About

North American high school English teacher living abroad in Brazil. student. wife. daughter. sister. aunt. runner. athlete. yogi. outdoorsy. spiritual. deep. thinker. questioner. horse-woman. story-sentinel. friend. God-seeker.

I understand through writing…hence this blog.

this I believe (my teacher-why creed)

I have been reading two books in pursuit of some professional growth lately: Fostering Resilient Learners: Strategies for Creating a Trauma-Sensitive Classroom by Kristin Souers and Pete Hall as well as Teach Like Yourself: How Authentic Teaching Transforms Our Students and Ourselves by Gravity Goldberg. And when they both, as if in some conspiratorial cahoots, albeit for different reasons, encourage the writing of a teacher mission statement… well, then, ok! I give!

And it’s a good thing. I do feel I’ve lost my teacher way a bit lately.

Not only that, but the knowledge that we will be starting the school year digitally has me all up in arms about all the nots and can’ts and the things that aren’t the same or right or best or normal or in my wheelhouse.

I’m already starting the year in a deficit model.

Which means, consequently, my students will be, too.

Ugh.

And, so, to get up out of the murky pit of deficit and into the expansive field of assets, here is my WHY. In some of these, I’ve been doing well. To some of these, I proclaim a renewed dedication. But all of them will ground and guide the manner in which I begin this new and scary school year.

And beyond.

This I Believe (My Teacher-Why Creed)

I teach students. Not statistics or data points or standards. I teach beating hearts who have their own pains and pleasures, drives and demons, growth spurts and gallant missteps.

This I believe.

I teach humans. People, who at their core, just like me, crave love. People who, though it looks differently for each, crave meaningful relationship. People who both want the chance to be authentic as well as the authentic presence of others around them.

This I believe.

I teach stories. Words woven together as threads that have sustained man since man has been. Explorations and declarations of our own hiSTORIES. Themes that, unlike our polished updates and filtered selfies and perfect feeds, unlock something true and deep… nourish something true and deep.

This I believe.

I teach power. Power through literacy. Power through knowledge. Early in my career, that was the power to rebel against the constant knock of oppressive systems. Now, it is the power to be humble enough and brave enough to see that system within and dismantle it for others.

This I believe.

I teach mystery. An approach that honors the question above the answer. A path that celebrates the process more than the product. A philosophy that is critical but not bitter, deconstructive but not destructive. A confession that I, myself, though the teacher, am not the expert.

This I believe.

I teach reflection. A pursuit of life’s most important questions: who I am? how do I live a meaningful life? how do I be whole? how do I respond when I am down and salute when I am standing? what does it even mean for me to be down versus standing?

This I believe.

I teach community. The realization that life’s most important questions cannot be untied from other: who are we? what is your story? how do I give you space to be and feel and struggle and blossom?

This I believe.

I teach mindfulness. The constant, kind mental work of returning to this present moment. The intentional bowing of the heart to this moment as the only moment. The freedom and courage and strength that this moment spawns.

This I believe.

I teach joy. Light hearts and belly laughs. Nonacademic moments of connection. Insightful tangents. Familial chaos.

This I believe.

41 blessings

This past week I turned 41. I never thought I would be the person who worries about my age, but alas, it turns out, I am. All kinds of questions loom about the life I’ve lived: is it good enough? am I a good friend? do I make a difference? blah, blah.

At the same time, on the other hand, in that paradoxical way life breaths, I am counting so. many. blessings. I have lived a life of adventure with countless memories for which I am so grateful. So, to mark my birthday in this shitshow known as 2020, I thought I’d celebrate those.

