Saturday, August 20, 2011

A New Opportunity

As of Wednesday, August 10, I officially started my position as a "Math Fellow" at Denver Public Schools - specifically, Denver Center for International Studies (DCIS) at Montbello.

The Denver Math Fellows are tutors for students at 7 schools in DPS under a program (through Blueprint Schools Network) to turn around low-performing schools. Each student at these 7 schools will have one hour of math tutoring every day for the whole year. I will have the same twelve 6th grade students (2 at a time) every day.

How it Happened

In June, I had an itch to see if I could find any substitute teaching positions in the Denver area to supplement my income while I continue work developing the non-profit Compassion by the Book. I have survived on about $4,000 of savings the past year and worked solely as a volunteer founding and getting CBTB off the ground. However, a series of events (namely a car breakdown) resulted in my savings drying up more quickly than expected in May.

So, as I explored websites for subbing jobs, on the third website (DPS's), I found the Denver Math Fellows program. I applied, attended a screening event, interviewed, participated in a mock tutorial session with a real-life 6th grader, and was notified I would be hired the next day!

What's Next?

My salary and benefits as a DPS employee will help me continue to work on Compassion by the Book. I will be working on CBTB nights and weekends and have already found a renewed focus everytime I get home to expand and develop CBTB. Since I will have greater financial security, I will not have to start fundraising a salary with CBTB prematurely and can continue to focus the majority of my efforts on the textbook fundraising program.

I appreciate all the efforts of my friends and family to help me follow my dreams this last year (especially my parents, who have allowed me to live at home, store thousands of books, and have kept me fed). I am thankful now for this opportunity to touch the lives of young students at DCIS and to continue my efforts with Compassion by the Book.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

The Mountain


I go to my mountain
when I need to be alone with God.
When I need to leave the world.

I bask in his presence there.
He takes my yoke from me.
I sing, I run, I dance.
I rest in peace.

There I go to be free.
I wish I could be on my mountain all the time.
But I must remember
his presence never leaves me.

I go to cry too.
I connect with myself.
Where I am.
Where I have been.

There is no hiding there.
There is no need.
His love pervades all.
No where can I go that he is not.

I remember what matters there.
I cannot be distracted.
I meet my maker
and die to the world.

Oh that I could live
forever on the mountain.

Monday, April 4, 2011

2 Years with Cynthia

Yesterday marked two years since I asked Cynthia to be my girlfriend. It was the perfect weather to celebrate. We had a record high of 84 degrees on Saturday and yesterday, Sunday, we had snow. It was a wonderful re-creation of our first night as a couple.

We decided to go back where I first asked her out, but before we left, I wanted to share my journal entry from the day following. This is how I recounted the experience.

April 4, 2009 ~7 pm
---
...

Jump ahead to last night and early this morning. I went on another date with Cynthia. We were supposed to go to an art gallery of the sister of her friend Ana. That sort of fell through. I met her friend Sid, had Spanish Tortilla (which she cooked at her dorm), and drove out to Golden instead.

Rather crazily, we decided to go on a hike in the snow and in the dark. It was cold, hard to walk (because it was slick), and totally fantastic. We went up to the M because I know it very well. We walked up to the top left corner (on the outside of the fence) and embraced for a very long time. Early on in the embrace (perhaps
"barely" 11 pm) I nervously told her I needed to talk to her sometime. She nudged me on by saying "okay, when?" "I suppose now is as good as any time," I continued.

The snow was fluctuating between light and hard. We were fairly warm there together. Down the hill, where you can see Golden and Denver on a clear night, we were surrounded by a cloud that obscured all but two lights. Until suddenly the clouds would break a little revealing what looked like constellations below. When it was just the two lights I felt like we might have been out at sea suddenly coming into view of a lighthouse. It was quiet except for our voices, the wind, the snow, and the occasional car. Well, I suppose I could hear the highway off in the distance. "Well, okay. I'm pretty nervous," I said.

