As the boss sleeps...

It is nearly 11 p.m. here in Budapest as I begin writing this blog entry. Four feet away from me, Pastor Lange is snoozing and sometimes snoring. He conked out early. I think it's because of the soccer game he played this afternoon at GGIS (Greater Grace International School) where he helped the staff team defeat the student team and win a dress-down day for the staff this coming Thursday. He played hard, so now he needs some rest to rejuvenate before the demands of tomorrow arrive on his doorstep. I sit here with Matt Redmond singing to me through the earbuds plugged into my iPod - "We lift up our eyes, lift up our eyes, You're the giver of life. You alone can rescue, You alone can save. You alone can lift us from the grave. You came down to find us, led us out of death.To you alone belongs the highest praise." Awesome song!

I connected with Nate McFarland via Google Chat today around noon and heard that there was a request that I write another entry in my blog. I have been trying to think about what I would like to write about, and then it occurred to me exactly what I wanted to say on this page. It is not a single thought, but an impression at this point that may work itself out a bit more clearly as I tap away at my keyboard. Bear with me.

I was chatting with Nate about this and that, and he asked me what was the favorite thing I had seen so far. Without any hesitation I said, "Little first graders learning math and introducing themselves to me and telling me what countries they are from." It wasn't a natural wonder or a classic landmark - it was a class of children learning how to order numbers from least to greatest and saying their names and countries of origin, shyly yet proudly in accented English. I felt incredibly drawn to these little ones that I had not known an hour before, and I loved them. It took me by surprise how much I loved them. 

Earlier in the day I had dropped in on a class of four seventh graders who were laboring over Stephen Crane's "The Red Badge of Courage" under Mr. Andy Lange's tutelage. I had heard stories about some of the boys in this class, so I wanted to see them for myself. I was not disappointed when I discovered that they were all the stories had said and more. Such an interesting mix of nationalities, personalities, and accents. I wanted to laugh. I thought of books I wanted to introduce to them to rescue them from the book they were reading. I wanted to read a good, humorous seventh grade novel with them and hear them laugh and make comments in their serious voices. I decided that I would need to find some way to revisit this group of students before my time at the school was over.

Today I planned to visit Tina Reeves' fifth grade class while she taught math. According to the schedule I had been given, math began at 9 o'clock, so I planned to arrive at 9:10 to honor Miss Reeves' request to arrive when she had already begun teaching so she would be less nervous. Well, I arrived at 9:10 all right, but it was just as spelling was ending. The schedule was outdated and incorrect. I stayed anyway. I parked myself in a seat next to a boy named Sean, and he became my first friend in the class. I was introduced to everyone indirectly as Miss Reeves called on each student to give answers to the spelling lesson. Bible class was next, and I was allowed to sing along with half the class in a round of a song I can't remember the name of right now. It was fun. I enjoyed hearing the students' answers to the Bible questions, so full of innocence and eagerness to be right. I was asked to pray. I felt blessed to be a part of their class of eight or so students. 

Snack time was next and I was asked to join the class game of UNO which was being played with rules I had never heard of: Playing a zero card meant everyone had to give their cards to the player on their left. Playing a 5 card meant the last person to slap the discard pile had to draw two cards (I lost the slap dash the first three times before I caught on). Players can play multiple cards at once as long as they are identical, so I saw a kid throw down three Wild Draw 4 cards at once, forcing the next player to draw twelve cards on his turn. Playing by these rules, at times my hand was down to as few as two cards, but was more often a small deck. I was between Sean and Vladimir, two card sharps who loved to kill me with Skips, Reverses, and Draws whenever the opportunity arose, and we laughed and got along quite famously in the short time we had to play with all the other students and Miss Reeves. Vladimir was the eventual winner, and he turned and said, "Will you stay and have math with us?" to which the other students added their voices in encouragement. When I said I had to go, they invited me to come to recess to watch them play soccer. I told them I would try, and for the second time in two days I was overcome with this tremendous sense of love for children I had not known before that morning. I decided that this class, too, I would need to revisit.

And then, Nate conveyed, via chat messaging, greetings from GGCA students hanging out in the office at lunchtime, and I found myself wishing that I could spend some time revisiting them too. Sometimes I think I forget the reason I became a teacher in the first place. It wasn't because I loved math or English or history or textbooks or whiteboard markers or tests or sitting at a computer entering grades or making review sheets. Those things all are part of the job and have their place, but they are not the reason I have remained an educator all these years. No, the reason I became a teacher was the joy that can be found in relating to students, not only through the formal times of teaching the day's lessons, but in the times when you simply sit and talk and get to know them, the times when you play a game with them or watch them play their games, the times you share your favorite books or hear about their favorite things, the times when they amaze you with their brilliance, their creativity, and their capacity to love, to minister, to give grace, to encourage, and to forgive. Many times, God has broken me with the simple, honest love of a student when I felt unlovable, the pure grace and forgiveness of a child when I felt unforgivable, and the sure encouragement from the lips of a young person when I was ready to give up and quit. 

Relationships, relationships, relationships - I can't imagine teaching without having a relationship with the class. At times I have felt put upon, stretched beyond measure, beyond endurance, and that the relationship with the class was beyond repair. I have despaired. But I have found that when I have not given up all hope, God has redeemed and restored what I thought was lost and unrecoverable. Perhaps the relationship was not perfect, not the same as what once was, or all that I wanted it to be, but it was alive - the roots were still there and life remained, just like a tree stump that looks dead which suddenly grows a tender, green shoot and starts over again. It is not all pretty, but it is alive and can grow! Love makes things grow that seemed dead and gone.

It has been so good to discover love waiting here in an unexpected place. I was not looking for it, but it found me.

It is now 12:10 p.m. and I need to go to sleep, so I am posting this unedited - forgive me my sins of omitted words, and my grammar and spelling trespasses.

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