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Friday, September 17, 2010

What I'm Reading Today: Revelation 12-14

The very first job I had out of college taught me an invaluable lesson about life – a lesson that is buried within today's reading. Let me take a moment and set that lesson up for you.

My first job out of college was a teaching position where I taught English and social studies to youth who were incarcerated at the Spokane County Juvenile Detention Center. The kids in my classroom ranged in age from 11-18, and the average length of stay in the facility was just 2 weeks. The stay of each child varied greatly, however, since at the time Eastern Washington did not have a long-term lock up facility. That mean in some cases, individuals were with us as long as 9 months!

Of course I never knew exactly how long a student would be with me when the youth first arrived in my classroom. Everything depended on how the individual's court case went. That meant I could make no assumptions about how long the individual would be around. I had to be present to the individual each day – not knowing if it would be his or her last day with us.

In the process of maximizing my sense of presence with each child, I invested a great deal of myself in the classroom relationship. While it may have been naïve to expect that the two week's the individual spent in my classroom would completely turn around the life of each youth, on some level I thought that it could. Needless to say, I was disappointed when a child would get released, re-offend, and appear back in my classroom a few weeks later.

At first I would take this personally – as if it were somehow proof that I was an ineffective teacher. As time passed, however, I realized how unrealistic it was for me to expect that I could single-handedly turn an individual's life around in just two weeks. There were so many other factors involved in the individual's life that drowned out the messages I was sending. I learned that I alone couldn't save each student.

When that reality first occurred to me I went through a mini-crisis in my teaching. "If I can't save the students," I asked myself, "what's the point?"

Over the course of my six years teaching there I arrived at a two-fold answer to that question. First, I realized that not every student re-offended. There were some who got the message through their experience of being incarcerated – and maybe I played a small role in helping the child get it. That helped. Second, I realized that when you make a difference in someone's life, if doesn't always look like you would expect. I expected that making a difference in someone's life meant they would not re-offend. Later I learned that making a difference in someone's life looked different in each case. For some, it meant that for the first time in the individual's life they actually looked forward to coming to school and learning. For other, it meant that the individual forged a positive relationship with an adult male role model whom they could trust and look up to. And for still others, I'll never know what it looked like because they never told me what it looked like for them.

The lesson I learned was this: don't get frustrated and give up just because it seems as if your efforts aren't working. Hang in there – for you never know exactly what a difference you are making.

In speaking of those who died in the practice of their faith, the author of today's passage wrote these beautiful words of affirmation: "None of what they've done is wasted…"

I know there are days when you feel like I felt during my teaching days in the detention center –you wonder what difference your life is making. If you are having such a day, take a step back and remember those wonderful words of promise and affirmation. None of what you have done will be wasted! Live into those words and draw strength from those words.

Til next time …

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