School is almost out! Which means I see exhaustion and I’m-so-ready-for-this-year-to-end on the face of every student and teacher in the classroom or hallway.
But in the midst of being oh-so-ready-to-be-done, I have much to be thankful for from this year. Not least of which are my seven 10th grade homeroom boys—my smallest class, the only one of all boys, and the group who starts my day each morning.
Most of them I had in my homeroom last year for 9th grade too. Much of the time they are goofballs, and sometimes they drive me crazy. But there is a lack of pretense to them, an enthusiasm for life, that lightens my heart and makes me look deeper, and I love them dearly. Whether they are making me laugh out loud, sharing from their occasionally-vulnerable teenage boy hearts, or teaching me about video games and current slang, they make my life better.
Recently, we watched the classic movie musical Fiddler on the Roof in class, to give cultural context to our reading of Chaim Potok’s The Chosen, and I loved seeing them fall in love with the film just as I did, belly-laughing over the funny parts, exclaiming with dismay over the sad parts, and leaving class singing, “Tradition!” We’ve made lots of other memories, from the homeroom door-decorating contest at Christmas to a Medieval Feast while studying The Canterbury Tales to taking turns on the “hot seat” during homeroom to tell our life stories.
But these boys have done more than just brighten my life this year. They have given me hope.
Our class is made up of three boys who have lived in America much of their lives (though from different cultural backgrounds) and four international students from China. And while they often naturally gravitate to those classmates most like them, I have watched God do some beautiful things this year to bring our class together across cultures and show us that we really aren’t so very different after all.
For example, in February, we engaged in an activity for Lunar New Year of making red paper envelopes for each other with encouraging scriptures inside, a creative twist from another teacher on the traditional good luck envelopes holding money.
As the boys folded and taped, I asked our Chinese students to share a bit of what the Lunar New Year celebration was like in their home countries, and they told how everyone gathered together to eat as extended family. “Like Christmas,” one boy explained. They said they would get money in red envelopes, “but your parents take it away [to save].” The local boys laughed at that. Apparently parents are pretty similar around the world.
Then, the local boys started asking questions. What did the “year of the dog” mean? What foods would they share? And conversation grew. Soon, it switched to where the boys live now, and they discovered they almost all lived within a very close vicinity of each other.
“We should do something,” they decided. “Do you guys want to go bowling?”
Pretty soon they were exchanging numbers. “Are we really doing this?” one boy exclaimed, getting excited. “You guys are in, right?”
I learned later that almost the whole class did indeed get together and go bowling in their neighborhood that weekend.
Such a simple thing, making red paper envelopes—yet I saw eyes opened and hearts connected, as seven 10th grade boys discovered that people from different places really weren’t so different after all.
It lifted my heart, in a nation and world so divided by race and nationality, that perhaps the steps to connecting with and understanding each other weren’t always as impossible and complicated as I sometimes think.
Then a couple of weeks ago, on the National Day of Prayer, we were to take our high school homeroom classes outside to the nearby world globe to pray at the beginning of first period. There was some confusion, though, and most high school teachers were already in the full swing of classes by the time I remembered.
But when I asked my boys if they still wanted to do it, the answer was a resounding “Yeah!” (I should have known there’d be little objection to getting out of class.) And as one young man said, “It’s easier to connect with God outside.”
So together we trooped out into the early morning sunshine, across our grassy campus to the black stone globe fountain near our cafeteria.
We stood in a circle around the globe, the boys in their school hoodies and sweatshirts, as the morning was still cool.
“We have so many countries represented here,” I said. “Everybody share something we can pray about for a country that you are from or have connection to. Then let’s each pray, even just one sentence, for one of these requests.”
It took a minute, but then the boys started sharing—prayer requests for China, for Mexico, for Egypt, for Australia, for America.
We then gathered close and laid our hands on the globe, temporarily halting its spin through the covering sheen of water. Eight hands of different colors, different faith backgrounds, from all different parts of this representative world beneath our fingers.
And going around in turn, each boy prayed—even the quietest ones whom I’d never heard do so before. They prayed for peace and harmony in each family in China, and for the air pollution there. They prayed for protection from gang violence in Mexico. They prayed protection over loved ones in danger from ISIS in Egypt, and safety for people in Australia. They prayed for America, that our country “wouldn’t be stupid” and would seek peaceful solutions instead of violent ones.
When it came my turn to close our time of prayer, my heart was so full I had a hard time finding adequate words.
Then we took a picture, of them gathered around the globe, grins on their faces.
As we headed back to class, I knew something special had happened. That we had known an encounter with the God of all nations, of the universe, right there praying around a water-spinning globe.
I’m going to miss these boys next year—for while most of them will still be my students, they won’t be in my homeroom. They’ll be off to 11th grade, upperclassmen, growing up.
Is summer almost here for you? How has the Lord given your heart hope this year so far? I’d love to hear how–do comment and share with us!