Honestly, why should you support Chicago teachers?

It’s Tuesday morning, October 22, 2019. Outside, it is raining and windy with a real feel of 43 degrees Fahrenheit, and the Chicago Teachers Union is STILL out on every highway bridge demonstrating to gain support.

Teachers have been on strike for about a week trying to meet demands that they initiated as proposals months ago. It took an extended strike to get any response, and they’re still negotiating to get things on paper and ensure that the capped class sizes will be enforced. (You can read more from the local news here.)

I remember when my mom was a teacher for a bit, and I was temporarily made to act as her mom because her work was round-the-clock and exhausting. That was in a private school with allegedly better resources (though no qualified nurses or counselors, if I’m being honest).

The point? Teachers deserve to be paid better. They have to live, too.

Moreover, the things CTU is asking for are for the benefit of the students, especially the students who feel the lack of resources most significantly. I’m proud of the CTU for prioritizing that.

National statistics from the ACLU.

National statistics from the ACLU.

Counseling comes to mind as a necessary resource. This summer, I tutored a boy who went to one of the best high schools in Chicago but had to leave due to severe bullying and mental illness that led to suicide attempts. His school counselor was his only safe person before he had to leave, but she was only there because it was a well-resourced school for highly intellectual students.

For those who think striking might harm the students, consider the long term benefits of having better schools. Adequate resources were not provided at the start of 2019 when teachers asked, and their proposals weren’t considered until they went on strike.

Just imagine what happens if there is an emergency but no nurse! Can the students really thrive if teachers are unable to give them the attention they need because classes are too full? And what about the kids who need counseling, the kids like the one I tutored whose lives may be at stake? I certainly don’t want to risk that over the course of years.

The Chicago Transit Authority has offered free transit to students during the strike, and school buildings are open as safe havens during the day. Students are being cared for as their teachers fight to secure better resources for them beyond this week. And that devotion is just another reason why Chicago teachers deserve increased pay.

Photos from the Garfield Park Conservatory

Today I visited the Garfield Park Conservatory on the Westside of Chicago. It’s one of the city’s gems, this free green space. Local workers take lunch breaks there, and others come from around the city to explore the beauty of the cacti, ferns, flowers, and gardens.

The sounds of water streaming physically relaxed and grounded me, while the warm sun and cool breeze outside caused me smile and enjoy the present. A number of critters meandered in and out of the building from the gardens out back. I noticed a rabbit outside, saw a squirrel inside, and marveled at the way the grasshoppers blended in so perfectly with the ground. The fern room, with all its moss and foliage, made me feel at home, though I’d originally come to see the 38′ 1″ agave americana extending through the ceiling panes.

It’s free to enter, though the Conservatory suggests a $10 donation per adult for the upkeep of this beautiful, refreshing place that has been around since 1908.

Several things struck me today: the incredible views, the intricate and endlessly variegated patterns and textures of the foliage, and the way the colors popped. God is truly a magnificent Creator, and I pray you will be blessed by his work through these photos.

Here is a sample of the sweeping views:

Behold God’s creativity with patterns:

…And with texture, even among ferns alone:

Compare all the different shapes and textures just in this one shot:

The texture of this next flower was almost nonexistent. It looked super soft and fuzzy, but I could barely feel it. I thought sensation had left my hand!

(Note: I don’t know if you’re allowed to touch the plants. I did touch some leaves, one unexpectedly papery and another textured like pigskin, but I don’t recommend such behavior. Just read and obey the signs, especially by certain cacti.)

The pops of color were also marvelous. Greens primarily filled the Conservatory, but red and pink veins created contrast within plants, and violet, fuscia, and yellow flowers added pizzazz to the greenery. My favorite plant from the entire Conservatory was the purple “dragon” flowers below. (I renamed them that because they resemble dragon scales to me.)

All photos belong to me. For more information on the Conservatory, including its special programs, visit https://garfieldconservatory.org. Be blessed!

