This past Thursday morning, I was chatting with someone about how she has a lot of questions about Job - and I admitted I have a lot of questions too. I've been reading Job each weekend in February, and my questions have only grown. For those unfamiliar with the biblical story, it is a poetic narrative following the life of a righteous man who God provokes the Satan to attack. The Bible Project guys made a really great video on it.
So my life has parallel points to Job's, but as I was reading today, I thought about his curse on the day he was born. I was particularly lamenting my shortcomings as a mentor, and I was wondering if God could just pull me out of the game altogether because I so consistently feel inadequate (ironically, Thursday and Friday I had conversations with two of the most gifted kids I've ever taught who told me they feel insecure and inadequate for what God has called them to and simultaneously affirmed me in my calling). I had some poorly worded comments to students this week because I couldn't read their needs well, but there were also lots of kids I said encouraging things to. Yet it hit me as I read Job's wish to never have been born that I'd never want that. To my knowledge, there are two people who decided not to follow through on a suicide plan after conversations with me; I don't want that undone. I'm not saying God couldn't have used someone else to speak truth and redirect their path, but I'm grateful to be a part of those stories.
However, I was texting a recent alumna Thursday night about how I could die happy today knowing my legacy was going to be carried on in students like her and her friends. She replied, "We will not talk like that. Thank you, but not a chance. I still have so much to learn and grow from and with you... There is so much more to come." I was effectively reprimanded for the flippant words about possibly dying soon. No one knows how much time we've got left, but I'm not expecting to die soon, for the record. My student's lesson to me was to redirect my attention to the growth God is doing here and now rather than making morbid jokes.
I am a champion of growth. I'm really, really good at celebrating it in all my students, and I'm really, really weak at identifying it in myself. This week was full of little successes, but they were hard to see because they were so tiny. I maintained the necessary dietary changes to advance the recovery from the past two weeks. I kept my daily treadmill streak alive. I got all my late work graded. I made it to all my classes. I managed to clean myself up between meetings when my nerve damaged body messed me up. I apologized to the two students I made cry by making jokes about my untimely death. I am a champion, and I am growing.
I'm still asking for everything.
That kid I asked to pray with me after my birthday sent me an encouraging message last night about how he wants to grow and wants me to continue to help him grow. Then literally as I was typing this post, he reiterated that and thanked me for the positive influence in his life. This is the same kid who when he was a junior in my class got visibly and vocally excited when I taught him that John 1 uses the word "tabernacled" to describe how Jesus came to live among us because growing up in Messianic Jewish churches in Israel, he resonated with the Hebrew allusion. Now he's telling me he's excited about what we're learning about prayer and the body of Christ. I love seeing that growth and being able to grow alongside him.
I'm also really grateful for my friend Givorgy who grows alongside me and encourages me. I was reflecting with him on what I'm learning from Job today, we reached the point where both of us agreed we know so little but we're expected to offer wisdom a lot. "I know nothing, you can quote me on that," he told me at the end of our conversation. Job's friends say some terrible things claiming to represent God, and Job isn't perfect in his dialogue either. I want to be so cautious in what I say to students, but I know so little. Like Givorgy, I know nothing (for the record, Givorgy knows a lot and is super encouraging in my ongoing growth as a Jesus follower). But at the same time, God uses me to speak truth every now and then. With the dozen or so alumni I interacted with this week, I hit a really low low and a really high high within a twenty-four hour period. "You have to takes the wins, and remember them in the midst of the chaos and the confusion and the crazy," Givorgy told me after I ranted about how one particular student had hurt me so badly and then within twenty minutes was recounting the conversation with a different student who reached out with a series of messages about how excited he was to grow under my influence.
The book of Job ends with him getting a bunch of cattle and kids. It's a happy ending materially, and I have no promises of that, but my conversations today were all gifts. I called Shannon and got to talk to her and Tori while they were driving to an Annie F. Downs event. Then I talked to Givorgy and one of my most incredible students while I was drafting this. All those people are still asking God to give me the material gift of physical recovery - and I'd love for you to join us in that petition - but I also want to thank God for providing me with the amazing students who grow up to be the Tori's of the world who are the absolute best and become friends who encourage me when I don't understand what feelings are and join in with Shannon encouraging me to "feel the feelings" instead of moving to a nunnery and living in a cave with books and no people. Even though I'm still in a wheelchair this week, I'll call that a happy ending for now.
Fortunately, my story isn't over.