“You look refreshed.”
Backpack slung over my shoulder, muddy boots in my hand, hobbling my way to the yellow bus I spent six hours on the day before and would, as soon as we got it warmed up, spend six more hours on all the way home, “You look refreshed” was the last thing I would have expected to feel, it was the last thing I would have expected to hear, but she said it. The hotel receptionist at her little desk said it. I stopped.
Now I was content, but I was an exhausted hotel guest slash volunteer bus driver halfway through a whirlwind two-day, one-night cross-state trip for our Red Cloud High School boys to play a basketball game in Sioux Falls. Those two days felt longer than these sentences, but as any teacher knows, quality time with coaching staff and students somehow always makes it worth it.
“You look refreshed,” she said. Oh? Well… thank you, I guess… hmm, but now that you say that, yeah! – I actually feel pretty great… thank you? Taking another bite of the apple in my boot-free hand, I smiled, turned, and threw open the hotel doors and stepped into the sunniest, springest, most satisfying morning I can remember. The bus needed some time to warm up, so I took a little walk. I don’t think I’ve ever walked through such a peaceful industrial park. Then we made it home in record time, even with a crazy headwind all the way across I-90.
The whole way home, I was fixated on what she said. I thought I recognized that voice.
One of my favorite parts about being a Jesuit is that I get to hear lots of stories about prayer. My favorite ones always have crazy plot twists, often prefaced with – “You won’t believe what happened!” ,which is generally accurate. I’m basically the kid who’s had a Jack-in-the-Box for 5 years and still cranks that little metal handle to be startled by the same surprising guy every time. No matter how wide I set my sights, no matter how many underdog voices I anticipate in the forum, God always seems to speak through the only person/place/event I seem to overlook- without fail. And doing so, completely changes the game.
But come, on! The hotel receptionist!? That’s a new one!
The bell rings. “Good morning, friends! Tanyan akhe wachiyankapi! I am glad to see you all!”
Blank stares from my senior class: Faith, Service & Justice, 4th period, Monday morning. Here we go.
Contrary to the Shangri-La daydreams of every teacher ever, no matter how much I tell my kids they are brilliant, beautiful, stunning gifts to our spinning earth, no matter how much time I pour into against-all-odds patient, creative and heart-tearing love, I cannot guarantee that they, themselves, will actually take my word for it and believe it with their deepest guts.
All I can do is suggest it…and then suggest it again.
And then live my every interaction with them as if it were the gospel truth, planting the seed in their minds of their greatness as often as God whispers little love into our lives. I can only wait for that seed to grow in them, with their own sun, water and soil. All I can do is suggest that they are brilliant and beloved and extraordinary, and you darn well better believe that I will pull out every stop to surprise them with this at every turn and angle with every trap door, Jack-in-the-Box, magic trick, cameo, and personal fireworks display I can imagine, steal or muster. Until I exhaust myself. Then I go to sleep to find more energy to try it all again. I don’t think I’m too different from most teachers in this regard, striving by any means to make my students feel valuable, unique and loved.
And I don’t think that teachers are too different from God in this regard… or the hotel receptionist.
I did recognize the hotel receptionist’s voice, after all. It’s the voice I try to speak in the classroom; it’s the voice that surprises me in prayer. In a world of one-liners, slogans, and bumper sticker philosophies, it seems that God, teachers and the blessed receptionist at Fairfield Inn & Suites have got the right idea: it’s seeds that will grow through the weeds into powerful rooted trees. It’s whispers and invitations and suggestions that will cut through the din of our lives to touch our hearts. It’s a suggestion that something good and better is already here or coming – just the suggestion, again and again and in every unexpected way – that will make change, in prayer, in classrooms, and in trips cross-state.