Tag Archives: death

on the death of my former students

i recently found out that another of my former students has passed away.  i taught for 8 years at locke high school in south los angeles.  at this point, 4 of my former students are dead…that i know of.   all young men.  all dead via guns.  2 african-americans.  2 latinos.  3 shot by another person.  1 shot from an accidental self inflicted gunshot.

i am saddened by their passing, all too soon and all without a fair shake in life, but sadly i am also not too surprised. unfortunately, all were already headed down a dangerous path by the time i met them.  not only because of the poverty they grew up in.  not only because of the violent neighborhood in which they lived.  not only because of an absence of positive male role models in their lives.  by 9th grade they were already checking out of school emotionally. sometimes i could get through to them but more often my words and actions as a teacher couldn’t reach them.  trust for adults had been broken long before.  they needed support and love in a much more profound way, to not only reach them but to heal them of their deep wounds.

i remember having one on one conversations with each of them.  too often for their behavior.

E was a goofy kid that put a smile on my face.  he struggled with reading.  he would be disruptive, often when he wanted to impress those around him.  he would talk about gangs to seem cool.  but he was still just a sweet child.  he began to run with gangs.  he was shot in the face on the street.

R was an angry student,  but he was creative and a leader amongst friends.  he still remembered the hurt from an experience with an elementary teacher who made him stand in a corner for misbehaving.  he seemed to have written off school from back then.  from my understanding he was shot in the back.

U was another angry student, quiet and tough.  however, he was fiercely loyal to those he loved and much more intelligent then he let on.  he was walking his younger brother to school when he was shot in the chest.

J, this is the student that i had most recently and the one who broke my heart even when he was alive.  so bright, so charismatic.  we had deep talks one on one about all manner of existential questions.  yet when he came to class, he was physically present but often somewhere else. too often he would come to class under the influence of some substance.  sometimes he would just put his head down and refuse to do anything.  i called home multiple times.  his mother was at her wits end with her two adolescent boys.  they would not listen to her even with the threat of the law getting involved.  their father was in prison and unavailable.  this is the student that really compelled me in my private thoughts to think about how young people needed so much more than what i could offer them in the classroom.   this is the student that was an impetus for me changing careers to be a youth pastor: to be intentional, not only to help a young person academically but to support them spiritually.

not that i have gotten there but that is my hope.  this is also not to say that a teacher could not do these things, in fact i still respect anyone in the profession so much for consistently doing the hard work of love.  but i had to acknowledge my limits and where to focus my life.  the lives and deaths of my students are a reminder to me that it is not enough to pass on knowledge but to make time to listen to people and to walk with them.  God, please raise up more people to commit themselves to the hard work of loving like your Son did.  Make me one such person.

“When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.  Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.'” – Matthew 9:36-38


day 24: in darkness

Isaiah 9:1-7; Luke 1:79

“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone.” – Isaiah 9:2

“…to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” – Luke 1:79

to walk, to dwell, to sit in darkness…this darkness that envelops everything you know.  to be lost where ever you are.  to not see any way out.  to have despair meet you at every turn.  you are alive, but death is continually right at your door…its shadow looms over you.

maybe you have known this darkness.  maybe it’s hard to relate to at first since we take for granted all the artificial lights we are surrounded by these days.  maybe it’s hard to remember when we were in such a place, since we take for granted His light that we can turn to now.  but, there was a time when there was no light…when this darkness was all that people could see.  maybe if we look a little deeper this darkness still has its grips on us, no matter how we’ve tried to drown it out.  maybe we are more familiar with this darkness then we’d like to admit.  maybe it came by to visit recently…even today.

if this darkness is something you know…do not fear, for you are precisely the person for whom Jesus, the Great Light, has come…to shine on you…to guide you to peace.   those who feel no need for this Light will not have Him.  those who are too messed up to put up a front…He is yours…He is ours.

have you known or currently know this darkness?  how can you let His Light shine on you this day, this season, for the rest of your life?

thank you Lord that you are the Light for the darkness

day 11: identification

Isaiah 63:8-9; Luke 2:1-20

“For he said, ‘Surely they are my people, children who will not deal falsely.’  And he became their Savior.  In all their affliction he was afflicted, and the angel of his presence saved them; in his love and in his pity he redeemed them; he lifted them up and carried them all the days of old.” – Isaiah 63:8-9

“‘For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.  And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.’  And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,’Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!'” – Luke 2:11-14

out of His love, He rescued us.  He had to become our Savior.  but it cost Him so much to do so.  to love us He would have to become us…and take on all our pain.  “in all their affliction He was afflicted“…i have to really meditate on that.

one, in order to become our Savior He had to become a human…the Creator would humble himself to take on the form of His creation…in the midst of all its frailty.  second, He became a child, dependent and weak in the eyes of mankind.  third, he was born into poor conditions, in a food trough for animals, to parents in a seemingly scandalous position, as the father was not the biological father of the child.  fourth, he was born to die…a fascinating insight from fructenbaum reveals that the “swaddling cloths” was probably not the regular baby clothes of a child (otherwise why would it be noted as a sign or something unusual to distinguish this child for the shepherds to find?) but the other meaning of the word: burial clothes.  to add to the likelihood of this interpretation is that stables, with mangers for animals, in these days were actually caves…caves also used to bury people in.  burial cloths would thus be kept in caves.  so when Jesus was born he was wrapped in death…literally and figuratively.  in order to save us jesus would be wrapped in burial cloths and buried in a cave after his death.  He would be laid low so we could be “lifted up“.  what affliction of the human experience did he not know or experience at some level?  then there is a very common misreading of the angels’ announcement…it does not say “peace on earth”, it says “on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased.”  He gives peace not to a land but He gives peace to people.  to think he is pleased with any of us is amazing.  yet He places his favor on us because He offered us this peace even though it meant He would be “afflicted” and knowing that “upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace.” (isaiah 53:5c)

how much must He love us that He humiliated Himself so much to do so?  how can we bring our afflictions to Him, remembering that He has experienced afflictions personally?

thank you Lord that you loved us enough to identify with us