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In Which My Heart Longs for Christmas

“I’m scared Miss,” he said as he pushed his seat back from the table. His face was in his palms, tears racing down his arms. “I’m scared that one day this will happen, and I will be dead in the street for it.”

My kids are struggling, and I don’t know what to say.
There are no words for this.
I can’t breathe.

The past two weeks have been brutal. Unrelenting. Painful. And I wish you could hear their stories. I wish you could see the look in their eyes. I wish you could see their faces. Because while the last two weeks may seem shocking to some people in this country, its never been shocking to them. They know. They’ve always known. This is their reality, our reality. The past two weeks have torn our hearts apart, and my kids are hurting. We’re all hurting. We’re tired. I can’t begin to explain how tired we are.

The trees and the lights feel empty this year. How do I celebrate this season of joy when my babies are terrified for their lives? How do I enjoy the cheeriness of it all when my kids are pleading for a chance to be human? How do we cling to hope when we just can’t seem to catch a break?

And so, today, more than ever before, my heart longs for Christmas – for the Messiah, the Prince of Peace, the King of Hope. My heart is longing for Him more than ever because there is no way in hell we’re going to make it through this without Him. I long for His Presence.

And 2,000 years, and 7,600 miles can’t keep his arrival from being a present reality. In the darkness of night, with the boot of Rome at their throats, with nowhere to go, in the humblest of circumstances, the Christ child was born unto them, unto us, unto all of us. That is the God that I know: the one that longs to be close, the one born into dark, in the midst of oppression, in the midst of the pain. Christ came to us. He comes.

In this season of Advent, my heart is longing for Christmas, longing for Christ. I am longing for the Christ whose mercy and grace listened to the hurting woman at the well. I am longing for the Christ whose words and actions protected the adulterer when the world turned against her. I am longing for the Christ whose righteous anger flips tables in the temple to wake up his people from their sin. I’m longing for the Christ whose heart is with the hurting, the oppressed, the marginalized, and the unheard. And tonight I am on my hands and knees begging him to be present with me, with us, and with them.

I could give you facts, and articles, and statistics, and numbers. I could give you history, and current events, and a million documentaries. I could give you everything I know about systemic oppression, and injustice, and how it is betraying millions of people in this country, but it is all so empty if you don’t see their faces, don’t hear their voices, don’t know their names. There are people who are hurting. My kids, myself, and communities of color everywhere, we hurt.

Inside of the high school where I teach, there is a quote that my students pass by every day:

“If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl,
but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.” – MLK

Today, that is my prayer for them, and for me, and for us. And some weeks are flying weeks, but this one, this one right here, this was a knees to the floor, hands on the ground, inch by inch, crawling. Jesus, teach us to listen. Teach us to choose to look into the eyes of the hurting, and teach us to not look away. Father, teach us to hope. Teach us to cling to the hope that this can be different, that this can change, that it won’t always be like this for us. Papa, teach us to fly. Teach us to lead in the listening, to be the first to be humbled, and the first to serve. Abba, teach us to keep moving forward. Teach us to crawl, to enter into the suffering of others, to be witnesses of your love to the hurting, and to keep pressing on, even when our hearts are in pieces. In this season of Advent, our hearts are longing for You more than ever. God, be with your children who are hurting. Be with my babies today. Come, Lord Jesus. Come.

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In Which A Million Apologies Will Never Be Enough

To all of my half-Christian, Sunday Christian, used to be Christian, kind of Christian, questioning Christian, and hating Christian friends:

I am sorry. I am so incredibly sorry. 

I am sorry that we have been so quick to talk about love with our mouths and so slow to live it with our lives. I am sorry that we have chosen destruction over compassion. I am sorry that we have become people that are overwhelmingly known for what we hate, but hardly known for that which we love.

You may think I am crazy, but I am begging that you would forgive me for the ways in which I have failed to love you, respect you, and see you as brothers and sisters in all of this. My heart aches knowing that the ones who have been called to represent Love Himself have represented everything but that. You don’t deserve the ways in which we have treated you, and I am sure my heart could never be as broken as your is, but I, too, ache.

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And to all of you that have left the Church, that have left the faith, or that have been forced to stay as far away from us as possible:

I am sorry we have failed you and hurt you.

