Robert is the king of breakfast. He's been up well before the rest of us and has had something different cooking each morning in the last week. Much to the kids' chagrin, he also enjoys waking them up to let them know breakfast is ready. He tiptoes into their rooms, positions himself just so, takes a deep breath, and crows. Yes, crows. Like a rooster. Well, you can imagine how well this goes over with 5 adolescent kids!
Yesterday we were treated to a taste of home when he made beignets and Cafe Au Lait. We picked up a box of mix last time we were at Cafe Du Monde in New Orleans. Beignets never taste quite the same unless you're sitting on the crowded patio under the green and white awnings with a musician playing jazz music in the background, but we made do.
Father's Day was low key. We went to church, ate lunch out, and spent the rest of the day tinkering around the house. Robert and Kristina made cupcakes and then realized we didn't have frosting, so we made a run to the grocery store. Robert made Manwich for dinner. I never have been a fan, but the kids like it. As Kristina polished off her's she asked, "Dad, can I have another Man Sandwich?"
We laughed at the things the kids say quite a bit. Kristina wanted to know why the boys keep telling her to pull their finger. Ugh! My advice? Don't do it! Don't pull the finger. Robert is jotting down the silly things they say and posts them periodically here. During family devotions the other night, we were discussing heaven and debunking some myths about what that will be like. Kristina wanted to know if God would speak Russian. I thought that was an endearing question and it made me think about my dear friend Alicia from Honduras. I loved that whenever we prayed together, she would always pray in Spanish. We encouraged Kristina to speak to God however she could best express herself. God hears our requests even when we cannot find the words for what we need to say. What a comforting thought.
In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. - Romans 8:26
I had the brilliant idea of getting all of the school physicals, immunizations, and dental checkups appointments done as soon as school was out. So our first full week off of school has been spent running back and forth between 10 appointments. We're all done though and I'm relieved to have one (ten!) less thing to do before the next school year rolls around.
I was a bit nervous about Kristina's appointment. She hasn't had consistent dental care and I figured she would need a little work done. Watching her sitting in the chair, I flashed back to a similar moment two years ago when I accompanied her to a Ukrainian dentist office. I had known her just a week and was trying to understand the unusual connection I felt to her. Two years later, she sputters a mile a minute in English with her thick Russian accent and calls me "mom". Who but God could have orchestrated that? It turns out she had three small cavities and the dentist was able to take care of everything that day. She was a real trooper and the only problem was that she couldn't talk while the dentist had the drill in her mouth. :)
In addition to all the doctor checkups, the boys have all been in basketball camp at my high school this week. Several of my students play on the varsity team and are serving as coaches. They were quick to claim the boys and take care of them when we walked in on Monday. My students always had lots of questions about my kids and family, so it was good for them to finally be able to meet. Most of them were shocked to learn that the collage of photos of kids on my desk were all mine. Usually they'd count them and say, "Five? You've got five kids, Miss L?!" Things are going well and so far, Samuel has been voted MVP and won a shootout challenge. At almost 5'9", the twins are taking advantage of their growth spurt.
So we're off to a running start with all of our "down" time. If the rest of the summer is anything like the first week, we'll be exhausted by August!
It is with a great sigh that I end this year of teaching. It was a year like no other. I have no doubt that God placed me in this classroom for such a time as this; as I learned how to minister in ways I never have before. And perhaps more importantly, I learned how to be a good steward of my circumstances.
Last year, I taught at a school with a freshman class composed of 69 members. This year, the freshmen class of my school was made up of 775 members. That was only one of many differences. Many of these kids faced difficulties that I can not begin to comprehend, and sometimes those difficulties manifested themselves in the classroom. All of them crossed the threshold of my classroom looking for something. I learned to sharpen my spiritual eyes to learn what it was they needed, to provide what I could.
My experience with Kristina has been a wealth of training. She is slow to confess her hurts and to give voice to her needs. Often I have to look for the signs and attempt to unravel things from there. It is rare that she follows up with "Thanks for the discipline, Mom!" or "Thanks for loving me even when I acted like I didn't want to be loved!" And similarly, it is rare to get that kind of feedback in the classroom.
