Posts tagged #inspiration

being joshua and caleb in a no name world

let me introduce you to some friends of mine. i met some of the most incredible teenagers tonight. and it's not because of their attendance or their grades or their achievements in sports. it's because of their faith.

in the fall, these kids were introduced to Kibera, Kenya through a video created by their teacher during her trip last summer. they fell in love with their peers thousands of miles away and mentioned the idea of actually answering the call and going to help.

an idea turned into action because of these kids' faith.

these kids truly are Joshuas and Calebs in a no-name world. in a world where people will most likely look at them like they're crazy, they are standing tall. in a world where most kids their age save money for a new car or prom tickets or the latest fashions, these kids are brainstorming ways to get to Africa - because they want to help others.

they know love conquers all, and they are taking a risk. a risk so many adults would hesitate to take.

but, no one tells your story better than you - so i'll let you see (and hear) for yourself.


Posted on March 8, 2010 and filed under africa, story.

stories for stories

A good storyteller doesn't just tell a better story, though. He invites other people into the story with him, giving them a better story too. - Donald Miller A couple months ago I introduced you to my sister Blanche. Two years ago this summer, she went to Haiti. I couldn't have been more excited - I took my own trip to Haiti which sparked an inciting incident in my life the summer after my senior year in high school. Once there, I was never the same. But more on that story later. During Blanche's trip to Haiti, I prayed. I prayed and waited and prayed and waited some anxious for her to come back and tell me stories of the country I missed so much.

Blanche's inciting incident occurred in Haiti as well - while holding a little boy in the middle of an orphanage. She took pictures, wanting to etch into her memory the faces of these precious children who stole her heart. Hearing their story, she never wanted to forget.

She went to Kenya this past summer - loving on orphans and falling in love with Africa. Once again, she came back with pictures. With tears in her eyes she would tell us the story of the little girl in the picture who had been found herding goats at the age of four - so far removed from society she had no knowledge of any language. For every picture, there was a story.

We dreamed about what it would mean to actually go and just listen to people's stories. We planned a trip - flying into Cape Town and traveling up the east coast of Africa just listening, writing, taking pictures, agenda. No hope for money making or gaining popularity because of the trip. Just curiosity and an urge to fill blank pages of our life story.

Since then, her love for photography and story and living a life centered on James 1:27 has blossomed. But, it was after a particularly rough semester filled with failure and redemption, she found her own story.

She called me one night - breathless with anticipation. "I have a BRILLIANT idea" she said as her words tumbled over one another. I couldn't help but smile because I recognized the urgency. All three of us Jacobson sisters inherited it from somewhere - a sense that our idea needs to be written down, filed, locked away and kept under high scrutiny until it's come to fruition. It was in this conversation that Stories for Stories was born.

Her idea resonated with me - particularly because the same week she was in Haiti, I was at Lake Junaleska, realizing my purpose was to tell the stories of those forgotten. Immediately, I knew she had something huge.

We launched Stories for Stories last weekend. Our website is rough. Our twitter followers are few. But people are getting excited. And I'm realizing all over again the beauty within a story.

There's always a risk - always some challenge. There's always some situation or incident that catapults us into the unknown. There's always pain and tears and black moments where we don't believe we can make it another day. But. There's hope and beauty in risk. The unknown is scary, but worth every blind step. The pain and tears and black moments make us question why we ever bought into this story in the first place, but once we're on the other side, our ragged edges serve as a reminder of our survival - and it's beautiful.

We'd love to have you join us. It's really quite amazing, hearing all of these stories. And if you are one of those people who believe you have no story - that you are just another ordinary person with nothing extraordinary to your name - I say one simple phrase: you're wrong.

You have dreams. You have aspirations - however secret or pushed down deep under your comfortable life. Answer this question: what would you do if you had the opportunity to write your story? What would you attempt - what would you hope to accomplish in your life time? Don't limit yourself. Most importantly, don't limit the ultimate Storyteller who is dying to write an epic tale with you as the main character.

Live. Risk. Write your story. Listen to the Storyteller within you - chances are he's been begging you to do something for awhile. And when resistance comes, push harder. Go deeper. Find the courage to pursue a life abundant with adventure.

We'll be waiting on the other side cheering you on - waiting for you to share your story.

If you would be interested in joining us, please go to our facebook page for more information.

Posted on January 17, 2010 and filed under story.

we are giants.

In those days, we finally chose to walk like giants & hold the world in arms grown strong with love & there may be many things we forget in the days to come, but this will not be one of them

- Brian Andreas

I came across this from a good friend of mine. The moment I read it something happened inside my heart. Something concrete & hopeful & dangerous. From that second - I promised myself whatever I did, I would do it remembering this story & those I have met along the way who hold the world in their arms of love. And I have forgotten a lot. I have failed to write my heart & my dreams down. Words & thoughts & hopes have gone with the wind, and I can only hope that unlike Hughes' dream deferred, mine will return & not rot like a raisin in the sun.

