“Wherever you are be all there. Live to the hilt every situation you believe to be the will of God.”
Sometimes I take this proclamation by Jim Elliot too far. As I attended the graduation ceremony of these “my” seniors, I felt not unlike a parent who had given her children up for adoption just before their senior year only to return for high school graduation feeling she had no right to share in the glory of these graduates.
But I attended anyway. Felt proud anyway. And risked turning into a pillar of salt (tears) in the act of looking back, nearly losing myself in tears as these precious former students entered and spoke.
I said as much when I chatted after the ceremony, when former students asked me if I missed teaching.
“No. I am completely happy in what I am doing,” I responded, perhaps too quickly. “Don’t get me wrong. I loved teaching while I was doing it, but I am equally happy NOT grading papers and going home from work knowing I’m not facing a pile of essays to grade. And, of course, I didn’t want to look back and turn into a pillar of salt in so doing.”
They seemed to understand the reference to Lot’s wife and my happiness despite leaving them.
The Class of 2015 became “my” home base as soon as they entered high school. Our guidance officer (she refused to be called “counselor,” as she said that was the Holy Spirit’s role, not hers) had the grandiose idea that a “home base” (or home room) of students, in the case of our small school an entire grade of students, would stay with one teacher for home room throughout their high school career.
Four years ago I was assigned the ninth graders who would become the Class of 2015. I balked — internally — because I doubted I would be there for the entire four years. My home life would prevail over my home room life, I knew, and my days at the Academy were limited. But I sought to embrace these students as “my class” while I could. My classroom would be theirs to decorate, theirs in which to eat lunch and socialize, and theirs in which to unite as a class as they completed ninth, tenth, eleventh, and twelfth grade year. Together we bought a tiny refrigerator, completed daily devotions and service projects, and competed in class competitions. These creative students helped me post unique bulletin boards and clean the classroom after the long school day in which our classroom was filled with other students and their sandy shoes.
Last year, I tendered my resignation at my husband’s request. It was time to get a job with benefits, and I was ready for a change (in particular, a job that didn’t invade my home life). But to say goodbye to this group was difficult. I envisioned myself a much better former teacher than I became. I did leave them a final bulletin board, made with the letters they’d created through the years, and I made sure they had a wonderful replacement teacher. I thought I might make it back for a few chapel services or a visit or two, certainly for their Capstone Project performances, plays, and basketball games. But I failed to check the calendar and missed those opportunities.
In truth, I was following Elliot’s advice: “Wherever you are be all there…” and contentedly so. But I knew I had to return to my old “wherever” and be “all there” at this graduation service.
Through the years, additional students joined while others left this class, and as graduation loomed, I realized just how many schools these graduating seniors now represented. I started getting invitations to graduation at a variety of schools. Two followed their coach to another school; one moved south to live with his grandfather; another moved south to live with his dad. One moved with her parents to another state; another moved back to live with her mother. Several students left for dual-enrollment at local colleges. Three others left for different private schools; another three left for public high schools. Only nine remained at the Academy, but it was to the Academy’s graduation I would go — though I would distinctly miss these students who held a place in my heart if not in my classroom.
As I started getting invitations to a number of graduations — for the first time several from other schools — it was the back side of one graduation announcement that grabbed my attention rather than the photograph and celebratory details on the front of the card.
Dear Sara. We wanted to send you one of Wil’s announcements — not because you are unaware he is graduating or in hopes of a gift, but as a thank you for your investment in him — your teaching, your example, your encouragement and most recently your willingness to be a reference for him are all investments you made in him that we are so thankful for. We pray God’s blessings on you and your family for the blessing you have been to ours! Love ya — Linda
Thank you, Linda and Wil and all my former students for the blessing you have been to me. Truly, teaching has been one of the greatest joys of my life — and, like you graduates, who won’t look back with longing on that high school classroom, instead looking forward to new challenges and joys — I too look forward, content to live in the present with a rich tapestry of life shared with you in my background.
So “be all there” — wherever that may be — and “live to the hilt every situation you believe to be the will of God.”
I will love you forever. God loves you more.