On our last day of Spring Break, I took my kids to an indoor inflatable playground. While there, I ran into a former student that I fondly remember from her time in my eighth grade Language Arts class. She remembered me too, and immediately came over to say hello. I took Rachel in. She was taller than I remembered. Thinner too. Her hair was short, cropped tightly to her head, and she had two small children with her.
As usual when I run into a former student, I try to place them in time, “What has it been, Rachel, six years? So you’ve graduated high school already? That’s crazy! What are you up to these days?” Rachel took a moment to introduce me to the children she is currently nannying for, and we shared a giggle when she realized my own five-year old was actually in my belly when I taught her class. Of course, our conversation eventually made its way back to school and I asked Rachel if she was taking classes anywhere. Her response was not what I was expecting.
Initially, Rachel had planned to go off to college like the rest of her classmates even though she wasn’t exactly sure what she wanted to study. But, as Rachel put it, “God had a different plan in mind.” Just before high school graduation, she was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma. She took a year off of school to battle the cancer, and while the doctors cannot declare her “in remission” for five years, she is currently healthy and making plans to head to college this fall. Suddenly her thin appearance and short hair made so much more sense, and in that moment, I realized I was not talking to the pre-teen girl I had known six years ago, but a grown woman who had fought through a hardship, and was faced with the type of life altering event that gave her the mature perspective of someone well beyond her years.
Rachel went on to tell me that she is excited about heading to South Carolina in the fall to study music therapy. During her fight with cancer, she realized that her God-given gift of music and her natural inclination toward children could best be used as a pediatric oncology therapist, something she would have never even thought about before her own illness.
The conversation I had with Rachel today put two things in perspective for me. First, as educators, our time with our students is but a grain of sand on the beach of their life. Sometimes, in the midst of the day, the month, the year we spend with them, it can feel as though a student’s failure or struggle in our class will translate into failure in life. We have all been there – “If you cannot learn how to write, you will never…” “Who will hire a person that…?” “If you don’t apply to those colleges soon…” But, when you think about it, the visions we have for our students are sometimes misguided. Whether you are an educator of faith or not, I think Rachel’s words, “but God had a different plan in mind” are important to remember. Sometimes what we want for our students is not what they end up wanting or needing. Are we okay with that? Can we put our curriculum aside long enough to foster and encourage the whole person in front of us?
Rachel’s story also struck a chord for me personally. As a very goal oriented individual, I spend so much of my time looking forward, making plans, mapping out my next big project, and wondering what is next for me, for my family, for my career. Today, Rachel reminded me to slow down. I am where God needs me to be, but am I tuned in enough to make the most of each moment? Am I too busy making my own plans to listen to the direction God is leading me in? Even if you are not a Christian educator, I think Rachel’s experience with cancer can remind all of us to savor the moments we have with our families, our students, and each other.
Today I am thankful for Rachel’s testimony and the subtle reminders God puts in my life just when I need them most.