Aren’t you glad God gives second chances (and third, forth, fifth….)? I can’t imagine life without the grace He daily provides. I remind myself of that grace often. It makes me more apt to extend it to my daughters and my students.
Let me tell you who I used to be. Before I started teaching I worked in a business environment and was surrounded daily by adults. I had no children of my own. I did what I wanted when I wanted. My house stayed clean. My car didn’t have crayons rolling around on the floorboard. I ate at nice restaurants with friends I would meet up with after work. I was in my twenties, fresh out of college, and very much in control of my life – or so I thought.
In the midst of my ordinary, me-centered life, there was emptiness. Everything I did revolved around my wants and my needs. I didn’t have to think about anyone else. I was living 100% for myself and it was not very satisfying. At the end of the day, what was I doing to serve others? How was I being a blessing or meeting someone else’s needs? Whose life was I impacting? The answer was no one and I didn’t like that answer.
Have you ever taken a step back and evaluated the path your life had taken? I did. In the middle of my twenties I knew I needed to do more. I wanted to do more. God had a job for me and I needed to get to it. If you had told me then what I was going to have to live through, I probably would have never begun the journey. Thankfully, I was wearing my rose-colored glasses during that time and I didn’t take them off until I was too far in to turn back!
My first few years in a classroom showed me the challenges that many of our students face. Life is tough, but for the little ones who live in hard places it can be brutal. This was the mission field that God was showing me and I tackled it with everything in me. I took the classes and did the home study. I bought furniture and scheduled the inspections. I was adoption ready, or so I thought.
Have you ever lived through something that showed your true colors? That is what happened to me when Hannah entered my life. Within a month I was unrecognizable. Where was my patience? Where was my compassion? Where was the person that I always thought I was? Truth is I was never was that person. When the going got tough my real self showed up and she was not pretty. Character is never tested on the mountaintops. It can be found in the valleys. My valley was low and my character was lacking.
I found myself saying and doing harsh things. Why was I angry all the time? Why did every little thing she did bother me so much? It all came down to expectations. I expected this to be easier. I expected the attachment to be instantaneous. I expected Hannah to be thankful. I expected progress to come sooner. I expected me to be the person everyone, including myself, thought I was. But I wasn’t. If you want to know who you really are, move a redheaded firecracker into your house. It was easy to blame the nine-year-old, but she wasn’t the problem. I was.
One day that realization hit me like a freight train. Hannah was not going to get better until I did. I had to let God change my heart, before I could impact hers. Isn’t that always the case? In brokenness I sought forgiveness from God and from Hannah. I worked diligently to hold my tongue and be thankful for our daily challenges. I would love to say that from that day on we worked like a well-oiled machine, but that wouldn’t be the truth. Old attitudes crept in and I fell more than a few times, but each time I would apologize and we would move forward with new resolve and a new helping of grace.
Our story has a happy ending. Those difficulties were short lived in the big picture of our lives together. Hannah is not the firecracker that she was all those years ago and, thankfully, neither am I. We have grown to appreciate what we refer to as our “crazy years” and we recognize, while we wish we would have done things a little differently, we are not bound by who we were back then. The numerous second chances that God provided eventually made us better people.
How does all this apply to a classroom? Think of that firecracker student you have in class. Do you find your words a little harsher toward her than your other students? Do you secretly hope she is absent, even though it’s those kinds of students that always receive the perfect attendance awards? If you find yourself in that spot, I have a suggestion. Evaluate yourself. Doesn’t sound like much fun? It won’t be, but it will make you a better teacher. Do you have unmet expectations in your classroom because of that kid? Give them up. The truth is we aren’t working with the students we think we should have. We are working with the students we have actually been given. If it’s not what you thought it would be, that’s okay. Chances are it will end up being so much better!