However, there are moments where my dreams seem vibrant with color & so tactile I feel as though I can reach out & grab them. A couple weeks ago was one of those times.

I wish I could capture every magical moment of the rescue. I wish I could capture the beauty of pick up duck-duck goose games or midnight freeze tag or last minute taxi rides in the wee hours of the morning while walking the streets of Austin in search for George Lopez. I can only try & grasp with my weak vocabulary the severity of what joining together with thousands across the world did to my heart.

But I will try. Because I have to. Because I refuse to forget this moment.

I drove down to Austin on the 25th of April. I remember the weather. Sunny, almost brimming with anticipation -- as if even the weather knew what was broiling in the minds of thousands of young people. We were many, but we had one hope. One goal. Abducting ourselves in solidarity with the child soldiers of n. Uganda & awaiting rescue from a mogul -- be it politician or celebrity. We just needed a statement. Them standing in solidarity with us, who were standing in solidarity with the children. Because our rescue ultimately meant their eventual escape from a horrific life of terror. When I got to the Capitol, there were about twenty volunteers there, waiting & laughing & planning for the hundreds who would show. The abductees started the trek at 3 that afternoon in the blazing sun & showed up at the site after their mile and a half walk with flushed cheeks & wind whipped hair.

And they were smiling. All of them. A smile of hope.

Before long, the Capitol lawn was littered with sleeping bags, ice chests, guitars, footballs, pillows, scrap paper & new best friends. Within hours, boxes designated for letters to Senators were overflowing, proving wrong society's perception of our "apathetic" generation. Apathetic we are not. Even in the face of rain and bitter disappointment

It started raining some time in the early morning hours. Walking from group to group, our voices growing hoarse and our hair growing damp, we shared inspirational stories to keep the momentum going for our impending rescue. We had a mogul. She had agreed to an offsite interview & we were going to see her making a statement for our movement at noon on Sunday. Excitement was building, people anxious for a shower & sleep worked out their jitters with dodgeball & red rover. Didn't know the person next to you? No matter. They were your family simply because of the common bond. Instant friendship. Instant trust.

We got word around 11:45. Volunteers were called to a meeting at the VIP tent & walking towards the group I knew something was wrong. Long faces may not seem out of place after a night of no sleep - but this is a different crowd. No sleep? No problem. Double shot of espresso, good friends, good music, good laughs & good conversations pass the time & make you forget of exhaustion. Long faces don't accompany the faces of my IC family very often. I walked up to the group timidly & began hearing bits of the conversation. It didn't take me long to get the idea.

Our mogul wasn't coming.

We weren't rescued.

The promises we had given the camp the night before? The pleas to stay because it was gonna be worth it?


But wait.

We looked at each other. Suddenly, the realization sank deep in our bones & we let it simmer in our souls for awhile.

This is why we were here.

The games were fun. The instant friendships were meaningful & would be a catalyst for life-long relationships & a taste for true community.

But we were not there for us. We were not there to play dodgeball or red rover or sing songs late at night by the light of a flashlight and the tune of the guitar.

We were there to stand in solidarity with the children who had hoped & hoped & hoped for rescue for over 23 years. We were there to understand what it was like to be promised something (like rescue) and be disappointed in the backfiring of the best laid plans. Because these kids? They've been promised peace five times. It's no exaggeration when I say a whole generation has never known peace. I will say this again. In n. Uganda, a whole generation has never known peace. And we were losing heart with our mogul falling through? In Austin? No. We would not lose heart. We would stay. We would press on & keep the faith & not leave until we got someone.

It took another 24 hours.

On Monday, August 27, 2009, 48 hours after many had first stepped on the Capital lawn, we were rescued. Many were soaked - it had been raining off & on all evening & between dodging sprinklers, fighting sleep & staying strong, many were refusing to let up. A fire had been lit. And just like with any fire, it had onlookers. I don't think I will ever forget the black suits watching us from inside the cushy offices - warm & dry - while we stood ground outside the Capitol steps dripping wet & taking turns in the dry air of Subway, Starbucks, or walking barefoot in the Capitol building for a moment's reprieve from the rain. We truly were a force to be reckoned with, and they knew. We had been heard; we had been seen; and in the process, these children were not invisible anymore to those in Austin who could make a tangible plea in Congress on our behalf.

We were rescued on Monday, but other cities weren't so lucky. I went home Monday night to my bed, others were still battling freezing rain & blistering sun & bitter disappointment. Russ didn't come home for another four days.

