As I quarantine here at camp with Scruffy and the boys, hoping for the chance to do camp ministry this summer, I am struck anew by the strength and care of our school teachers. I met Scruffy’s third grade teacher at a birthday party right before our state locked down. It reminded me that there are so many people working tirelessly to care for children from a variety of backgrounds. So many times they’ll never know if there will be a happy ending for the hurting kids that walk through their door.
Even though he was her student forty years ago, Scruffy’s teacher recalled some of his difficult circumstances. I was able to tell her about his happy ending. Let me share it with you, and the teachers in my life, because I know that sometimes it feels as though you press on in vain. Sometimes it must feel like letting your heart be broken again and again isn’t bringing forth fruit. We feel this struggle in camp ministry as well, but as I chatted with my husband’s third grade teacher, I was reminded that yes, the struggle is worth it.
Scruffy was one of those kids.
Every teacher worth their salt notices them. I have been volunteering in our local schools for a decade now. I see them, too. It’s not the kids who are confidently shabby, who mess up their hair after Mom brushes it and can’t be pried out of their old boots or favorite stocking cap to save their lives. No, it’s the kids who just seem faded, overlooked, the child who stands in a crowd of happy kids with a smile on their face that never quite erases the shadow of hurt and the overpowering strength of neglect.
Scruffy was the little boy in the faded flannel shirt who desperately didn’t want to smell like cigarette smoke, but knew that he always would. He actually won an award for never missing a single day of school. Not one absence, for twelve consecutive years. Did he really go twelve years without being sick? Of course he didn’t, but being at school was simply a better option than being at home.
I know from experience that doing good can be exhausting and painful. Pastors, youth leaders, camp counselors, camp directors, camp director’s wives, and teachers. Seeing that steady stream of broken children. It can weigh the heart down. It can make you feel like giving up.
But as I sat beside this ninety-three-year-old teacher, I realized something important.
We don’t know the end of the story.
I was there for her great-granddaughter’s birthday party. The birthday girl was one of our camp counselors, young, bright-eyed, so enthusiastic. Not weighed down by life. But her great grandma had taught public school for twenty years, she had seen them. She had seen him in the crowd of barely-restrained energy and action that is a third grade classroom.
“He had a hard life back then, didn’t he?” she said.
Yes, yes he did. It’s amazing, because I absolutely know that the nine-year-old boy who would become my husband never talked with his teachers about the difficult things. Still, they saw. They knew and they cared deeply, but they never witnessed the rest of his story. Not just his third grade teacher but others as well. One teacher noticed him using each pencil until it was barely a nub. This kind man went back to his church and raised money for new clothes, a bike, and school supplies and then took Scruffy shopping.
Teachers notice. Day after day and year after year and still, after watching so many hurting kids walk in and out of the classroom door, they have the bravery to get up and do it all over again.
As a nation, I think we have come to the shocking realization that we have severely undervalued the efforts of our teachers. Nonetheless, they are still working. From home they answer our frazzled emails as we attempt to navigate an online educational system that they only had a few days to learn themselves. They check in with our children to see how they are holding up without their friends. Urge them to get their day scheduled and their work done. And yes, they worry just a little more for the ones like my husband, who would rather be away at school, away anywhere, as long as it meant not being at home.
I was able to tell a ninety-three-year-old school teacher, that the little boy from the rough home grew up.
He grew into the warm, funny, courageous man who is my true love, the dedicated father of our three sons, and the determined shepherd of the small Bible camp that my own grandparents founded, so many years ago. He stepped away from the anger and addiction of his family and into the arms of a loving savior who heals and restores. He has never looked back.
Dear teachers and leaders and workers, do not lose heart. You do not yet know the end of each child’s story. Miracles abound and you are a vital part of them. Thank you for your courage, for letting your hearts be broken, for being willing to open your eyes and see. Thank you for your sacrifice.
Galatians 6:9–“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”
Boo Boo (aka Kristen to my teacher friends)