These UCA scholars say the funniest things. I genuinely think that anyone who spends more than 10 minutes in our classroom will hear something that causes their heart to smile. From Kistin’s silly songs about her beads, to Demond’s never ending slew of unanswerable questions, to London’s relentless praise, there’s so much to grin at. Just the other day there was a ridiculous argument on the bus ride home. The boys are big fans of the Ninja Turtles and the girls think the boys are cool so they in turn think the Ninja Turtles are cool (although they all sing “Let it Go” incessantly on the bus…the worst part is those are the only 3 words of the song they know). Because Halloween is coming up everyone needs to decide what costume they will rock on the big night. James declared that he didn’t want to be like everyone else (in typical “I’m too cool for everything” James style) so he wasn’t going to be a Ninja Turtle. You see there are 4 Ninja Turtles therefore in his mind 3 other people could be a Ninja Turtle. So he had, what he thought was, an ingenious plan. He would break the mold and dress up like Captain America. He failed to factor in the reality that as soon as he made the big announcement about his new halloween plan, the entire bus would have the same light bulb moment and agree that Captain America is the best person to dress up like on Halloween. <Cue the Rocky sound track> James is outraged that anyone would dare copy his idea, Ginyaa is loving that James is outraged, Brendan insists that it was his idea to be Captain America, Naria is still singing “Let it Go”, Key’Van is fast asleep and the others are adding their random thoughts in unnecessarily loud voices. Then there’s Markiel. He has a deep look on his face. He makes eye contact with me in the mirror, as if he understands the whole dynamic and knows I am trying to strategize a plan to restore harmony. Before I could assert my adult wisdom into the situation, Markeil grins, and loudly proclaims, “I’m gonna be a hot dog!” Silence. Out of the quiet the cheerful voice of London zealously sings, “hot dog, hot dog, hot diggidy dog!” Laughter errupts. Fight resolved— or more accurately, postponed.
The bus costume debacle perfectly portrays the person of Markiel. He is clever and socially aware. I’m glad he’s on our team. The other day he worked his magic again. This time the fight was in my heart. It’s really easy for me to believe I’m not the right person for this job. Today I had a to-do list of 27 things. I accomplished one. I didn’t realize starting a school meant so much paper work and talking to grown-ups. I chose to work with kids to avoid those two things! I’m inefficient at it, I’m exhausted, and it all feels overwhelming. I want to sit in my closet and hope it all just goes away. Then the kids remind me they are worth fighting for. They remind me there is hope. They remind me Jesus is on our team so it’s all going to be okay because He wins. Markiel was the spokesperson of hope to my heart today. Here’s how it went down:
We got on the bus (let me take this small moment to commend every human being that has ever driven a bus filled with seat-belt-less kids in a bus before). It is quite possibly the most stressful job in the world. Today I think someone replaced the bus seats with springs. I will admit I was getting frustrated. Then we turned a corner and the cityscape came into view. Markiel shouted “My city! I love my city!” To which the rest of the bus started the only chant they know, “ROYALS! ROYALS! ROYALS!” When it died down Markiel said, “Miss Kalie, did you know all my neighbors live by me?” I chuckled. Silly Markiel, I thought, don’t you know that’s the definition of neighbor so of course they live by you. Then my heart realized that Markiel’s simple comment was actually deeply significant. His words reflect the posture I’ve been praying for his heart to have.
The story of the Good Samaritan begs the question, “who is my neighbor?” For most of us it’s a lot easier to say that our neighbors are everyone. It’s easy for me to love my spiritual neighbors on the other side of the world. They never bother me, they don’t expect anything of me, they never require me to leave my comfort zone, in fact they are pretty pleasant neighbors. The people that actually live on my block are to a lot harder to love. What would happen if Markiel grew up cheering for Kansas City and for his literal neighbors? What if he let Jesus be King of his heart and proclaimed the Good News of the Kingdom to the city and the neighbors he loves? And then what if Brendan does the same thing as the principal at UCA and Kistin follows suit and starts a new school and Demond choses to stay and start a business in the urban core and James chooses to start a church on his block and Ginyaa becomes a teacher in a low-income school and London becomes a police officer and Key’Van loves his neighbors by offering them low-cost medical care and Daniya opens a high-quality day care center and Beautiful becomes an advocate for foster kids and Messiah plays for the Chiefs but still lives in a low-income zip code and gives generously to education, and Naria teaches at UCA, and Armya becomes a city planner that rethinks the way the city is laid out because she just loves this city and her neighbors and Jesus like the other 12 UCA scholar do. Then what? I think then the stress of a leaky roof back in 2014 and the 26 things that didn’t get crossed off that one busy day suddenly dissipate into the land of who cares.
That’s the beauty of being part of the grand story of Jesus. It’s so big and rich and powerful that it literally swallows up all the petty trivial things of life. It’s an invitation to not fight alone. An anchor of hope that holds through the toughest storms. It’s freedom. It’s joy. It’s everything. Now if only I could grasp it with the purity that these 5 year olds do. 5 year olds make the greatest teachers. I’m honored to be learning from some of the most special 5 year olds on the planet.