This is more of a life update post instead of a thoughts post. But I have a lot of thoughts about my life update, so here we are.
This week, after just over 4 years away, I go back to being a student. I am excited, nervous, and scared, yet it all still feels a little surreal. I have wanted to work with youth since… well… I’ll tell you when.
I remember where I was when I first felt that pull on my heartstrings: St. Louis, Missouri sometime in the summer of 2007. I was there for a youth conference. I can’t remember who was speaking or what it was about, but I remember thinking:
“I have to do this. I have to be there for the kids who fall through the cracks. The unseen ones.”
I had a hard time growing up. But really, who doesn’t? I look back and I’m almost embarrassed at just how immature I really was. But I also give my past self grace because I was doing the best I could with the tools I had, which wasn’t much.
See, when you get good grades and generally stay out of trouble (read: you don’t get caught), people kind of leave you be. They leave you be and figure you’ve got it handled when the only thing in the whole wide world you can control is your grades. You get good grades while your world is spinning around.
The first time I wanted to die, I was in the fourth grade. I realize now that the mental health issues I am starting to have a handle on at 27 have been locked in my brain for much longer than I wanted to admit. My life wasn’t that bad – but what ten year old wants to die? I wrote letter after letter to leave behind for my family, but I always faltered when it came to talking about my brothers. I didn’t want them to grow up with that legacy of their big sister, especially my youngest one.
It’s really scary to admit that. I don’t think I’ve ever told a soul. I was so lost and in so much pain. I felt like I was standing in a crowded room, screaming at the top of my lungs “help me help me help me” and no one came. No one heard me.
I was unseen. Invisible. Forgotten. Or at least I felt like I was.
So in that arena in 2007, I felt that pull on my heart and I knew: I would be working with youth.
My plan was: finish high school, go to university, get my Education degree, and be a high school English teacher. I worked at my local library for two summers doing the reading program (yay, kids!), and I worked at a club doing summer camps another summer. Much of my adult career experience has revolved around kids.
Halfway through my third year, with just three semesters to go, I switched programs. That was a fun phone call to my mum.
Me: “Mum, I’m changing programs!”
Mum: “Wait, what? But you’re almost done!”
But oh, what a blessing that I did! Because of the switch, I had to do a practicum, and through my practicum I found my place, my thing, my niche in this world. I could finally scratch that itch I first felt in 2007. My life calling fell into place when I started teaching sex ed.
But really, it’s much more than that. It’s not just talking about STIs (I love STI day) or contraceptives. It’s about healthy relationships, boundaries, consent and the right to say no, trust…. all the things that I wish someone had told me about so many years ago.
I had some opportunities along the way to go somewhere else and do something similar but make more money, but this is my sweet spot. This is where I want to be.
Out of all the things in this world that make me anxious, teaching these classes is not one of them. You can put me in front of a hundred students and I’ll roll with the punches. Ask me to make a phone call? I’ll shrivel up and hate every moment (though, this is getting better… slowly).
Over the four (!!!) years that I have been doing this, I had one teacher say I was like a Las Vegas performer. I had several others who encouraged me to get into teaching full time. I’ve seen some students four years in a row, adding something to our conversation every time. I’ve seen students, who sat as far away from me as possible, move to the front in our second class. I’ve laughed – oh man, have I laughed.
I had one student tell me that because of the presentation I gave, she was able to seek help and support and start a new initiative at her school to talk about consent more completely.
And I don’t say this as a brag. It’s incredibly humbling to know that this matters. That people who feel unseen are being seen and heard.
But now, I’m on to a new stage. We’ve come full circle to what I felt twelve years ago in that big arena. I’m going back to school and I’m getting my education degree. My major? Secondary English Language Arts (exactly what I planned all those years ago).
It’s been a long and incredibly challenging process to get to this point, but I think I’m better for it. I know I wouldn’t be as good of a teacher if I hadn’t had those experiences that changed and shaped me. I needed these years to grow, and how I have grown!
That’s the thing about our suffering. Sometimes it’s exactly what we need in order to become who we are. You never know how your current suffering will become the empathy in your heart, the passion in your serving, or the meaning behind your work.
I’m so thankful to still be able to teach the sex ed classes while going to school (online classes!). But it’s bittersweet. Some day I’ll have to stop. I’ll have to pack up my office and my STIs and trust someone else to do this program proud. It will be a sad day when that happens, but the world needs me.
Someone out there needs me.
Hold on, my friend, I’ll be there soon.