Survive

The image above was taken in the Summer of 2015, a few months after Ezra was born. It was a lot of change for Danny, and he found a lot of peace sitting where the busses were parked at the school, memorizing every inch of them.

Today we found out that Danny is no longer eligible for transportation services through the school system, due entirely to the complicated circumstances that have landed him where and when he is now. It is no one’s fault; we got lucky for many years that the bus came dutifully every morning and afternoon and, though I thought we might have figured it out for another year at least, it all came to a definitive end this morning.

Danny doesn’t know yet. And if you know anything about our lives, then you probably know why we have been struggling to figure out how to tell him. I have delivered many pieces of life changing information to this kid, but I am not sure any of them have had the kind of impact that this will. He can tell you the make and model of every bus there is. He watches videos of bus safety and creates Roblox worlds full of bus stops and schools. He designs routes in his head as we drive; he has even been known to improve the efficiency of the route his own bus is traveling.

At his best, the bus was a reliable treat rounding out his day. At his worst, the bus was the only reason he went to school at all.

As I was talking it over with his extremely apologetic case manager this morning (who has no role in this beyond bearing the bad news), I said, unconvincingly: “I think it will be ok eventually. He’ll survive.”

She shifted her gaze past me into the backdrop of his bedroom, with his bus panel and traffic light and shelves of die cast busses and said: “Are you sure?” It wasn’t a joke. For Danny, this is a big, big deal.

But I stand by my initial instinct: he will survive. If we think on our lives honestly, there are probably many things we can’t imagine losing. We pin hopes for our survival on a lot of things; a job, a car, a phone, a church. And in many cases we truly DO need these things to survive. And sometimes what seems insignificant to one person would be an absolute catastrophe in the life of someone else.

Sometimes we lose something essential that isn’t a thing at all.

We may pray and beg and bargain with God and plead our case to anyone who will listen, but here on this Earth we are fragile beings who love fragile things. And loss is inevitable.

For people of faith, especially, it is hard to not take it personally when we have prayed hard for something that withered on the vine. It is devastating to feel like you went to your most sacred place to earnestly plead for what you believe you can not live without, just to find yourself staring down the very reality you most feared.

But the Lord never promised us a life without hardship; the reward for a persistent faith is not a life without loss.

The reward – for making Him a part of your life and a part of your day and a part of your thoughts – is His presence. And however large or small the loss, He will be present with you in all of the days of your grief. He will walk with you as you rebuild and find new pillars of strength. And He will rejoice with you when you realize one day that the bus stopped coming…and you survived after all.

Broken

Today Danny headed off to his first day of Middle School v2.0, which is to say he went to the building itself for school for the first time.

If I am being completely honest, I didn’t see it coming. When we headed into the second semester still seeing high numbers of the virus, I truly thought he would be participating in distance learning for the entirety of his 6th grade year. I had made my peace with that, had even started to prefer it. After all, I know more about what is happening in his world right now than I have since he was 3 years old. (Danny has always lacked the functional language to really tell us what happens at school, and I can only count on asking about 3 specific questions before “he doesn’t know” how his day was and he did “nothing” in all of his classes.)

But however it came to be, today we found ourselves coming full circle. It has been one week short of a year since I had to bring him home early from school out of an abundance of caution; he wasn’t so terribly ill, its just that there was this virus going around…

The next time he would set foot on those school grounds was to get his picture taken for his 5th grade promotion. The last time would be a month later, when we picked up his yearbook.

And then today; a shiny new backpack, a chrome book full of stickers, and his middle school hoodie. My precious vessel, once again out at sea.

Now begins the complicated work of finding the end of the line; hunting through the weeds of what I have not been able to hold together at home to find the place where the thread was severed nearly a year ago and tie it off. Maybe they will find it, but maybe they wont.

This isn’t the first time in his education that the thin line holding him in the space between thriving and deteriorating has broken. It has happened for many reasons, some that were in our control and many more that were not. And at every breaking point I have been filled with despair about what we would lose; what hard fought academic or behavioral gain was going to slip through the cracks while we tried to piece it back together. It isn’t an unreasonable fear; we’ve seen it happen. Data is the devil we know.

However, as sure as I am that important things have been lost, I am equally certain that we will find a way. We may not be able to finish the path we were on but soon enough we will start to see a new one come into focus. The collaborative effort of Danny has always been this way; broken, brilliant pieces, mended together to form the person he will become.

He is a mosaic of unconventional materials; a second grade musical, a fire alarm, a book worth reading, a field trip riding in the “good” busses.

The love of a teacher. And another. And another.

The dedication of a school that sought him through the wilderness.

A year at home with Mom.

His own stubborn grit.

He is a beautiful, unfinished piece of stained glass. And all of the difficult things shine such beauty on us now, we can never take a broken piece for granted.

Disciple

“A Christian is not a man who never goes wrong, but a man who is enabled to repent and pick himself up and begin over again after each stumble–because the Christ-life is inside him, repairing him all the time, enabling him to repeat (in some degree) the kind of voluntary death which Christ Himself carried out.”

