It’s the first day of school and my brain is still thinking it might be June. Or at most, the beginning of July. But no way is it time for school.
What happened to the lazy days of summer? You know—the days of lounging on a rickety lawn chair while the kids play in the sprinkler?
And fall? Let’s not even say that word until after Labor Day.
Somewhere along the line, summer happened and we gulped it down like a milk-chugging contest instead of savoring it like a fine wine.
This is what happened to my so-called summer. The one that feels like it did a disappearing act.
During the first half, I taught one hundred inner city children music and drama in a summer enrichment program. It was crazy and fun, but it also meant I worked from sun up to sun down while I did all the things that teachers do: craft lesson plans, make projects and lament over the kids who behave badly.
One day, while doing the detestable but necessary job of cafeteria-duty, I saw a big picture of Jesus on the wall. We were in a Lutheran church, so Jesus is kind of everywhere.
But there’s nothing like Jesus staring you down to remind you what really counts in life: namely, that my first job wasn’t to instruct them in the ways of all music and drama greatness, but to love them like Jesus.
And that reminder carried me through to the end of the program, even though I didn’t have much of a life outside of it.
My teacher friends know what I mean. I thought while I was working I would have time to enjoy nature, have cookouts and go to the pool. All my teacher friends are laughing right now, because they know the truth:
Ain’t nobody got time for that when you are teaching.
Forget the fun and games. Forget the fact that your home doesn’t look like Martha’s and instead resembles a teenager’s bedroom, complete with piles of dirty laundry and miscellaneous papers and cups scattered about.
You are a slave to teaching, and you both love it and hate it for its all-consuming power over your life. Though I tried hard to love my students like Jesus, I rejoiced when it was over, because now I could have my summer back.
Or so I thought.
Our second big event of summer involved leaving the country on a mission trip with our church and heading to Nicaragua to teach children (I apparently can’t get enough of teaching) and to build relationships with the small community of Terencio, through a Christian organization called Food for the Hungry.
You know what puts a messy house and busy life in perspective? Going to a third world country where people drink contaminated water and have dirt as their floor.
When you see people spending their days picking up trash from the local dump because that is their job, suddenly a messy house seems not-so-important in the scheme of life. The busyness of life is laughable.
The importance of people and relationships trumps all of it.
It all goes back to loving them like Jesus, the lesson I learned while teaching inner city kids in an old Lutheran church, which now, ironically, the people of Nicaragua were showing us the moment they met us.
This is what they do in Nicaragua: They welcome you like you’re royalty. They shower you with hospitality. They are full of love for you, and I’m still trying to wrap my head around why.
Why would they love me before they even know me?
And the answer is almost too simple to believe: Because Jesus loved us first.
Though this seems like the easiest of life lessons, the living out of this is harder. Because when it comes down to it, most of us are not really that lovable. It’s not just our homes that are messy, but our lives too. We have hangups and quirks. We have moody moments and political opinions. This doesn’t always make us the easiest to love.
Ultimately loving others takes investing—our time, our resources, our own fragile hearts. When we love people, we are bound to be cut by their edges. We are bound to share their scars.
I’m learning that truth not only when it comes to teaching inner city kids, but also when it comes to new people I meet, my neighbors, and even my own family.
I’m learning that love is maybe the hardest and best thing we do.
Though I wish I could tell you I spent the rest of the summer slowing down and savoring life from a chair on the patio, we instead got in the car and went on what my husband called, “an odyssey” that took us from New York to New Jersey to Philly to DC. Summer is our best, and sometimes our only, shot at visiting family. Every few days there were new cities to visit and new people to visit with. There was good food and even better conversation with family I do not see often enough.Where did the time go? I think as I stare at nieces and nephews who seemed to age ten years since I blinked last.
Less than a week ago, while in line at the Washington Monument, I told a woman that my daughter was starting school on Wednesday. I almost couldn’t understand those words coming out of my mouth:
Her school starts Wednesday.
Which means: Summer is done.
My house is still in disarray. The piles of laundry grow deep. Somehow all that doesn’t matter now.
My so-called summer, which flew by way too fast but was packed with experiences, taught me more about love.
It showed me that love is the best and hardest thing we do.