A few weeks ago I taught my last youth leadership class in the Episcopal School, that old light-teal-colored three-story building in downtown La Ceiba where the Lord first began training me back in 2012 for the work He has currently entrusted us.
As the magnitude of the work at the Living Waters Ranch (where my husband and I live and labor 7 days a week) has grown over these past two and a half years, we have recently made the decision to withdraw from our part-time labors at the Episcopal School in order to focus entirely on our Father’s purposes in our little rural town on the outskirts of La Ceiba.
So I arrived about an hour before class on that final Monday with my black suitcase filled with dry erase markers, my students’ journals and little candy treats. In a very real way I was burdened with joy, with gratitude.
I asked one of the full-time teachers at the school to unlock the multi-purpose/storage room for me. I had been assigned that room during the last couple months once the air-conditioned upstairs library room had become highly coveted among the other teachers.
As he unlocked that utterly undesirable room at the end of the first-floor passageway, I sighed as I found my classroom as I had found it every Monday prior: desks in total disarray, someone else’s trash littering the ground, boxes of this-and-that thrown about in the back, supplies from some other teacher’s project left haphazardly about, a couple rouge foosball tables here and there to add to the overall eye-sore effect. Some little empty milk cartons tossed about on the tile floor, a layer of very tangible dust covering almost everything.
I set my black suitcase – my mobile classroom, in effect – down along one of the walls and calmly set about ordering half of the classroom while pushing all that I didn’t need to the other half.
Seeing as I had always preferred that my students sit on the floor, every Monday I would lift and move the desks and chairs, creating a very free floorspace for us to sit in a circle and grow together.
Boxes, foosball tables and other miscellaneous objects moved to the back half of the classroom, whiteboard wiped down, trash ‘swept’ away with my foot because a broom was not found. Laptop turned on with Spanish praise and worship music now majestically filling the unlikeliest of spaces. Ready.
As I participated in this familiar routine for the last time, the heaviness in the room became palpable. Standing still, my eyes travelled up to the itty-bitty windows at the top of the back wall of the classroom, opened to allow in the smallest amount of light and fresh breeze. An overgrown tree-plant from outside extended a few of its nosy branches into our sacred space.
In this room – in my posture before the Lord – stillness had become my close friend.
This is God’s will. His Word being preached, His children being instructed not from a grand stage but in abandoned rooms.
God’s wisdom seems like foolishness to the worldly ‘wise’ while He laughs at human ‘wisdom’ and calls us all to become fools for His sake. I’m sure that every other teacher and employee at this school is certain nothing good could ever happen in this dirty storage room, but if only they knew what I know, what my students know! Here we find the Master; here we learn His ways.
How many times during my first year in Honduras when I was 22 years old and single did I find Him two rooms over in what was then my first-grade classroom all alone at the end of a hard day, praising His name in the midst of seemingly insurmountable difficulties?
After having been promised 12-15 manageable students in my bilingual first grade classroom as a first-time teacher fresh out of college and living on my own in a new country, it turned out that 28 had been entrusted to my care, none of which showed any mercy to their young teacher who had zero training or experience. Oh, how difficult that first year was, but how closely I felt His hand over me, over my little ones! How many times did I reach the point of weeping – whether for joy, out of profound gratitude, or exhausted by frustration – in this old, teal-colored building tragically situated in the city that has recently been considered to be the murder capital of the world? How many times have I found Him here, alone, as I do even now on what is my last day? Thank You, Father, for these precious moments of stillness in Your presence.
As in any marital situation or large family, in our daily work at the Living Waters Ranch with the 8 children/youth the Lord has brought us to raise as His sons and daughters mixed in with the 20+ other youth from our rural neighborhood who frequent our home/mission for school and discipleship, it is all too easy to get swept-up in a group mentality. It becomes natural to ‘put family first,’ or enjoy the general feeling of ‘we’re all in this together.’ Now that we’ve become accustomed to loving one another for God’s glory, what on earth would we do if someday we become separated?
While these are not bad thoughts, we must understand that each person’s journey begins and ends standing alone before His throne.
It was alone that I began this journey with my Lord back in 2012, certain of His calling on my life whether single or married – I had not even met my husband and had no idea who my children would be! – and here I was alone once again as this precious chapter was being closed. Four years after the journey began, there I stood deeply scarred and torn — formed — by the myriad experiences the Lord had led me through henceforth.