C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

As a teenager I often had trouble falling asleep and it just so happened that one of the channels the TV in my room could receive very clearly was EWTN – the Eternal Word Television Network. There was a Nun – Mother Angelica – who had a Tuesday night talk show (that they would often show again late at night, when I would catch it) where she would choose a topic of faith to reflect on. Sometimes she would just flip open her trusty 1996 edition Jerusalem Bible and talk about whatever scripture she landed on.

I loved to listen to her messages. The soothing cadence of her speech reminded me a lot of my Grandmom, which I am sure had a lot to do with it. But I also loved the way she would teach about the Gospel. To hear her tell the stories of Jesus’s life you would think she was right there with them; when she spoke of the disciples they sounded real; like well meaning but deeply flawed humans who tried and failed – in the very presence of Christ – over and over.

And yet, they go on to build the church. To tell the stories. To be living witnesses to His miracles and His love. To die even for what it meant to be and do those things.

I think these days we do a pretty decent job of at least talking the talk that “perfection” isn’t possible. We say that we are giving ourselves grace, or being gentle with ourselves. We take stock of our lives and do everything we can to sort out what is good for us and what is harmful, hopefully giving our best selves their best shot.

But what if, after all of that, the behavior that we brought to a relationship or a circumstance, is far less than “perfect”?

What if it isn’t even acceptable?

The picture that I chose today was actually the 3rd in a series that I took back in October to send to Willis; we were still very much building our routines for distance learning in those weeks. Danny was having a difficult day (understatement) and we were struggling to get through a single class without something catastrophic happening, requiring us to log off.

The post-its came at different times in the day, gently placed on his book shelf next to where I sit to support him. It isn’t that unusual for Danny to write us notes instead of verbalizing when he is coming down from a crisis, so when the first note appeared I took it as a sign that his clouds were parting and that we were going to start having a productive day.

After the second melt down, I came back to the room to find another note: “I’m sorry, again.”

And the third: “and also please forgive me.”

And while I absolutely cherished his apologies, and while I absolutely followed through on the consequences for the destructive behaviors that he was exhibiting, there was not a single moment in any part of that day that I didn’t love that child with every fiber in my being. There was no shame in asking for forgiveness again; he was sorry again. It isn’t a well that can run dry.

There is Grace available for him and there is Grace available for you. And while asking for forgiveness does not always immediately wipe the slate clean in your life or free you from the consequences of your actions, it is the only first step to true healing.

We are real, well meaning but deeply flawed humans. There is a lot that can and will go wrong.

Try again.

Teach

This morning Danny and I went for a quick tour of the middle school he will attend in person for the first time next week, after 7 months of learning online. It was so good to be there, and so kind of them to offer these quick, nearly personal tours for the students. I think the size of the school was more overwhelming for me than it was for him (to be honest I had just started to figure out his elementary school) but I know he is nervous about plenty of things.

The tour was not intended for the students to be able to spend time with teachers, but we had asked one of his teachers in advance if she was going to be there. She was, and was excited to possibly see him, so you know I dragged our tour down another 3 doors in the 6th grade hall to make sure we could at least wave through the door.

Danny looked into the room and even though he immediately recognized her, he stood outside the door until he heard her voice. As soon as she started talking to him, I could see his smile in his eyes even though his face was behind a mask.

This classroom is small – under any circumstances this classroom isn’t meant for more than about 10 kids and in COVID times it is set up for about 5. He’s never really seen a classroom quite like this one before. He glanced back and forth from the plexiglass screened desks to his teacher. She knew we only had about 2 minutes to visit and used every second of that time to tell him how excited she was to see him, how glad she was that he is in her class, and how happy she was that we stopped by so she could meet him today.

As we walked back to our car in the parking lot I asked him what he thought of the middle school.

He replied: “Mrs. N was happy to see me!”

I think this past year we have all learned a lot about what it means to teach. I could write novels about distance learning and the way that teachers have had to adapt and change to reach their students, and how they have had to do it under some of the most challenging conditions I can imagine. I have seen relationships grow and I have seen technology fail; set backs and miracles. I have seen teachers moving mountains knowingly and deliberately in an arduous effort to teach kids and I will never, ever forget it.

Still, the teachings that I am thinking about the most today are the things we pass on to the people around us when we don’t even realize we are doing it.

All of the things we say and do teach people about who we are, and if we say and do them to people who look up to us, we may very well be teaching them to be who we are. This has always been true, but all of this togetherness that we are experiencing is making it quite plain. If I want to see positivity and grace in the world around me – and I do – then I need to be sure that more often than not I am modeling that behavior. It doesn’t matter if my world is vast, virtual, or the same 11 people for months on end; I want to be teaching a lesson that someone is better for having learned.

The teacher that Danny met today is his English teacher, but he didn’t learn a thing about prepositions or even read a single sentence. To be honest I’m not sure that he even spoke a single word.

But today after an anxious morning of scripting and lurching around, he learned that his favorite teacher is so excited to see him next week. And he stood up straight, breathed deeper, and walked calmly down the halls.

There will be many opportunities to teach English, but today her lesson was love. And I am so grateful he was there to learn it.