“I never wanted to become a teacher,” I said, smiling.
That is not the most romantic thing someone could say to the state teacher of the year judging panel. Most of the candidates for the Texas Teacher of the Year award say that teaching has always been in the their blood. They say their mother was a teacher. Their father was a teacher. Two of their aunts were principals. Their grandfather was a superintendent. They played school with their dolls. They tried to make their kittens stand in line for recess. They were meant to be in the classroom.
I told the thirteen judges on the interview panel that I never wanted to be the classroom. I didn’t want to be a teacher because I had listened to my heart, and my heart told me I was meant to be a writer and only a writer.
“The heart is deceitful above all things,” Jeremiah 17:9 reminds us. Thankfully God knows me better than I know myself, and He steered me straight into a public school, in spite of my protests. There I would become acquainted with, not a classroom, but the students inside it.
“I never wanted to be a teacher,” I explained to the judges, “but then I met the kids, and I changed my mind.” A few days later, they announced that I had won 2007 Texas Secondary Teacher of the Year. I stood behind a podium in front of a large audience for the first time and gave an acceptance speech for the award. That year, I would give hundreds of speeches in school districts and universities all over the state. There were times when the notes in my hand would shake because I was humbled to think about how far I had come. A little more than a decade before, I had been in a vegetative state in the ICU, suffering from a brainstem injury that doctors thought was hopeless. My dreams of becoming a writer and journalist disintegrated more with each day that my muscles atrophied. I closed Chapter One of my life.
But standing behind a podium as a state teacher of the year, I realized that had survived my darkest season. They said I would never walk again, yet I had walked onto the stage. They said I would never talk again, yet I was giving a speech to an audience of thousands. They said I would never see again, yet I was looking out upon faces that were wet with tears as they listened to my story.
God is always in control. He is in every dark season with us. This assurance becomes a hope hunter’s compass. It’s what sets them on their quest. They know He can sweep away the ashes, or He can fashion our ashes into beauty. They know He can strip our coats of heaviness, or He can transform them into garments of praise. The hope hunter’s response to obstacles is always to surrender to God’s work through our trials. God is for us, not against us. Perhaps our best question is not “How could You let this happen to me, Lord?” but “How are You using this for me, Lord?”
Part of the way the Lord uses challenges for us is our character formation. Almost every great leader in the Bible experienced a period of time when he was positioned in a dark and unexpected place in preparation for his divine assignment. We see the chilling precedent in Scripture: Darkness was an initiation. Darkness preceded new life and new work. Darkness was the beginning of things.
We can spend our time worrying about why we experience difficulty, or we can let God use the difficulty to strengthen our bond with Him. My love for and dependence upon God was galvanized during adversity. It is what makes me say that I wouldn’t change a thing about my past. This is not because I want to live through it again, but because God blessed me so much when I lived through it the first time. I have finally learned to trust that He knows what He is doing.
You may be walking through winter, but God knows how many steps are left until you reach spring. Trust Him to take you there. There is no way to know the best place to settle our hearts, so we have to ask God and then act on what He says. God is an expert at devising intricate plans, therefore ours can be pretty simple: Obedience. But we might have to turn over our plans in favor of His plan.
As it turns out, I did want to be a teacher. I turned the last page of Chapter One in my life and gave up journalism, I opened my heart to the joy of Chapter Two. Teaching has been one of the sweetest privileges I have known.
I was almost heartbroken when God indicated that it was time to leave teaching and turn the page to Chapter Three.
But that is where the real adventure began.
(Next week: The Adventure of Chapter Three)