Up Above My Head

You thought I was worth saving, so You came and changed my life
You thought I was worth keeping, so You cleaned me up inside
You thought I was to die for, so You sacrificed Your life
So I could be free, so I could be whole, so I could tell everyone I know

 Last year on Easter, Guatemala played my whole life. Thursday, Friday, and Saturday of Holy Week is live down here. The main streets are blocked off for these festive, yet somber, processionals where hundreds of men, women, and children are marching, choking the air with this strong incense, and carrying huge displays of Jesus in a tomb and Mary crying at the altar. (I saw one last night with a Mary who had a dagger in her chest. The drama is so intense.) These processionals are a Catholic tradition and the Protestants don’t really engage in any of those activities, which made sense to me, but I was still shocked when Easter Sunday found the Protestants still quiet as church mice.

I jumped up last Easter, put on my Sunday best, and strolled into church like, “He is risen! Turn up!” just to be met with business as usual. It looked like people had gone out of their way to treat Easter just like any other Sunday. My friend was wearing jeans and I was so offended. She chewed me out at work one time for wearing a t-shirt on Casual Friday because it was “unprofessional,” but on the day that we celebrate my Lord and Savior rising from the grave, she out here with jeans on. Then, to add serious insult to injury, there were no plans for Easter dinner; everybody just went home. I was devastated.

This year, I chose to spare myself the disappointment. I woke up, had my devotional and worship experience featuring Kirk Franklin’s Hosanna album, ate breakfast while watching my favorite Easter episode (Everybody Hates Chris), got dressed in my pastels, and headed to the coffee shop to reflect on what Resurrection Sunday means to me at this point in my life.

I was always cynical about the story of Jesus dying on the cross. People love to tell the story and make it super personal for everyone. “He died just for you. If it were just you, he still would have died on the cross.” I was always confused as to why people thought I should be moved by those words. As there are over seven billion people on this planet, why would I delude myself into thinking that God was being slaughtered at Golgotha, thinking, “Andrea Marie Tyler, this is for you and you alone”? No, that’s like some Santa Claus –naughty or nice list- type foolishness. I’m too old for that.

Yet, despite my cynicism, I do feel special to God, like I’m called for a higher purpose. For that reason, I don’t deal with regret. I question myself a lot and try to make sure that I’m learning the right lessons and moving forward as I should, but I don’t look back over my life, pointing at decisions and saying, I shouldn’t have done that. And it’s simply because I believe that what God ordains, He will maintain. I believe that God has called me to do great things, so if my life took a certain turn, that turn had a purpose because my steps are ordered.

Despite this belief, I have asked myself a few times this year, “Do you regret having stayed in Guatemala another year?” It was this time last year that I made the decisions to stay a second year and I remember being absolutely certain that it was the right choice, but it has been harder to recall my reasons. I do remember thinking that I felt that I had only skimmed the surface of life my first year here. I had learned a lot, but my learning had been horizontal in nature and I wanted to go deep. I wanted to really root myself in my community.

Primarily, my community here is the school where I work and I have been unable to root myself because the ground is fallow. I have been disappointed with my experience at the school because I have a longing to be a part of something that is bigger than myself, to experience real community, but that is not possible because, as a school, we have no vision and no visionary. The school prides itself on being a place that values teacher autonomy, but that’s just a euphemism for the reality that everyone just does what he or she wants because there is no accountability. I would be the first to say that I have benefitted from the freedom, but I would eagerly sacrifice it for the purpose of working towards being the school we profess to be in our mission and vision statement.

However, it’s no longer worth protesting the status quo because the spirit of complacency runs so deep. Oh yes, people complain. Everybody complains all of the time about everybody else. But, when it’s time to identify the problems and realize that they are systemic and real change is going to have to come from the top-down, people lose their aggression and are content to just say, “Oh well, you know how it is.”

At the beginning of the school year, I decided to stop trying to change that which was determined to remain the same. I pledged to focus on my classes and that alone. So, all of my energy goes into the twenty students I serve on a daily basis. I’m better at the teaching part than I am at the mentoring aspect of the job. I told my fellow middle school teachers at the beginning of the second semester that my goal was to be better about going beyond the classroom and engaging the students as people.

I had someone particular in mind when I stated that goal. I have a student who has made it very clear that she is very fond of me and I enjoy her as well. She is so observant and she reminds me of myself when I was her age. Heck, she reminds me of my present-self. Sometimes, I’m sitting somewhere around the school, observing people being ridiculous and commenting on it in my head when suddenly, the commentary is entering through my ear drum and I look down to see her standing beside me saying, “Ms. Tyler, look at this person over doing this thing. That doesn’t make any sense because…” I find myself wishing she were one of my coworkers, so I could turn to her and be like, “Right?! I thought it was just me! Girl…” but because she is not, I have to fix my face and tell her to go sit down somewhere.

She is so smart, which is why it’s frustrating to look at her grades. Her grades by no means reflect her intelligence and I’m forever trying to tell her that she is smarter than her work product. “You have so much potential, Darling! Use it!” But no, she’s so disorganized. The morning of a test, I find her notebook in the main office when I get to work and I roll my eyes. We have eight weeks of school left and last week, I had reached my limit with her. I thought, “Ooo, I’m done talking to this girl about her potential. If her energy has not become kinetic by now, it’s not going to, so forget this.” But then God had to check me real quick and was like, “Um, was it you who had to go to summer school after seventh grade because you failed science and are you also the one who coasted through eighth grade with an assortment of letters on your report card?” Oh, you true. Ok, I guess I can dig down and find some more compassion.

The last Friday before spring break was parent-teacher conferences. I was eager to meet with her parents because all of the teachers had noticed that she had been depressed earlier in the year. We were hoping that the parents could shed some light on the situation and that together, we could help her pull herself back together. As soon as she sat down at my table with her parents, tears were streaming down her eyes. She wouldn’t speak. She just cried. When I tried to engage her parents, I was met with strong resistance. Either they hadn’t noticed, or chose not to notice, the changes occurring in their daughter.

That meeting touched something deep inside of me and I could not figure out what it was until I was talking to a friend about it later in the week. It was a memory that had been probed. I used to be her. When I was falling apart in middle school and just going through the motions of living, I was crying out for someone to notice, but no one did. I realize that she and I share more than a cynical worldview and a watchful eye. And maybe, this is why I am here. For her. “And if it was just for her?” God asked. “If you knew these two years were just for her, would you have still come?” Yes. Yes, I would still have come.

In that moment, God’s love for me was so clear because I could see His love for her. Only God’s love could have compelled that fervent yes out of me. Andrea is not that selfless. I like for life to be about me. I did not come to Guatemala to be a missionary. I’m here because I wanted to work on my Spanish, travel, and dance. Only God could mold my self-centered wishes into a desire to save someone the way He once saved me.

I feel like the lens through which I have been filtering my life has changed. Suddenly, I’m aware of all the ways that God has tried to show me that I’m special, that He loves me, and that I matter to Him. My mom is always telling me how blessed I am. When I tell her about how this person did this for me or how this friend came through for me in a certain situation, she always just stares at me in amazement. “Wow, Andre. You are favored, chile.” I never paid much attention to what she was noticing. I was always grateful, but I never saw those acts as a demonstration of God’s love until it was time to go and be one of His instruments.

I think about my student and I smile thinking about all that God has planned for her. If God could have plucked me all the way from where I was to come here, going through all that I have experienced, just to be here for her, she must be somebody special.

I am thankful for His death and His sacrifice. And yet, it is these everyday miracles, these crazy displays of affection where God uses His other children, to show us how loved and valued we are that ultimately won my heart.

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