  1. My legs have carried me 13.1 miles, through a russet ribbon canyon.
  2. Through years and transformations, I have given myself, my husband and God the space to be known anew.
  3. I have been mesmerized by the dance of aspen leaves in the shifting sunlight.
  4. Friends old and new gathered to party with me in Nashville, Tennessee for my 40th birthday.
  5. Dave and I left everything familiar and moved to a foreign land.
  6. I have had to scramble to hide my bible in a forbidden Christian meeting in China.
  7. I acted as a witch on the Globe stage and stood humbled in the shadows of Stonehenge.
  8. I am a paid and published writer, contributing at Edutopia.
  9. Students past and present call me their “Mom.”
  10. I lost both my pets and both my parents in a handful of years, but, still, I live free from bitterness, with a grateful heart.
  11. I have chased and caught a ski-pass-thief through Telluride, Colorado ski lines and shops.
  12. I have seen a black bear climb a tree in my backyard and grizzly cubs cross a stream in the wild.
  13. I am known for being a great hugger.
  14. I have witnessed glaciers pop like Rice Krispies and then calve in an Argentinian lake–the same lake we kayaked.
  15. I have ascended a 14,000 foot peak.
  16. I have disappeared into the alien-worlds of tide pools on the Oregon coast.
  17. I helped my husband and my godson save an old man from drowning in a glacier lake in Montana.
  18. I have sat in the sound of silence and the sheer terror of my head for five nights and six days.
  19. I am a certified yoga instructor.
  20. I met a red-headed angel.
  21. I have sampled over 1700 unique beers since I started tracking them.
  22. I have been in 3 earthquakes, always when traveling for work.
  23. I have swam the waters where the Amazon meets the Atlantic.
  24. I have loved the intimacy of the Badlands over the vastness of the Grand Canyon.
  25. We have sunned and funned in Cancun with our best friends.
  26. I have harmonized under a night sky to an audience of flickering fireflies.
  27. I have spotted a wolf in Montana and a puma in Chile.
  28. I am a Grauntie.
  29. I have built a cairn in an Arizona canyon.
  30. I have traversed Patagonia on the back of a horse.
  31. I have been given the honor of speaking at graduation.
  32. I survived a sprint triathalon.
  33. I have road tripped highway 1.
  34. I have eaten dinner at 10pm in Buenos Aires.
  35. I have howled in the middle of a pack of wolves, and then stood still in wonder as they took over.
  36. I have had to carry my dog up and down a rustic ladder on a hike in Utah.
  37. I married into a family that is more than just “in-laws.”
  38. I have have felt minuscule in the Redwoods.
  39. I have been carried on my sister’s hip like I was her own.
  40. I am a licensed cosmetologist.
  41. I have watched a whale swim off the coast of Ipanema Beach in Rio against the backdrop of the most glorious sunset.

A list like this humbles me.

I. am. grateful.

I. am. blessed.

I am reminded of one of my favorite Scriptures from Psalm 16:

Yes, yes I do.

book reflection: “Teach Like Yourself” preface & ch 1

As you know from my last post, I’ve been thinking a lot about authenticity these days.

With a bit of serendipity in the ether, a group I’ve been a part of for a while resurged on my Facebook feed with an invitation to a book club (thank you Kathie for the inspiration) about Teach Like Yourself by Gravity Goldberg. Yes, please!

So, for the next couple of weeks, I’ll be responding and reflecting to this book. Here is what’s on my mind after the preface and chapter 1.

Relationships.

“It took some time for me to realize that being my true self as a teacher was exactly what my students needed…We know that students learn more from teachers they trust and with whom they have a strong relationship. And students can’t form strong relationships with teachers if they are not showing up as their true selves.

I always have focused on relationships in my classroom; however, as of late, in reflection on recent discouragements, I am renewed in my dedication to this approach. Knowing our school will be starting the next school year digitally, my mind is already creating lists of ideas and activities to get to know my students. And to introduce them to my true self as well.

One approach I am really excited to resurrect in my classroom is getting to know my students through their writing. To do this, I will offer more invitations for non-academic writing and conferences. I remember my first year of teaching, I had my students journal daily and I responded weekly. The amount of time required was unsustainable, but those were some of the richest moments I’ve had with students. I need to modify that in order to reintroduce it to my practice.

Standards vs strengths.

These two pages hit me h.a.r.d. from chapter 1:

In many ways, while the narrowing of targets due to standards-based teaching is a good thing, it also has led me to a deficit-based approach: what standards are they not meeting and how do I get them there? This reduces students to checklists and prevents me from celebrating and building on their strengths. One of Goldberg’s points in the book is that this deficit-based model arises from our self-help approach: what’s broken and how can I fix it? Not only do I see my students through this lens, but myself. And it results in anxiety and stress and heavy burdens that do not inspire anyone. Especially in a cutthroat, high-stakes environment where the name of the college means everything… I have to create a refuge in my classroom.