And I know that a million apologies will never be enough to fill the holes we have dug and heal the pain that we have caused, but let me be the first to tell you that I am sorry. And you have every right to hate us. You have every right to ridicule us, to spurn us, and to do everything possible to avoid us and wish us gone, but please know that any person that uses faith to minimize, burden, or harm others has done so out of his or her own, personal agenda. Please know that their hatred does not reflect me. Please know that their indignation does not reflect the opinion of the Church or the theology of our faith. And please, above all else, know that their words and actions do not even come close to reflecting the deep love the Father has for you. If you couldn’t tell already, us Christians are desperately in need of this Savior, Jesus.

It is my heart’s greatest desire that I would be given one more chance to listen to you, one more chance to draw near to you, and one more chance to show you that at my core, all I’ve ever really wanted was for you to know how loved you really are.

And I’ve heard it said before:

We take the clean, living water of God and place it into our rusty buckets only to curse the water as if the water were bad.

The water was never bad, in fact, its the best thing this world has to offer. I’m sorry that our rusty buckets have really just made a shit show out of all of this.

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And finally, to those of us that are still convicted to be a part of the Church:

I am begging you to WAKE UP.

Where have you been? Where have you been as the world has been hurting? Where have you been as the stones are being tossed? What have you been doing as the broken world has needed you? How have you chosen the ways of the world over the ways of Heaven? And I’ll be the first to admit that I am still struggling to answer these questions for myself.

I don’t care where you stand on social issues if your first response is to spout out hatred instead of seeking to understand, repair, and love. I don’t care what you think about gay marriage, health care, abortion, gun control, immigration, or any any other sensitive topic  if you haven’t taken a moment to pause and pray and seek out the Third Way in all of this. Because Jesus always offered us a Third Way.

When a zero-sum game is played with human lives, no one ever really wins. 10,000 hungry children  should never be bargaining chips for a hate-filled agenda, especially when doused in a full measure of haughty righteousness.

And some of us, including myself, will be quick to conclude that we have nothing to do with any of this. We will be quick to say that we think, talk, act, and live in a world outside of this cheap, nonsensical, evangelical machine. And we can tell ourselves this all we want, but at the end of the day, this is more of our problem than we want to admit.

 

Because the Church is a hot mess, but SHE’S OUR HOT MESS.

And if Jesus Christ hasn’t given up on her yet, how can we?

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And so, I pray with a heavy heart tonight, that we would represent, and re-present Love to a hurting world. I pray that we learn to listen more than we speak, love more than we hate, and humble ourselves like never before. I pray that we become ordinary radicals that are dedicated to building bridges between Heaven and Earth. I pray that we don’t lose sight of the power of love to repair all things, and when we do, I pray that we have enough humility to speak up and make things right.

The best revolutions have always been born out of heavy hearts and a deep desire for something different. Now is that time.

I still have faith in you and in us. I still have faith in the power of grace to listen, vulnerability to unify, forgiveness to strengthen, and love to heal. I still have the audacity to cling to hope, and I still dare to believe that the Living Water, in its truest form, has the ability transform lives in ways we never dreamed of.

Together, may we begin to re-imagine what love can look like in our lives and in the lives of those around us. No one should have to live another moment not knowing that they are so incredibly loved right now, right where they are.

 

To God Be the Glory,

Veronica

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The True Heroes: A Note on National Autism Awareness Day

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Today is National Autism Awareness day. As a Special Education Teacher, I have the honor and privilege of working with students on the Autism spectrum. Working with students with special needs in downtown Los Angeles is definitely an adventure. I’ve never done anything harder. This is where people usually pat me on the back and tell me that I “…must be a very special person to work with special ed kids.” This is where they look at me with eyes that think they know. This is where they smile and make it seem like I am some kind of hero. I’m not. I’m far from it. I cringe that people could see what I do and think it was heroic or special because the work of loving others belongs to all of us, and the kids are the real heroes in the story. 

And I’m not sure where we got this idea that the ability to work with people with special needs was only meant for a certain type of special person. The work of loving our neighbors belongs to all of us just the same. This was never about me. It was always about them.

On this special day, and every day after, may we consistently seek ways to be more aware of those around us. May we recognize that diversity comes in all shapes in sizes, but may we also recognize that this means we have a role to play in building a community of mutual trust, understanding, and above all else, love. This includes those that span the full spectrum of diversity, neuro-diversity included. When we judge someone based on their diagnosis, we miss out on their abilities, their beauty, and their uniqueness. The world misses out.