And while those four days held about three other blog posts, know this: I learned something about my generation that week. My generation? We are a persistent bunch. We will not give up. We will not give in. And whether it be forcing trends on twitter to listen to us or demanding mogulus watchers to pay attention to this channel called invisible children or connecting people cross country to others whose hearts beat in the same way or sticking it out old school for the big O' to come to the rescue, we will wait. Because there's something else I noticed about our generation.

We believe in the absolute truth of hope. And in this hope lies the truth that impossibility doesn't exist in our vocabulary. Our arms have been built with the persistence of love, and we will hold those hurting until others join the fight. We will walk together, knowing community exists when dreams are fostered, and to those around us we will seem as giants. And looking around, we will know this is true.

Posted on May 13, 2009 and filed under the in-between.

you are here...

Lately, my students have been focusing on their story. Well, I say lately. It's more like, the theme of my classroom is "finding your story." Lately, we have been focusing more on writing the story down. We started with writing life inventories (see this post for the inspiration behind this lesson) & posted them on Life in Thirty. It was amazing to see the student's reactions & hear what they were saying about others' lists. If you haven't checked it out, I encourage you to read some of the lists on that site. They are...heartbreaking, insightful, hilarious...and the ones written by my loves are well, apparent. You'll see. So, in keeping with the tradition, I thought I would have the kids post their stories on a blog. They've been writing & editing & writing some more...& tomorrow we will post their stories on our new class website. I'm anxious to see what the kids are going to say. I've already read much of what they have written & am so inspired by their resiliency. The following is what I wrote as the first post to hopefully get them going:

You know when you are at a mall or an amusement park or anywhere that involves a map because it’s so huge you will lose your way without guidance? Well. You are here.

It’s (almost) the end of your junior year of high school. You’ve made it through a lot to get to this point - relationships. breakups. drama with your mama and with your best friend. drama with your ex-best friend. failures. successes. wins & losses. heartbreak. hope. despair. apathy. determination. All of these emotions & experiences culminate into an epic journey only YOU can complete. This begs the question: where do you go from here?

The answer? Anywhere.

Here’s the thing, though - you gotta remember where you’ve been.

Is this hard? You betcha. More often than not, it’s excruciating. You know this already. If it weren’t, you wouldn’t be so against writing your story. Putting on paper (keyboard, screen, whatev) what makes you…you. No - remembering where we have been is often the hardest part. But, it’s what helps us get to where we want to be.

The baseball player will often think of the grueling practices and painstaking drills when faced with 2 outs and missing the lead by 1 point in a championship game. It is those practices that have gotten him where he is. It is those practices that will push his team to a win - clenching the title.

The dancer will often think of the bloody toes and pinched feet right before her audition with Juliard. It is those moments of pushing through the pain that have given her the strength to pursue her dream. It is the diligence of practice that will allow her to excel & exceed any expectations.

These are just a few minute examples. It could be applied to anything, really. The girl with a broken home and an abusive father will remember the drunken nights when faced with a night of studying for a test that could make or break her graduation. It is those nights, in all of their pain & uncertainty & hopelessness, that forces her to push for a brighter future. It is those arguments that reveal to her the absolute necessity of studying for this test - so she can become something better than her upbringing.

Where you come from? What you go through? These things are important.

Which brings us to today.

You are here because your stories are important. You are here because your stories - all of them - need to be shared. Once everyone has submitted their stories on to the site, there will be almost a hundred stories of people just like you who have survived a tumultuous 16, 17, 18 year span. Some will be hilarious, others will be heartbreaking, still others will be thought-provoking & challenging. Submit your story. Read what others have written. But most importantly? Take this seriously. For some of you, this is the first time someone (or multiple someones) have even been remotely interested in who you are & where you’ve been. Be honest. Be gut-wrenchingly transparent with yourself & the others who will read. Why?

Who wants to read a fictitious autobiography? Why do you think stories hold such meaning? They speak of characters rising out of their circumstances - being a hero in a seemingly hopeless situation. You never know whose life will be changed by reading your story of hope despite difficult situations. Life isn't pretty - most often, it's pretty messy. So be truthful. And know that light is most beautiful when reflected off of broken glass.

Tell your story. Declare yourself. Someone will listen.

Posted on April 15, 2009 and filed under finding{and telling}your story.

Just Listen.

It's been an interesting week.

