From East to West

Well, it has been two months since I moved from teaching in the East side of Charlotte to the West. And it has been rough. Between breaking up fist fights in my classroom, ignoring creative racial slurs (I got called a cracker star in one of my classes), finding new hiding places for all of my supplies which keep disappearing (seriously, all of my pens are gone. I had like 10), and keeping an eye out for who threw what at who, I don’t have a lot of time left to teach a solid lesson.

I have to keep reminding myself that these kids have earned their black belt in driving off teachers. They successfully got two to quite last year and have the reputation of being the worst class in the school–leading the school with suspensions. The teachers that stuck it out through the last year and came back this year are called survivors.

I want to be a survivor. I want to be more than a survivor. I want to be a thriver.  EVery day I wake up begging God for the fearless strength of Giddeon. The mature Giddeon. Not the one that was hiding away when God called him, but the one that was ready to run into battle with nothing but God. That’s who I want to be.

In it all, there’s those pieces of light. Like my one student who thanks me every day for the lesson I tried to teach saying, “I really liked what you said about thinking of others.”
Or my student who’s mouth runs on a mysterious type of energy that scientist would surely benefit from studying:
Hey Ms. Cristobal! Ms. Cristobal!
What is my grade in your class?
ImeanIknowIgotanFbutwhydoIgotanFIdoyourworkImeanmostofyourwork. ImaynotturnitinallthetimeandIdon’tdothehomeworkbutIdogoodworkinclassandI’mgettingbetter, right?
Ms.CristobalifIcometotutoringwouldthathelppullupmygrades? BecauseIdon’twannagetanFyouknowI’mtryingtodobetterIdomostoftheworkinyourclassandIdon’ttalkallthetimeImeanthere’stimeswhenIamquiet. Sometimes. Whendoyoudotutoring?Tuesdays?CanIcomeTuesdaysfortutoringandpullmygradesup? Yougonnacallmymomma,Ms.Cristobal? Pleasedon’tcallmymommashegonna whoop me.

Update: New Year, New School

Hello everyone!

It’s been a whirlwind of a summer and I haven’t had a lot of time to update my blog. For that I apologize.

After much prayer and searching, I have found God’s next step in my life.

Beginning August 19th, I have moved to a new teaching position as a reading teacher for 7th grade in a public school in the inner city of Charlotte, NC. This is a huge step for me. Although there are some parallels to my previous jobs, there is a lot that is different in this school. I’ve had students for one week already and I feel as though I am relearning the profession of teaching.

I have been hired in the hopes to raise reading scores in a class that is about two grade levels behind in their reading. But my first challenge with this class is discipline and order. It will be impossible to teach if I cannot maintain control in the classroom and I am learning that establishing that control and authority with these students is not as easy as they make it look in the feel-good movies.

At the same time, I have had to move to an apartment in West Charlotte so that I won’t have to wake up at 4am to get to school on time. From my new apartment, I may be 45 minutes away from my family, but I am only 15 minutes away from work.

Between working and moving, I have had very little time for anything else. This year is going to be tough. I’ve always said I like challenges, and God certainly likes throwing them at me. But I am indeed excited to be where I am. I will be refined by fire and it is by God’s strength alone that I will accomplish anything.

Fox and Octopus

I met him at the shore one night.
He was running from a scene.
I was juggling fiddler crabs
When he walked up to me.
“You’ve got to hide me!” he said,
“They’ll take my tail for sure!”
“Can you hold your breath?” I asked.
“You will have to leave the shore.”
I hid him under the waves
With a reed in his mouth for air
Until the farmer’s dogs passed.
(I tried not to stare.)
“Thanks!” he said, “You saved my tail!”
“Why were they after you?” I asked.
“I snatched some meat; would you like some?
I know where I hid it last.”
He darted off, soaking wet
And came dripping back just as fast
“They took it back,” he said to me.
“I had put it in the grass.”
“Too bad, it was freshly smoked
And warm, too,” he said.
“That’s okay,” I wondered what ‘smoked’ meant
And split open a crab instead.
I offered him some of my crab meat.
He sniffed it curiously, then nibbled.
It pleased him and he ate the rest;
A leg, from his mouth dangled.
We spoke between waves so I could catch my breath.
They hit him hard at times.
But he didn’t leave.
Until the sky turned pink with sunshine.
And now, he comes to visit me–
Calling out at my shore.
He brings a thing he calls a bowl
So I can see him more.
I caught a friend

