It is 3:12 AM, (thanks to my blessed insomnia... or I don't know when I would have time to sit down and write this... smile). I am so very excited to tell you about my experience on Wednesday. Our neighbor, Janine, invited me and the boys to visit her English class at school, "to tell [them] about America." Okay, sounded great.
When we got there, (on time!! Thank You, Jesus!), the teacher met us out in the parking lot and walked in with us. Emphatically, she told us over and over how glad she was that we would come visit them... "real Americans, in person!" she said. The boys and I looked at each other and giggled as we certainly did not expect such a welcome, then we followed her into the school and waited for Janine to meet up with us for their 20-minute break. When the bell rang, 5th through 9th graders spilled into the hallways and out into the sunshine and crisp autumn air. By the time we made our way outside, children were standing in small groups chatting and eating their bröchen filled with sausages. It was so cute. Right away we were surrounded by a group of girls asking us questions. (I'm convinced it's because I had my handsome boys along...) The leader of this little group was named Scarlet and she wanted to know when we were coming to her class. "Why don't you come on Friday!" While the teacher told her we would work out a time, I was thinking this girl had great entrepreneurship skills!
Now, the real adventure began when we walked into the classroom after the break. The children, (really, 8th graders), came in and noisily set bags under chairs, dropped books and folders onto the desks, the boys threw things at each other before tackling and then wrestling with one another, and the girls immediately formed groups of two and three to seemingly catch up on all the latest. The boys and I stared. We looked at one another and then back at the chaos. The bell rang, signifying the start of class, but the class acted oblivious. The teacher was yelling at them in an attempt to get their attention. Some of them paused for a moment to look at her and then went back to their talking... or wrestling. I noticed a few quiet girls, sitting as if trying to avoid being hit by one of the wadded up paper balls flying across the room. This went on for almost 10 minutes into the class. All the while, the boys and I sat there taking it all in.
Finally, the class quieted down... sort of. I'd start talking and they'd talk, too. After several "false starts" and much yelling both from the teacher and the students -- they were yelling at each other to be quiet -- I introduced myself and the boys. (The boys were astonishingly quiet and shy!! Could it be that they were finally outdone by the noise and ruckus?!) I began telling them where we were from, I showed them on the map, told them we're known as the Northwest and that Seattle is the Home of Starbucks. All the while, they are shouting intermittently at one another, the paper wads are still flying back and forth, the teacher is telling them to be quiet, and the students are yelling at the teacher, pointing fingers, yelling at one another, laughing... I'm looking at the situation and feeling like I'm in a movie -- not sure what kind of movie, but definitely in a movie. I realize these children couldn't care less about America or what I might have to say about it. I look at the clock. This is a 2-hour class and we're only 20 minutes into it. My heart starts to beat fast.
I walked over to the chalkboard, picked up a piece of chalk, and wrote across the top of the board: R-E-B-E-L-L-I-O-N.
"Do you know this word?" I ask the class. The teacher panics as she approaches me from the back of the room, coming in close, whispers that they really do want to be good but "they're just excited" and pleads with me not to be upset. I smile at her reassuringly, "Oh!" I tell her, "It is no problem! I'm having fun!" And, suddenly, I realize that I am having fun -- I've slipped into one of my "black outs." Adrenaline is coursing through my body, as if I've received a shot of endorphin through a direct line to my heart. I'm talking fast, I'm weaving in and out of the desks, making eye contact with the students, leaning in. Passionate, I've come undone. It's intense. But before I know what's happened, the students are quiet, they're sitting in their desks, they're raising their hands, waiting for me to call on them. I'm asking questions and they are eagerly carrying on a dialogue with me.
I write on the board, www.rebelution.com , and tell them they must visit this website. I write underneath that -- quickly -- "A rebelution is a rebellion against low expectations." Suddenly, I adore these children. I want to know them. I want to hear their dreams, their fears, their stories. They don't want to hear me spew facts about America. They want to hear about my life... about real life. These are intelligent human beings, our next generation of leaders, brimming with potential, and wanting what every human craves: to make a difference. Before I know it, we're talking about expectations and dreams. I ask them if they know the word "Integrity." The teacher writes it on the board and then puts the word "Awesome" after it. what? Okay, so we keep talking.
One boy raises his hand and tells me several places he wants to visit in America: New York, Chicago, Los Angeles... Springfield. I walk right into his dialogue, "Missouri? Why there?"
He smiles and looks around the classroom and I can see I've fed into his mischief. He says it loudly, "The Simpsons!" Everyone laughs. The teacher asks who watches the Simpsons and most of the class raises their hands. My adrenaline and passion goes up a few notches.
"Is that the most you expect of yourself?! Do you realize you are at an age that you can make a difference in the world? I read stories all the time of students your age who are making choices that are making the world a better place. Don't you think you could do that? Why not raise the bar, stretch yourself, and achieve your goals?" The passion is coursing through me faster than I can articulate and I feel frustrated by my lack of eloquence. I'm not even sure how much they've understood by this time. But I still have their attention.
Before I know it, the class is about over and I need to leave. The boys hand out the treats we brought them: Reese's Peanut Butter Cups and Peanut Butter M&M's (they love our peanut butter!), and the teacher asks me to tell the class what I think of their behavior during our visit. "Please!" she says, "Be honest! Tell them what you really think of their behavior!" I smile.
I walk between the rows of desks, "I think you've all behaved perfectly horrible!" I tell them. (The teacher meant well when she encouraged me to be honest... but that's something I rarely need encouragement for.) I'm looking into their eyes, pausing, searching, "But I want you to know how very much I love you." Their eyes open a little wider. There is a ripple of soft giggles. "I know, that sounds like mushy American sentiment, but it's true. I really do love every single one of you. I look into your eyes and I see so much hope, so many dreams, and I want you to know how valuable you are."
Later that day, Janine told me that they would like us to come every month. What a relief! There's so, so, so much that I wanted to say... So much that needs to be said in the context of a relationship. I want them to know Who loves them so much more than they could ever imagine; the Reason I can even dare to offer up my small little bit of love for them. Marco, Yvonne, Olga, Lisa (pronounced Leeza), Janine... all 29 of them... I want them to know that they're made for eternity by a God Who longs to enjoy an eternal relationship with them. That they're created with purpose, a purpose beyond themselves. Hopefully, they'll visit the website I wrote on the board. I had brought the book the boys and I are reading, "Do Hard Things," by Alex and Brett Harris, the twin brothers who also author The Rebelution Website, but I didn't sense that I was supposed to tell them about it... yet.
Throughout our visit, Eli, Isaiah, and Ezekiel sat perfectly quiet. Hm. Perhaps next time, I'll sit perfectly quiet while they lead the discussion! smile. They did tell me they had a blast and that they can't wait to go back! Me, too!!