I almost quit my job today.

I almost quit my job today.

This morning, I saw a new job posting for the job I wish I had taken six years ago. Getting it would guarantee me not only a college campus I know like the back of my hand and the job I believe I was made to do, but a ready-made community and old friends with which to have deep conversations.

Friends. That sounds like the most wonderful thing to me right now. I have lived in Texas for nearly a year and yet I find myself quite lonely and essentially friendless. I haven’t curled up on a couch to talk about life and the living of it since I got here, and friends are something I would like to be in the presence of. My heart aches for real connection and laughter and vulnerability. I love Texas, but life has felt so harsh these past weeks. I feel that some people are harsh with their words and actions when it is unnecessary, and I especially feel that I am much too harsh with mine, that I snap when I shouldn’t and speak when I shouldn’t and get too excited and interrupt everyone all the time. I cry over my words at night so much anymore, afraid I am saying the wrong thing and doing the wrong thing and treating my work tribe badly and too loudly because I am tired and scared and my heart is all in shambles.

So, a job I would love surrounded by people I already love felt like too good of an opportunity to pass up. I went so far as to rework my resume, ask a colleague to be a reference, and ponder new beginnings over my lunch hour. I was ready to go and the swiftness with which I could leave in my heart frightened even me. I’m good at opening doors. But I’m even better at slamming them shut behind me.

I almost did it, too. I was on the third draft of my cover letter when I heard a soft knock at my office door. A colleague from another department stopped by to pick my brain about new processes and curriculum to help our students. As soon as she left, I was overly excited about the possibilities and I raced through the office to head to a meeting when a student stopped me just to say, “Hi, Miss Dana.” And while I was thinking about that interaction and how far that student has come in recent weeks, I sat through my meeting and talked to three more colleagues I barely know about how we can serve our students better. And I found more passionate souls there who care deeply about the souls we serve.

And then a student stopped by my office to tell me about his life and how he’s planning to live it more intentionally with those he loves. And then I got asked to sit in on another colleague’s meetings and share in his joy over new things in his area. And then I had an event tonight to which few showed up. But the ten of us sat there far past when we were supposed to be done and we had raw and real conversations about financial literacy and life.

After I finished the teaching portion and we all agreed they were tired and perhaps even overwhelmed by all of life’s happenings, my usually bubbly kid talked about how a supervisor was treating her badly and you could just see the weight of it in her face. But she opened up, and that right there is a tiny victory worthy of celebration. I heard about how one student paid for three other students’ tuition last semester, and how it had affected her emotionally. How she didn’t think she could say no to anyone, but then another student piped up and spoke life and truth to her and shared her own experiences of learning to say no, and they exchanged numbers for future conversations. That same student sat in my office just two months ago, broken and hurting, and we had talked through how setting healthy boundaries is not the same as building walls. And now here she was, teaching her peer the same lesson she had learned.

Another student, my very toughest nut to crack, got real honest about his poor habits and how something has got to give. He’s had bags under his eyes and weighed down shoulders for awhile now and I’ve been quite worried, but he never complains and I know where he’s at. I’ve had that same look in my eye and when you get to that point, no amount of people telling you what to do will fix you. You have to hit your rock bottom and then rise. But first you have to hit your rock bottom.  He’s there. I cannot wait to see how he will rise.

One of my international students learned about the very American concept of self-worth tonight, and taught us all a good lesson about not getting too caught up in it. Another put his chin on his hands at the end and said thoughtfully, more to himself than to anyone, “Oh. I get it now. Finances affect everything in your life.” Yes, kid. Yes. That same student, he’s the one with whom I have an uneasy, sometimes contentious, rapport. But he stood there in the doorway afterward with his pizza and his rumpled clothes, and he lamented the fact that he is a devout Christian who feels like he’s in hot water. So we talked honestly about how beautiful this community is, and the vast opportunities there are to love and respect and have real conversations with the variety of people in this place. How as God-seekers we are called to love and serve. And he left looking a little lighter.

And as we walked out, I stopped to chat a moment with a group of kids I know, and they unexpectedly opened up about their problems. And one I’m just getting familiar with told me he needed to come see me just to talk. And another told me some feedback he had heard about a program I did early last semester, and how he was finally sold on the fact that I actually care about students’ lives. And they ate their leftover pizza and let me listen to them for a few more minutes.