Likewise, at some point in the unknown future – possibly losing spouse and/or children to tragedy, as is all too common here and in the world at large – I may return to such a state of singleness, aloneness in the Lord’s presence.
As every person must come to wholly recognize in their own lives, my beloved husband and the children whom I so adore do not constitute my walk with the Lord; He is who He is whether the blessing of their presence is granted me or taken away. The Lord’s mission is not realized exclusively on ‘mission bases’ in the foothills of majestic mountains or in organized church environments; it is also realized in hectic urban schools and abandoned storage rooms like the one in which I found myself.
So my students began arriving about half an hour later in their two separate groups: first hour with my fourth- and fifth-graders, second hour with my sixth- and seventh-graders, most of whom I had known since Day 1 of entering the Kindergarten-12th grade Episcopal School in 2012. Coaching them in extracurricular basketball teams, being the full-time first-grade teacher of some, getting to know one another during organized visits to our home/mission out in the countryside, preaching the message during their scheduled ‘church’ time on several occasions, or guiding them weekly through the personalized spiritual formation process in the various extracurricular programs the Lord had guided me to design over the past years. Oh, how many hours I had spent reading their journals, excitedly scribbling this or that insight the Lord had given me to continue forming them according to His wisdom and perfect love!
So our last day together was almost unbearably heavy yet ethereally light as the children and I shared some unspoken understanding, so obvious that no one dared cheapen it with words: The Lord has indeed moved among us. Their eyes said it as we opened up the Word one last time to reflect, sieve, press deeper and farther. My eyes said it as I searched their faces; undoubtedly the Truth had already begun consuming a small corner of their souls. Fan the flame, I prayed silently as I moved and taught among their cross-legged semi-circle on the floor.
The Lord placed the words in my mouth to teach His little ones: “None of this – none of these past four years of deep friendship, warm hugs, long letters and uncommon lessons – was from me or about you; it’s all about Him. Seek Him. Everything we have done and said here comes straight from His Word, straight from His heart. Carry the torch; continue the search; allow Him to transform your mind, your sight.”
Then, an uncommon, daring thought. I ventured to put it into words, praying they would understand: “Kids, if you’ve seen something different in me — and I’m certain you have — if you’ve wondered how on earth ‘Miss Jennifer’ always looks so joyful or why she really loves and treasures you while perhaps other adults generally do not or why she seems to see things differently than others –”
As I sat among them in our tight circle, their eyes were trained on me and confirmed that, yes, they had unmistakably noticed something different about me during these last four years of close friendship, of discipleship that digs deep, sheds light on the darkness, transcends normal ‘teacher-student’ boundaries.
I dared to continue: “– It is God at work within me, the Creator of the universe manifesting Himself among us through me. It’s not ‘me.’ ‘Miss Jennifer’ is actually quite the gossiper, the money-lover, the lazy fool without God. If you’ve seen a distinct joy, a different perspective, an eternal hope, any pinch of wisdom, that is actually God within me, acting through me. If you’ve felt drawn to me as a teacher, it is because you have felt drawn to God. His Word teaches that He actually comes and lives within those who are submitted to His will; that is one of the ways He manifests Himself to humanity in the world today. So now on our last day together I beg you to keep reflecting on all that we’ve learned together, and may you see God Himself in my actions among you. And if you’ve seen any impatience or bad attitude, that’s ‘me;’ that’s not Him. That’s what’s left over of the ‘Miss Jennifer’ without God, and He’s still in the process of transforming that part, renewing and cleansing. But please know that God has indeed been moving among us, acting in and through us to make Himself and His perfect love known to us, and that He longs to work in such ways in and through each of you, thus captivating humanity with the utterly attractive nature of all that He is.”
Many things were said on that last Monday together, while at the same time very little was said while much was understood. It was a Great Commission of sorts, a sending out of those who have started the training process to continue onward with great faith while going out and training others to love and follow the Father in similar fashion.
As the last of my students left, my heart heavy as I embraced each one, I ended that day as I had started it. It was, in fact, how I had started this entire journey nearly four years ago: joyfully alone, trusting, in an abandoned room in that old teal-colored building, focused on my Father alone.