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Every year in September, I have my sophomore students write a personal memoir. In all of their excitement, this is one assignment that I look forward to and fear reading.
On one hand, grading 110 essays in any amount of time is unpleasant, but doing so in a span of just a few days is taunting. After one day, my eyes are glassy, my mind is numb, and I have to make myself stop grading because I would go all night.
On the other, this essay changes the way I see my students year after year, and I never take that lightly. While some write about a single moment or period of time that was monumental and exciting for them, others recount horrific experiences of tragedy, heartbreak, and pain no child should ever experience.
When I was in high school, I was never given this opportunity to tell my story and be heard, but if I had been, I wonder if I would have told my story. I think about what single moment impacted my life the most, and would it be one I had already conquered or the one I was living through at 14 years old.
Because at 14 years old, my life turned from day to night in the split of a second. I went from a child to an adult. From a daughter living with two parents to one living within the home of a broken marriage and crippling illnesses. As my home became a source of chaos and havoc, I sought self-destruction as a coping mechanism. I developed a borderline eating disorder and obsession with exercise, an unhealthy addiction to perfectionism, and the belief that I’d never be good enough. These patterns lasted for seven years, and I can’t help but wonder if only I would’ve told someone, or been given the chance to tell my story in the type of assignment I now assign my students.
As an English teacher, it isn’t about the paper but the words behind it. I always tell my kids that I take the time to read every word they write and personally comment on their drafts. From that day on, it drastically changes not only my relationship with them but the atmosphere of my class.
One morning, in particular, I was weary from reading these essays. The day before, I had kids in my room prior to school starting, during lunch, and after. I was told story after story and testimony after testimony of atrocities I knew of as a child. I was extremely exhausted and depleted. My heart hurt a deeper wound than I knew how to carry.
I kept asking God many questions during this time. It baffled me that the same issues I had as a fourteen-year-old were now not only seen in the crippling bodies of these teenagers, but the stories they told were much worse and very common. When I was in high school, coming from a chaotic home was not the norm. Today, those homes are declared normalcy. When I was in high school, anxiety wasn’t something that controlled your life, it was a stomach ache before a test that went away shortly after. Today, the mental disorders that wreak havoc on our young adults are real and disheartening. Brokenness, fraud, homelessness, addiction, self-harm, and poverty are among the few that have become common, yet few take the time to validate their existence, listen, or care.
As I drove to the school that morning, these thoughts swirled in my mind like a Dairy-free ice cream cone. In shades of black and white, I began to see the fallen brokenness of humanity, but on a much more real and personal level.
Although I’ve never felt called to teach, I’ve felt called to write since I was also fourteen. I do not find it coincidental that at the age my brokenness began God declared a calling on my life. He’s the author of life and knows how to make broken things beautiful.
But this morning, I felt God speak something I’ve never really heard Him say before, and it stopped me in my tracks.
“Maybe you’re not called to teach because you love it, but because you care.” And I think He might be right. Maybe I’m not called to teach because I love it, but because I care.
I will be the first to tell you that I do not see myself teaching for the rest of my life. Growing old as a teacher has never been on my resume. Becoming a full-time author, however, has. I want my words to create value in others so that they can create value in their own lives. I want to speak the words of truth God has spoken to me so that by His words they may be healed and transformed from beautifully broken to whole.
But as I’m in this season, I think I’m starting to realize that while I may not be to where I’m headed, God can and will transform the beautifully broken to whole from even where I’m at. Yet we must be willing to care.
When Jesus Christ died for our sins, He cared more than any other person on the planet ever will or would. He cried out “Father forgive them; for they know not what they do,” (Luke 23:34, KJV). And today, no matter where I’m at or from where I serve, it’s my command and duty to care about others in the same way.
Soon, it will be the end of my memoir unit. The stories will have been told, the kids will be rejoicing that final drafts are complete, and my eyes will be glazed over from grading 110 essays. But as I look into the eyes of every student I teach, I no longer see my students as students, but as individuals with stories whose testimonies will transform the world. And isn’t that the Gospel to be shared through and in our lives?
“Come and hear, all you who fear God; let me tell you what he has done for me” (Psalm 66:16, NIV).
Rather these kids consider their stories testimonies or not, I pray for every child as I read. Happy or sad, eating disorder, addiction, or cut mark, I peer deep into the souls of those who long to be heard, but rarely ever are. Simply because I choose to care, as Christ cared for us.
Today, I want to challenge you to care for those who want to be heard and held. I do not offer the world’s solutions to my kids, but I point them in the direction of the one who holds every answer in the palm of His hand. With an “I’m praying for you, here for you, and care,” I always thank them for sharing and encourage you to do the same.
Maybe it’s the neighbor you avoid or a co-worker who is anything but pleasant. Maybe it’s your spouse or grandma you’ve held a grudge against for years. Everyone is going through something and wants to be heard. They want to be heard not to be responded to, but to feel cared for and perceived.
As God so graciously cares for us, let us learn to live in love as we extend that conscientiousness to others. We may not all be called to teach, but we are certainly all called to care.
“Shout for joy, you heavens; rejoice, you earth; burst into song, you mountains! For the LORD comforts his people and will have compassion on his afflicted ones” (Isaiah 49:13, NIV).