“Open your hands, child. Your ‘kids’ are not yours; they never were to begin with. Give them back to me. I’m the One who can, and will, take care of them.”
I’ve experienced my fair share of heartbreak over my Street School students, but leaving them to come to Alaska last fall felt like the thing that was going to rip my heart out all together.
At the end of last school year, Eli, the other English teacher, sat across from me and said the words I’d been thinking for months, but had been too afraid to verbalize.
“If I leave… and if you leave… Who is going to love these kids? They’re so hard sometimes… But I love them so much it hurts. Is it possible that someone else could love our girls the way we do? After all, they’ve become our girls… And they so desperately need to know that they’re loved.”
Those words echoed in my heart for months and shifted into fears over time. That fear gave way anxious tears that further distorted my vision. I began to see my students as far more fragile than they were and I stopped seeing Jesus as the powerful, risen Savior who came (and always comes) for God’s children in love.
I was afraid He would somehow abandon my students. Or worse, that my pre-Alaska goodbyes would become the last words I’d ever speak to them. After losing a student to gang violence last year, I was so scared that any goodbye could become permanent, and thus, I held my kids close.
So when Jesus called me to walk away from the job that had become my passion and the kids whom I saw myself as the protector of, I fought Him. Hard. But we all know how the story went… Ultimately (and albeit a bit begrudgingly) I hugged the students who held my heart and I got on a plane with their sweet, handwritten notes and gifts tucked in my pack.
God loves these kids more than I do. He won’t let anything happen to them that’s outside His will. He’s a Good, Good Father; His provision and providence puts my earthly mom-brain to shame. It will be okay. I prayed and pep talked myself all the way home on my last day of work and often over my first few months in Alaska. If I’m being honest, I still struggle to lay my DSS students at Jesus’ feet every time I see something worrisome on social media or wake up to see that I missed a call from them in the middle of the night.
At those times, the beautiful gift of my students’ continued relationship and trust, even 2,500 miles away, seems a bit like a blessing and a curse. But I cherish those random phone calls, even though my selfish heart breaks a little with each one as I wish I could offer them more than a simple prayer from the other side of a phone or computer.
Which begs the question: Why does prayer seem so insufficient to my momma-heart? Why do I believe that I could provide anything better than Jesus if I was physically present with them? I’ve wrestled with these questions as I’ve sat speechless, staring at Facebook messages and texts, wishing I could do something more than point them to Jesus in the middle of the night when their worlds are falling apart.
It was on one such night when I stumbled upon Annie Jones‘ “Oh, Pioneer: Song of the Unseen” while I texted back and forth with one of my old students. She writes,
“We are lampposts lighting the way for the lost and curious ones. Saying, ‘This is the way, Pioneer. The Good Life begins Here.’
This manna, falling from the sky as promise, is enough to satisfy our hungry lips. Mouths begging for more. Spirit breathing. There is plenty. How mystery sustains the most savage of a soul.
Come close to this, Pioneer.
Learn the language of your seeking, savage heart.
See what we are made for: breaking bread and drinking wine underneath stars with our Creator. A shared communion of enoughness. Giving thanks for our unknowing of the gentle way ahead, unfolding as we sing through momentary mystery. The Journey. There is nothing more spectacular to Belong to.”
Staring at the poem in front of me, I could hear Him, plain as day: This is what I’ve called you to. You are not your students’ protector or savior—I am. You are not the Light; you are simply a lamppost– a loving, encouraging voice along the way who can call into the darkness and say, “This way, fellow Pioneer. Come this way; it’s beautiful and Light on this path with Jesus.”
Nearly a year had passed since Eli and I sat starting at each other across her classroom table, wracked with the fear of the unknown for our girls. A few months had gone by since the winter night when I first read that poem. But not two days after I pulled it off the shelf to re-read it over spring break, a Facebook message between one of our former students, Eli, and I came across the screen of my phone:
“Hey guys. I decided I want to give my life to Christ but I need help. I really don’t know how to do this on my own.”
I blinked the tears out of my eyes and read the message at least five more times before letting out a weighted breath I didn’t even realize I’d been holding in for nine months.
“I told you I would take care of ‘your kids’. I love them more than you’ll ever be capable of. You can breathe and continue giving them back to Me.”
All too often my momma bear perspective skews my view of God and elevates my own power, protection, and love. But praise God for the moments when He reminds me that there is nothing that I do ever do to change or protect my students’ hearts; it’s Jesus’ love, His Spirit, His grace, and His acceptance that softens hearts, changes minds, and protects us all in the meantime.
May we as Christians, disciple-makers, teachers, parents, and momma-brained individuals learn to give the ones we love back to Jesus in prayer every day and instead call out the words of Annie Jones:
“It is this way, Beloved.
Here you will be found.
The search is over.
“And I am sure of this, the He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Christ.”