to free all those who trust in him

O Christ who comes among us
He Qi / Nativity
Peace on earth and mercy mild
God and sinners reconciled

No more let sin and sorrow grow
nor thorns infest the ground
He comes to make his blessings flow
far as the curse is found


The Thing Is

to love life, to love it even
when you have no stomach for it
and everything you've held dear
crumbles like burnt paper in your hands,
your throat filled with the silt of it.
When grief sits with you, its tropical heat
thickening the air, heavy as water
more fit for gills than lungs;
when grief weights you like your own flesh
only more of it, an obesity of grief,
you think, How can a body withstand this?
Then you hold life like a face
between your palms, a plain face
no charming smile, no violet eyes,
and you say, yes, I will take you
I will love you, again.

-Ellen Bass


trabajador de la madera

Yo sé es la verdad, que estamos lejos (me la siento la distancia tambien).

Pero cuando nos vimos, te miré afuera y yo pensé que, yo espero que puedas platicar con un consejero. Espero que tu estás sañando. Y ya, espero que un dia, podrás entenderme y comprender (seguir) la mapa de mi vida como puedes.

Pero ahora, te necesitas entender mis límites nuevos. Es el razón mismo yo no puedo regresar para navidad. Contigo tambien, yo los necesito. Esta es una cosa bien importante en mi vida. Yo no puedo hablar contigo una vez más hasta hay un cambio.

Tambien oro para tí a menudo. Bendiciones.


walking after dark

Alder smoke and a lingering fear of dogs accompany my footsteps, the smell of Honduras fills my sleeping nose.

Last night I dreamed again of that haunting scene, playing out in so many faces and landscapes: the inability to stop someone from hurting you.

And you, I am sure, have forgotten the time you told her not to feel like you loved her baby sister more than you loved her, only that you could already tell you had much more in common with the baby and that you would simply probably connect more. But the girl you told was only eleven, and had never even considered those things before you spoke them.

And sometimes she wonders--could she have done anything differently to earn your liking? Why such strong disinclination, distaste, rejection from the very beginning? Was it that she took away your freedom? Became another object of love for your wife? Was it a lack in intelligence, in beauty, in maturity that pushed you away?

It is odd how much these things stick with us. Dreams, fears. The memories that tell the story of your life.

There are those we pray for without hope for change (some of my students' parents, for example, or one imprisoned for repeat molestation), and I wonder if this hurts G-d. How could a Being have seen even more than us and yet not give up, not quit hurting and speaking kindness and inviting? This is so far from my experience.

But I've been thinking of Incarnation, bodily, what it means that G-d actually became skin and bone and blood. Because if Incarnation is true and real, we are not redeemed from our bodies; we are redeemed in our bodies.

From possession and transactions of trade and brokered agreements based on meeting unmeetable needs, or at least needs we cannot meet in each other. From addiction and destructive behaviors. From self-loathing and from vanity. Who stands stranger to these things?

I believe in freedom, that to become free from even the deepest wounds is possible, and the only way to get there is through Incarnation. Through Jesus Christ, who entered into the suffering, the bleeding, the mess. Who does not turn away.

But sometimes I wish I knew of an easier way.


More from the Blue Ridge

''Also they had hot chocolate,'' fifth grade Julio writes as the fourth box in his story flow-chart, mapping the plot of The Polar Express.

Teaching is trying to help kids understand story-sequence, yes, and picking out what is important, but it is also first grade playground mediation and addressing the constant complaints of, ''Teacher, he cutted.''

It is playing Hide and Seek with kindergartners at recess, which really just means I chase them around while they scream with pleasure, and doing ''work-outs'' with second grade girls--jumping jacks, high knees, lunges.

It is covering a smile when little gangsta Sirgio tells me he has the ''chicken pops,'' rolling up a baggy sleeve on his skinny arm to show me the little bumps.

