God, the Paraeducator

This month we made a big deal out of Teacher Appreciation Day at our schools, and rightly so. Teachers are amazing and deserve every bit of support and encouragement we can offer. There is also a Secretaries’ Day on our Hallmark calendar, and we show our gratitude then. But there is no day for the paraeducators at our school, and this month as I saw gift cards and flowers go home with teachers, I also saw a half dozen paraeducators go home empty handed, and it made me think.

We are the grateful recipients of the care of paraeducator support in schools: trained, patient staff who work alongside special needs students to offer support, redirection, and supervision so that our kiddo can participate in school meaningfully. Ours is an inclusion school district, which means that kids with special needs are not siphoned off into special classrooms or schools: they’re kept in the mainstream classroom and additional support is provided for that student there. I think it’s a beautiful thing: both for special needs kids who need to belong to the community at large, and for the able-bodied and neuro-typical kids, whose borders are enlarged by interaction with all types of people. Special needs kids have something to give, too, as this months’ feature article at Christianity  Today so wonderfully demonstrates.

Yoko Fines, a paraeducator in MD, at work with one of her students. (http://www.hcpss.org/news-posts/2017/06/yoko-fines-paraeducator-cedar-lane-school/)

But to get back to the paraeducators: one of the signs of a really effective, excellent paraeducator is how invisible their work becomes in the classroom. When things are going really well, you hardly notice that they are there, because the child is able to engage seamlessly with the classroom. The metrics of success are somewhat counter-intuitive: peace, and a remarkable absence of “issues”. In a way, it reminded me of the work of the Holy Spirit, whom I remember someone once describing to me as the “shy member of the trinity”: the Holy Spirit is always directing our attention towards the Father and the Son. When our love and actions are focused on God and others, that’s a sign that the Holy Spirit is really at work. The evidence of His presence is, in similar ways, quiet and beautiful. Love, peace, patience, gentleness, self-control. Jesus described the Spirit’s work like the wind: you see its effects, even if you don’t see the wind itself.

Which of us learned to ride a bike without the skill, support, and encouragement of a seconder?

We have a family friend who has been a career paraeducator and has served students with all sorts of disabilities through her school career. I have long known she is a woman who embodies a quiet strength, and the students she has worked with may never know how much thought and prayer she put into their flourishing.

But this disposition of hers—to become the most skilled supporter she can—runs into many areas of her life beyond her profession. In her personal life, she has taken in many frazzled young moms and offered seasons of support, prayer, welcome, and volunteered childcare. She and her husband loved our young family this way for a while, and it was the most beautiful, invisible gift to entrust our children to capable, kid-loving, safe people in a season where we desperately needed some respite care.

Among her long list of quiet gifts, she had a bus-driving license for some time, so that she could drive a 15 person passenger van for church outings if needed. She is credentialed and has a master’s degree, and so can support in multiple staffing ways in a school (the library, for example), in seasons when there are needs. She loves to exercise, and has completed training to be a coach and seconder for athletes at competition level. Professional athletes need someone to help them know when to rest, when to warm out, and how to train if they will be their best. These are just a few of her skills… In all these things—professionally, spiritually, physically—she is not in the limelight. But because of her skill and proximity, she is able to offer support and guidance in ways that few can.

Which brings me back to thinking about the ministry of the Holy Spirit, and God as a paraeducator. For a truly excellent paraeducator is not just a “supervising adult”, or an extra set of hands when needed. A truly excellent paraeducator is a specialist in the support that that person or situation uniquely needs, with eyes focused on providing just enough support, correction, and encouragement to enable the person to grow, learn, participate, and flourish as only they can. They are nearby. They are focused. They are FOR YOU in a way that no-one else can be. In the race of life, they are the ultimate seconder.

I confess I have long had a fairly mushy idea about the work of the Spirit. Like a gentle presence. Or a light current in the water. But thinking about the strength of the best paraeducators: their attention and presence, their skills, the prayer and resourcefulness and intentionality they bring: this reminds me that when Jesus said he’d send a counselor and a helper – a paraclete, in Greek – he was sending us the most skilled paraeducator of all. Each of us has a full time aide at our side, specifically trained to help us make it through the day.