Lately, whenever I feel an urge to write, something quenches it before I can get any words on the page. Kind of frustrating for a girl who stands in front of her students every day reminding them of the importance of story.
This week though, the pull is greater than my hesitancy. U2 is serenading me & thoughts of this past week are bouncing around recklessly inside my head.
I love being a teacher. It is, without a doubt, my calling to take students and inspire them in the best way I can to understand their stories are not only important, but necessary to society. More often than not, the resiliency of these teenagers surprise me.
Scenario One: My AP classes are taking part in a unit that came to me during morning devotionals a couple months ago: Mad as Hell - A Look at Community & the Individual's Responsibility to Poverty & Homelessness. All this week we have been reading and discussing thoughts from other intellectuals. Some who believe we should give 30% of our income straight to donations, others who hold fast to the Darwinian theory of "survival of the fittest." I had the privilege of sharing with them what I have learned over the past year - the importance of aid vs. empowerment. The result? An INCREDIBLE discussion today where I spoke a total of two minutes in each class because the students monopolized most of the talking time. (This is agood thing) The topic? Are we as individuals responsible to those in poverty and those who are homeless?
As always, especially with a discussion over a sensitive issue such as this, the kids amazed me with their insight. Some of my kids mentioned the current housing crisis and how much of the problems stem from banks loaning too much & people buying too extravagantly. Then she spoke. A quiet, happy, vivacious and gentle student who is always waiting for me when I get to school in the morning. With her chin quivering & tears in her eyes, she shared that losing a house does not always depend on the foolishness or laziness of the owner. In her situation, an absent father instigated the foreclosure sign being pushed into the grass outside her front door. The one memory she has of her father is rooted in his swindling money from her mother's bank account, causing them to go bankrupt & eventually lose their house. By the time she finished talking, tears were running freely and the room was completely silent. An eye-opener for some.
Scenario Two: My other classes, in preparation of the TAKS test, have been discussing the power of story. We watched The Freedom Writers, learned the Three Act Structure (thanks, Jason Russell) & played the line game.
We've had some interesting discussions in my classes this week because of this topic. Doesn't surprise me. These kids have so much to say & not many people listen to them. Offer them an ear? Be prepared to listen. After watching the movie, I asked the students how they felt in comparison to the kids at Wilson High. Obviously, we in B-town don't have the issues these kids in LA faced, but my students face some heavy shizz however you slice or dice it.
In one of my classes, a student raised her hand and asked if she could say something. Apparently, she comes from a mixed family. Her mother is Catholic. Her father? Muslim. When she was in middle school, she would wear the traditional Islamic head covering. Every day, after 5th period, a group of boys would kick, punch, push & hit her for no reason - other than what she was wearing. Walking down the halls weren't any different. Words were thrown towards her like knives, and the wounds didn't show until class a couple days ago. Sitting in my room crying after class, she continued to tell me that after she told her dad what happened, he went up to the school to complain. Administration did nothing. This of course, was seen by the boys as a victory. The harassment continued.
Today we played the line game. This will never cease to amaze me. Never. The class broke into two groups - separated by the tile on the floor. Question after question, students stepped up to the line.
Step up to the line if you have seen Friday the 13th
Step up to the line if you or someone you know has a problem with alcohol
Step up to the line if you or someone you know has experienced gang violence
Step up to the line if you have been shot at
Step up to the line if you have lost someone within the past year.
Stay on the line if you have lost two people.
Step up to the line if you know where to get drugs.
Step up to the line if you have lost someone due to drug overdose
Step up to the line if you have experimented with any illegal narcotic
Step up to the line if you or someone you know has been or is currently homeless...
The questions were numerous & silly & personal & heartbreaking. The one I hate asking but always do is "Step up to the line if you have had a teacher tell you that you are stupid."
It never fails. I always have kids step up to the line.
One girl began crying towards the end of the game. She was the only one who stuck close to the wall when asked, "Step up to the line if deep down, in your heart of hearts, you know you could accomplish something great if given the chance." Snotting on my shoulder, she told me that because of this game, she realized how little she thought of herself. I wrote her a note later on in study hall. Something simple - "I believe in you. - Mrs. R"
She stuck it in her binder - right next to a picture of one of her close friends who passed away earlier this year.
This wasn't the only surprise of the day. Of course. After the line game, we came back into the room and continued the questioning. I grabbed a stress ball and threw it at a student - asking a question. The student answered & threw it at someone else, asking this person a different question. The atmosphere was palpable. There were a few times some students were close to tears, and there were a lot of laughs - but the most important thing? In every class, the students left a family.
These next few weeks will determine how close those familial bonds have welded together.
I've said all this for a number of reasons.
If you have kids - listen to them. They want to talk. In my 7th period, one of my students I had two years ago turned around in his desk and looked at me.
"Mrs. Ramirez, could you get every teacher to do this?"
I laughed. "Why do you say that? You wanting some blow-off classes or something?"
He smiled. "No. Not at all. It's You're trying to reach us. The other teachers just stand in front of us & talk. They don't listen."
They don't listen.
Makes me wonder. How many kids are out there who just want someone to listen to their story?
Posted on March 9, 2009 .