Comparison.

I feed on perfection. I like to be the best. Because of this, I often look around to see who is on point and how I can emulate them. This is not a bad thing! However, when I try to replace myself with them… it is. I need to do a better job seeing mentors as role models, not instructional manuals. This will take courage, and yes, sometimes even confrontation. But my students deserve ME as MY best self for them, not an impostor of someone else.

For the first time in a long time, I am bursting with excitement to go back to school. The ideas and plans are keeping me up at night–but in a good way. Creativity is flowing; writing calls to me like a long-lost lover. I feel inspired and reinvigorated. I know this is because I am returning to myself as a teacher.

remembering for him: a tribute to my Daddy

I lost my Dad almost a decade ago.

But really I lost him long before that… to that terrible thief Alzheimer’s.

And so today, on Father’s Day, I want to take some time and do the thing that he was robbed of: remembering.

My Daddy loved the water. Every time we visited West Virginia, he made sure to take me canoeing at Babcock State Park. In all our family travels, there wasn’t a hotel pool that we didn’t enjoy together. I remember in the beginning stages of his sickness when he confided in me: “I feel something special when I’m moving through water; I can’t explain it.” He was shy to say it, thinking it was one more confusing curse of his disease. But I got it. I get it. I share this with him always.

My Daddy loved being outside. He climbed rocks and played with abandon. He always pointed weeping willows out to me. He toyed with snakes while my Mom screamed in the background. I remember taking walks with him around our neighborhood. Every time we were visited by a cardinal, we stopped and he called to it. I still do that.

My Daddy loved music. I remember dancing with him in the living room. We would twirl and then he would shoot me through his legs and rocket me up in the air; it was magical. He had this special whistle melody that he sang wherever he went; to this day I kick myself for not recording it. During the holiday seasons, we would play Christmas tunes in the car and we would sing and whistle along. He loved Frank Sinatra and Yanni. Even near the end of his decaying mind, he would sit on the couch and put in his CDs and close his eyes and tip his head back and disappear into the sounds; music was one thing he could remember. And now music reminds me of him.

My Daddy loved being active. He taught me how to catch, putting in hours with me tossing around baseballs with our tried and true gloves. I remember how much he loved golf, and how much he loved it even more when his family was involved. When I was a child, he would tip a cup over on the shag carpet and we would lie on our bellies and pool-shoot the golf ball into it. Later in life, I’ll never forget that one time I chipped in for a birdie… both of us were surprised and overjoyed. My athleticism reminds me of him.

My Daddy loved being adventurous. He loved traveling and road trips. As I look back at pictures, I have so many with him all around the country. I remember a white water rafting trip that bumped him out of the boat into the rapids. I was paranoid but we just got him back in and moved on downstream. Horses were my Mom’s and my thing. But, despite not being interested and slightly afraid, he did it anyways on one of our yearly trips to Kentucky. I’ll never forget when his horse neared home and took off and galloped down the hill and my Dad was sprawled-eagle with arms and legs flailing in the wind and reins everywhere but in his hands and then he was on the ground. We laughed at that story for years. I live a life of adventure now, too.

My Daddy was selfless. When I was a teenager, despite him not really supporting my religious fervor, he drove me back and forth from Oak Park several times a week for various meetings. He had this mocking way of saying “Oakkkkkk Parrrrrrk” when I would ask, because it was so common and so ridiculous. But he still did it. He always asked me true questions about how I was doing and what was going on. (I still have regrets for not answering him when I could. Maybe this is why my love language is questions.) He was selfless even in his sickness. I was so scared he would be too far gone to walk me down the aisle. But he did it, even though he didn’t fully understand what was happening…and I’m sure he was afraid.

My Daddy LOVED my Mom. When we would fight, all he ever said was: “don’t talk to your Mother like that.” It was never about him, but about her. When they weren’t doing well, he would talk to me about it and what was wrong and how it could change and why was it like that; he was petrified of losing her. In his sickness, the conversations revolved around us taking care of her when he was gone. This shaped my pursuit of a husband, and I am blessed to have found someone that evokes this strength of my Dad.

