Struggle

The students in my eighth grade Language Arts Fundamentals class had a particularly difficult day today. They had to write a paragraph long response to an article we’d read, citing two pieces of evidence to support their first statement, and they had to do it independently.  We had practiced together for many days.  These academically at-risk students know all the steps to this process, but without constant reassurance and guidance, they do not trust themselves to correctly complete such a task.  My co-teacher and I had made a pact to let them struggle through it.  It was painful.

One boy in particular, Sean, seemed not to have a clue at the beginning of our 90 minute, two block session.  It was as if he had just entered our classroom for the first time. He had writing on his paper-lots of it, but none of it answered the prompt he’d been given.  My only recourse, given the pact I had entered, was to coach him along by restating small pieces of the directions for him to figure out and fix.  It was an excruciatingly slow process, and as I mentioned, it was painful.

Sean, being a good-natured boy, complied with my directions to keep writing and revising.  To his credit, he did not give up.  Near the end of the hour and a half long session, he had an adequate paragraph that met the minimum requirements of the prompt. Only after he’d finished did I hear his first complaint:  he was tired.  He looked exhausted, yet his face beamed with the joy of accomplishment.  I told him we had exercised his brain today, and I congratulated him for learning. He glowed.

It took a few minutes for me to realize where I’d recently seen such a look. It was just last night.  My son had an unusually rigorous soccer practice.  His coaches ran the team through difficult maneuvers and tiring drills.  The group ran at least five laps throughout the session, compared to the usual one or two.  The boys sweated profusely in the over 100 degree heat.  I thought for sure I’d hear nothing but complaining on the way home. Instead, my son was ecstatic that he’d completed the practice and grateful to be a part of this new team that works him so hard and helps him to become a better soccer player.  I was stunned and thrilled. My son was tired, hungry and elated.

Both boys had toiled without complaint though the task was rough. They both refused to give up, having some innate sense that the struggle would pay off.  They both allowed themselves to be pushed, uncomfortably, to a new and better place.

This afternoon, as I ponder the quality these boys have in common, I know there is a lesson in there for me.  I like my comfort.  I enjoy doing what I’m good at and effortlessly accomplishing my day’s work.  When things get difficult, I look for ways to ease my distress.  I do not welcome struggle.

Yet I am reminded of the verses in James 1:2-3: “Consider it all joy when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.”

Endurance.  Accomplishment. Advancement. These are the results of struggle, striving and sweat. How easily I forget that my adversities are times of growth.  How quickly I shy away from the uncomfortable feelings that accompany difficult endeavors.

These two middle school boys don’t know it, but they have been role models for me, by exerting tireless effort without complaining, by welcoming struggle and looking forward to the rewards it will bring. I hope that the next time adversity arises, I will also struggle vigorously, looking towards the improvements in me that will follow.

Don’t Worry, Bee Happy

I no longer need to worry that my son may be allergic to bee stings.  For decades my husband has told us that he himself is allergic to bee stings, though we thankfully have never seen proof of that. He also has maintained that we need to watch for each child’s first sting to see if they too are allergic.

My daughters have been stung and did not show any sign of allergic reaction.  My son, now thirteen, has never had an encounter with a bee, or so I thought until recently.

We were in the swimming pool the other night and a bee was coasting on the water.  I asked my son to help skim it out and put it in the garden.  Don’t kill it and don’t get stung, I told him.  Then I reminded him that we still didn’t know if he was allergic to bee stings.

My brave young man did as he was told and when he returned to the pool he calmly told me, “You know, I’m not allergic to bees.”

“Well, you might be.” I responded.  “You’ve never been stung, so we don’t know.”

“I do know,” he insisted. “and I have been stung.  I just never told you.”  An amused smile came to his newly squared off, teen-age face.

Of course I bombarded him with mom questions: When had it happened?  Had it hurt? Where was I and why didn’t I know about the event?  He answered with the following story.

In Kindergarten, my son’s friend Caleb brought a bag full of dead bees he’d collected to school. For reasons only five year old boys can tell, those bees were a big hit with the playground set. Caleb sold them for twenty-five cents each.  The boys couldn’t get enough of them.  Caleb made three dollars! He gave two to my son for free, because they were best friends.  None of the boys knew that bees can sting even after they die.  So of course most of them, including my son, got stung.  They suffered in silence, though, because even as five year old boys, they knew they should not have been involved in dead bee sales.