In the last week, I have been slowly tearing down my classroom in preparation for next year. All the posters, student work, and notices have come down. By yesterday, all that was left was the contact paper on my bulletin boards. Knowing the paper would end up in the trash, I refrained from saying anything when I saw kids scribbling on it throughout the day. As the final bell rang and students were dismissed, I stood in the doorway as they scrambled from the room. I'd hear "Mizz L!" periodically and see a hand wave goodbye above the mass exodus as the hall emptied. I stepped back in my room and surveyed what work needed to be done. I reached up to pull down the faded yellow paper on one of the bulletin boards on my way back to my desk when I saw my name scribbled in an unidentified hand. I stood before the board and realized the kids had signed their names, left quotes from things we read and discussed, and written little personal notes of gratitude. I read each of the entries and moved to the other bulletin board to find the same thing.
Finding joy in our calling depends largely on our motivations. It's easy to loose sight of our purpose when circumstances are less than ideal or when there appears to be little "pay off", but that should never affect our calling. Since Robert graduated RTS last May, we've felt like we were sitting on "G", waiting on "O". We know that there is something out there that God has for us to do. Orphan ministry and teaching continue to be huge desires of our hearts. As a family of seven, we have prayed over where God would send us to accomplish this ministry. Could I take my children and go to Eastern Europe or Africa? Would I really be willing to sell everything, leave friends and family behind, and journey to a distant land to see this calling through? We wrestled with that possibility in the last 6 months, making connections in Uganda, and discussing the options with commissioning agencies like MTW. Still, we wait on doors to open and God's directing to be clear.
"If you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans."
In our finite understanding of the grand scheme of things, we cannot possibly see all the possibilities. Kristina's presence in our family is a souvenir of that truth. This school year has been a reminder that regardless of whether I serve in Orlando or Odessa, Mississippi or Malawi, the measure of my faithfulness as a servant depends only on the desire to see His work through.
"For none of us lives to himself, and no one dies to himself. For if we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord." - Romans 14:7-8
We traveled the long road home to Mississippi last weekend. I took several additional days off from teaching around the holiday weekend to visit with my parents who live just south of Hattiesburg. The end of the school year is always a hectic time for teachers who are trying to squeeze in last things and hold a quickly sinking ship together. So the couple of days off was a reprieve in the middle of the whirlwind. But time with the grandparents wasn't the central reason we went home. Robert had a teaching interview in Hattiesburg and a preaching engagement at Ellisville Presbyterian Church.
Early Sunday morning, we journeyed north to Ellisville and found a picturesque white church with a steeple that stretched toward blue skies. Erected in 1892, the Ellisville church is in its original historic sanctuary. The steeple tower contains the original bell that rings each Sunday to call the surrounding community to worship. The interior of the building was bathed in rainbow light streaming in through the stained glass windows as the children and I settled onto red velvet cushions on dark wooden pews. As Robert made his way to the church office to meet with the pulpit committee, we were greeted by the kindest congregation. It was an excellent service and as I listened to Robert bring the sermon, I was struck by memories of his early preaching days. We were much younger and the twins were just babies. The boys were good babies and if I planned well, I could usually time it so that they slept through service. That morning I glanced down the row at not two, but five covenant children and wondered at the graciousness of our God. After the service, we lingered and fellowshipped with members who were full of questions. I pulled a reluctant Robert away (he REALLY wanted a chance to ring the bell) and we began the drive back to my parents' home. Thinking back over the morning service, we were humbled by the warmth of the people at Ellisville PCA and the calling to ministry that God has allowed us.
Ellisville is also home to Ellisville State School, a residential facility for the mentally retarded. As we passed the large state run building, Robert pointed it out to the children. As a ministry student many years ago, he had visited the facility and met with the residents. Kristina listened to all of this intently and asked, "Dad, you've been to that school?" Robert nodded and without missing a beat she asked, "Dad, you used to be retarded?" We all dissolved into fits of laughter as Robert attempted to clarify the situation to a very confused Kristina.