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!

What my boyfriend taught me about God this month

Being in a relationship helps me understand God in new ways. As I understand my boyfriend better, I am stretched to be more patient, observant, and thoughtful. I also see God in him, not only in how he treats individuals but also in the ways his personality differs from mine, highlighting fresh aspects of God’s nature in his image.

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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)
PC: https://www.treesforcities.org/stories/intreeducing-the-beech

Letter from a Holey Tree

“Comfort, comfort my people,”
    says your God.
“Speak tenderly to Jerusalem.
Tell her that her sad days are gone
    and her sins are pardoned.
Yes, the Lord has punished her twice over
    for all her sins.” (Isaiah 40:1-2, NLT)

I will bring comfort to your children. They frolic on the land about me and rest in my cavern. I will hold them tenderly as they nap out of reach from the summer sun, now forgiven by your mercy.

A voice said, “Shout!”
    I asked, “What should I shout?”

“Shout that people are like the grass.
    Their beauty fades as quickly
    as the flowers in a field.
The grass withers and the flowers fade
    beneath the breath of the Lord.
    And so it is with people.
The grass withers and the flowers fade,
    but the word of our God stands forever.” (6-8)

I witness the grass fading at my feet, and I know this personally as well, for I am a beech tree with a hole. I am fading, even as I witness some elderly members no longer able enter the white walls across the meadow. Even still, the Word of the Lord continues to be spoken within the building, in the yard, and in the neighborhood all around me. It will stand forever.

Yes, the Sovereign Lord is coming in power.
    He will rule with a powerful arm.
    See, he brings his reward with him as he comes.
He will feed his flock like a shepherd.
    He will carry the lambs in his arms,
holding them close to his heart.
    He will gently lead the mother sheep with their young. (10-11)

I will hold the lambs in my cavern as we wait for you, O Great Shepherd. I am not a pastor, but I can nurture and hold these children close to my heart, speaking your love over them as we wait for your reward. I can feed them with my leaves and cradle them in my hollowed cave. 

To whom can you compare God?
    What image can you find to resemble him?
Can he be compared to an idol formed in a mold,
    overlaid with gold, and decorated with silver chains?
Or if people are too poor for that,
    they might at least choose wood that won’t decay
and a skilled craftsman
    to carve an image that won’t fall down! (18-20)

As the Psalmist declares, none can compare to you, O God. As one made of wood, I know that even this material decays. It is no creator to be worshipped but merely a vessel to share your glory with the rest of creation.

Look up into the heavens.
    Who created all the stars?
He brings them out like an army, one after another,
    calling each by its name.
Because of his great power and incomparable strength,
    not a single one is missing.
O Jacob, how can you say the Lord does not see your troubles?
    O Israel, how can you say God ignores your rights?
Have you never heard?
    Have you never understood?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
    the Creator of all the earth.
He never grows weak or weary.
    No one can measure the depths of his understanding.
He gives power to the weak
    and strength to the powerless.
Even youths will become weak and tired,
    and young men will fall in exhaustion.
But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength.
    They will soar high on wings like eagles.
They will run and not grow weary.
    They will walk and not faint. (26-31)

I see your stars every night, glorious and reliable, prophetic and majestic. They are merely my fellow vessels in your service, yet they are dear and known by you. If you know them, the many I can see and the countless I can’t, surely you know your people too. You made them in your own Image!

I am fond of them, so when your people are weak, I will become a sanctuary like the building next door. Use me to restore them in body and spirit.

A truly tiny "little white church" -- not mine, but a sanctuary for a small congregation across the country. PC: https://visitrainier.com/elbe-little-white-church/

A truly tiny “little white church” — not mine, but a sanctuary for a small congregation across the country. PC: https://visitrainier.com/elbe-little-white-church/

Cover photo from https://www.treesforcities.org/stories/intreeducing-the-beech.

The Cherry Blossom

The cherry blossom tree sat behind my K-12 school. For two weeks in May, she would bloom light pink and then shed her pretty petals on the sidewalk by the back door.

As a girl, I thought I wanted to get married under rows of cherry blossoms. I then realized that their blooming time is so brief that if I misjudged it, I’d be walking under a flowerless tree, atop the molding remains of its beauty. Thus, I decided that getting married under them might not be the best idea, but I still found them lovely.

The cherry blossom tree behind my school had a soft beauty. She was a pillar of the kindergarten playground, always growing in the corner and greeting parents as they went to pick up their children. She delighted students like me when her buds finally matured just before the school year let out.

Her siblings around the U.S. continue to bring pleasure to the humans that pass by them. They bring moments of inner calm and reflection as their viewers take pause to notice the trees’ beauty. Every spring, I waited for her to reveal her flowery gown.

Though cherry blossoms appear dead before they bud and look average as they blend in after their peak, they show the importance of patience. Though most of the year they go unnoticed, their petals are worth the seasons of waiting.

She was the first cherry blossom to bless me with the delight of her petals, and in this way, she opened my eyes to the beauty around me, helped me revel in the present, and learn the value of patience.

 

Cover photo from http://www.ctvisit.com/articles/bloom-finder.