Back to School!
Ring Ring Riiiiiing! It's that time of year when those of us with school-aged children are starting a new year of learning. Target store school supply aisles are a parade of parents filling the iconic red carts, checking off lists while kids drag their flip flops along, half-interested in the new selection of folders and pencil boxes.
If your children are now adults in college, your home is becoming like a state park or camping ground: what once buzzed with visitors excitedly bonding over quality time and shared meals is now emptying out like a parking lot at closing time. Carloads of friends who came by to see your children and compare college-life notes have also followed park rangers' logo to, "Leave only footprints; take only memories."
Others of us may not have children of our own. We can still relate, can't we, to the "back to school" rush? Regardless of what's happening in my life each year, when September is at my door, I flashback to my upbringing. My mind vividly evokes the familiar carpool route, eager to reunite with my besties after three loooong months away from them (yes, we talked on the phone every day and met at the movies or bowling, but it's not the same as "meet you at your locker to walk to third period" bonding).
We can laugh now at how we complained of life as "difficult" to juggle...
*in grade school ("Why do I have to do homework every day? I want to play outside!")
*or high school ("When do you think he'll ask me to prom? I'm so involved in all the clubs and play all the sports, PLUS I have to practice driving so I can get my license!")
*even college ("Why can't I understand this Chemistry problem set? I have to go work at my part-time job in an hour. How can I fit going to the gym and getting my white chocolate mocha before class?")
Hindsight is 20/20, isn't it? Looking now at our life calls, ministries, careers and passions in comparison to then, life really was "a breeze" for many of us.
Maybe it's because as a community college professor, I've had to stick to the school year calendar much longer than non-educators. The adage has proven true for me that, "To teach is to learn twice." Being a teacher is really a way into learning about others and myself. This way, viewing life through the lens of being a perpetual learner hasn't stopped.
Aren't we all called by Jesus to be, "lifelong learners"?
Last week was our first week back on campus with our college students. I work downtown, at San Diego City College, a nexus of cultures and life experiences. Among our 18,000 students, over 100 languages are spoken! Along with refugees, immigrants, and other ethnically diverse Americans, we serve fresh high school grads and drop outs who have worked for twenty years and realized they need more job skills; the post-incarcerated trying to regain their footing; military veterans, many who come to us mentally and physically disabled; single parents who are 19 years young, dropping their toddlers off at the school daycare (as well as 65 year olds raising their grandchildren); the homeless who hide their belongings under a tarp along the overpass; those who cross the border starting at 4 a.m. each morning; many who just began speaking English six months ago and are now sitting in my class, wonder-hope-praying they can understand my assignments.
After I introduce the class syllabus, I ask students for a writing sample. In one class, I showed them a short video of what makes a person a hero. The narrator says, "Anyone can be a hero--a kid, an adult--and you don't need money to do it!" We compile a list of qualities we believe heroes embody: kindness, compassion, defending against bullies, improving someone's life. You get the general idea. "Write one paragraph about what makes YOU a hero." I assign. "Tell me what else you would like to do to continue being a hero."
Of the thirty students in this basic skills essay writing course, immediately two students' paragraphs hooked me. One is of a nineteen year old who started a nonprofit business that sells homemade products she and her friends make. They give 50% of their profits to support incoming Syrian refugees here in San Diego. Another paragraph describes a Latino who, in his words, "escaped and survived human trafficking." He has not yet shared details of this horrendous experience. All he has written so far is that, "I can no longer watch people suffer. I help feed the homeless, I jump in when people are being attacked on the street, I spend my time trying to be kind to those in my neighborhood." I am constantly reminded that on face value, each person I meet is a world I can learn from. With Holy Spirit's guidance, my main goal is to love them as God does.
With our own children, right around this time, we try to help our kids review the skills we gleefully buried in the sand at the beach and now have to abruptly resurrect and stuff in brains and backpacks. We encourage our kids to, "try your best," "have fun," and, "we love you no matter what!" hoping our children can click back into "good student" mode, at the ready to quickly to memorize, categorize, analyze, and apply more knowledge. The world needs our children, the best of our best!
We, ourselves, are lifelong learners of how to experience and bring the good news to our homes, neighbors, and all over. Bill Johnson once asked, "Don't we want our ceiling to be the next generation's floor?" God's education is constantly available. In the same way we pour unconditional love onto our children, Abba sends us out, arm in arm, in blessed assurance.
Try your best!
I love you no matter what!
Our leadership "learning community" at Lifestreams Ministries is now in session, ready for the new year of surpassing higher standards than ever before.
~Ella deCastro Baron