It was an important birthday: the first she’d ever celebrated as a mother. I understood that there were, but wouldn’t dare ask about, miscarriages. This birthday, this day, was painfully, overwhelming sweet.

The party was small, and she made only one request: you had to sing. No choreography required, no theatrical costumes, just pure, unadulterated karaoke.

I wrestled with it over and over in my mind. Finally selected a song (Kryptonite, 3 Doors Down), and snuck off to the bathroom to rehearse. But the more I thought about it, the more the panic set in. I offered hugs and congratulations and politely excused myself from the party.

A few months shy of graduation I found a program online called Inner-City Teaching Corps. It was an Americorps service program for aspiring teachers who wanted to teach and, simultaneously, live in community. It distinguished itself with a subscription to four pillars:
  1. Teaching as service
  2. Faith-based community
  3. Spirituality and
  4. Simple living.

Aside from its name, which was obviously problematic, its mission and vision were sincere. Within four weeks of admission I was on a plane, leaving all the family and friends I had ever known for a city I’d never even visited.

Although it was a small thing, for me, it was significant. I had never lived away from family before. I’d never seen snow or mountains. I’d never lived in a house with five strangers; I’d only been on a plane twice. I’d never lived in a climate colder than Houston’s.

I’d never taught or been responsible for children. I’d never committed to a church, let alone willingly entered into a faith-based community. I’d never talked about policy, or education reform, or citizenship, or privatization. I hadn’t debated the impact and validity of charter schools, urban blight, or recidivism. I’d never even been kissed.

Two years flew by. There were retreats, field trips, and rats. There were arguments and accusations. There were choreographed dance moves, Karaoke performances, dry ice, hymns, and confessions of faith. We had Catholic mass, failed science projects, and car accidents. There was canoeing, country line dancing, a fifteen-passenger van, and swing dancing.

There were stereotypes and perceived racial slights– screaming matches and silent treatments. We talked about consumption and waste and not owning more than we needed. We prayed, meditated to Latin chants, and worshiped during silent retreats.

I’d never experienced anything so strange, so purposeful, and so chaotic. It was a formative experience that I’ll always carry with me.

You have to be willing.

It’s something I come back to over and over again. You have to decide that ___________ is bigger, is greater than whatever temporary, momentary discomfort you feel. You have to be willing to move, to leave, to dance, to participate, to commit, to make a decision, to make a mistake.

You have to be willing to engage in the conversation, to figure out why, to figure out how to stop it. You have to be wiling to contribute. You have to be willing.


6 thoughts on “You Have to be Willing

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