When I think about the true heroes in this world, I think about my kiddos. These kids, these ones right here, these are the ones that press forward despite their struggles. These are the ones that dare to have hope in the face of hardship and oppression. These are the ones that won’t take “no” for an answer and refuse to let the fire inside of them burn out. These kids teach me what it looks like to persevere and seek joy every step of the way. These kids are my greatest treasure.

My prayer today (and every day) is that we don’t miss out on the incredible hearts and minds of people with special needs simply because we are ignorant, scared, or unwilling to live with the heart and eyes of Christ. I pray that our eyes are opened to the beauty of differences, and I pray that we as a community continue to seek ways to understand and love those that are different from ourselves.  That process is not always easy, in fact, that process is one of the hardest things I have ever done, but our greatest calling will always to be to choose love and community in the hardest of places. Our kids will always be worth it.

The world cannot afford to miss out on another brilliant mind, loving heart, and beautiful soul because failed to recognize the treasure that lies in awareness, appreciation, and understanding. I promise we won’t regret it.

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Livin’ that Seattle Life

I’ve been in Seattle since Tuesday for a Special Education conference with my fellow teacher, grad student and partner in crime, Stephanie. Here are a few of our adventures so far…

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Being away from Los Angeles always gives me clarity and perspective. It reminds me of the “more” that I seek. It helps me return home to myself. Needless to say, I’m enjoying myself quite a bit. Steph and I have managed to make our way all over this small, little city. This place isn’t too bad…rain included.

Besides being called the “Rainy City,” a name it rightly deserves, Seattle is also called “The Gateway to Alaska.” From maps and clothing to art and photos, Seattle begs your compass to point north, north toward “The Last Frontier.” My heart has always longed to see and experience the wild of Alaska for myself. That being said,  this summer I have decided to spend 5 weeks in her great unknown. The planning process is in full swing at last and I am so excited for the adventure to unfold.

Time to head back out into the rain.

To be continued….

                                                                                       Grace and Peace,

                                                                                                                                            Veronica

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March 8, 2014 · 4:32 pm

Refiner’s Fire

Sunday is my favorite day of the week. Everyone knows that. I like to start my first day of the week in Sabbath, in Sunday stills, in a “don’t rush me, make me work, or give me a schedule” kind of way. On Sundays I chill. Hard. Core. Its a day to be filled with gratitude – gratitude for God’s grace last week, and for the week to come. It is slowness to let go of my control, and stillness to enjoy His peace and presence. And its not because I have nothing I should be doing, believe me, there is ALWAYS work to be done. Sunday is the day I rest in His great work and enjoy life and time and nature and loved ones. Sundays re-center me. They bring my heart home. This Sunday’s celebrations dug deep.

Last week I thought I lost my house and everything I owned in a wildfire. The Colby Fire in Glendora grazed the backyard of the house I live in with six of my friends. You know that “getting-to-know-you” game we play? The one where you imagine your house was on fire and you only get to save three things from the inferno? This week we played it for real. The full story is a crazy one, one that has to be told in person for the full effect, but to make a long story short, our house was spared by the grace of God, and it was a very close call.

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Even though we didn’t lose any things in the fire, I would venture to say that I lost more than I thought. Flames licking over the back wall of your yard have a way of making you think fast and hard about your life, and what you need, and what you want out of it. Fire always has a way of refining. 

To be honest, I came to terms very quickly with the fact that I lost everything, and to be even more honest, it wasn’t really hard. You see, there are things that we can control, and there are things that we cannot. I have spent way too many years of my life trying to control things that are absolutely out of my control. This week, we were helpless before a sea of flames, and there was nothing we could do about it.

And even when we don’t have control of a situation, we will always have control over how we choose to react to it. In some crazy way, this fire reminded me of how blessed I am. And its not because my house was saved, or because I have all of my possessions in tact. Love is my home, and I am so incredibly blessed because I get to share this life with the most incredible people I have ever known. They make this place and this life home to me.