The Day I Touched the Clouds

My dad worked right across the street from my primary school. His flights would disrupt our classes and my teachers would have to pause and wait for his plane to take off before continuing with the lesson. Sometimes he’d show up at my school at lunch or during recess. I’d see him walking through the school yard in his blue flight uniform and I’d go running up to meet him. I loved it when he visited school–not just for his company, though. My dad had a special way of getting me out of class. Whenever he had extra space on one of his flights, he’d show up to tell my teacher he’s taking me out for the day. And we’d go fly. Sometimes I’d even get to bring a friend or two.
Spontaneous travel. That fit our family well. It didn’t matter if I couldn’t go home first to pack a swimsuit or change clothes.
If we ended up at the beach in Wewak, I’d just spend the afternoon trying to dig up sandlions while he did his work at the hanger. Perhaps if I had seen what the sandlions really looked like, I wouldn’t have been so anxious to catch one. But I never did see them, just the sand they’d spit at me from the bottom of their sand funnels. They were always just out of my reach–just below my fingers. If I ever got discouraged with the sandlions, I’d turn to the tiny, shy touch-me-not plants, making all their leaves fold up for me.
Sometimes we’d end up in a little mountain village to visit the translators who were living there and bring them supplies. There were no sandlions or touch-me-nots up there. The village kids would make a wide circle around me, curious, but cautious. None could speak English and I didn’t even know which language they spoke. The awkward staring took a little getting used to, but it was always followed by lots of friendly gestures. Before long, I was swarmed by crowds of kids that wanted to touch my white skin and feel my hair, which fell down on my shoulders and was not useful for holding grass or decorations like theirs. Anything they put in it would just fall right out. Then they would take me around their village in a kind of silent tour which alerted all the other kids to my arrival.
Me and and friend from school after the awkward stare with the village kids was over.

Me and a friend from school after the awkward stare with the village kids was over.

 But where we ended up wasn’t why I’d go with Dad. It was the promise of flying. A part of me was convinced I was born in the air. Or perhaps I was a Care Bear. Because the clouds were definitely my country. Looking down on the land of clouds from an airliner was like surveying my kingdom. Flying through them was like braving a turbulent ocean–breaking through to a new land of fluff and blinding sun on the other side.
The small planes and helicopter that my dad flew in PNG weren’t strong enough to rise above all the clouds. We’d break through them like the big waves at Wewak that I could never quite float over. Many times we flew under them because “clouds are dangerous,” dad would say. “You never know what’s in them.” That was especially true in Papua New Guinea where the clouds could hide a mountain.
Under, over, or in, I loved the clouds. I loved how they looked as if I could bounce on them like a trampoline, or roll in them like the softest, warmest snow on earth. I loved how they felt bumpy on the inside—making us drop and rise like a roller coaster in the sky. It fit their personality. They were magical.


