn my trust back.  Several times in the past couple of weeks that trust has been broken by the same few young men.  I asked a couple of them if they feel I have shown them trust and they said yes.  So I asked them why they would break that trust.  It all comes down to the fact they don’t like the rules and aren’t used to following them.  They are so used to challenging authority, they don’t seem know how not to do it.  So, we begin all over and try to build the trust back up.

The church that normally does the Thursday morning Bible study wasn’t able to come this week so I decided to do something with the students.  We looked at God’s Thread–The Story of His Redeeming Love.  I made a power point that showed the story of salvation from Creation through Christ’s promise to come again.  I am praying that a seed might be planted or that it might have watered a seed that had been planted previously.

Ups and Downs

This has been a week with some pretty big ups and downs.  It is when I can truly see God working and it is a great reminder that Escape Ministries (or the official name Escape YFGK) is HIS ministry.  Just when things seem to be running smoothly, we hit a glitch which shows us God is in control and we need to trust him.

Over the holidays a church collected money and blessed us with a large number of “new to us” laptops they purchased from Holland Christian.  We thought we had them all ready to go, but we eventually found out the Holland Public School students were not able to access their online classes.  Their tech person who deals with the online classes was able to get them limited access so they could watch the lecture videos and practice what was taught but they could not access the quizzes and tests which was a bit frustrating.  However, God sent us a snow day and the gentleman who is above the tech guy was able to come and get all the laptops set up for full access–God’s timing.

Our second glitch this week was finding out that the local public school would no longer give us the free and reduced lunches some of the students qualified for.  Instead, they wanted to charge $3.50 for the little bit of food they sent over for each of them.  It started the next day.  I quickly sent out an email asking for this matter to be put on our church’s prayer chain and within 24 hours we were able to secure food and/or money to take care of the next several weeks of lunches and even some toward the breakfasts I have been supplying for the students.  I was so thankful to have food come the next day because several of the students were unable to bring their own lunch and would have gone without that day.  God’s timing and God’s provision!!

On Thursday we received the news that we will no longer have our AmeriCorps workers.  A glitch in some paperwork has led to them being taken out of Escape and they will be sent to other sites.  It leaves me with only two volunteers who come every day all day and three college students who come for a class for two hours a week.  This will be a huge challenge for us, but I am confident that God has a plan and in HIS timing things will work out.  We will definitely miss our two AmeriCorps members, but I believe God has better plans for both us and them so that He will be glorified in all this.

It is so amazing to look at each situation and see how God was in control and worked everything out (or is working things out).  Yet, as a Christian, should it really be amazing–shouldn’t I know and expect this?  I think so often we do know it but to actually see it and be able to recognize it is such a blessing that it amazes us.  I am so very thankful that I have such an amazing and powerful God and that I can have confidence that He will work all thing for the good of those who serve Him and to bring Him honor and glory.

Learning about Me

It seems amazing to me–I look back and cannot believe it has only been five months since I started my job at Escape.  Yet, it feels like I have been there all my life because I love the people I work with, am used to the routine of getting up and going to see my students (although there is no “routine” when students are always coming and going).  My mind is constantly going with thoughts and ideas of how I can do a better job for the young people I work with.  Even when I am trying to sleep at night they come to mind.  Prayers are constantly being lifted up for them, earnestly asking God to protect them and help them make the changes needed to make their lives move in a positive direction.

One area I have acknowledged  this week that I definitely need to change is my ability to be the person in charge.  I tend to tell the students I don’t allow things and if they continue I will have consequences.  But then I just keep warning them.  I ask my workers/volunteers to please do specific work with specific students or to please not use their phones to text/call/play games/ check Facebook but I don’t do anything if they do.  I need to show the students there are consequences for wrong actions.  I need to hold my help accountable because the students are quick to observe when I don’t and will take advantage of that.  I just hate to make others upset with me.  I don’t want to have a confrontation if I can avoid it.  But this does not make a good leader.  I need to do what is best for the students.  When one is in a position of authority, one is not always the most popular, well-liked person.  I will definitely be praying about this, asking God to develop me in this area.

Every day, all day, the expelled students sit at a laptop doing their online classes.  They are supposed to watch a video or two on a subject, practice what is being taught in the video, take a quiz, and then move on.  After several quizzes there is a topic test.  They don’t need to interact with others the whole day if they don’t want to.  I hate this part.  It isn’t real life where they will need to interact with people on a regular basis.  There is no brainstorming for solutions or hands-on, real-life learning that happens.  All of this is contrary to what I have been taught and what I have observed to work best for learning and retaining what has been learned.  I have begun to work on some “enrichment classes” so we can do some of this.  But I keep trying to figure out a better way to do this.  Unfortunately, I don’t think there is.  The students come and go at all times so they are at different spots in the curriculum as well as at different grade levels.  They come from different schools with different criteria for what is passing and what is not.  I feel like part of my gifts aren’t being used–I love to write lesson plans and am able to do a pretty good job of it.  It is less work and less stress which is nice, though.  Another item to add to the prayer list for work!

This past Thursday we went to Holland Rescue Mission to volunteer again.  The students that came with seemed to enjoy it and I think it is good for them.  Now I need to find a place to go next month.  I want to get them out and into the community so those who see them and interact with them will see they are no different than any other young person.

Enough of my rambling–thank you for taking the time to read my blog!

Learning as my students learn

I have been working at Escape Ministries’ Alternative Suspension Accountability Program (ASAP) for several months now.  I would never have dreamed this is what God had planned for me when I started taking classes two and a half years ago, but now I cannot imagine working anywhere else!

One of the first lessons I learned working with my students is that they are not really any different than the students in the regular education classroom.  Sure, they have taken weapons to school, sold drugs, been in fights, etc, but when it comes right down to it, they simply want to be appreciated and know that they are important to someone–especially to an adult that is in their life.  Often these students come from broken homes and have some pretty sad situations at home whether it be simply due to poverty or poor choices on the parents’ part.

Respect is one of the first gifts I try to give these students–that and my trust.  I want them to know they start with a clean slate in my classroom and I expect the same from them.  It is amazing to watch them transform in the first few days as they realize I really do respect and trust them!  For some, it is the first time in their whole life they have had respect and trust from anyone, let alone an adult.  It has blown my mind the way they change and warm up to me in those two or three days.

Unfortunately, not all the stories end with success and I am having to learn that I can’t change everyone.  It breaks my heart when I see one of my students fall back into his/her old ways and end up in trouble with the law.  I have begged the Lord over and over for some to care as much about their education as I do but sometimes the answer is no–or at least not yet.  It hurts to see such smart, potential young people walk away from an education that could open up so much more for them than gang life and prison.  But, I need to place them in God’s hands and trust that He had a purpose for our paths to cross.  Who knows, maybe a seed was planted or I watered the seed someone else planted and God will cause it to grow later.