It is trying to figure out what to say when later we are reading a story and Sirgio looks at the picture of the reindeer and wants to know, ''Is that reindeer Chinese?'' He is laughing because he thinks this is funny, the reindeer's eyes narrowed in sleep. This is the little guy in Timberland boots who I often hear say things like, ''Girl, I'm Mexican,'' and, ''I'm half-Indian.'' He is six.

How do you talk about race with six-year olds? How do you teach appropriate playground mediation? How do you address poverty and resources when A. and F.'s parents donate Christmas ornaments and pencils and candy to all their first-grade peers for the Christmas party, and A. and F. are thanked in front of the class by the teacher? Or when some kids' parents come to the holiday concert, while other kids are left to perform alone? Do six-year-olds notice things like this? They are so much more astute than you'd think.

Oh for wisdom! And blessings to those little ones these two weeks we don't see them. They are so precious.


I was just reading about a project Apple did last year for the Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma, creating Cherokee keyboards and computers so that the language is not lost, so that Cherokee children can be taught in their own language at an immersion school.

So cool!


book review

The role of language and story was one thing that especially struck me in Ruby Payne’s book, A Framework for Understanding Poverty, which addresses the hidden rules and understandings of poverty, middle-class, and wealth cultures.

Payne discusses discourse of language, explaining the five different registers we use: Frozen (liturgical, wedding vows); Formal (standard sentence syntax—for school and work); Consultative (formal conversation); Casual (language between friends, full of non-verbal assists, 400-800 word vocabulary); and Intimate (language between lovers or twins, language of sexual harassment). (27)

To participate in larger North American society, a person must learn formal register English, either through acquisition (natural immersion) or learning (direct-teaching/study). Formal register is the direct, to-the-point, correct and complete sentence syntax used for job interviews, in the workplace, at parent-teacher conferences, for standardized exams, and more.

Lacking the ability to access formal register, a person cannot communicate effectively in writing without non-verbal assists and will struggle to adequately speak the language of the middle class, setting that person outside of the middle class. (28)

Language also includes ordering of narrative and sequencing of story: the ability to spatially, chronologically, or otherwise categorize information. The problem with being unable to sequentially tell story is that information is received and processed in an associative, random way, which is okay sometimes, but makes it difficult to assign information to categories, or to weave a web of knowledge. (93)

Categorization essentially allows us to organize space, assign meaning and place in a narrative structure, and understand a coherent and truthful story of ourselves and of the world.

Payne’s words have made me think of language as resource and the privilege of access to paper. Literacy is a huge tool to own, though so easily taken for granted. What presumptions do I bring to the table in my interactions with others? That everyone I know also came from a house full of books and has parents with multiple college degrees? That access to fancy personal technology, that goldmine of information, is a given? What language am I speaking, and what language do I assume will be spoken to me?

At Blue Ridge, where a large percentage of the parents I see are pajama-clad, poverty, at least based on income, is the culture of 93% of the students. When many of the teachers come from a middle-class background, a lot is lost in cultural translation between teaching-style and learning receptivity. Maybe we would be better teachers if we spent more time developing strategies to speak the culture of poverty and teach the language of the middle class, to help provide more opportunities to our kids and point them to a door out of poverty.


music of the last six months

by album
Ana Tijoux / 1977
Bon Iver / Bon Iver
Brooke Fraser / Saving the World
MIA / Kala
Shakira / Oral Fixation

by song
Adele / Someone Like You
Beyonce / Start Over
Florence & The Machine / Shake It Out
Gregory Alan Isakov / 3am
Hillsong United / Desert Song
Josh Garrels / Farther Along
Kanye / Stronger, Welcome to Heartbreak
Taylor Swift / Breathe, 15, Back to December
Trevor Hall / Te Amo
Blessed Be Your Name



pillowed moonlight, thin morning air

you were a mystery i didn't treasure
and i have a story you don't understand

well i've seen breaches in friendships i thought were strong
and i've known enough men to know i've only really been impressed by a handful

like the mountain in honduras, the hidden trail vista with a view like the rockies
where i stole so many afternoons and wept

and a neglected sister, twisted back
like the marriage of a man who will threaten separate bank accounts,
financial 'matching,'
who will accuse his wife of 'not even working for ten years'
when she has pulled ten thousand times his weight

empty threats so oft repeated you'd think they'd cease to touch you
but they don't

words you couldn't imagine, son
words you wish you could forget, daughter

i don't know much about construction,
but i know a twisted base can buy only fear, not love
and i just can't afford the transactions anymore.


