“We want clarity– and God gives us a call. We want a road map– and God gives us a relationship. We want answers– and God give us His hand.” Ann Voskamp
Last year I had a scary thing happen in my classroom. It was not a fight. It was not a medical emergency. It was not a student that found my authority benign.
In the midst of another lesson and practice at analyzing a literary passage, I was passionately probing my students to go further. I had asked the most important question, “Why?!” for at least the tenth time. I was pointing out symbolism and metaphor and asking “So, what? Why does it MATTTERRRR?” with a maniacal grin on my face.
I have found that my passion can be contagious. If only for a few. My students get a glimpse into a deeply rooted belief that it is all about something bigger. Story is what holds humanity together. The stories we read matter, and the stories we write with our lives matter even more.
But as I was oozing enthusiasm as only crazy English teachers can, I heard a whisper:
The voice seemed so loud I almost thought a student actually said it. But they didn’t. I scanned the room for hints of dissent, but in that moment every student was present; engaged and trying to break the code that only I seemed to understand.
I kept going, calling on every student brave enough to take a stab at the interpretation. But with every hand I called on the voice became louder.
“This does not matter.”
“What are you doing?”
“How is this helping them?”
“Seriously, what are you doing with your life?”
It came from within. This voice I could not name was accusing me of wasting my life. I pushed through the day, believing that it was just that; a bad day. However, as the days turned to weeks and the weeks to months this voice haunted me nearly everyday. I was rounding into the second semester at a new school, with the most supportive administration I had ever had, and quite honestly some of the loveliest children I had ever met, and I hit a wall.
Everyday I battled a personal war against futility.
I finished the year. But I continually swallowed anxiety about what the new year would hold. What feelings would fight for dominance in my heart? Because, “seriously what are you doing with your life?” was what I heard every.single.day.
June was swallowed by a beautiful blur of time with my own children. July came hard with trauma that seemed sent to distract Nathan and I as we prepared for our trip to Romania. But we made it. And friends, it was amazing. I found a peace in that country that I have lacked for years.
The language barrier seemed not to matter. I found myself able to make little kids that knew no English giggle and smile just the same. Our leader kept telling me, “It isn’t really about teaching them English.” But since I am a teacher, and that is what I do…I teach, I took it very seriously.
One day, while we were reviewing and trying to teach the words for family we encouraged the children to draw pictures of their families and label it in English. I found myself next to my two favorite boys: Cozmin and Marin. Cozmin was ornery and would cackle when I said, “Nu nu.” I loved his devilish smile. He had drawn and labelled his family and was eagerly asking for my approval. I looked at Marin’s paper where he had drawn one figure and a house. I pointed to my example and asked, “Who is this? Is this your mother? Is this your father?” He smiled, pointed and said, “My house.”
I had figured out that Marin’s English exposure had been less than most of the other children, so I smiled, affirmed that he had drawn his house, and tried again. “Mother, Father, Grandfather, Brother? ” At this point Cozmin began speaking.
“Nu stie. Nu stie.”
I did not learn a lot of Romanian, but I knew immediately what Cozmin was trying to say.
“He doesn’t know.”
Marin does not know who his family is.
Something broke inside me.
I sat down with him and in English whispered that it was ok. I told him I loved his house. I told him I was so happy that I got to meet him. I told him that I loved him. I told him Jesus loved him. I prayed that the Holy Spirit would whisper these words to him in his own language and remind him of this truth when he felt so alone.
Every day after I told Marin that Jesus loved him. I could not wait to see his smile. I stopped worrying about the English. I made crafts with him and sang songs in butchered Romanian that I only half understood. And I was so sad to leave.
When we got home, it was a whirlwind into the new school year. I struggled to re-adjust. My physical jet-lag lasted nearly a full week. My emotional jet-lag lasted nearly longer. It still lingers.
There were so many moments filled with joy, humor, and awe, but my moment with Marin changed me. I am three weeks into my new school year. Again, I have been blessed with lovely children. Because friends that is what they are. I see them differently. I see my job differently. I now know that, teaching them English is not really the point.
I still plan. I still break down my standards. I am already worried out of sleep for one class that I am not sure how to reach. However, in the midst of that worry and frustration I no longer feel futility. This year is full of hope. Because I know my job description: Love them. Pray for them.
Friends, thank you for every single one of you that thought of us and prayed for us as we went to Romania. When we can, we ARE going back. I catch myself stopping and asking, “What time is it in Oradea? How are Denisa’s classes going? How is Beni, Dan & Claudiuu’s band? Is it to early to send Zsolt a meme?” There is an imprint that God has given both of us. For now, continue to pray for us in our classrooms that grace will abound and that I do not forget my job.
“But Jesus said, “Let the little children come to Me, and do not hinder them! For the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” Matthew 19:14