In the past few days, I have realized that my life will never be secure. Things happen and people change. We move, and switch jobs, there is life and death, and there are moments it all comes together, and times it all falls a part. And sometimes, there are freak wildfires in January, and you almost lose everything but the clothes on your back and the breath in your lungs. Somehow, that insecurity is part of what makes this life so good and these moments so sweet.

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Today I woke up in a bed that I thought I’d never see again, in a house I thought was ashes, and I am thankful. I am thankful for this quirky old house where we dance in the living room and slide in our socks down the hallway. I am thankful to see blue sky again instead of ash clouds, and I am thankful for the birds that made their way back to our tree to tweet me awake this morning. I am thankful for the firefighters that kept us safe, and the shift in the wind’s direction at just the right time (I’m convinced it was an act of God). I am thankful for these girls, and their hearts, and for the work that the Lord is doing in each and every one of them. I am thankful for my friends and family that have filled up my inboxes with prayers and love during the past handful of days. Today I am thankful that His hand of grace never left us, and I am thankful that it never will. 

The insecurity, the craziness, and the contentment I have found in all of this, has only made my life that much sweeter. Today I am thankful, and I will celebrate life and love and all the grace I have been given.  This week, I’ve gained the world having thought I lost it all, and I couldn’t be more grateful.

Thank you for being a part of my journey, and thank you for making my life so sweet. God is good (and He still would be even if our house burned down).

Grace and Peace,

Veronica

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The False Binary of the “Lesser of Two Evils”: Thoughts on Aggression, Passivity and the Third Way

I’m struggling with this talk of retaliatory strikes, brinkmanship and more violence. I can’t get the conflict out of my head. I can’t stop thinking about it, I can’t stop reading about it, I can’t stop praying.

Jesus was a pacifist. He chose peace, He lived peace, He initiated peace, He retaliated with peace. He, the Prince of Peace, He wasn’t just anti-war and anti-violence, He was pro-peace; because, pacifism isn’t the antithesis or absence of violence. It’s the presence of something else.

 And, that’s far too easy to say and so much harder to live, and choose and desire. That one concept, it changes everything. It changes everything about how I live, what I seek, who I am, and what I work for.

 Jesus. Is. Peace.

 And what does it look like to choose peace? When the violence of the dominant is reflected in the counter violence of the oppressed, what do we do then? Which violence do we react with? Which evil do we pick: the nothingness of passivity or the activeness of violence, they both lead to more blood. What do we choose?

And those are all of the wrong questions because

Jesus. Is. Peace.

He is the Third Way. He is not the violent power, the retaliation and defense or the silence of the crossed arms that do nothing. He ushers in peace with His presence, with His words, with His love. And when they threw stones at that woman, He stood in between the violent and the defenseless. He didn’t just sit on the sidelines, He didn’t just fight back. He was present. He brought peace. Peace is a person. Peace is a choice. Peace is the Way. It’s the third option.

And this is where the laughs begin. The snide remarks about idealistic Christianity start, the rolling eyes over a utopian world ensue, and most people would begin to tell me that the world I seek does not and cannot exist in the present. And that is where I’m convinced they’re wrong.

If a life dictated by peace cannot exist, cannot be practiced and cannot be lived, then I would fear that the life and work of Jesus Christ is rather meaningless to me. If it can’t even happen, what was the point? The Kingdom of God isn’t here, but its never going to be here until the people of God choose to live out Kingdom principles in the present. We have to choose heaven here if we want it to be here. We have to live it now and stop waiting for it tomorrow. If the work of Christ on the cross only brings us to the crossroads of having to choose the lesser of two evils, His work didn’t free us from much at all. 

When did Christians start trying to seek out ways to respond to violence? When did they start trying to classify themselves as “just defenders” or “humble pacifists” instead of simply responding to the words and works of Christ? When did they start trying to choose between the lesser of two evils and stop choosing the Third Way of heaven, the ways of love, the ways of peace and the ways of Jesus?

 And it’s impractical, I know. It’s impractical and unreasonable to not fight back. Its impractical and unreasonable to not call for violence when the whole world seems to be fighting, but the way of Christ is not the way of the world or the sword. The way of Christ is love.

 And so, how do we live now? How do we place sticks in the spokes of injustice? How do we actively stand in the way of the oppression, the injustice, the pain and the violence instead of passively doing nothing? How do we gently and intentionally use love to create ripples and waves of the Third Way instead of forcefully and violently using fear to perpetuate pain and chaos? How do we interrupt the status quo? We need new solutions. I’m tired of trying to solve problems with the same thought process that got us into them.