I love you Daddy.

I remember you Daddy.

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authenticiKEY

Wanted: the OG Mrs. Davenport.

Have you seen her?

Sadly, I don’t think I have in a while either.

I knew moving away from urban education would have reverberations. Some I predicted; some were unpredictable yet unsurprising.

But I fear in some ways I’ve lost myself in the transition.

A question I am holding at the center of everything lately is:

What does it mean for me to be authentic as a teacher?

It is different from this chameleonizing.

It is different from this acquiescing.

It is different from this flatlining.

It is different from this.

At the end of the year, I administered a survey to my students. While the results were overwhelmingly positive, I of course do that thing where I focus on the not so positive. And one of the results that sticks in my gut the most is in response to the prompt I feel connected to Mrs. Davenport. This was one of my lowest scores! This used to be my forte! This used to be my everything!

Oh my teacher heart hurts.

I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting on that data point lately. (I’m grateful for some soulfull colleagues who helped me through this process: thank you Nikki & Andrew!) Both of them brought me to authenticity. What that means? For me? How have I held true to who I really am as a teacher? And where have I compromised? What is the state of my teacher heart?

So far, I’ve come up with the following authenticikeys (see what I did there?!):

  1. Play to my strengths & successes. I know I can move students academically with Socratic seminars. I know the value of a shared reading experience. I know how to engage students with a course rooted in the content and not just the skills. I know stories matter. I know a class is much more about energy than anything else. I need to believe in and do what I know works.
  2. Honor growth over regime, process over product. I have been a little duped by the standards movement, I admit it. I have bought in line and sinker. But in some ways, I fear the more I’ve adhered to that philosophy, the less I’ve seen students actually grow. When it becomes about one finish line, no differentiated paths are celebrated. A student’s comment on a survey echoes in my mind as I type this: “I didn’t grow in my writing. I grew in her version of writing.” Ouch. I need to honor the process, the little victories. I need to be creative and innovative so that each student feels shiney. I need to be more holistic in my approach. I need to reclaim what “assessment” means to me and my students.
  3. Channel my fierce mother & believe in myself. I don’t like conflict, so I give in. I have used alignment as a security blanket. I worry about being questioned, being doubted, being challenged. I need to practice what I preach: the trite feedback I too often give my students of “take risks.”
  4. Let go. Be playful. I have a drastically different relationship with my upperclassmen than my underclassmen. And in some ways, this is intentional. But, in some ways, it is damaging. I don’t feel like myself in my grade 9 classroom. I don’t think they know me. I don’t really know them deeply. And as the survey said, they don’t feel connected. So… it’s not working. I need to soften with them, with my approach.

I recognize there a lot of ways this post could be misconstrued. I recognize that I am riding a swinging pendulum back from the following-sheep side. I do not think the other side of rogue-independence is healthy either. There has to be growth; there has to be balance–always.

But I have to be me. I need to be me. For my efficacy. For my teacher heart.

For my students. For whom I want the freedom to be themselves.

Authenticity permits authenticity.

Authenticity inspires authenticity.

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to the class of 2020

 

unnamed (1)I first knew you as 10th graders.

And I loved you then.

Some of you were artsy. Some of you were authors. Some of you were athletes. Some of you were leaders. Some of you were gamers. Some of you were musicians. Some of you rarely spoke. Some of you made me laugh.

But you were all teachers.

My teachers.

You taught me how to approach teaching in an international school. You taught me how offer more clarity. You taught me about talent.

You taught me about the appreciation for education. I’ll never forget the first week, how so many of you stopped on your way out the door to say “Thanks Miss!” I have been blessed with so many great moments throughout my teaching career, but the regularity of students thanking me on their way out the door was completely new. Completely foreign.

“Thanks Miss!”

Wow.

Well, now, I thank you.

I thank you for your gratitude, for those pauses at the door. I thank you for welcoming me into your hearts. I thank you for your brutal honesty that pushed me as an educator. I thank you for your gifts that made my experience at Graded so rich.

I thank you for our discussions about what we were reading. I thank you for your questions.

But most of all, I thank you for how you have handled this pandemic.

