“I’m impressed that God made this day so wonderful”. –small boy to his mother
I read the above on my Facebook feed this past week and found it both beautiful and insightful. The little boy, Aidyn, is five, I think, or six-at any rate, still young enough to be impressed by God’s everyday gifts rather than taking them for granted. I was not having a good week myself, but perhaps I was not looking hard enough for the goodness in things. Stress kept mounting and by yesterday morning I was ready to throw in the towel. I’m just being honest. It was not any one thing; it was a whole string of petty annoyances that included students being disrespectful, difficulties with my own kids, a dog with separation anxiety doing weird things like eating an entire package of hot dog buns, trying to do stuff on the Internet and not being able to get it to work right, and so and and blah, blah, blah.
I tried singing praise songs. Of course I dutifully read my Bible. Dutifully. I went to church on Wednesday night. I prayed, dutifully. Listened to Power 88. Tried talking to a friend about something I was dealing with. That backfired because my daughter decided I was “saying mean things” about her. I wrote in my journal, reread some of Blue Like Jazz. I did my relaxing things like reading my fun books and playing my brain games and coloring and watching reruns of old TV shows . I diagramed a few sentences because I am strange and I find it entertaining. More dutiful prayer and Bible reading and praise music-and still, nothing. I was not at all impressed. I ate ridiculously healthy food and only felt hungry, not virtuous in the least. My tenth graders still resisted reading A TALE OF TWO CITIES and my eleventh-graders still argued about what constitutes plagiarism and the two boys who have been goofing off in that class partied on until I took them out into the hall and had a very strong one-sided conversation with them and then wrote them up, which is the thing about my job that I hate the most.
Yes, it was that kind of week. And yet…
On Thursday the Zambian Singers came to our school as they do every year. If you have never heard them, you should. They are a group from Africa, totally non-profit. Everything they make goes to funding their Christian school of 250 students and five teachers in one of the poorest regions of Africa. Yes, 250 students. Yes, five teachers. I tried to imagine fifty students in one classroom without any of the fancy trappings I have, like nice chairs and tables and decent books and a whiteboard, a computer, and a projector. I tried to imagine the difficulty inherent in attempting to give individual help to fifty students, and how exhausted those teachers must be every day. The Zambians sang their amazing concert, all a capella, their voices blending in incredible harmonies. They got our own Mr. Wade up there to sing “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” with them. I was beginning to be pretty impressed.
My mind wandered back to the previous day, when I found a note of encouragement from a student. She said things about me that made me cringe, not because they weren’t nice, but because they were. They were undeserved, at least at the moment when I was reading them. On Thursday afternoon after school, the two boys to whom I had had to assign detention came into my classroom. One worked on the math that is frustrating him to no end and the other did chores that I assigned. I talked to them both and they expressed regret for their behavior. One in particular really owned it, said that it was pretty inexcusable and that he would make every effort to change things. This reinforced what had been said in the note-that the students DO appreciate me, they just don’t always act like it. Impressed again, I went home. Unfortunately, it was a rather bad evening, and my mishandling of things with my kids didn’t help. I dutifully prayed. No, I desperately prayed. I needed things to get better. I prayed with the expectation that they would. I had already seen glimmers of the possibility that they could. There were the Zambians, and the note, and the apologetic boys, and I had found in some donated books a complete set of the Little House series. I have not owned a complete set since the fire. Then there was that really good discussion in creative writing…and on Wednesday there had been that really good discussion of romantic poetry in senior English. The week had not been a total loss.
By yesterday morning, my kids were speaking to me again. We were out of uniform so I didn’t have to wear a dress. In first block I realized that majority of students actually are reading A TALE OF TWO CITIES-at least enough to have a halfway coherent discussion. In second block a student told me that she had finished LORD OF THE FLIES already and that it made her cry. I asked her why, specifically. I mean, it makes me cry, too, but I was curious. She said not only was the story sad, but that she felt terribly sorry for the author, who obviously had a very negative view of humanity and had no hope .We talked more about the book and I was impressed by her depth of understanding. In third block we had a great time with ROMEO AND JULIET, especially when a girl read Romeo’s part and a guy read Juliet’s. At lunch, my Nerd Herd shared pizza with me. Ham and pineapple. The day ended with the second of the goof-off eleventh-grade boys coming and offering to help me clean my room. He told me that he had learned some important lessons during the week, and that he knew his behavior was inappropriate and immature, and it was time to start buckling down and being a better example to others. Guess what? I was VERY impressed.
Last night I sat and took stock and realized that that if we seek to find only the bad, we probably will. Like William Golding, the author of LORD OF THE FLIES, we can choose to see everything as a total loss and ignore the wonder that is all around us. The Glory is still everywhere, though. We may be having a week that seems so disastrous that we are blinded to what is Real. We may be going through things that are so awful that we forget about the grace. But there is a possibility that the Grace and the Glory and the Good are all intertwined with the Terrible Awfulness or the merely annoying. While my prayer and Bible reading this past week may have been largely of the Dutiful rather than the Grateful sort, I know that God knows me and knows that my heart’s desire is to honor Him, and He forgives me. He forgives me for missing blessings while they were happening right before my eyes. Blessings like a sorrel colt with an injured leg that is healing and mending because a girl with a loving heart has been fully obedient. The Girl and the Colt are two creatures that came suddenly and unexpectedly into my life and I am forever changed. Likewise the Boy, who last night brought me a rose, the Boy who humbly acknowledged that he has not been much help this past week because of his attitude-that Boy is a gift. The students who tried to make right their foolishness, the friend who was willing to listen, the rain that fell in buckets and renewed the grass for the sorrel colt to graze upon, the flowers that are blooming because they think it is Spring, the husband who tracked down a copy of an elusive book that I wanted, the stars that hang so low in the sky some nights and sparkle so brightly that the traveler can find his way Home, even the dog who ate the bag of hot dog buns but who has been there to help heal our pain-these are gifts from the One who knows best what we need.
Thank you, God. I am impressed.
“I discovered later, and I'm still discovering right up to this moment, that is it only by living completely in this world that one learns to have faith. By this-worldliness I mean living unreservedly in life's duties, problems, successes and failures. In so doing we throw ourselves completely into the arms of God, taking seriously, not our own sufferings, but those of God in the world. That, I think, is faith.”
― Dietrich Bonhoeffer
― Dietrich Bonhoeffer