Thursday, September 12, 2013


It's homecoming week at school.  We've had a fun time dressing up in strange costumes all week in preparation for Friday night's game and dance.  It's been a bit of a crazy time, and it is super easy to get caught up in the hype and forget about the point of homecoming: coming home.  They say (whoever "they" are) that a person can't go home again, but I had an experience a couple of years ago during a similar homecoming week that reminds me that maybe, sometimes, you can.

Fall, 2011....
          I was visited today by a student who used to give me trouble every day. He was not the “ideal” student in any way—he was obstinate, he hated to do his work, hated to be told what to do (well, so he WAS a normal teenager), didn't like writing, and most of all didn’t like English. He was never going to have to use proper grammar; he didn't care if he ever spoke correctly; writing was the last thing he'd ever do.
         I didn't know what I could to reach him. He was failing my class (all classes, really), and more than anything he didn't know how to help himself. One day he was refusing (AGAIN) to do his written work. I kept him after class for a “come to Jesus moment”—yes, we have those in public school too—to explain yet again WHY he needed to do his written work.
         He ‘liked reading well enough,’ he'd argued slightly, but his ‘handwriting was horrible, and his spelling was even worse, so why try?’ He ‘knew the answers,’ why should he ‘have to write them down to prove it?’
         I must have said the right thing, or the Holy Spirit spoke through me, because it was like he actually SAW me and HEARD what I had been saying for weeks. If he ever wanted to do anything (even if he never went to a traditional college), I explained, he would need to be able to use his reading AND writing skills.  Even if the only writing he did was fill out a job application, someone needed to be able to read it—and he couldn't always rely on someone else to write it for him. What if, I went on, your boss asks you to fill out a proposal or form or whatever…? What then; are you going to tell him, “I know the answers, why should I write them down?”
        I asked him what he wanted out of his life, and he seemed to realize that I really wanted to know and cared what happened to him. He didn't have a plan; he said he didn't know what he wanted other than just to maybe get through the year until his birthday when he could drop out.  I told him that he was settling for less than he was, for he was a smart kid who was letting himself down.  I told him about the potential for great things that he was wasting if he didn't apply himself.  I’m sure I said more that I can’t recall. What I do recall is that he changed. 
        He began to put forth effort and show that he wasn't settling for less than he could do.  He didn't turn into a star student who always got an 'A' on everything, but he was no longer willing to give up when it got hard or when he didn't understand.  Even the next year when he wasn't in my class, he came to me for help or for advice. I was so proud of him when he graduated from high school two years of hard work later. I was glad that I had any kind of impact in his life.  It was a great moment when he walked across the stage, knowing that he had done his best.
        And then time passed.  I hadn't thought of this particular student in several years.  The last of his siblings had graduated, so there wasn't anyone I could ask for information about his life.  He'd moved on to I didn't know where. That's why, when he showed up at my classroom door this morning before school, I was blessed beyond measure and a bit surprised. He stopped by, he said, to thank me for helping him and “putting a fire in his belly" to do all that he could do to make something of himself.  He wanted to let me know that he had done something with his life--that he hadn't settled for less than he could be.  He showed me his diploma from a welding school, proud to show it off to a teacher he remembered pushing him toward a future he hadn't really considered possible.
        He didn't stay long; in fact, the whole experience only took about five minutes of his time.  However, it was just what I needed; it was a blessing, giving me a tangible reminder that I AM doing what I'm supposed to be doing. I am building cathedrals in my student’s lives.  Thanks, former student, for stopping by during homecoming week to show me that it is not always true that you can't come home again.  Thanks, also, for showing me that homecoming is about more than a football game and a dance; it's also about remembering the people who are still there and the things about home that make coming back worthwhile.