What am I doing here?

Right now, I’m sitting in the library on the University of Richmond campus. I’ve been invited here by the leadership of the Governor’s School, after being nominated by one of my good friends (and students) Ashley Pitzer. Ashley is a phenomenal young woman with such a wide variety of talents, abilities, and passions. Which makes it all the more baffling as to why she would nominate ME as an “Outstanding Educator”; a title for which I am (try not to chuckle) receiving an award as well as a “Presidential Citation” tonight at a special ceremony.

When I was first notified of my inclusion in this evening’s ceremony, I had to check the envelope to make sure I didn’t get my neighbor’s mail again. But believe it or not, it’s me that’s here and apparently supposed to be here. Go figure.

But what am I doing here? I mean, out of all the people that Ashley COULD have nominated and invited to be with her today, why would I be the one so honored (and humbled) to be here?

Don’t expect an answer to that one. I don’t have one. But I am very humbled to be known by her, let alone recognized in any way.

And as I think about “Teacher Recognition Day” as it is also called here on campus, I can’t help but think about the greatest teacher of all time. And it is in His steps that I endeavor to walk as I live, think, speak, and even…gulp….teach. I’m also reminded of a wonderful little book; a book that could fit into my pocket–a simple book entitled “Jesus, the Teacher”. I was given this book by my father-in-law along with a boxful of other various books he thought I might be interested in.

Truth be told, anything that would credit me as an “Outstanding Educator” can be found in the yellowed pages of that pocket-size book.

Just moments ago, I stood in a hallway chatting with other teachers who are also a part of today’s festivities. And they began to ask one another what subject they teach, and at which school. My mind reached feverishly for what my answer might be when inevitably someone might ask me that question. The conumdrum? I’m not—

[I just saw an ant walk off a window sill and fall to the ground like a rock.]

—anyway, I’m not a teacher of a “subject” per se, and I don’t teach at a “school” per se. So, all the others in the circle fit nicely and neatly into a category. Like James who teaches math and theater in Virginia Beach. Or Paul who teaches history in Williamsburg (what a cool place to teach history, right?!?)

So, the time had come. Paul turned to me and asked, “What about you?”

I responded, “Oh a teach a little bit of everything…..I’m Ashley’s youth pastor.” It was a fair response, I suppose. I certainly couldn’t say “math” or “biology”, and I DEFINITELY didn’t want to say “religion” or “theology”; though those might have been a little closer to the mark–but would leave me susceptible to being misunderstood or worse: mislabeled.

And I suppose that’s my anxiety. Being labeled. Saying anything having to do with church, or Jesus, or God, or ministry and the common responses are similar to those I might receive had I said, “I’m with the IRS” mixed with the looks I might get had I said, “I’m a cancer patient…but also a cancer researcher.”

I heard recently that freedom isn’t “getting to do whatever you want”. Freedom is not being able to do whatever you want, and being o.k. with that. I think freedom also has to do with liberation from the anxiety we feel upon the prospect of being labeled; no matter what that label is.

OK, enough of that. I could go on and really get nowhere and even bore myself, let alone anyone who might ever read this.

As for now, I’m honored to, for a day, be labeled “Outstanding Educator”, even while inwardly I know that I have only tried to learn from the Greatest Teacher that has ever lived. So, as I receive whatever certificate or whatever token I am given tonight, I’ll be thinking about and thanking not only Ashley for inviting me here and bestowing this weird deal on me, but also thanking He whom I follow, learn from, and try to teach about.

OK, I’m out. Time to hit what’s next on the schedule.
Oh, and don’t forget that today is 7-11, and thus is “Free Slurpee Day”. Brain freeze? Bring it.

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