Ultimate Victory Party Address
The MTR Class of 2013 celebrated fulfilling their four year MTR commitment on April 21 at their Ultimate Victory Party. Aubrey Adams made the following address to her fellow cohort members.
Well, we have made it. We are a few steps away from the finish line of our final year in the Memphis Teacher Residency. I for one am going about my days with surreal tint.
There are several good reasons to have a gathering like this: celebration, reconnection, libations, but I think a deeper one might be practicing remembrance. Scripture speaks several times about the art of remembrance. There are vows to remember the deeds of the LORD and his wonders of old. One way that we do that is to read his word, and remember that there is nothing so big and mighty as to stay His hand. The church calendar also helps us not to forget that God interacts and permeates all of life. Most profoundly, God beckons us into sacred remembrance with communion, and yet another way is what we are doing tonight: remembering the wondrous deeds of God in our own lives. In the Old Testament, God’s people set up simple altars of remembrance at places where God did an especially powerful miracle, taught an important lesson, or where he dramatically rescued them. I think that I speak for many of us in saying that these years have been quite formative and worthy of remembering, so I want to describe a few of the stones on this metaphorical altar.
Day In, Day Out
First, there’s the day in, day out nature of these four years – the shaping, grinding moments. Four years is a short but long time. It’s a lot of papers to grade; it’s innumerable moments of conflict resolution and shaking dirty hands. It’s late nights of work, heart breaking stories, and many mornings of praying yourself out of bed. It’s a lot of pouring out your life.
It’s learning how to love when the lovely, becomes unlovely, and then surprisingly lovely again. It’s working within the illogical for its good even when it hurts you. It’s tearful IEP meetings, raging emotions, and beautiful resilient souls sitting before you. It’s the weight of the brokenness and the beautiful all in one room, every day for a whole school year.
It’s a short but long time to watch, to work, to wait, and to pray. Our moments make our life’s liturgy, and I think we have a rich one to look back on.
A Great Good
Second, there has been great good to come from our work. We have furthered the cause of equality in urban education, increased students’ reading levels, taught them multi-step equations, and seen the light go on at a first understanding of mitosis. We have developed wonderful relationships with our MTR class, our coworkers, our students, and others in the city of Memphis. We have celebrated many significant life moments in the past four years: marriages, new babies, and professional achievements and grieved with and depended on each other in losses as well. We have been gifted joy and growth and memories to smile at.
Third, there’s the deep learning that’s happened here. I remember one of the pastors during our church preview week saying, “God has brought you here not so much to redeem this city or the students in it but to sanctify and work on you.” At the time that statement felt a little deflating to my idealistic vision, but now it’s undeniably true. We have been molded here. When I look over my classroom, I see my students as soldiers often living with joy amidst unbelievable difficulty. I see their smiles at the simplest of things and see their ingenuity fill in the gaps. I see the effects of the inner city on my students, and yet the fighter still remains in them. My students resilience draws me, and I learn from them endurance and perseverance and to be still while God fights for me.
We’ve learned to trust God’s sovereignty and the eternal significance of our work when the ugly question of “why am I doing this?” keeps entering our minds unbidden, and we feel like we are not sowing seed, not watering, but plowing concrete. We have sat in the space where the flesh and Spirit meet and prayed to be led by the Spirit.
We’ve learned to be courageous because like our fellow 2013 Stephanie Milazzo wrote awhile ago, “While we may have never considered ourselves particularly courageous, maybe courage is nothing more than understanding the cost of life as a disciple and still walking. To know the weight and pain and brokenness of this world, and to kneel down and pray, (even in a fearful and weak voice), Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”
We’ve learned more of true joy and compassion as we’ve spent time amongst our students and learned to celebrate God’s image in them.
What We Take From Here
The fourth stone I want to place on our altar of remembrance is a vision for what we take from here.
I think we can take two thoughts. First, we can borrow from Thomas Merton in that we must not depend upon the hope of results. We must face the fact that our work here or in the future may be apparently worthless and achieve no result at all. We must not strive to build an identity in our work to protect against nothingness. We must simply commit to allow ourselves to be, in the obedience of faith, used by God’s love. The big results are not in our hands. We will continue to work and hope for them, if they come, we will rejoice, share, and celebrate, but we must focus on Christ’s truth and abiding in him.1
Second, we can dig deeper into hope both of change here on earth and longing for the second coming. We can echo Isaiah’s sentiments as he looked at a desert of rocks, dreamed of the future, and said, “until a spirit from on high is poured out on us, and the wilderness becomes a fruitful field, and the fruitful field is deemed a forest. Then justice will dwell in the wilderness, and righteousness abide in the fruitful field. The effect of righteousness will be peace and the result of righteousness, quietness, and trust forever. My people will abide in peaceful habitation, in secure dwellings, and in quiet resting places.”2
I’m thankful to have spent four years here with you and to have learned and served along side you. Let us look forward in hope and backwards in gratitude with a deeper sense who and whose we are.
1 Forest, Jim. “Living With Wisdom: A Life of Thomas Merton.” Revised Edition. (Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books, 2008), 174-175.
2 “Isaiah 32:15-18.” The Holy Bible: New International Version, Containing the Old Testament and the New Testament. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Bible, 1978. N. pag. Print.