On one particular return trip in the helicopter, Dad and I had to fly through some stormy weather. This was exciting. It meant clouds that we couldn’t do anything but fly through. It meant turbulence. It meant fun. As we approached the storm, my dad closed his small sliding window which he had opened for fresh air. I had learned on another flight, sticking my hand out the window to feel the push of the wind, that rain felt like bullets at this speed. I kept my window closed for this storm, too. We flew under most of the clouds–all that we could manage to avoid. But some were too low. We couldn’t do anything but fly through. I saw it coming. We were headed straight into a cloud.
I thought about grabbing a piece of cloud. Just enough to hold in my hand and carry home with me. Maybe I’d taste it and find out exactly which flavor of candy it tastes like. But definitely take some home to show Jordan. He’d want to see the cloud up close. It’d be even better than holding the elusive sandlion.
Dad! Can I stick my hand out the window and touch the cloud?” I asked him through our headset.
He looked over at me with a smile that knew more than I did. “Sure!” He said.
I pulled my window open just enough to stick my hand out and with all my built up excitement, threw my hand as far as I could to make sure I caught some of the cloud in my fingers. The wind shoved my arm all the way back in the window and I struggled to keep my hand open flat against the force as we flew straight into the cloud.
The cloud ate us up. We were surrounded by it on all sides and couldn’t see out. But my hand never caught any fluff. I closed my fingers, trying to find the cloud that we were inside of. But all I got was wet.
My smile turned into confusion. If the cloud had melted in my hand, I would have understood, but no fluff balls were melting in my hand. It just was… water.
It’s just wet!” I said to my dad, a little disappointed.
Yup!” he said back with that same smile. “Clouds are just water and dust, Jacki.”
And like that, the magic of clouds disappeared—like the fluff balls that I thought I could hug, like the sandlion that was always just out of sight.

For as the Heavens are Higher than the Earth…

When I graduated college in 2008, I told God that I would go anywhere in the world for Him–anywhere but Charlotte. I started applying for jobs in Wilmington, Boston, Cameroon, and Ecuador. I looked into the Peace Corp. I followed after a job opening in the Ukraine–anywhere… but Charlotte.

After six months of searching, I had depleted my funds. I still didn’t have a job and I was forced to move back home to Charlotte, kicking and screaming the whole way.

But God had heard my prayer–and more than that–He had heard my heart. Because even though I had asked to go anywhere in the world, what I was really longing for was a chance to work with foreign cultures. It just seemed logical that that would have to happen in another country. Instead, God answered my heart’s desire in such a way that proved that He was God and that I knew nothing. He brought me to One7 Ministries. And there, I was given the privilege of starting a school with refugee kids from around the world–different cultures, all in one room.

bible class

Teaching my first five students in a tiny conference room at the Asian Library.

When I first started teaching at One7 Academy, the headmistress, MC, asked me where I saw myself in five years. I said I wanted to see my first class graduate high school. I honestly had no clue. But that sounded good enough to me. I couldn’t imagine doing anything else. So that became my prayer for my future, “God, let me stay here and watch my first students graduate high school. Then you can do whatever you want with me.”

But God had to show me that He’s going to do whatever He wants with me all the time. Because, like I hadn’t learned before, God’s ways are better than mine.

So after two years of teaching with these lovely five girls, God closed that door to me and sent me to Brazil to teach for six months. And thus, this blog began. I was sad and elated at the same time. Brazil was an experience that I know God will bring back around in my future.

But even through that turn of events, God had heard my prayer and my heart’s desire. And last year, He brought me back to Charlotte to teach at One7 Academy again (now with 20 students enrolled). And I was given one last year with the girls I had started with:

Tri, my first ever student and the first child I met at One7 Ministries. She is a woman of passion. When she draws, she draws passionately, when she speaks, she speaks from deep within her heart, and when she eats salad, she eats everyone else’s salad, too because somewhere inside her, she is also a rabbit.

When she studies her feet, she does it enthusiastically.

When she studies her feet, she does it enthusiastically.

Kiet, the quiet servant. Devoted and loyal, she is the one that many overlook, not just because she’s about a foot shorter than others, but because she’s bent over cleaning up the floor and caring for the toddlers and picking up things that someone else dropped. She is the meek one that Jesus said would inherit the earth. She is the one He spoke about when He said the last shall be first. She is the true servant leader.

Standing tall at barely five feet.

It amazes me that such a huge servant’s heart can fit in such a small person.

On Friday, I had the privilege of watching these two young girls become women and celebrate the end of their high school careers.

All three members of the class of 2014 of One7 Academy

All three members of the class of 2014 of One7 Academy. From left to right: Kiet, Tri, and Anna.

God answered my prayers for my future, but not in my way. It was even better than I could have ever planned out, myself. I know that he has something great in store for these two lovely ladies. My prayer now is that I’ll get to see what that is.