And just like I realized on Teacher Appreciation Day, I don’t often notice it. But our Paraeducator is present, hard at work, a Specialist par excellence. And he is WITH us, every step of the way.

Teaching My Children To Drink

 

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Growing up, 18 was the Age At Which It All Happened. At 18, I could vote. At 18, I could drive. And at 18, I could legally purchase alcohol.

When we moved to the USA some ten years later, more than a few of my new American friends expressed surprise that our mother country could be so unwise as to allow teenagers to “drink and drive” at the same time. My honest response was that I didn’t see that it was a problem: it was (of course) illegal to drink and drive simultaneously, but that 18 was the age at which we could choose whether we would drink or drive seemed reasonable to me.

At the same time, I was grappling with a very different “drinking culture” in the college town we were in, where most of the student population were clearly too young to drink legally, but were doing so anyway. I heard more than one story of a college student nearly poisoned to death by alcohol on their 21st birthday. The drinking excesses seemed extreme to me.

And yet, the tee-totalling culture in our little Christian community seemed extreme to me too. As a volunteer in the college ministry, I was advised that if I chose to keep alcohol in my house, I should keep it out of sight in case any students saw it when they dropped in.

My husband and I tried hard to comply, but I cannot guarantee that there weren’t any occasional Merlot sightings.

Another 10 years has passed, and I find myself in a different world once again. In this world I have small children, and two of those children are now of an age where they can read my Facebook newsfeed and see things like this:

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Last week Kristen Howerton wrote about whether parents should tone down the drinking jokes on social media, and I took her advice to heart. The thing is: my children are learning about drinking, whether I say something about it or not.

I’m thinking, then, that it might be best for me to say something. Yes, I’m going to teach my children how to drink, because I don’t want them taught by my silence and my jokes. In particular, I want to teach them:

The WHO of drinking:

We drink with people we trust, people with whom we feel safe. If we are in a public place, we need a “buddy”.  We don’t drink alone. My kids need to see this modeled at home, in real life as well as on my facebook page. It strikes me that much of our cultural joking about drinking makes it seem like a glass of wine is all about relaxing-me and rewarding-me. But as with all things: life is not about me.

The WHEN of drinking:

We need to consider the timing and context of drinking: if you’re underage, it’s not time. If you’re in the company of someone who struggles with it, it’s not time.

The WHY of drinking:

We drink to celebrate, to remember, to honor. I loved this quote from Tony Kriz:

Alcohol can be used to medicate and to numb the soul. Too many hope for a pause, to forget their many pains: heart pains, soul pains, relational pains, hopelessness, and loss. Yet the Bible doesn’t support these uses.

In the divisive church climate around alcohol, I don’t know if you choose to drink or not. But either way, the best theology of wine is that it is a metaphor of joy and heaven. It was not created to be a tool of personal and interpersonal destruction. (Teetotalers and imbibers can certainly agree on that.)

Alcohol was created to help commemorate the significant moments of life. My theology is simple: God gave us wine to remember, not to forget.

The WHAMMY of drinking:

I want to tell my kids what alcohol does: it affects the way your body processes information, and it affects our decisions. This is part of what is nice about drinking – it makes us feel light-hearted (at first). But I also want to tell them that this is what I don’t like about drinking – the feeling that I am not in control of my own body. We talk a lot about self-control in our house. I want my kids to know that self-control is not just a word which we use to talk about whether we drink. Self-control is also the thing we increasingly forfeit if we have too much, and as a Christian that is concerning.

I haven’t yet decided whether teaching my kids about drinking will mean we let them sip from our glasses as teens in the safety of home, as my parents did. But for sure, it means we’re going to talk about it rather than smirk about it. When it comes to my kids’ “script” on the topic of alcohol, I want to be the primary author.

Their education about alcohol will not begin when they are 18, or 21, or whatever the legal age might be. Their drinking education begins now: theory first, and prac in the years to come.

Photo credit: wine monkey love by sfgirlbybay (Flickr Creative Commons)