You have been mature in the midst of grief. Loving in the losses. Reflective in this unreal reality. Present in the pain. Authentic in the awfulness. Brave in the brutality.

And you have been grateful, even now, even with all this, against all the odds.

And the odds are not in your favor.

2020 sucks.

It is a thief that has stolen your special moments. It is a sickness that has choked the final breaths of your high school experience. It is a train that has derailed your carefully constructed tracks. It is a closed door that has separated you from your precious peers. It is the party pooper that crashed your graduation ceremony. It is a sledgehammer that has smashed normal.

And now those bits, those pieces, those fragments are scattered all over with no broom in sight.

The questions overwhelm, don’t they? The normal questions that all seniors have had through the course of history: who am I? will I belong? what do I even want? will I make it? will I make friends? will my family be ok? how will I pay for it? what if I fail? how will I manage my time?

Now those old, historical questions are confounded with new, historic questions of a pandemic: will my grandparents be safe? how will I stay healthy? what will online college look like? can I travel? what about the borders closing? will the economy collapse? how do I say goodbye to my teachers & friends & teammates? how do I find closure?

I am sorry the weight of the unknown has been doubled.

I am sorry you don’t get a proper goodbye.

I am sorry you were robbed of so many memories.

I am sorry I can’t give you a big, congratulatory, bear hug.

I am sorry.

But, also, I am not sorry. Because I believe in you.

In this unprecedented moment that is a crossroad, an AHA, a pivot, an influencer…I believe in you, class of 2020.

I believe in your soul to feel all the feels and create space for the complex and contradictory emotions of the human experience–and to be better for it.

I believe in your ability to pause and evaluate what is most important, what “normal” should be–and to live from that conviction.

I believe in your potential to create policy and systems that save the world–and to save your children’s world.

I believe in your privilege, in your right to use the distinguished education you have EARNED (thank God you’re done with IB–Iamright?!) to affect positive change in society–and to lift up the least.

I believe in your hearts, in the hope that you will slow down the pace of our world so we can breath and be, instead of just rushing and doing.

I believe in your voice to garner and inspire changemakers–and to defy the odds.

So no, in this year of a global pandemic that has shut down the world as we know it, the odds are not in your favor.

But you are powerful rebels and can give them a big “so what, odds, so what?”

You are what we need right now.

I believe in you, class of 2020.

And now, as you walk out that door, albeit virtually, allow me to say:

Thank YOU!

I love you.

Congratulations class of 2020!!!

Old Way vs New Way

I believe in you class of 2020!

 

 

 

 

that’s what she (would’ve) said

Today my mother would have turned 80 years old.

Now, I just see her in my face, looking back at me looking at her. Now that I’ve cut my hair short, the strong curve of the cheekbones, set of the eyes and prominent arc of the nose remind me even more of her.

And this is good. Because, as much as I hate to admit it, grief turns into vague recollection, which eventually fades into forgetting, which always ends in gut-sinking guilt.

The days when I could barely breath because the loss was sitting on my chest are almost nonexistent. Some days I don’t even think about her.

Isn’t that terrible?

I don’t know. Maybe it’s a crime against the mother-daughter bond. Maybe it’s natural. (Maybe it’s Maybelline, which was her eyebrow pencil of choice, burnt with a cigarette lighter of course.)

Maybe I’m too busy becoming her. More and more I’m finding my voice, not rolling over and taking it. More and more, I’m thinking about the art of storytelling, which was her specialty. But in a way that her stories are now becoming my own stories. (Isn’t that weird and beautiful, the way a narrative blurs time and people and place? In stories, we are all one.) More and more, I find myself making her food. (Though, sorry Mom, I have perfected your deviled eggs with the secret ingredient of pickle juice! You would have loved them.)

On this day, or during this month, we would have celebrated by going to the casino, all the sisters and her.

I miss that.

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Mom’s last trip to the casino

So today I’m going to do my own betting, if you will.

Here are 5 things I bet my Mom would have said, between long draws of Salems, were she alive during this crazy and historical pandemic.

