I have to tell you- I love being a middle school teacher. Love. It. Which is a little weird. Because 1- who really likes middle school? *raises and waves hand frantically*, and 2- I started teaching as a 1st grade teacher (long story on how I got to middle school- another post, another day)
Anyway, I heart middle school. I love it because I can vividly remember what my bookbag looked like in 6th grade and what I wore for the first day of 8th grade (pink skort, anyone?). It wasn't so long ago that I was in the middle of my first crush and rocking a middle school cheer uniform. There is an honesty and a trust in children that tends to burn out the older we get, but it burns brightest right before it goes out, and that brightest burn happens in middle school. There is a weirdness and an awkwardness, and a whole lot of laughter. Middle school is messy. And so is life.
On Monday, we welcomed a new batch of kiddos. These precious ones stepped into this weirdness called middle school for the first time. I have friends who teach at our elementary feeder schools, and we often text, facebook message, or chat in the aisle at the grocery store about which of their littles are in my classes. One of these friends is Jennifer Smith: writer/speaker (go check out Create in Us Ministries. Do it now. I'll wait.), pastor's wife, super mom, 4th grade teaching extraordinaire (can you tell I adore her?). Our chat happened on Sunday after worship.
Our church meets in an elementary school, and after our worship service, our pastor invited us to do a prayer walk to pray over the school where we meet each week, for the teachers and kids who will learn there this year. Post-prayer walk, Jennifer and I were talking. She mentioned a child's name to me, a child she adores. The very same child was not originally on my roster, but mysteriously ended up there.
I met that sweet one right around 8:00 Monday morning. She was so nervous, but I recognized her name and let her know I was Mrs. Smith's friend. And her sweet face lit up like a Christmas tree- "Oh! You're that Mrs. Cook! Mrs. Smith told me about you!" In her mind, being Mrs. Smith's friend made me okay. I'm good with this.
A little while later, this little came up to me and said, "I can tell you and Mrs. Smith are friends. You remind me of her. Like how you call people 'friend' and stuff and...you just remind me a lot of her."
Out loud, I said something to the effect of "Oh really? That's neat. I love Mrs. Smith!"
But on the inside, I was a little taken aback as I almost immediately thought, "We serve the same God; it's the same Spirit, dear one."
I love my friend Jennifer. I think she is a star, and I so admire the way she knows Truth and chases after the Lord, and I periodically want to be her when I grow up. But I wasn't made to be Jennifer or my mother or any other person I admire. We each have our own unique set of personality traits, gifts, talents, struggles, that combine to make us who we are and to fulfill a purpose that is just for us. The purpose for each of us is to know Him and make Him known; our individual purposes essentially come down to how we do that. I don't say that with pride; I say it with humility and a large awareness of how unworthy I am to even get to be a teeny, tiny part of this thing called the Church.
Jennifer and I both follow Jesus. Because of this, we are members of one body called the Church. Because we follow Jesus, we walk with the Holy Spirit. And the fruit of that Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. (Galatians 5:22-33) God in His creativity and grace has made each of us unique, and to be members of one body, with His Spirit producing that fruit in us.
See, I've gotten it mixed up. I thought that I had to do and be and have those things to have the Holy Spirit. Really, it's because I have the Holy Spirit that He produces those things in me. I thought if I produced the fruit, I got the Spirit. But it's because I have the Spirit that He produces the fruit in me.
My mix up has caused me a lot of despair. I looked at the things I've done and said that aren't loving, kind, faithful, or full of self-control (just to name a few) and the list was looooooong. And I took it to mean that, because I've been less than patient (and the other fruits) and because I still mess up, I don't have the Holy Spirit. And I panicked. The thought of not belonging to Jesus, not having the Spirit, not walking with Him terrified me. I was losing my mind over it- I want to love and serve the Lord and I was being flooded with reminders of how I haven't done that.
I tried to take it to God and I kept telling Him things like, "I don't know how You can forgive me. Look at all these ways I've failed You! How can You still love me? How can You still use me?" Gently, slowly, the Lord has been showing me that I don't "earn" the Holy Spirit by being loving, kind, and faithful; I become those things because I have Him. I have Him because of my faith in Jesus alone as Savior. When I bring Him my shortcomings and failures, He is faithful to forgive. (1 John 1:9). And this aggressive forgiveness called grace is a gift through faith; I can't earn it by being loving or good or gentle (Ephesians 2, Romans 4:5, 6:23). Because, friend, in reality, I'm none of those things without Him. (John 15:5). Being near to Him is my only good (Psalm 73:28).
This school year, it is my prayer that I believe with all my heart that I don't have Him because I'm producing fruits, but I produce those fruits because I have Him. That l will walk in the freedom of that truth so I can be who He wants me to be and do the things He has called me to do. He is faithful, and I am grateful.
Growing in grace,