She said, "I make you nervous?"
"No, I make me nervous. I don't know what I'm doing."
"It's okay, don't be nervous."
"Okay. I really like you and I really like spending time with you."
"I really like you too."

The rest of the dialogue is a little fuzzy. I proceeded to explain that I have no experience in having girlfriends and that was why I was nervous. She reassured me she thought I was doing fine. We talked there a long time. She talked about her experience in relationships... she hasn't had many boyfriends either. After probably a half an hour we started to make our descent. On the way down I explained that that was probably the closest to a DTR that I could do.

"Are you going to ask me?" She said.
I said, "Ummm. Yes." (and I thought, "you dummy, ask her then") "Okay," I continued, "would you be... or would you like to be considered as my girlfriend?"

I was so nervous. This is virgin territory for me. I knew she was interested, but I was nervous because I really don't know what being a boyfriend exactly implies... She said "it means you don't kiss other girls." She went on that we would have a Christ-centered relationship and we would pray for guidance about what this would all be like. Did I ever mention I like this girl? I had been having the exact same desires in the past few weeks as I was thinking about what a relationship should be like. We had made it back to the established path by then. The snow was at its thickest then.

When we made it back to the car, someone drove up from the opposite direction. They were slowing down. ("What the heck," I was thinking). Did the lights flash on or did the cop just come out and start talking to us? I don't remember. He asked if we'd had anything to drink. "No," we both answered. He went into a spiel about underaged drinking. "I'm 22." He continued.

"What are you guys doing?"
"We were hiking."
"At this time of night? In this weather?"
"Yeah."

I was a bit sheepish, it was obviously dangerous and foolish. I explained about the flashlight that wouldn't work, that I was in Blue Key and knew the M well, and in general was a blabbering fool. He relaxed his demeanor and explained why this was a bad idea and how if he was from Jeffco instead I'd probably be getting a ticket. He was actually very nice by the end and just warned us to be careful on the way down because visibility was poor and there were many accidents.

Eventually Cynthia and I made it back to Regis where we sat and talked for more than an hour (until past 2 am). I was nervous again. Should I kiss her? I was a chicken. I was open with my fears. We talked about boundaries (and what better time than to discuss this before any barrier is breached). She was holding my hand.

"Is holding hands okay?" she asked me.
"Yes," I chuckled.
"Sex is off limits," she said at some point - which I know that she knew I was on the same level with her.
"I'm okay with kissing, I think," I told her.
"Me too."

She sat in what I thought must be an uncomfortable position the whole time (though she denied any discomfort at all) so that she could rest against my chest. Our hands were intertwined and her's were caressing mine. My heart was thudding hard in my chest. We talked a long time. She looked so pretty and the look she would give me dazzled me. Her mascara was sort of a bit lower than I expected - maybe it ran down just a little bit in the snow. She wore grey sweatpants and a turquoise hoodie. She wore tennis shoes on the hike. Her lower legs were positively soaked in the car. That's why she was cold. But she didn't really even mention anything about cold (even when I asked her).

I walked her to the outside of her dorm. I was chicken or I wasn't ready (probably the latter), so I said goodbye with a tight hug. No kiss yet, but I'm not afraid of when it will happen.

That's good enough for now. I have a girlfriend for the first time ever. My motivations are pure, she is sweet and beautiful, and it is well.
---

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Presentation at Regis

Yesterday, I had the honor of speaking in a class at Regis University. The class focuses on a leadership model called the "Social Change Model" developed at UCLA in 1993 and the teachers asked me to share about my experience working on Compassion by the Book (CBTB).

Since I was unfamiliar with the Social Change Model, I met with the teachers to discuss the course content and to ask how they would like me to focus my presentation to best help the students. They asked that I share my experience, struggles, and motivation. Hopefully my presentation demonstrated the values of Compassion by the Book and the process outlined by the Social Change Model.

My presentation is below. Hit the "play" button and after it loads, click on the "More" button to expand the presentation to full screen. Then use the play button to navigate from point-to-point (you can also use the left and right arrow keys on your keyboard).