Some Keep the Sabbath in Meditation

In an effort to explore unfamiliar styles of worship, I have set out on a church hopping quest. My goal is to see God through as many different lenses as possible and perhaps catch a better view of who He is and how we relate to Him.

Several months ago I had the privilege of attending a Greek Orthodox church for their Sunday Morning Liturgy. From them, I was honored to see the holy magnitude of God. We worshiped with a deep sense of reverence, respect, and awe.

This past Sunday, my fellow pilgrims and I ventured into a hidden place at the North end of town. It was the only one of its kind on my map. On a dirt drive, tucked away in the woods, we found a small Quaker meeting house called the Charlotte Friends Meeting.

I had tried to prepare myself for a Quaker (Friends) meeting by asking around on the internet about what to expect and how to dress for the occasion. I once peeked in on a Quaker gathering in Wilmington, NC and noticed that they sat in a circle. I effectively knew two things about Quakers: They’re pacifists, and they wait patiently for the Holy Spirit to lead them. Other than that, I was walking in nearly blind.

Fortunately, the Quakers lived up to their reputation as Friends, which made the whole experience a lot less intimidating than it could have been (even after my phone went off during mediation). They greeted us warmly and guided us in to worship with them.

I was pleased that I had guessed right on a few things. We did sit in a circle and most of the hour that we spent in worship was silent–a time for personal meditation and prayer. This was what I was most excited about.

I’ve read a little on the topic of Christian mediation in the book Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster, but practicing it has been a struggle. My generation and my culture has been taught to be distracted. It’s impossible to be somewhere without music, screens, phones, talking, typing, facebooking or to-do lists. Usually there is more than one of those going at a time. Most churches today won’t even let you pray silently, or let the pastor pray out loud without at least one screen on and music playing in the background. We insist on being distracted. It’s as if we cannot give anyone–not even God–our full attention.

But the Quakers sought to do the opposite. Meditation with them meant that we sat in a room with nothing on the walls. No video screens with announcements or lyrics or floating colors. Instead, three of the walls were giant windows looking out into the forest. The only sound was the bird’s songs of praise. And for an hour, we sat in silence, giving God our full attention and listening for Him to speak to us. When somebody did speak, it was only after careful contemplation.

That’s what I learned from the Quakers: contemplation. I learned to pause and listen for God’s voice. I learned to “be still and know that [He] is God.” (Psalms 46:10)

The Masquerade Party (NaPoWriMo)

The forest was alive in the tree tops
With the masquerade ball in full swing.
A quartet of crickets played for the crowd
Under the full moon soft and glowing.
On a thin, small branch above the rest
The ant host smiled wide
To see the costumes on all the guests
Like a dream come awake in the night.
Down on the thickest of branches,
Where the revelers danced in pairs,
Was the squirrel dressed up like a peacock
With his date, who attracted stares.
And beside them, two sparrows danced
One with eight sticks tied to his back
The other had a tail, much like a fox
Made of pine needles and white lilac.
Far below, on the forest floor
The deer and the rabbits were left out.
Even the bear got a peek of the fun,
When the rabbits sent them up to scout.
But hooves are no good for climbing
And rabbits claws are not strong enough
So, on the ground they sat in a circle
With their necks bent up toward the mischief.
“I bet it’s beautiful,”
One of the rabbits sighed.
“I’m sure it’s a spectacle,”
One of the deer replied.
A bear shimmied down from a forest tree
With a crown of feathers on his head.
“The birds are offering free costumes!
Just ask one of them!” He said.
“I can carry a rabbit up to the main limb,
But I don’t have space for a deer.”
The rabbits all leapt for joy at the thought,
But the deer did not cheer.
Just then, an eagle and an owl fluttered down.
“We heard that the deer wanted in.
Alone, we are not strong enough
But together, it’s a snap,” they grinned.
One deer at a time, the two raptors carried
Until the tree branches began to bend.
And all the animals continued to dance
As the night blushed to an end.

The Masquerade

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