It is never a "normal" day working with children.
Homeschooling parents know it.
Private school teachers know it.
Public school teachers know it.
"Normal" isn't something we expect when we prepare for our work each day. Perhaps "routine" is confused with normalcy. But let me assure you - a routine is not the same as what we think of as "normal." We are in the business of human interaction . . . and "normal" is never a part of that.
"Gentle Mary laid her child lowly in a manger . . . there he lay, the undefiled, to the world a stranger."
I work in a public school and so my own Christianity isn't a part of my daily instruction . . . but then again, it is. Because the Jesus that I have always known is what John has described as one who, "came to that which was His own, but His own did not receive Him." Yes. This Jesus who has walked a strange path with me for 27 years has always been imprinted on the face of whoever is the stranger. He has always been looking out through the eyes of the outcast. He has never taught me about "normal." He has only ever taught me about "human."
It never comes as a surprise that I see someone in need while I'm at work. Every day I see it.
Teachers are often in the business of provision. We don't make provision only for those with learning disabilities or special gifts. We make provision for those who have no food . . . those who have insufficient clothing . . . those who have no encouragement . . . those who have no hope.
And with vision blurry from the world around us, we stumble along, trying to look past what is "expected" so that we can see what "could be."
So yesterday I saw a backpack given to someone.
It's nothing, right? Just a backpack.
It isn't salvation. It isn't a guarantee of a successful life. It's just something to carry books in. And as I zip the last zipper I tell a story about how once I came to work at the church with a big hole in the bottom of my favorite pair of shoes, without even knowing it, so that both of us standing there in the quiet with this backpack can laugh conspiratorially - yes, dear one, all of us show up without the right equipment sometimes. All of us have holes in our souls. All of us are beat up and world-weary. Don't worry. You are understood. We see you. We will walk with you.
I celebrate a time called "Advent." Some people do and some people don't. I grew up this way so it's something I've held onto for a long time.
For me, Advent is about watching. I wrote about that a little while ago . . . active watching rather than passive waiting.
This year has been particularly meaningful because I am looking at every Nativity display around me with small baby kicks disturbing my own physical peace, shaking up my human existence in such a literal way. And I can see how significant it is that in this narrative the mother/child relationship becomes important.
Teachers often play the part of a "parent" at work.
We have to find gloves for little ones running out onto the cold playground. We have to find lotion to soothe dry little hands and crackers to give to the one who came with no snack. We tie shoes and wipe noses. We supervise reconciliation as little eyes and ears begin to consume ideas about what "friendship" is and how to navigate it.
Revelation 21:4 "He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed."
We dry little eyes. We lead little walkers by the hand. And we hope that all of our own education has prepared us to prepare them. What a heavy load to carry.
At least twice a week I listen to this as I drive to work - even when it's not Advent. Because I need it.
Dear Teachers . . . dear friends who are giving up your days and nights and weekends thinking about how to rescue precious children from impossible odds . . . This Advent all of my hope is focused on you. Right down there in the trenches with the rest of you, I can see it - the gap between the need and what we feel we can provide. But the same way I know that a Light shines down even though I "don't know why," I also know that we can continue to provide what seems impossible.
I never have met a good teacher who didn't have love in his or her heart.
You can't be in the business of teaching and do it well without a love of the humanity of your students.
Young or old, they become part of your understanding of the world.
John 1 says that there is a darkness in the world. It's there. And no guarantee is given that the darkness will cease being present. But John 1 also says that though the darkness is present, it has never "overcome" the Light.
Our children will always be coming to us with need.
There is a need in the world - a hungry darkness.
And there is no promise that the need . . . the hunger . . . will cease entirely.
But there is a promise that it will not overcome what is Good.
Don't be discouraged, friends. You will not be overcome in your work. You will stand with that child who needs a backpack and you will assure them that we all have need, and that there's no reason to ever be ashamed. And you will shed a few tears after that and tuck that little name deep into your heart. Then you'll go meet your whole class and you will look at them and know that Nothing could ever stop you from completing this good work. Because it's a holy work. The work of caring for children is always Holy.