  1. How’s the weather?
  2. Do you have enough groceries? Aldi had butter on sale and so I stocked up. I had to drive all the way to the one in Indiana, but it was worth it because the gas was so cheap. So I filled up. Yes suree.
  3. Have you seen the news?
  4. Don’t you leave your house now, you hear me?
  5. CAN YOU BELIEVE THE GAS PRICES? <insert Southern-twang-gasp>

love & learning in the time of coronavirus

*Thanks to my coworker Nikki for inspiring this post’s title.*

I’m a mess.

Let’s just start there.

But I’m kinda grateful…I haven’t been inspired to write in a while, yet here I am, brought to the keys by grief, once again. (Albeit on my old blog; the new one just got too expensive to maintain. I’ve still got to import & organize all my content. But from now on, I’ll be writing here again. It feels like coming home.)

Like many others have done recently across the world, our school closed physically. Yesterday and today have been two grueling days of “getting ready” to take our classrooms online.

My heart sighs. I am heavy wondering if this is permanent: was today a goodbye to my colleagues? What about saying goodbye to my students? That is not my kind of closure. My eyes hurt. So. much. screentime. My spirit is exhausted. The cynicism and criticism seems inexhaustible. When will it ever be good enough? My teacher soul is scared. I didn’t sign up for a virtual learning environment. I thrive on good vibes and quality connection. How will I meaningfully create that online?

And this is just all in my tiny little insignificant world. What about all the seniors worldwide who were robbed of their culminating experiences? What about the elderly parents who are achingly-lonely and isolated for fear of disease? What about students who are already so far behind academically and can’t go home to their own computer and internet service? What about health care workers who are relentless and spent with no end in sight? What about those without insurance? What about all the children who won’t eat regularly, who now will spend all day quarantined in a prison of neglect–at best and abuse–at worst? What about those who have jobs that just ended? No sick days. No pay. No safety net.

I. just. can’t. even. breath. #irony

And yet, even in all this, maybe because of it, I am so grateful.

I am so impressed with how my school has handled this shit show. Communication has been steady and intentional. Encouragement has been overflowing. (Today we even got personal bottles of our drink of choice for our virtual happy hour tomorrow! I mean, who does that? People are losing their jobs, and I’m getting free drinks!) We have been assured our school’s hourly employees will still be taken care of. We have advocates in our human resources, our parents, our bosses. These past two “emergency” PD days, I had substantial hours on both days to plan. I have great insurance and we’re close to a great hospital. Our campus is open-aired and still accessible.

Beyond my job, I am grateful for our apartment, that is expansive and inviting and a good place to quarantine. I am grateful for easy and quick access to the beach (that we are taking advantage of this weekend!) I am grateful for Dave who has pumpkin seeds, wine and homemade meals ready for me because he knows how tough it is. I am grateful our families are healthy. I am grateful for my strong body that swam 2k this morning. And for f***’s sake, I’m grateful we have plenty of toilet paper.

Through all of this, I can’t help but think of metta practice–lovingkindness meditation.

For me. For you. For the vulnerable populations. For those infected. For those recovering. For those traveling. For those scared. For those unemployed. For the politicians I disagree with. For the world.

May we be well.

May we be whole.

May we be happy.

May we be healthy.

May we be free from inner and outer harm.

May we live in peace and with ease.

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what in the hell does “transformation” even mean?

And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect. ~NASB Romans 12: 2

I have spent most of my life fighting a transformation battle. 

As a preteen, in a Baptist church you could find in any suburban neighborhood, I met my first ultimatum film: choose Jesus or choose hell. A carful of teenagers, after a fatal accident, were being lowered down to the sinner’s inferno on–of all places–a freight elevator encapsulated by steel bars. As they descended, their ghostly faces were obscured by the rails, but not the harrowing screams and leaping flames engulfing them. 

After that, and not surprisingly, most of my youth—my formidable years–was marked by a paralyzing fear of the judgment of God. I had regular dreams of the second coming of Jesus. One recurring dream still sticks with me: I was looking out the window from my teenage bedroom, my hands tilted toward the sky as it churned like a gray, stormy sea and softened into a blurry and muted End. When the full moon dripped blood-red in the sky–for scientific reasons that I now know–I was reduced to a crying puddle of terror. Sometimes, when looking out from my dorm, the clouds hung low and the lights glowed warm and the air grew still, I whimpered into my folded knees. 