God of justice, come again

This post was originally sent out during Advent in a newsletter I write for a church. It has been adapted for the Twelve Days of Christmas 2019-20.
Psalm 72 is believed to be a Messianic Psalm, one that referred to the prophesied Christ thousands of years before he was born. In NIV it begins, “Endow the king with your justice, O God, the royal son with your righteousness. May he judge your people in righteousness, your afflicted ones with justice” (1,2). The prayer for this foretold king, Christ Jesus, is that he will be just.
But it doesn’t end there. The psalmist prays the king will be just towards those who are suffering, afflicted, and oppressed.
Verse four is pretty explicit: “May he defend the afflicted among the people and save the children of the needy; may he crush the oppressor.” The psalmist goes on to pray that all other kings will come to him in worship, giving him gifts and licking his dust because he is THAT mighty and worthy of their service.
Why?? “For he will deliver the needy who cry out, the afflicted who have no one to help. He will take pity on the weak and the needy and save the needy from death. He will rescue them from oppression and violence, for precious is their blood in his sight. Long may he live!” (12-15a).
This God is worthy of our praise. This God is our redeemer. This God is the Messiah for Chicago’s Westside as for the Jews. He is the God for all who are oppressed and afflicted, all who need justice. This God says our blood is precious in his sight.
He is the God for our sons and daughters whose teachers try their best but lack resources. He is the God for our cousins and uncles and fathers who don’t make it home from work due to gun violence. He is the God for our aunts and mothers who give us their all so we can have food on the table and clothes on our backs. He is the God for our sisters with breast cancer and our brothers doing time for crimes they didn’t deserve so many years for.
He sees all our blood and views it as precious. That was true in King David’s prophecy, true when Jesus hung on the tree for our sins and sicknesses, and is just as true today as we both remember his first coming through Mary’s bloody womb in these Twelve Days of Christmas and expect his second coming.
“Praise be to the Lord God, the God of Israel, who alone does marvelous deeds. Praise be to his glorious name forever; may the whole earth be filled with his glory. Amen and Amen” (18, 19).

Twenty things I learned before 2020

This post is special for two reasons. Firstly, it welcomes in a new year and decade. Cheers to 2020! May God bless us with stability and peace where we need it, the courage and faith to obey Him, and joy through his Spirit. 

Secondly, this is my hundredth blog post on this site!

Now, I could write 100 somethings to celebrate that fact, but lists that long tend to be overwhelming. Instead, I’ll share twenty assorted things that I have learned over the past decade, and particularly over the last five years.

Feel free to add your own in the comments!

  1. Being away from family isn’t the easiest, since I am blessed with an amazing one, but friendships can be just as sweet.

  2. Working the opening shift is the best. Especially when you can see the sunrise through your window.

  3. Being vegetarian isn’t hard when you have reasons for it! (The same goes for anything; if you have convictions, you can act decisively, even if it is difficult in some cases.)

  4. Language acquisition requires active communication in that language. You have to practice.  

  5. Math and piano also need continual practice even once you reach a certain level. You can lose your skills even if you excelled at one point. Not everything is like riding a bike. 

  6. It’s rewarding to obey the prompts of the Holy Spirit.

  7. Find yourself a church community. You’ll be doing yourself a favor.

  8. Colorful lipstick is the bomb. 

  9. There is no shame in getting counseling. In fact, it’s quite helpful.

  10. Refugees are awesome people. They are courageous, innovative and dedicated creators, survivors, and humans.

  11. It’s best to wait for what God has promised instead of going against his timeline or words. That can actually hurt you, but what God has promised is so, so good.

  12. Mayonde was right: Ain’t no city like Nairobi. Well…maybe Denver. ☀️

  13. Zero waste is the way to go. Reduce, reuse, recycle, and buy biodegradable!

  14. Cacti make great pets. 

  15. Race DOES need to be talked about since the underlying issues have not yet been solved. You can read the story of how I came to realize that here.

  16. It’s okay to let people go as you mature and move into different stages of life. Your high school friends might not be your best friends forever, and that’s okay. 

