The beginning of the school year is crazytown – that’s the best way I know to explain it. It’s busy and exciting and overwhelming. I have been feeling all of those things for the past few weeks during this start of my second year. It’s so different and so nice to know what’s going on and to know what I’m supposed to do – but it’s still a lot. I’ve been overwhelmed and anxious about paperwork and pressures and getting it all done and done the right way.
I was sitting at my desk before school last week drinking my coffee and thinking of things that needed to happen before I left that afternoon. I accidentally moved my mouse pad over, and out peeked a sticky note I left for myself – it said, “my feet are firm, held by His grace.”
(I like to leave myself sticky notes, which is maybe a little dorky, but also it’s awesome. I love words so I leave notes of encouragement via song lyrics, lines from books, quotes, thoughts. This particular note is lyrics from “I Will Glory in My Redeemer,” sung by Sovereign Grace.)
I find it hard to be firm – both in classroom behavior management and in life. I find it much easier to be a doormat, yet I can’t think of one time that being a doormat has been beneficial to me. This lyric reminds me that not in my own strength, but in the grace of Christ, I can be firm. Not mean-and-scary firm, but meaning-what-I-say firm, and not-being-a-doormat firm. And that being firm is a positive thing.
My feet get stood on while I teach, they get slammed on the ground when I run, and last weekend at the Greek Festival they got ketchup squirted on them – and in all those situations I can trust that my feet are held. Even if life is madness and it feels like I’m being held upside down by my feet, I know that it’s intentional and I know that it’s by grace.
My feet are firm in Christ. He leads them and the rest of me generally follows. He doesn’t lead me astray.
I can trust that wherever my feet are, whatever they’re doing, I’m not forgotten. I’m held by One who sings over me, who sees how trivial I am and chooses to still let me be His.
When I wrote these words on a sticky note months ago, I thought they might be encouraging. I didn’t know how, and I hadn’t thought about them in the depth that I did last week when I was supposed to be getting school stuff done. But they were such an encouragement.
I’m a special education teacher. I have lots of kids – kids who call me “Miss Twinkle” and “Miss Dekle-Dekle” and “Mom,” kids who believe me when I tell them that I’m 77, kids who treat me like a friend instead of a teacher (it’s a blessing and a curse), kids who say the funniest things and kids I worry about, kids who are lovely and exasperating all in one package, like cute little sausages.
I love when they ask me for help. It means they know my name! They trust me! They think I know answers to things!
And usually I do know answers to things. I am a grown-up, and I have a college degree, and I have used my brain to do things in life. I’m no Einstein or Hawking (or someone else smart and famous), but my brain has brought me some places and done me some good.
I get to be in charge at school – I make the schedule in my little orange and white room and decide what we’re doing every day. I get to be in charge because I’m the teacher. But then I think – will there be a time when these guys are in charge? Is there a place where what they say goes? Will they find the parts of life where people listen to them and adore them and want to know how old they are and what they’re having for lunch today? Will they have opportunities – to be awesome and to make money and to be heard?
I know I have the power to give opportunities here but what about when they’re 21 and they’re out of high school and they need a job? Will people listen to them? They’re quirky kiddos, but so am I. (It’s why we’re friends.)
I worry because while I know that I’m a goober just as much as my friendsy-friends, I also have marketable skills. I can read and I can do math and I can write words – both for my own entertainment and for getting a job. I can ask for help when I need it. I can express myself in appropriate ways (generally) and function as an independent adult (most of the time). Will my kids be able to say the same? They are wonderful but their brains are kind of betraying them.
I can’t force my abilities onto them. If I could duplicate these marketable skills – like writing legibly and understanding subtraction and identifying sight words not just in isolation but also in text – and share with my kids, I would. But I wouldn’t just give these skills to my kids because I know how difficult life is going to be without them.
And really, I won’t know my kids past the ages of eight or maybe nine. My school only goes through 2nd grade, so 3rd and on is a mystery to me – so unless parents are gracious and remember me, I won’t get to follow my kids in their stories. I know that they will achieve more in life than I will get to be around for, and that is a great thing.
But I see the gap between my kiddos and everybody else. Everybody else can read chapter books and make great connections and figure out what a vocabulary word means from context clues before they even know what it means to use context clues. Everybody else can say “I’m overwhelmed” when they’re overwhelmed, instead of stealing and kicking and yelling.
Everybody else can see how my kids are different, and it doesn’t look like disability-different to them; it looks like weird-different. Everybody else can do these things that I could also do when I was that age: they can read fluently and ride a two-wheeler and engage in pretend play for hours upon hours.
The gap is only going to grow wider. I know this.