So then a student walked me to my car because it was late and, for reasons that are my own, I am dreadfully afraid of the dark and being alone in it. For someone who is used to going it alone but hates having to be on guard, there is something to be said for the small and quiet blessing of not having to be your own protector for two minutes. And I smiled all the way home. Because I feel like I’ve been walking around in a daze, overwrought with all of the things that are completely beyond my control and choking back tears at my desk. I don’t know how many times people have nearly caught me crying in my office in the last month or so. But today, I felt the Lord whispering quietly, “Do you love them? Do you love them enough to work long hours? Do you love them enough to hear their stories, good and bad? Do you love them enough to feed their bellies AND their hearts? Do you love them? Do you love them enough to bear the brunt of their anger and the weight of their fear? Do you love them enough to put aside everything you are dealing with and take a deep breath and be present with them? Do you love them enough to sit through meetings and admonishments and wholly unprofessional conversations so you can serve them better? Do you love them? Do you love them enough to speak truth in hard moments? Do you love them enough to have to wait months before you know if any of the work you have given yourself over to is actually making a difference? Do you love them enough to stay?”

Yes, Lord. Yes, Lord. Yes, Lord. Even when I feel like I’m getting every single thing wrong, this is my yes. Wholeheartedly. Without reservation.

I almost quit my job today. I’m so glad I didn’t.

A letter to my students.

Students,

There are things you are learning day by day about yourselves and the world around you and your fellow travelers in it. I’m honored to walk alongside you, but I rarely have opportunity to give voice to what I see while doing so. A few words for the road…

You are excited. I love how you you get worked up because you were successful in pulling an event or a project together that meant a lot to you. When you are jumping up and down in excitement, I am jumping up and down with you. I will give you all the hugs and high fives you ask for because joy  in accomplishments is a good good thing to share. Strive to always be excited when you accomplish something, whether you are in college or at home or in your own office one day. Even the little things deserve celebration.

You are brilliant. You tell me about your ideas for running companies and working in higher education (which always thrills me) and being change-agents in your home countries and I am in awe of how you plan to shine your lights on the world. You are still dreamers in this stage and we are all the better for it. Dream and dream some more. Be ready to act when it is time.

You are vulnerable. You sit in my office and fiddle with your backpacks and lay your lives bare to my waiting ears. Sometimes the conversations we have are hard. Sometimes there are tears and sometimes laughter. Life is a precious, holy mix of both. I hope you leave feeling less burdened, a little lighter, and ready to face your days.

You are honest. You haven’t learned the myriad of ways to filter/manipulate/hold back just yet, so I get to hear it all: your tawdry jokes, your things you’ve never told anyone, your raw feelings, your anger, your prejudices, your knee-jerk responses. I love your honesty and I love that you feel comfortable enough to tell it.

You are silly. I’ve watched you fight dirty over cookies and step on cupcakes and forget your wallets and get stark raving mad at wi-fi speeds and burn popcorn to a crisp and use big words incorrectly and break rules you don’t like and stay up until unholy hours and end relationships on a whim. All with the same wild abandon. College is a great time to be silly.

You are kind. You bring me gifts and stories from your countries, you heap high praise on your friends, you show up and do what is asked of you on short notice, you look out for one another, you bear one another’s financial woes, and you dwell in the diversity of your college community with such grace that you are teaching us all how to better acknowledge the dignity and respect and worth of all humans. You are determined especially to that end.

You are uncomfortable. Even those of you oozing confidence have these moments where you forget the script and stumble over your words and get flustered. Each and every time, I want to tell you it will be okay. Rainer Maria Rilke once wrote, “Be patient towards all that is unsolved in your heart.” Do just that. You’re still growing. You’ll fit your skin eventually.

 

You render hurt the same way you render kindness: almost recklessly. For better or for worse, every action has a reaction. Watch your words. Watch your actions. Be mindful of the advice you receive and dig deep before you take it. You are all capable of great and wonderful things, but you get to decide if you will do them/be them/live them or not. We are all  travelers on this journey. Live yours well.

You are loved. You don’t know how much my heart explodes when you walk into my office simply for a hug. You don’t know how often I have cried and prayed over all of you in the years I have been at this work. You don’t know the hours I have spent in independent research trying to figure out how best to handle your lives and give you resources to succeed. You don’t know how many times I’ve wanted to quit, only to be reminded the next day through your actions why I do what I do and why I have let it steal my heart so thoroughly.

You have made me grateful. Grateful to pour into your lives. Grateful for the challenge of being intentional and present with you. Grateful to learn from you. Grateful to encourage and empower you to be yourselves.Grateful to bear witness to the way you fall and rise up. You have made me grateful, students.

Much love.