All of this despite being a dedicated and disciplined Christian! I was in the right church. I was pure in my romantic relationship. I was a reputable leader in the youth group. I was an active recruiter of non-believers. I did not party. I did not cheat. I did not lie. I confessed my wrongdoings and expressed my gratitude. I sought counsel and always followed the advice of my leaders. I rebuked the sin in others. I withheld my voice and strength so as not to overshadow men. I worked hard to be good, damnit.

I knew the will of God, in all its good and acceptable perfection, but what hovered in mind was this nagging question: how come I wasn’t transformed?

Eventually what I used to label as the absence of the fruits of the Spirit, like peace, joy and faithfulness, the doctors diagnosed as anxiety. One winter, while living in a ski town, we were the first responders on a flipped car. A few weeks later, we drove by a car that had slid upside down into the icy river. These scenes–much like the ultimatum movie–became a part of both my narrative and my anatomy: I was near crippled with the inability to be out on winter roads. 

Not so long after this, I raced to my dying father’s bedside; Alzheimer’s would finally cease to exist in his body as his memories had years before. As time behaves, this blurs together with receiving the call that my Mom had breast cancer. And then lung cancer. And then fatal cancer. And then I was holding her still hands, wet with my tears, in a hospital bed. Now, the winter roads that had paralyzed me became the blood coursing through my veins: cancer was inevitable; death was mine to have at any moment. At every moment.

Despite my best spiritual, therapeutic, and pharmaceutical strivings, I could not escape these weights. I could not transform. Like one of those cunning and scratchy finger traps, in my chasing of it, transformation eluded me. It was exhausting. It was depressing. 

But, unbeknownst to me, something within me was sprouting.

I found myself equally repelled by and drawn to being alone with my soul. I would spend weekends at the Sacred Heart Jesuit Retreat House in the beige foothills of Colorado, my first experience with Noble Silence. There I channelled the vacillating and extreme emotions of David the Psalmist. There I grieved the death of my parents. There I bathed in nature. Back home in my day to day life, I found peace in yoga: the communal breathing introduced me to presence. Yoga for me was also an introduction to meditation.

But, when I arrived at a 5 night silent meditation retreat at Vallecitos Mountain Retreat Center in New Mexico, I had no idea what I was getting into. 

As any similar retreat goes, we spent the entire day meditating: sitting uncomfortably on cushions, walking like Zombies in a field, chopping vegetables in the kitchen, and bringing fork to mouth during meals. Everything was slow. Everything was silent. Everything was smudged. The first few days, I was going absolutely crazy. I could not, for the life of me, get my mind to stop wandering. And then I would berate myself for not doing it right. And then I would be so discouraged at how unkind I was to myself. And then I would seek escape. 

But, alas, there was nowhere to go. Session in and session out, I met my mind on yet another battlefield of transformation. 

I began to see how this harsh treatment of myself paralleled the patterns of my life. In an effort to be better, or holy, or peaceful, I beat myself into submission. 

But just like with fear, with hypochondria…it did not work. 

My unremitting striving became my very own hell.

And so, slowly and tentatively, days three and four and five brought with them a new kind of mantra: You, too, are welcome here. Instead of condemning myself for failure, I welcomed failure. You, too, are welcome here. Instead of berating myself for distraction, I welcomed distraction. You, too, are welcome here. Instead of fearing fear, I welcomed fear. You, too, are welcome here. Like Rumi’s “The Guest House,” I began to open the door for my visitors–all of them.

Since then, I have pursued a deeper commitment to meditation. More retreats. Daily practice. Professional development so I can also lead mindfulness in my school. 

And, without even seeing it, and most definitely without even trying to make it happen, I changed from the inside out. Winter roads and scary diagnosis do not derail me anymore. I have moved overseas to Brazil, where I do not speak the language and everything is new–a feat I would never have dreamed of in my old state.

I still am anxious. 

But I also am peaceful. And I am brave. And I gracious with myself. And I now see how I misread Romans 12:2. First comes the renewing of the mind, THEN comes the transformation. 

I am grateful to God that my mind has been renewed. I have been transformed. 

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