I know that my kids are different. I love them for it. They are fresh and original and interesting and full of spirit. And because I know that I know them, I want to go with them all the way through life. I want to tell everybody else that when they do this one thing, it actually means that, and I want to set up the math problems for them so that they can do it and feel so competent! I want to remind to use eye contact. I want to be their protector, their pal, their much older teacher-friend who loves them and is with them always and explains them to everybody else.
But that’s not how life works. Life is ruthless. You have to be tough and well-rounded and fairly independent. You don’t get to take your teacher with you everywhere you go. You have to be a little bit good at most things if you’re going to hack it in the world.
So I pray for my babies. They are little and they don’t know that they’re not really supposed to sit in my lap. My kids are children and I won’t know them as grown-ups.
I don’t know what will happen to them. Will they have friends who love them like I love them?
That’s what I think about when I go out to recess just to see how they’re doing and watch them walk around in a jacket, completely unaware that it’s 90 degrees outside. That’s why I want to cry when I hear that they’re moving away from our great gator school.
I don’t know what’s out there. All I can control is this little orange and white room. I’m scared for them because I love them so.
I read in a parenting book somewhere that every child is born asking: 1) am I loved? and 2) can I get what I want? I’m no parent but I spend a lot of time with these kids and I love them relentlessly.
And just like a parent, I’m learning that I can’t go through life with my kids, that I can’t fix or alter its circumstances for them. All I can do is pray and teach. I can pray for my kids while they are here with me, and I can keep praying after they leave (which my first group of 2nd graders has already done!). I can teach them academics, over and over, as I work to understand how these little minds function, and I can teach that 1) you are SO loved and 2) you cannot get what you want. But then, none of us can. Life isn’t fair.
I student taught last spring in 3rd-5th grade resource. One morning I was walking around in a 4th grade class and passed an empty desk with a strip of paper on it. The paper said “small thin peace.” I assume that the original writer meant to say “piece,” but they didn’t, and that makes all the difference.
I hadn’t been feeling specifically un-peaceful, but when I saw that strip of paper and thought about what it might mean, it felt like relief, and it stuck with me.
I considered peace. I’m not a Quaker or a hippie or a Buddhist, and I’d never thought much about peace until prompted by this curious piece of paper. I’d thought about it when reading Psalms or when feeling internally conflicted but it had always ended there.
I’ve tried to provide peace for myself (spoiler: it doesn’t work). I’ve tried to grasp control, to manage the pieces of my life. When things are out of control and unmanageable, I get frustrated and I have a hard time understanding why.
Paul in Philippians says that the peace of God “surpasses all understanding.” It’s greater than what I am able to understand – and thus, control.
I think the peace of God is small and thin.
I think it can be like horseradish, how a little bit of it can bring tears to my eyes and just a taste of it affects the way everything else tastes for the rest of the day.
Small thin peace is meek. It will inherit the earth.
I came across this small thin peace during student teaching, and now I’m a first year teacher. It’s a big job. It’s bigger than me. Right now, every day of my life is a learning curve. In the midst of a learning curve, recognizing peace as small and thin is comforting. It’s not one more thing to push myself to accomplish today – instead, peace preludes everything else. It’s amazing.
Like salvation, peace requires a request and an acceptance. It requires me to admit that I can’t provide it for myself and it requires me to beg for it. It requires my ultimate thankfulness because it is provided. It requires my attachment to Christ. It requires my submission of control.
Small thin peace means that I’m not in charge. Small thin peace means that when I’m confused about what to feel, when I’ve messed up, when I feel like saltwater taffy, when everything earth-level is not okay, all is not lost. Prior to, during, and after crises and catastrophes and Mondays, the peace of God gives grace and rest. Prior to, during, and after scares and surprises and breakdowns, the peace of God gives grace and rest. Life on earth and the peace of God are not mutually exclusive. That news is grand!
Having peace in my heart, however, does not mean I don’t feel stress or want to control things; but it’s bigger than those things. Just like how God is bigger than the bogeyman, His peace is bigger than my desires and tendencies. It gives perspective to all of life.
There are always reasons to not be peaceful or to not accept peace. There are always holdups. There will not be a time where life is perfectly restful and quiet and calm and peaceful.
Peace is not contingent upon circumstance. Regardless of circumstance and regardless of understanding, when I put my faith and trust in Christ, and when I let Him be peace instead of trying to manufacture it for myself, His peace transcends my understanding. That takes off so much pressure.
Directly before Paul says that the peace of God “surpasses all understanding,” He says to not be anxious in anything. He follows this with telling that the peace of God (“which surpasses all understanding,”) “will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”
There is no need to say no to peace. It comes from Christ. He guards my heart and mind. I need this.