Tuesday, March 8, 2011

A Fresh Start, A Clean Heart

I'm wearing a white shirt. That's symbolic, you know. I just took an epsom salt bath. That's symbolic too.

The symbols might not be too obvious, but I put on my clean white shirt after the bath that helped me sweat out the toxins and I couldn't help but feel like the attire matched my renewed, fresh, pure, and unburdened spirit at that moment.

The toxins are gone and I want this cleansing to symbolize my life, of which, one of the biggest toxins is complacency.

It started as a decision to take a bath because I am going to be sacrificing long showers for the next 40 days for Lent. By the end of my bath, I had decided that a lot of other things need to be cleaned up in my life.

Even though I have told some people that I don't like to use Lent as an excuse to give up things I already should not be doing, I understand that like the New Year, Lent can be a positive change agent. I won't commit to a forever change, but for the next 40 days a cleansing should be a nice step out of complacency.

Here are some areas I am going to clean up starting now:

1) No more TV. What else could I do with that time? How is TV being constructive in my life?
2) No long showers. I know they are relaxing, but not necessary.  I may only save a small amount of water, but my awareness of my consumption increases. I become more grateful for my blessings.
3) No sweets. I need to eat healthier. More fruits when I have a sweet tooth.
4) Spend at least 30 minutes exercising daily.
5) Spend at least 30 minutes of quiet time (away from distractions).

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Flora, Illinois

It was surprisingly warm and muggy in the tent. I have no doubt that is in part due to the greater humidity coming from the lake 100 feet away from us and also the combined body heat of the two of us. It was warm enough that I could have slept without my sleeping bag. I was uncomfortably damp. I remember some sprinkles coming down on the tent cover overhead, either from the sky or dropping from the sparse canopy above. It was gentle.

I can't seem to sleep all night when I go camping. Tom was rustling around rather frequently and I was restless too. At one point, Tom was scratching in his sleep (probably his feet, he has some eczema that he scratches before bedtime), but he stopped after I simply said "Tom." Sleep was off and on all night and it wasn't good quality rest like when we stayed in homes, but it was what it was.

I woke up around 5am (on purpose; I had set my alarm) and went outside to pack, glad to be awake. It was cool and dark (not like night, though. Like the first light of dawn), but less damp outside the tent. In my sleepiness, I decided that my first priority lie in rearranging all the belongings I had because I stored the tent at the bottom of my bag and had to take everything out just to remove the tent. After contemplating the organization of my stuff, I rode my bicycle over to the camp's bathrooms because they were way too "far" to walk to. I completed my morning routine of washing my face and brushing my teeth and rode back to camp. On the ride back, I passed Carol's camper and noticed some signs of life coming from within, hearing the television and rustling inside. Carol was to provide us with breakfast, God bless her.

Tom woke up not long after I returned and emerged from the tent. We were on a mission to leave the grounds by about 7:30am since the campsite was so far from Carlyle's downtown and because we had to inflate our tires. I noticed my tires were looking flat (still with air, but certainly not the nice, round shape that is appropriate) the day before, but just continued, perhaps foolishly, for time's sake. That said, we had planned to start our day by inflating our tires at a nearby gas station.

We packed the tent and prepped our bikes and rode to breakfast. Carol brought out some cereal and apples and bananas at 7:00am and we chatted and enjoyed the morning. We were visited by a cardinal and two other birds who made their home under the pull-out leaf of Carol's camper. I had Cheerios and my apple and saved my banana for later.

And once again we were underway. The ride out of the park went very fast. I had plenty of energy and I felt like I knew what to expect. When we hit the first main road towards Carlyle we were slowed down by a headwind from the south, but at least the sun was out and covered the land with a golden glow. We passed up Wal-Mart (once again for time's sake) because I figured I could just use Tom's toothpaste, but stopped at the gas station as planned, filled the tires, and I went inside and happily found a small tube of toothpaste to purchase.

To be continued...