gratitude in paying attention

To the man sitting outside at Safeway, ready for the night, and all I offer is hot coffee and a pastry, and he is peeing now, on the side of the building, and though I have seen much more in my young years I am startled, and wish him a good evening, and he thanks me, it's going to be a long night, he says. And I drive my nice heated car home in the 30 degree weather to the apartment without enough windows but is nonetheless so well heated and with a huge sliding glass door and how could I ever be ungrateful when I have been given so much?

And to the kiddos at Blue Ridge, dirty fingernails and so many with permanent lice in their hair--who knew it is so expensive to remove? And many don't have their own washing machines and all the quarters it costs to kill the parasites, let alone scissors and glue and crayons at home, which is why they're always so worried when they don't finish art projects at school.

And to the leaves in piles on the sides of the streets, grace and more grace piling up, falling down.

To each day of sunshine in December, how hard winter is for me and yet full of its own particular beauty.

To American flags in churches (ask those questions honey, should they be there?--but with love for the bride and not malice in your heart).

To G, J, and J, mama of two cerebral palsy brothers I work with each morning. 'Dejelo mi esposo,' she told me when we met. They live at the YWCA, and she works at Burger King, saving money to rent a house with the four kids and her own mother.

And to dented cars when mine has none and tin can trailer hovels when I dream of (and expect!) a handmade home of wood and glass some day.

Oh, how entitled we are, when we deserve no thing.

Sometimes I feel like I'm cheating on my kids in Honduras by falling in love with these kids here. But the gifts we are given are not exclusive to each other. By receiving one, you don't negate the others. And oh, I have been given a thousand, thousand gifts.


The Foundry

Got to go here today, on a field trip with the fifth graders.

We started off working on miniature bust creations of clay for about thirty minutes--I could have done that all day! The example was this marvelous life-size bust of Kanye West.

Went on to a tour of the facility: the welding and wax rooms, steel and bronze casting, laser-scanning and spatial engineering, machining and fabrication, designing the physics of how to even keep these enormous metal sculptures standing. Titanium and plaster and clay and iron, even concrete. Incredible.

Eighty-five people work there, creating artists' work and sending it out to Sweden, London, Venice, Puerto Rico. All over. Last year the Foundry only had 50 employees. How cool to know there are jobs to make art in these hard economic times.

(Everything in the photo is a metal-cast sculpture).


on not giving up

'My grandpa hates carnivals,' one of the more difficult first graders tells me as he eats his breakfast, explaining why he didn't attend the school carnival last night. 'He thinks they're lame.'

I spent the night running game booths and selling .25 cent tickets to families spending $2 or $3 on multiple children; the two unbroken twenties passing through my hands obvious. These things you notice.

I've been thinking how bipolar is a word we use because we want to explain insane behavior (the way I always wished he was an alcoholic: measurable, explainable, blameable--rather than just himself).

NPR did a report on 'How the Northwest Handles Mental Illness' this week, and I can already spot the kids at Blue Ridge--not to negative prophesy, but--the ones who will probably struggle all their lives.

And I cried to the school counselor trying to articulate the hardness of sending some of those precious ones back into adversity each day. Seven hours is such a short time for structure and sanity, and even kindness.

But I still want to sing the song of healing and freedom. I still want to proclaim the Gospel of Peace as it becomes true in my own heart and life. I still want to hope where others have none.