Something is changing in me. I’ve been doing this teaching thing for over twenty years, writing lesson plans, grading papers, and meeting new kids, but I’m ashamed to admit, I’ve been selfish.
Students walk into my classroom every day with their “drip”. They’re wearing their football jerseys, their black hoodies and ripped jeans, and their crisp ROTC uniforms. They sit in their desks, looking up at me, or looking up at the clock, and there’s beauty in each one. The problem is too often I focus on me and miss it all. I’m either basking in the spotlight of my students’ attention, trying to be liked, or I’m watching the calendar, desperate for one more day to pass so I can get to the weekend. The focus is on taking care of me, but what about them?
Third period was about to start. Students shuffled to their seats, pushing aside ceramic desks and each other as they sat down. As more kids walked through the door, the sounds of zipping backpacks and screeching desks got louder. Standing behind the podium, looking at my lesson plans, I could barely hear her voice. “Mr. Ahnfeldt, I have something for you.” Her voice was gentle, the hint of a Spanish accent adding to its charm. It was Olivia. She held her backpack, standing next to her desk, like she was waiting for an invitation to come forward.
“Hi Olivia!” She was new, so I wanted to be as warm as possible. She walked up next to me, reaching into her backpack, and pulled out a book. The hard cover looked old, like it was made out of some tough fabric with rounded, worn corners. The spine was tired, flattened by the years, and etched on the front were the red silhouettes of all the characters at Pooh Corner. It was only the second week of school, so I asked, “How are things going?”
“It’s been hard,” she said. She was looking down at her book.
“Are you new to Colorado Springs?” I asked.
“We just moved here. My mom had a hard time finding a job.” She waited a minute, still looking at the book. “We spent a few nights in the car with my brother, but when he started complaining, we moved to the shelter.” Shame weighed heavy on her, but she managed an embarrassed smile.
“That must’ve been tough,” I whispered. The rest of the class was settling in, and some of them were looking at us.
The eyes didn’t stop her—she looked right at me and kept going. “A few nights ago, the police took my mom to jail.” I moved closer to her.
“I’m so sorry, Olivia.”
“She told me not to tell my brother,” she continued. “She didn’t want to disappoint him.”
“How are things now?” I asked, trying to stay calm like her.
She nodded her head, looking at the ground and then looking up at me. “It’s better. We have an apartment now, and my mom’s back.” I didn’t know what else to say, but the book was there, still in her hands.
“That’s good,” I said. “What’s the book?”
“It’s Winnie the Pooh, one of the originals.” She set it on the podium next to me, a smile beginning to replace the shame. “I loved reading it when I was little.” Her face lit up when she added, “It even has the story about Pooh and Piglet playing with sticks.”
Her giddy enthusiasm surprised me. She was excited about Piglet’s sticks? After all she had been through, moving to a new town, living in a car, having to take care of her brother, there was still a little girl in her who loved Pooh Corner. Like that old book, despite life’s difficulties, beauty remained within the pages of her story. The innocence, still alive in her, refused to be stamped out. The bell rang, and as Olivia started to turn around without the book, I realized what she was doing.
“Is this for me, Olivia?” She turned around, gave me a big smile, and nodded. She was giving me a gift. Two weeks into school, with no real idea of who I was, after all she had been through, she was looking beyond herself.
Last Sunday, one of our pastors, Thomas Thompson, spoke about interruptions. He explained that Jesus faced one interruption after another, and He let God use them. At the end of the service, we sang a song called Build My Life by Pat Barrett. Despite my eyes being closed, the tears started to come with the chorus:
Holy there is no one like you
there is none beside you.
Open up my eyes in wonder
And show me who you are,
And fill me with your heart
And lead me in your love to those around me
I usually think about that last line as God sending me to love others. In church that day, I saw it differently. Sometimes when God leads us to others, He’s doing it to love us. Just like a friend eager to show us a breathtaking view, He’s giddy with excitement to show me Jolise jumping out of her seat to pass out books to her classmates, Prince turning to Seth, giving him a pound and telling him he believes in him, and Olivia giving me her copy of Winnie the Pooh.
God’s love leads us to His gift wrapped packages of beauty, whether that’s in a pink sunrise or a student’s innocence. The interruptions in my life, interruptions like Olivia, are changing me. They’re peeling back the layers of selfishness built up over the years and opening up my eyes to the wonder of what God can do with the canvas of a person’s life. There’s beauty in every kid who walks through my classroom door, even the tough ones, and by the grace of God, I’m starting to see it.