His story made me laugh until tears came to my eyes.  I could picture all the tiny boys eagerly vying for the bees, quarters gripped in pudgy hands. (Had they not bought their milk that day?) I envisioned Caleb’s sincere gesture of friendship, bestowing not one, but two free bees carefully into my son’s hands.  I could imagine the group of them stoically agreeing not to let the teacher know they’d all gotten hurt at recess.

I was laughing, yet I felt a twinge of horror at the same time.  Even at the age of five my son had a part of his life I didn’t know about.  He’d kept this secret from me for eight years.  Now, embarking on a trip through adolescence, I can only imagine how many more secrets will be kept from me and how much more significant their consequences may be.

Though my first reaction is to worry, I’ll have to trust that my son has a firm foundation and knows right from wrong.  I’ll have to have faith in the person he is growing into.  I’ll pray for him daily, and I will look forward to the day when we look back on his adolescence the way we looked back on his kindergarten bee story. Then  he will tell me about all the other things I don’t need to worry about any more.

Hide and Seek

“I want to play Hide and Seek!”  her melodic baby voice declares.  Her brown eyes sparkle with anticipation.  Her body stands poised, ready to run off at my word. The part of me that wants to answer, “Again?” is quickly quashed, and she runs off giggling as I close my eyes and start to count.

My three-year-old granddaughter, Lacey,  has discovered the game, Hide and Seek.  Like other favorite activities, she asks to play it repeatedly. Her favorite part of the game is being found.  Her eyes widen; her smile broadens. She is thrilled to hear, “I found you!”

Lacey is not particularly good at hiding, so I often pretend I don’t see her at first.  If I do not find her quickly enough, though, she helps me by calling out to me. Sometimes she will even walk up to her seeker, grinning in anticipation of hearing “I found you!”

As she gets older, I am sure my granddaughter will get better at hiding.  She’ll learn to blend in better. She will endure waiting in a solitary hiding spot, and her game strategy will improve. It will become more difficult to find her.  Yet I’m sure she will still want to hear “I found you!”

Sadly, this won’t only be true of playing Hide and Seek.  As she matures, she will hide parts of herself that she fears are not good enough.  She will put up barriers and push people away to protect herself from hurt.  She will become more inhibited and share less of herself.  Yet she will still long to hear, “I found you!”

I know this because it is true for me as well as for countless others. We all want to be found despite obstacles that stand in the way.   Often, we build barriers and defenses to hide behind, even though what we really want is to love and be loved.  This dichotomy is a part of human nature, and it is a theme all around us.

This theme is obvious in the dating realm, which is full of hiders and seekers.  Some play hard to get.  They create obstacles to a steady romance to see how hard the other will work for their love.  Others feign disinterest. They act unavailable or count a certain number of days before calling back. Some hide their true feelings to allow time to discern how genuine another’s feelings are based on how persistent and true the search.  

As art reflects life, so many stories told in movies, books and songs reflect the theme of hide and seek.  Many movies have a hero who must slay dragons, win a race, or chase off an old boyfriend to win the heroine’s heart. Similarly, many novels follow a protagonist who must prove his love until the final climax when his pursued opens her eyes and realizes that his love is true and she can trust him with the feelings that she has been guarding.

Perhaps this theme originated with the salvation story-a perfect Christ who seeks the hearts of the lost human race.  The sinners who hide in their own imperfections until they recognize that their Savior is their one true love, the One they can be vulnerable in front of.

To mirror Christ’s love, the unconditional love of parents (and grandparents!) displays the theme of loving despite obstacles, hide and seek.  No one knows a child’s imperfections and difficulties better than a parent, and no one loves him more fiercely.  That doesn’t stop a child from thinking he can hide from or avoid his parent.  Yet in a healthy family, he is always found.

Lacey, being human, may be predisposed in her longing to hear “I found you!”  She shares the human condition that wants to be sought, to know that she is loved no matter what she does to thwart it.  As in her preschool game of Hide and Seek, I’m sure she will continue to be thrilled when she is found.

So Lacey, no matter how well you think you’ve hidden, I promise that I will always find you.