I spent three days this week with children. Some of them were youth, rather than children, but it all boils down in my mind to many hours with the under-18 crowd. It was rather exhausting and called some big life questions.
I’m teaching an ACT preparation class for four youth that want to go to college. Two of them are Seniors; two of them are Juniors. They attend two different high schools and have had four completely different high school experiences. All of them are leaving behind a teenage tendency that I like to call “failure to engage” so that they can get into the colleges of their choice. Teaching them allows me to brush up on some of the teaching skills (such as writing upside-down) that I haven’t used since I taught for a year in China 10 years ago. They are all bright kids with engaging personalities. I enjoy my time with them. Yesterday, I taught them rhetoric. Next week, we begin math. Kudos to them for pushing me to teach math sooner rather than later.
Last night, I was discussing the results of this week’s classes with one of the youth’s parents, and they asked me from whence I had pulled the idea of having an ACT prep class. This class is the fulfillment of a promise made to one kid. I had a very deep discussion about the future with one of these kids a year ago. I pushed her to stop failing to engage, to take the opportunities of her school system, to find what she excels at academically, and to do well enough in high school that she can go to college out of town. “If you do that this year,” I promised her, “I will make sure you get the best score on the ACT you can get, and I will write a letter of recommendation for you that will peel open the bored eyes of college admissions counselors.”
She did it! She tried. She engaged. She excelled. Choked-up proud of her, I began gathering materials for the classes. When I mentioned the tutoring I would be doing for her at church, two other kids signed up, quickly followed by a fourth. So now there are four. Although ACT prep is not a usual pastoral function, it is an awesome opportunity to walk with these youth through a very scary time of their lives that benefits from the presence of an adult who doesn’t have to be there.
After yesterday’s prep session, I took three little ones to see Rio at the movie theater. These kids are a little displaced right now, and their caregivers needed a break, so I took them somewhere where they would be quiet and manageable. Then I made the mistake of taking them to Village Inn for pie. There is far too much open space at Village Inn at 6pm, far too many things on the table to play with, far too many questions to ask the preacher now that the imposed semi-silence of the movie theater has ended.
Sitting at the table, trying to herd three gifted, active, verbal children while waiting for Alex to arrive and distract them with his accent and humor, I asked myself if I ever wanted to have children in my daily life. I was pondering it, as one of the kids leaned over to me and asked, “If we ever get put up for adoption, would you adopt us? I mean, if anything ever happens to my parents, can we come live with you?” This question was asked in all seriousness and then the others picked up the theme. I told the children that it would be better if we did not mention that idea to their parents, but it certainly was an interesting answer to the question I was asking myself.
I preached about children and Jesus on Sunday. And then I spent a week of children and Kim. I love other people’s children. I like talking to them, engaging with them, and then sending them home. I bet Jesus didn’t sigh in relief when the parents who brought their children to him turned around and took the kids back to their own hut, but I did. I’m going to keep thinking about whether a daily dose of children is in my future, but yesterday brought me to a big decision. I am setting aside the backup plan (you know, the “if I stop being a pastor someday, I will be a ______”) to be a veterinarian, and I now think I would become a… high school guidance counselor. My office would be filled with balls of yarn and dull needles, stacks of paperwork that need to be completed, and nerdy books. Wait, wait…that’s my office now! It’s also kinda my job… I mean, isn’t a pastor just a guidance counselor of sorts for people of all ages?
Maybe, for now, I just need to enjoy doing whatever guiding I can with all these children that Jesus brings to me.