“Why are you still here?” a student asked this afternoon. He wasn’t referring to my imminent departure or to the fact that I was still at school, cleaning out my office, long after I’ve usually gone home. In the course of a casual conversation, I’d just informed him that this is the end of my seventeenth year at BFA. He picked his jaw up off the ground (presumably because my adolescent appearance fooled him into thinking I was fourteen as opposed to forty–or so I choose to believe) and asked me why I was still loitering in the halls and classrooms of the school from which I graduated twenty-two (gasp) years ago.
It’s a tough question to answer–mostly because it really wasn’t the original plan. I came in 1991 with the firm intention of staying for two years, then moving on to a “real” job. I also came with the firm intention of working in the communications office and ended up teaching English, directing a choir and producing a play during that first year, so I should have known that things were not about to proceed according to any pre-field strategy. One year turned into two, two turned into three, three turned into four…
And before I knew it, I was standing in my entryway last night, having been drawn inside by the sound of suspicious laughter, staring at muddy footprints on the ceiling (yes, the ceiling) of the entrance to my apartment. The guilty parties (Kristoff, Austin and Lief) looked at me with impish expressions that were sadly devoid of the remorse I thought the defacement-of-property warranted. After blessing them with a few well-aimed smacks upside the head, I presented them with a bucket of water and a wet rag and ordered them to undo the stupidity imprinted on my ceiling. Earlier in the evening, I’d walked into my bedroom to find two stuffed animals hanging from nails in the wall. Why indeed am I still here?! My stuffed animals surely echo the question!
I’ll tell you why I’m still here. I’m still here because my heart beats earnestly and fiercely for the students of this school. I’m still here because they challenge me and motivate me and fascinate me. I’m still here because my goal is to love them and my purpose is to help them as they navigate this transition from a worldwide childhood to a Stateside adulthood. I’m still here because their courage inspires me and their frailty moves me. I’m still here because classrooms are venues for healing and lessons are platforms for life changes. I’m still here because my past mistakes find redemption in helping to guide students, because my wounds find meaning in preventing those of others, because my surplus of affection finds fulfillment in easing the growing pains of students whose lives have been abundantly blessed and relentlessly tried by their parents’ call to ministry. I’m here because Drea is the strongest fragile woman I’ve ever met, because Austin has the potential to transform this world, because Collin has learned how to smile without guile, because Squirt doesn’t squirm anymore when I force her into makeup on big occasions, because Jackson’s baptism testimony was a determined stand for righteousness, because of Jay’s beautiful vulnerability, because of Lief’s righteous temerity and Erin’s purpley-swanny-brittle-and-soon-to-be-obliterated weaknessmeetscourageandhope.
I’m here because there is no greater reward than a visible brightening in overcast souls, because there is no greater ambition than to see one’s past better the future of others, because there is no greater calling than to love those for whom our spirits breathe and yearn and soar and groan and plead and grieve and celebrate. I’m here because God wanted me to be, back when my two-year commitment seemed like a sure thing and my matrimonial expectations clamored more loudly than ministry. I’m here because all it took was one day on this campus, one conversation with a student, one “ah-ha” moment when I saw my past reflected in their present to convince me that my life would not be wasted as long as it was devoted to something outside of my own self-centered interests.
I am still here because there is love in this place–there is kinship, there is growth and there is a kind of energy that cannot be reproduced elsewhere. Because this is a place where God is moving. He didn’t bring these students here to get an education–they could get that anywhere. He brought them here for the belonging and revealing and understanding and broadening and healing that can only happen in a community of kindred souls. He didn’t bring them here for English and Science and Math and Fine Arts. He brought them here because He wanted to care for them through us, through staff members whose jobs might be teaching but whose callings achieve Eternal Dividends only in those moments outside of lesson plans and projects, outside of scheduled interaction and mandatory tasks. I am here because I love these students and the potentially world-altering force they represent. I am here because God told me, “Go–nurture them, challenge them, be my hands and heart to them.” I am here because little has mattered more to me than feeling that my life has served a purpose, that my years have not been wasted, that my heart has offered love and acceptance and a commitment I never could have imagined in my seventeen-years-ago naivety.
Why am here? Not for rewards, not for recognition, not for compensation or security. Though my job may be teaching, my passion and vision and inspira
tion and motivation and joyful sacrifice and MINISTRY are love. And as long as love can remain at the core of who I am at BFA, I will consider my life here well worth the sacrifices it entails.
Something extraordinary happened during our chapel service this morning: I was asked to come to the front of the room and a student (Austin, whom I dearly love) prayed a blessing over me as I prepare to head Stateside in a few days. It was a moment of indescribable meaning to me. Though there is no expectation of reciprocity in adult-teenager relationships, there are times when God grants it just to tell us that we matter, that our commitment has born fruit and that our lives have not been wasted. This morning’s prayer was such a time for me–and it filled me with renewed zeal to get my summer-stuff taken care of and return in full health in August to resume the rat-race that is my very best life.
As we sat around my living room last night and I prayed a final prayer for the seniors I’ve come to cherish so deeply, I realized just how simple my creed really is: I will love. It will sometimes hurt and often require battles to make room for it and preserve it, but it will also galvanize and heal. There is no greater calling.
For those of you who have asked, my imminent medical journey looks like this:
- May 27 – Off to the States
- May 28 – Biopsies on several additional potentially malignant spots
- June 2 & 3 – Surgery to remove the tumor in my cheek
- June 5 – Surgery to reconstruct my cheek
- Summer – More surgeries if biopsies show new malignancies
- August 10 – Return to BFA
My summer address will be: 7411 Mud Creek Trail /Port Franks, ON N0M 2L0 / Canada
Hana contemplating the tortured puppies hanging from my bedroom wall…
The high school ensemble performing at the spring concert…love ’em!