In May, I began to explain to my students that I would not be returning as a teacher; there were hugs, lots of tears, and questions. So many questions. There was relief and there was anxiety. There was excitement and there was sadness. Hope and regret, they were there too, all of them mingled and mixed within each other.
I haven’t been able to write about this last school year, because I wasn’t quite ready to put it into words. It was something I needed to cherish just for myself for a little while longer. How the Lord used a community of teachers and principals to breathe life back into me, to encourage me, to make me believe in myself again. How He used my students to encourage me in the most frustrating moments; colorings of how He loves me were brought, prayers were said before meals (on their own accord), and hugs were given with a little “I love you” whisper.
5 year olds. 17 of them. They brought me back to the heart of Jesus; they instilled hope and passion back into my soul. It was hard. My patience was never quite enough on some days and my joy dampened on others. But, there were the moments when they read aloud, I mean really read, and we clapped and hugged and cheered. There were times of heartbreaking teachable moments, like when one student called another an idiot, and she couldn’t understand why he completely lost it and broke down; she had heard the word and had no idea he had been called an idiot and other degrading names all of his life. His closest friend had proven to him he truly wasn’t worthy. I explained to her gently why her words had hurt him so much and her devastation at the affect she had caused gave me an insight into the realms of Heaven. She was so remorseful, he so grace-giving. There were tears and I’m sorry’s, but mostly there was forgiveness. So many lessons they taught me, in their child-like wisdom and silliness.
Mostly I was given redemption; a second chance to make right what had gone so, so horribly wrong the previous year. You see, when I took this job, I asked the Lord to restore what had been taken. The fight within me, the drive, the belief in creating change. I was given a second chance through one particular student, I’ll call her AH.
When I taught 7th grade, I had a student with the same first name and the same last name initial. I felt so burdened for her and I tried to reach her, but with what I could give in that moment, it was never enough. She’d scream and yell, and I would try to encourage, but end up criticizing and retreating in defeat; this is the cycle we had for 10 months. I would try to tell her she was smart, she would say she didn’t need a lecture. I would ask why she didn’t put forth effort in athletics, she would say who cares. Eventually, I decided I just couldn’t do it. So, I stopped questioning and encouraging, instead I just let her drift. The last day of school, she was the last person in my classroom. I asked if she was going to tell me bye; she glanced at me and said no. Then, she walked away. I was haunted by the image of her turned-back for weeks; I didn’t pursue her like I should have. I failed and I failed miserably.
Two months later, enter in 5 year old AH. Oh goodness. This child made me question if I should have taught again; she ran on top of tables, she bit and kicked me, she wouldn’t listen, she threw tantrums, she cried and screamed, she cussed at me, and she ran when she felt attacked or in danger. Slowly, but surely, throughout the year I would take deep breaths and then I would gather her in my lap to rock, talk gently, and calm her down. She began to listen, she began to speak, and she began to control her emotions. She became my favorite student, my little redemption given straight from the Lord.
When my room was packed up and all was said and done, I stood outside my classroom and looked at the name plate on the door. It was too much for me to take it down; as if leaving it would somehow strengthen the impact I’d made. I simply straightened it and walked away.
I’ve never once regretted our decision to move to Cambodia, but that doesn’t mean it has been easy. There are GOOD things that we’ve done and this time in our life has been GOOD, but the Lord is so constant in asking us for more. To leave behind the good to encounter the great. To leave one classroom to influence developing schools. To leave a city to impact a nation.
All these He’s asked; all these we’re doing. But, good-byes are not my favorite; even if you call it a see you a later, I still don’t like it so don’t even try that. We are so blessed and so thankful, but it is still hard. So, if you see me in the next two weeks, expect some tears. It’s okay, and I’m okay, and you’re okay, and together we will be okay. But, it’s hard. And it’s beautiful. And it’s glorious.