  17. At the same time, pursue relationships you want to keep.

  18. Know the reasons why you believe what you do or live a certain way. 

  19. Be open to difference!!!

  20. Be compassionate and empathetic

Happy new year, everyone! Subscribe for more blog posts, including a special guest post in Memoirs of the Trees

The Purple Tree

Every time it’s fall, and sometimes when it’s not, I think of a certain tree:

a tree that greeted me on my way out to class and in from work, 

a tree I loved because it was my favorite color,

a tree that defied the expectations of aging 

       and worked from dark to light.

It wore the mauve of fall overtaking summer’s green

then blushed bright scarlet before fading into orange.

 

Like the office assistant who brightens your weekday 

with hellos, hard candy, and care,

       though you may not know her well,

so was this tree to me.

It was my favorite for its unconventional beauty,

a constant each fall day 

on my walk by Fischer.

purple tree

The actual tree, Wheaton, IL. I took this photo in mid-October a few years back when it was starting to change colors. Can anyone identify it for me?

What will it take to bring peace?

Yesterday I attended a peace gathering, intended to be the the last for the summer after a July full of them. They were times of prayer and marching in solidarity and love around the neighborhood, particularly by the locations of recent shootings, which are all too common in that neighborhood.

The peace gathering began at 6:30 p.m.

Just a half hour before it began, a couple blocks away from empty lot where we met, a 20 year old named Devon was shot and killed. He had just gotten off work.

We gather for people like Devon.

A couple of his relatives attended the gathering: a teenager who appeared calm and quiet in the moment and an older woman who couldn’t believe what happened, not to Devon!

Under clear skies and cool summer air, we spent time praying for the relatives in the empty lot where we’d collected and walked past the site where Devon’s life was stolen as we marched.

The pastor who organized the event called out, “I love you!” to neighbors relaxing on their front steps.

We invited some young men to join us as we walked, and one responded, “No, I don’t wanna get shot.” Despite our numbers and police entourage, our nonviolent walk through the neighborhood held the potential for harm to certain people, and we respected that. The gathering was ultimately for them, after all, so that their neighborhood could someday be safe and free from gun violence.

The weekly gatherings were also a time of music and food, collaborated and put on by an energetic local church and the local police force. On July 31, the Original Warrior Gladiators, the church’s young dance troupe, performed for everyone and ushered Holy Spirit into the gathering (see cover photo).

The Peace Warriors, a group of young men and women, taught us some claps and went over principles of peace including nonviolence and ones targeting the spiritual root instead of the person enacting injustice.

We hurt for young men like Devon.

It was an evening of mixed emotions. There was hype as the Peace Warriors jazzed up the crowd and educated us (see video here). There were smiles as friends conversed and ate hot dogs and Fruit by the Foot.

But there was also solemnity as we prayed for Devon’s relatives. After all, deaths like his are why these gatherings took place. There was passion as we prayed for the neighborhood.

Overall, it was inspiring to witness the community meet together in this capacity, to be led by youth, and to see the police, whom I’d distrusted, participate in and help facilitate this nonviolent peace event.

What’s the main takeaway, then? Maybe it’s that although the neighborhood is friendly, it’s caught in seemingly endless cycle of violence and trauma. Efforts like these summer peace gatherings and the ongoing work of local churches and groups like the Peace Warriors make a difference in changing that.

Maybe it’s an encouragement to connect with your local peace activists to create change, show solidarity, provide resources, and add value to your community. Whether you are feeling broken and need the support of others in this kind of space or you’re coming with education in conflict-diffusion, counseling resources, or as a prayer minister, you are needed and wanted.

Maybe there is no one point, but sharing about the gathering was also a way to process Devon’s death.

However you’re feeling right now, feel free to comment below and reach out if you need resources. Comment if you have any to offer, as well. Peace.

The Lord sits enthroned over the flood;
    the Lord is enthroned as King forever.
The Lord gives strength to his people;
    the Lord blesses his people with peace.
-Psalm 29: 10, 11 (NIV)