Friday, July 31, 2009

Carlyle, Illinois part 2

We were not on Highway 50 at all that day. Instead, we were on State Route 161, a road paralleling 50 to the south. The plan was to head north sometime since Carlyle was right off 50. When we rode into Bartelso we found a beautiful Catholic church called St. Cecilia and ate a snack.



It was overcast and cool (in a good way). I want to say I ate grapes, but the memory's shady. A man was working on lawn care and nearby a girl and her father were examining a tree in the courtyard. I walked around the church, finding it lovely. Since I was checking the map on my cell phone frequently that day, I pulled it out again and looked for directions to Carlyle... where would we turn north? My phone gave us unexpected and new directions taking a shortcut on Slant Rd., which chipped a little over three miles from our day's trip. We were going to stay on 161 until 127 and go north. I'm glad I happened to be checking the route as often as I was (on my phone) that day because our host was much further away than anticipated (seven extra miles). Anyways, enough with the logistics.

Slant Rd. was a beautiful short cut. The sun came out to greet us (for a ten minute respite from the overcast skies) and we were surprised by picturesque scenery here in the middle of nowhere. There were a couple houses and some fields (which might not sound all that exciting, but hey, beauty is in the eye of the beholder).

There was maybe one car on the whole stretch of road and everything was at peace. One house advertised some sort of fresh food products... I wish I could be more specific (I think there was goat cheese and some strawberries). Often times, I felt under pressure that I could not stop and do some exploring because Tom was with me and I believe I subconsciously knew that he was more of a destination sort of guy and I am a journey guy... that said, we did not take many pit stops along the way to just check out places. Just snap a picture and move on. I thought to myself that if I ever came back, I would go into that little store and try some of their food.

At the end of Slant Rd. we turned on 127 north and soon enough I could see a church steeple (barely seen in the distance in the photo below) and other tell tale signs of a city in the distance (increased traffic and something about the way the trees are clustered around a town).


I thought we were home free once we were in the city. Based on the directions from Carol (our host for that night) I thought we'd have maybe three more miles to go. The miles dragged on and it was another seven from the city to the campground at Eldon Hazlet State Park. I think it was because I wasn't expecting to ride that much further that I became slightly agitated (probably a little frustrated and impatient). I just wanted to be there already. We only traveled 62 miles that day, which is not too exhausting, but when a surprise like seven extra miles comes up, I tend to get a little impatient. That was another 45 minutes to ride. Not to mention, because of the time zone change in southern Indiana (it was close to 4 pm in Illinois, which means it was close to 5pm - closing time, if we were lucky it wasn't sooner - in Illinois) we had to stop for 30 minutes to make phone calls trying to arrange for a place to stay in Vincennes and Bedford, Indiana.

For Vincennes, I left messages with a voicemail, reached another church who told us they couldn't help, and spoke with the son of the pastor of the third and final church on our list. The church was Central Church of Christ and the boy's name was Benjamin. I quickly explained our situation to Ben and he told me he'd pass the message on to his father. Having exhausted the numbers for Vincennes, I started on the list of churches in Bedford and I left voicemail messages with the two churches. Next, I tried the number for St. Vincent de Paul's Catholic Church and I was forwarded by the secretary to Father Rick. Somehow, and I can't explain just how, but somehow, I felt right about St. Vincent de Paul's.

As we finally continued through the State Park, I felt like the land was strangely deserted and even a bit eerie. Maybe it was the lack of traffic going into the park or the weather (on the brink of sprinkling) or the scarcity of animal and insect movement or my dreading camping. Maybe it was just the unknown and exhaustion. It could be that I had just gotten off the phone with few leads, which may have left me feeling a little bit alone. Now I recall needing to make some purchases (such as toothpaste), but passing by a Wal-Mart thinking that I could easily return if necessary... that could have added to my somber mood (it soon became clear that a trip to Wal-Mart would not be easy given its distance from the park - roughly seven miles one way) because perhaps I felt isolated from humanity. No matter. We trudged on.

In truth, the park was pretty. There was water and trees and two herons. I saw a deer scamper through the woods later. Oddly enough, there weren't many mosquitoes. I'm not complaining about that. I rode tentatively forward, not knowing what was ahead. I was very concentrated on getting us safely to our destination for whatever reason.

