Thankful Thursday #69

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This week I’m thankful for…

  • watching the last pitch of a perfect game
  • a rainy day forecast that turned out to be a beautiful and breezy sunny day for my outdoor field trip to the creek
  • holding the anthology that includes one of my pieces in my own two hands
  • new opportunities within the Northern California Writing Project
  • kayaking on the lake
  • weather nice enough to grill outside
  • walking by the river with a dear friend
  • my loved ones who have donated to my trip to Uganda.  You bless me richly in so many ways.

Being Seen

In the early summer of 2008, I found myself at a pre-retreat with the Northern California Writing Project.  I sat in a circle of strangers, many of whom would become dear friends.  But I didn’t know that then as I tapped my foot against the leg of my chair and tried to ignore just how much nervous sweat was trickling from my armpits.

It was my first encounter with The Writing Project and I promised myself two things: I promised I would stick to my diet.  Secondly, I promised myself that any time the facilitators asked someone to read a piece of writing aloud, I would volunteer.  I kept one of those two promises and let me tell you, that brownie cake was worth every bite.

My promise to volunteer to read my writing aloud came out of a two-fold desire.  I desperately wanted to overcome my fear of public speaking.  More importantly I wanted to get the most out of the retreat as possible.  I’d never been to a writing retreat before and after seeing the ever-increasing sweat rings darkening my shirt, I wasn’t sure the facilitators would ever invite me back.  I knew that getting the most out of the weekend meant stepping out of my comfort zone, clearing my throat, and reading some of my writing.

Out loud.

To other people.

Who are writers.


One afternoon the director said to the lot of us, “Write the story of the student you will never forget, the story that keeps you up at night, the story that you still think about.”

In that moment, I knew just the student, just the story.  One so painful that I’d not spoken of it before, let alone put it on paper.  I put my pen to paper and began to write about the student who broke my heart and made me get real about teaching.  I wrote with unflinching honesty.  I wrote with a flame that left me singed and raw at the end of each writing session.

I wrote the story that visits me in the still minutes of sleepless nights.  And when it came time to read aloud, my own trembling voice gave voice to his story, my story: the story of how I failed to see the real him.  I wrote about how that failure taught me what it means to be a teacher and what it means to see, really see, my students.

I worked on that piece for the rest of the summer and throughout the following school year.  In the summer of 2009, The Writing Project sent me to a retreat in the spare desert of Arizona.  I took this piece out again, fine tuning it-adding a word here, deleting words there, restructuring paragraphs until it was finished.  Actually finished.  At that retreat I put on my big girl pants and some extra deodorant and showed it to an editor.  He encouraged me to submit it to a certain professional journal.

I did.

It was rejected.

Time and again it was rejected.

It was rejected enough times that I stopped submitting it and left it in a dark corner to mold or do whatever misfit pieces of writing do when abandoned.

Last year, the director of the Northern California Writing Project forwarded a call for submissions to me.  It was a call for teachers to tell their stories in an anthology.  I flipped through my writing samples and decided to send out that same piece one last time.  And if it wasn’t chosen, I’d retire it, sound in the knowledge that it had served its purpose, even if it never saw the light of day again.

You can imagine my shock when I received a letter back from the editors that my piece had been chosen.  Not only had it been chosen, but it would be the first story featured in the book.  I just about fainted.  I placed the letter in the place of honor-on my refrigerator, of course- and waited with anticipation for my story to make its debut.

Last week a package arrived in the mail.  I recognized the return address immediately and tore the brown envelope open.  And there it was-the book with my story.  I’d held that story in my heart for years and now I was holding it in my hands.  Not only that, but other teachers have held it in their hands and recognized their own experiences within mine.  The most exciting thing is that after reading my story and others featured in this book, teachers are putting pencil to paper and writing their own stories.  Stories of the student they will never forget.  Stories they think about in the still minutes of sleepless nights.

When I lay in bed at night, cloaked in the quiet of my own house, I think of this little boy who taught me about what it means to really see my students.  I pull the covers under my chin and I fall back asleep, grateful that after all these years his story is finally being seen.

I’m Going to Uganda. Wait, WHAT???

Yes, dear reader, you read the title correctly.  I’m going to Uganda.  Little old me in big, beautiful Uganda.  I can hardly sit still typing those words.

In June I’ll be spending a month in Gulu, Uganda volunteering at a school populated by orphans, former child soldiers and other children in need who possess leadership potential.

Back in December, I felt God stirring me to make use of my summer in a new way.  Usually I have a big bike adventure, raising money for LiveStrong or some other worthy cause, but this summer I’m taking on a whole different kind of adventure.  After watching a video about two regular guys  who built an entire brick school out of dirt, I knew I wanted to be part of the work happening in Northern Uganda.

But what did I have to offer?  I’m not a foreman or an architect who can create a school.  Trust me, you do not want children occupying a school built by me!

I’ve got three skills.  I teach.  I write.  I ride my bike really far, albeit very slowly.  Really, I’ve only got two and a half skills at best.  Apparently that’s enough because an idea began to take form in my mind and heart.

What if I ventured to Uganda and helped the students write their stories?  What if I published their stories in a book, with all of the proceeds of book sales going back to the school?

All of a sudden it felt like all my summers with the Northern California Writing Project learning to teach children to love writing were coming to a pinnacle at that very moment. I could use my heart for writing with kids to help these children write their own stories.  With a pounding heart and trembling fingers, I emailed my idea to an organization working in Uganda.

Then I waited to hear back from them.  I waited to feel confirmation from God that this was what I was meant to do.  And then I waited some more.  I waited for weeks.

I didn’t hear a thing.

Then it struck me, chances are if I wasn’t hearing God, it wasn’t because he wasn’t speaking-it was because I wasn’t listening.

So I did a daring thing.

I turned off my television for 10 days.

I know it doesn’t sound very daring, but for me it was.  I decided that for 10 days, I would actively pray and listen for direction.  In the third day of my fast from television, the organization emailed me back.  They loved my project idea and specifically wanted me to work with students in Gulu.  I was thrilled and began to plan the details of my project and trip.

Since that time, Northern Uganda and the Ugandan children have received a lot of press about the oppression inflicted by Joseph Kony and the Lord’s Resistance Army.  In a time when many people are voicing opinions about the turmoil in Uganda, I know that now is the right time for me to go and help give voice to the stories of the students there, to let their stories speak for themselves.