 How do we choose passivity and how do we choose action? How do we choose peace and how do we choose life? How do we choose heaven and how do we choose Jesus?

  Praying that the Lord would continue to reveal to us the peaceful ways of His love, His gentleness, His forgiveness, His justice, and His hope.

 Praying that we would learn from our mistakes and seek new solutions. That we would be innovators for new ways of peace and justice, and that He would teach us to shatter our false binary of the “lesser of two evils” and turn us toward the goodness and reality of His Kingdom. Praying that God’s people would begin to live out God’s ways here on Earth; that we would choose heaven here and now by how we act in the face of violence with gentleness, action, perseverance and compassion. Praying that He would give us wisdom in our ability to critically think and problem solve in ways that bring about lasting peace through enduring love, because we’re all looking for redemption. And redemption can be through violence, but it can also be through love. And the Father will always be the great Redeemer. Praying the Lord teaches us the ways of His redemptive love. Praying against violence and for the Presence of Peace. Praying for this nation, praying for our government, praying for Syria, praying or peace.

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 “Our truth is an ancient one; that love endures and overcomes; that hatred destroys; that what is obtained by love is retained, but what is obtained by hatred proves a burden.”- The Society of Friends

 Its time we interrupt the status quo of violence with a healthy dose of peace.

 We need it desperately. 

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Teaching, Learning, and Life at the Animal House

I finished week number two of teaching…38 more weeks until the end of the school year! Every day rushes by me, and it has been a whirlwind of hard work, constant prayer and deep joy that has has kept me moving. Working on founding a new school and founding an entire Special Education Department from scratch is no joke, but I love my job. USC Hybrid High School has become my life. Located on the first floor of the World Trade Center in Downtown Los Angeles, the school is becoming a beacon of hope for underserved, low-performing students to receive the education they deserve.

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Our dream is that all of our students graduate high school, and are all accepted into 4 year universities. Its a big goal. We know.

At our heart is this core motto:

“We use our careers and degrees to create positive multi-generational change.”

We’re not just talking change for our kids. We’re talking about change for their families, for their communities, for Los Angeles, for this nation, and for this world. The work is hard, but the kids are worth it.  The Lord has been incredibly faithful in providing me with the job I’ve dreamed of since I was a toddler. It is an honor to be used as a servant of His will and use my career and degree to create positive multi-generational change in our students. Every day I learn more about who I am, who God is, and where we’re headed together. There is no place I would rather be than right here.

 

Also, I’ve moved into a new house once again! We call this place the “Animal House.” Why, you may ask? Because there are animals. Literally. Raccoons, coyotes, bears, etc. I work in a high-rise and live down a dirt road, up a hill, and in the trees. The house is old, and has lots of character, but we love it. The flat roof makes for perfect star-gazing nights, the citrus and avocado trees surround us with new life, and finding a corner of nature in the concrete jungle I’m always in has been the perfect retreat. I love it here.

 

More than the house and the increasingly large list of things I love about it, I love this house because of the beautiful hearts, souls and smiles I live with. The Lord hand-picked every one of my 6 roommates to fill this house with their lives and their stories, and I’m daily amazed at how He always outdoes Himself. Undergrads, grad students and working professionals, we’re all in very different stages of life, but the heart of the Father is our middle ground. 

In the past year, the Lord has taught me volumes about what it looks like to live and love in community. Community is the place where tangible grace, forgiveness, mercy, joy and love can be manifested here on Earth. Community gives me glimpses of heaven. It equips me to go out into the world and build bridges between heaven and Earth. It reminds me that I’m not perfect, but I’m covered in grace. And, above all else, community continually points me toward the heart of the Father. This house is a place of healing, a place of freedom, a place of restoration, a place of joy, and a place of grace.  The Lord has some wild plans for what He is going to do in this house over the next handful of months and it is a blessing and honor to be a part of His work at the Animal House.

 

Cheers to my first two weeks of my big girl job and the house full of love I come home to! Praying for all that the Lord has, that my heart would seek only after His will, and that He will use my life for His glory. Praying for more of His Presence. Lay it on thick, Papa.

 

Grace and Peace,

Ms. V

 

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