When I was a small child, my mother often found me teaching class in my bedroom, my, then, compliant baby brother lined up in a neat row betwixt my stuffed animals on the floor.
I wanted to be many things as I got older–a country singer, a travel agent, a marine biologist, even, in high school, an FBI agent.
The student and the teacher
I thought I could be anything I wanted because I was smart but I mostly just liked being in charge.
I went to college and found out I wasn’t as smart as I had been led to believe. It turned out there were a whole lot of people smarter than me.
And, all of a sudden, I actually had to study and invest time in my grades.
But I was too busy being the life of the party, for the first time in my life. Growing up under fundamentalist legalism, college was my first real experiment in breaking all the rules and giving into peer pressure.
Although I’d been baptized years earlier, I soon found myself unable to worship and pray, ashamed and afraid of an impossible-to-please Father, a God I had built in my own image of perfectionism. I went through periods of extreme depression and guilt about my sins, held captive by my own sense of failure.
By the end of college, I was dating my now husband but feeling extremely lost. I no longer knew who I was or who I wanted to be.
I thought maybe I would be a teacher.
My mother was a teacher, my maternal grandmother was a teacher, and I was an English and History major. It just made sense for me to be a teacher.
Meanwhile, something was very wrong with my original teacher, and it was becoming too obvious to ignore.
Friends made jokes about my mother’s strange behavior when she visited me at school, not realizing that the woman they were seeing wasn’t the independent, intelligent mother I knew.
I was embarrassed and confused, but the week after I graduated, my life turned completely upside down.
The neurologist said my mom had Alzheimer’s. Early onset Alzheimer’s disease, to be exact.
My denial about her diagnosis finally wore off when the PET scan confirmed her specific brand of dementia later that summer.
My mom, my anchor, had been jerked out of the water, and I was sailing into uncharted waters at breakneck speed.
The next few years are a bit of a blur. Fighting with my dad over my mother’s care and safety, fighting with my husband over our different faith traditions and fighting with myself over my past sins, I was struggling to survive.
And, somewhere, in the mess of moving my mom into a nursing facility and buying a house and getting married and setting up hospice care and having babies and planning a funeral, I found myself again when I finally stopped fighting Him.
That impossible-to-please Father was never really impossible-to-please, afterall. It turns out I was known and loved all along.
In my despair, I turned to the crucified Lamb of God, the whole Jesus, wild and untamed and countercultural instead of my carefully curated version of him. – Sarah Bessey, Out of Sorts
Long before I was lost, I had already been found. And, through all the pain I caused myself and Him, Jesus patiently pursued me, lovingly helping me find my way back to Him, letting me know that He was really in charge, and He was bigger than my sin.
He was so much more wonderful than the God I had met in tiny church of Christ sermons.
It turned out that Jesus was my anchor from the start, not my sweet momma. She just tied the rope.
And that teacher gig?
A few months into the certification program, I backed out. Unable to handle what was happening to my mom whilst wrangling middle schoolers, I ended up directing a nonprofit God handed me instead.
And I became the student again. The student of Alzheimer’s, of marriage, of grief and loss, of motherhood, of writing, of politics, of social media and fundraising, of Jesus and His Church–not the little church we attend but the body of believers scattered across the globe–His people crying out for something real, something bigger and more meaningful than hymns and collection plates.
Out of Sorts
As I sat on a plane a few weeks ago with my husband, the one who has loved me through all of this mess, I read Sarah Bessey’s new book, Out of Sorts: Making Peace with an Evolving Faith, which releases today (Nov. 3) in the U.S. and Canada, and constantly held back tears, realizing how little I had known about, frankly, anything and how little I probably still knew.
And I realized it’s okay.
It’s okay to be the student.
As Sarah says, I am a recovering know-it-all.
There is always room for growth. I am ever changing, ever learning, ever sorting.
Even in writing, I am always discovering something new about myself and my relationship with Him, always excavating and examining my own thoughts and feelings, as I wear my heart on my sleeve for the world to read.
I sort and I purge and I grow and I change. Only one thing remains–Jesus.
I am the student, and He is the teacher.