Finally, we hit the campground parking lot. I felt a little more secure. After a minute of observing the campground map we rode to our host's home, a popup camper. Carol was waiting outside for us.

Carol was very focused (this was her workplace too and there was business to take care of getting us set up in an appropriate plot of land). I don't remember exchanging many pleasantries. I think she didn't quite know what to think of us guys on bicycles traveling across the country. She told us that Pastor Wagner spoke with the church about us and said we had a tent and so she thought she could help us. She paid for our land ($8) and gave us the "bicycle love offering" ($35) collected by the church. It was clear that she wanted to help us and even though she was not naturally outgoing, she welcomed us and loved us (whether she knows it or not) and I am very grateful for that. She said that she didn't know what we'd like to eat and that she didn't have much food, so she made us a beef and vegetable soup for supper. She sent us off to set up our tent and come back for supper afterwards.

I had to dig deep in my bags and disturb my spectacular packing job to get out the tent. This was the first and only time we'd use it, so I guess I can be glad that I brought the thing. With Tom's help it was up in no time. Camping is much more Tom's territory than mine. I believe Tom was expecting that we'd camp much more often than we did, hence he originally packed a camp stove (which we shipped back to Colorado after our stop in Topeka, KS). Tom was in his element. He was a mountain man in the flatland woods and I was a fish out of water. I could tell he could rough it more than I would ever want to. This place might have been heaven for Tom. I'm glad we only camped one night ;).

We ate supper with Carol and learned a bit about her. She's from the Apostolic church, but she has found a community she likes at the Church of God and she likes the pastor. Her husband and she used to travel with the camper from Carlyle to Florida during the different seasons, but now she does it alone. She has a lot of descendents (she's the first great great grandmother I've ever met!) and gets to do tours among them to visit everyone (she stays with each of her children for two weeks and moves to the next during the winter).

She seemed relegated or succumbed to a certain lot in life, doing what she could to keep busy, but not entirely happy either. Perhaps that had to do with her husband's passing. She had a strong commitment to her place as a member of the Apostolic denomination, but that confidence did not overflow into the rest of her being. I thought I sensed that something in her life was not at peace. Perhaps she struggled knowing if there was something more she ought to do with her life? She said she didn't know how to help us, but was doing what she could and I thank God for Carol's faithfulness. She was "taking it one day at a time" like so many people I'd met on the way, but this did not seem as reassuring or encouraging for her. She may just have a different personality than I have seen or it might have been this particular day. To me, however, she seemed to be lacking purpose. In any case, I hope that she has hope and joy and peace in her eternal life through Jesus Christ.

It was in the next few days that I decided I should be careful what I say about others and very careful trying to judge their hearts. I do not want to hurt anyone's feelings and maybe it is wrong to talk about people like this. Is this not personal? Is this not private? And yet, this is a part of my experience and how I perceive the people I meet. But, I have been very wrong about things before. Perhaps so long as I do not condemn people, but share my perceptions out of love... but maybe it is better if it is between me and them.

Among other things, I hiked around (is it called hiking if there are no hills?), looked out at the gorgeous lake, took a very uncomfortable shower*, saw a groundhog, journaled a tiny bit, and then went to bed early. Tom tried starting a fire with his flint and steel, but failed miserably (sorry, Tom!). If it's any consolation to Tom, we had a rough time starting it with the lighter that Carol lent us too because our wood was wet. Tom stayed outside and read at the picnic table that we chained our bikes to and I retreated early to the tent. This was his sort of place. Quiet.

We rode to Carlyle, Illinois on Tuesday, June 9, 2009.

To see more photos from my trip: add me as a friend on facebook - http://www.facebook.com/kurtis.griess

*those showers were hot! I had enough less-hot water to rinse with in each of the three stalls before it became scalding about five seconds later. That said, I would rinse, lather, run to another stall, start to rinse, run to another stall, rinse again... ouch.