Love Always

Welcome back. Since May 2015, we’ve experienced transforming growth. We aren’t residents anymore. We are butt-kicking teachers who have completed our commitment to the Memphis Teacher Residency seeking to provide students with equitable education independent of their ZIP code, just like we began 4 years ago. Some things, like the exhaustion, remain the same. Others are more course-altering, and yet here we are in possibly some of our final moments of being all together.

We’ve had three years in the classroom. All by ourselves. Remember when that was terrifying? Crippling even. This idea of being left with the full weight of leading a classroom full of students toward something purposeful. While also remembering to take attendance, complete and submit your lesson plans, transition on time, grade exit tickets, daily rewrite your whiteboard protocol with the day’s date and your standards and objectives and vocabulary and agenda, make sure your quality work board is up to date and includes a rubric, input grades, call parents, update your interactive word wall, enter your self-score for your district-mandated evaluation, oh and also remember to shower? Well…

…Look at where we are. Physically, yes, here at the top of Clark Tower, but also more experienced. Older. Wiser. More mature than we were three short (or long!) years ago. Some of us are mentors now. We have residents now. In three years, so much has happened. We’ve demonstrated tremendous perseverance making it to what at one point seemed so far away. It appears and smells like we’ve all showered. We last gathered like this in the cafeteria at Union Avenue Baptist Church. Literally started from the basement bottom now we here. It’s easy to just look forward and ahead into the future, but I do want to take a few moments to…

…Look at where we started. In 2016, we transitioned from being FUN, fearless residents to flying solo. We acquired master’s degrees. We had an unpaid summer bracing ourselves for the hard work of what would be the most challenging yet biggest blessing of a ride. For some of us, this first year would be traumatic, and we’d end each day bone-tired feeling like we were in hell. Fall 2016. Remember that? This was a time before Ikea or Trader Joe’s had made it to Memphis. A time pre-Moviepass. A time before Beyonce’s Homecoming and Black Panther (the movie) and Stranger Things and Moana. Back before Cardi B became a household name and Marie Kondo-ing became a verb. A time when the Party Barn was just shaping up and when we hadn’t yet had photographic evidence of a black hole. A time before DACA had ended and when Obama was still president. Wow so much has changed. We miss Robin Henderson. So much happens outside of our school buildings and even the framework of education, and this, too, is class. Learning and growth of ourselves and our students takes place even and especially as the world around us changes.

But also, some things are the same 3 years later. Amazon is still on track to take over the world (if you haven’t seen Hasan Minhaj’s Patriot Act go check it out on Netflix). Cities still do not have safe and clean water. Hurricanes ravage our nation, and war destroys our world. Churches are still burning. Our black and brown brothers and sisters are still dying every day at the hands of police. The fight for racial and economic justice is ever present and real in our city, in our country, and in our world.

And Oof. This is painful. These hurts run so deep. Heaven come now in life-giving and transformative ways. Marana tha. What is different and yet the same three years later is this brokenness. These years have been enlightening to expose the broken and fallen that has been here all along. We see and feel and experience the brokenness and pain and tears and hurt and…  

…That would be enough. The messy is too much. This broken. This hurting. This pain. This systemic oppression and dysfunction that destroys us all. The disproportionate suspension of our black students. The empty bellies and physical scars. The inadequate funding and resources (both human and capital) and lack of support. The unexpected admin changes. The policies we don’t agree with but have to enforce as part of our job. The lies affirming what we believe about ourselves. The weights and anxieties rooting around our hearts pushing directly into our insecurities. The loss of precious life. The grief. The trauma. The rawness. What we see in the eyes and faces and hearts of our kids, but also and more importantly when we look at ourselves. All of this is more than enough to overwhelm, and we are confronted with the humbling truth that we are not enough. We do not save. We do not rescue. We do not deliver. We can’t even do that for ourselves, let alone a classroom full of children.

So what then could be enough? What does not delight in this evil but rejoices with the truth? What always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres? What never fails? The answer can never be me. Or you. Or any teacher that emerges from this program. Despite the always entertaining adventure that is this teaching life, we are not enough.

So what then is enough to combat this? Are we left hopeless? Have we wasted the last four years? What can challenge the brokenness that pervades our lives? What is stretching and growing us beyond the limited schemas we’ve constructed in our minds?

The answer is still the same 3 years later—only our God is enough. Grace is enough. Love is enough. Redeeming and fulfilling and refining the broken to restore dignity and worth and capacity and value. It’s not the countless hours of PD and trainings that we go to, it’s Love. It’s not the lessons we plan or the tests that we give, it’s Love. It’s not the coffee we consume or the TEM scores we receive, it’s Love. It’s not the words that we say or the works that we do in and of themselves, it’s Love. It’s this Love that loved us first. That so loved the world. That raised new life from the dead as we celebrated this past Easter weekend. This energizing Love that does not dishonor others, is not self-seeking, is not easily angered, and keeps no records of wrongs. Obviously, this doesn’t mean that we don’t keep working. But we teach and fight and continue pressing on with a posture of Love. With a patience and kindness that is never proud or boasting. With this Love that protects, trusts, hopes, perseveres, and endures all things.

Now whether you believe that or not, you are here. We are here. We’ve shared this common experience together of committing four years of our life to this city and its students. Like the waters of the mighty Mississippi River, something has brought us right here to Memphis, Tennessee.

And so,
whether this is your successful and sure destination or a thrilling step along the way…
whether you’ve felt alone at your school or a friend has been right next door…
whether you’re continuing to teach or transitioning to something new…
whether you’ll be here in Memphis next year or somewhere different…
…Look Around. Remember to take a moment and sit back and just be present. Encounter Love. Appreciate what Love has done, what Love is doing, and what Love will continue to do. Consider with a joyful heart all that Love has created, healed, built, shaped, developed, seen, known, defeated, and won.

We can look around and see and feel and mourn all that is broken. In three years: broken hearts, broken families, broken relationships, broken windows, broken homes, broken dreams, and broken lives. We can look around at our own brokenness and the brokenness around us and know that we get to respond with Love. A powerful Love that is life-giving, grace-filled, and joyous. Harder than expected, but much better and more lovely than possibly imagined.

So, as we move forward, one foot in front of the other,
we look around,
we look both ways,
we look back,
we look forward,
and we look up.

Smile. Life’s ok.
Mira. Love is here.

Love always.

Tory Lang, Class of 2016