A New Square Inch

Timmy and I at High School Retreat in Lenk, Switzerland. Not pictured: About a dozen laughing teenagers, watching us pose for this photo.

Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.

Romans 12:15

I’m sitting near the back of the auditorium on Friday afternoon, again looking over the tops of my students’ heads as the Chapel speaker weaves to the front of the room, carrying a microphone. After a few words of introduction he begins his lesson on the conflict of human hatred with God’s unconditional grace.

“So hatred,” he starts. “I went ahead and looked up the real definition because, you know, I’m dating an English teacher.”

Instantly, the auditorium is an ocean of applause, and hundreds of laughing eyes and   gaping grins wheel back toward me. Because yes, I’m dating today’s Chapel speaker.

More specifically, since the beginning of the semester I’ve been dating Timmy, a resident assistant at one of the boys’ dorms, who today is drawing on his education in youth ministry and theology to speak in high school Chapel.

I didn’t date at all in high school. Like many of my churchgoing friends I wasn’t allowed for most of it, but I also just couldn’t be bothered. I was a grade-obsessed scholar, an aspiring teacher, an amateur violist and an accidental athlete; I had limited time and little patience for the very public, very giggly world of high school romance.

So I’m about 15 years late, but this latest adventure at BFA is very much dating in a high school. Students watched this fall when Timmy asked me to ride the bumper cars with him at a carnival in Basel. “And that was when we knew,” they tell me, “that he really liked you.” Our second date was to the Christmas Banquet, an event put on for students but attended by the entire community, and it involved posing for dozens of photos by staff and students. On Valentine’s Day, my classroom that Timmy filled with flowers was a tourist destination, inspiring and impressing our romantic teenagers. In and out of the classroom, in each separate arena in which we all live these intertwined lives with the kids, parents and colleagues we serve, our relationship is the topic of good-natured teasing and curiosity.

Five months ago, when Timmy was still just a friend that I hoped to run into at carnivals and soccer games, I wrote about the mentorship of proximity, how often our greatest ministry consists in sharing life with these kids. Since the beginning of this year I’ve felt challenged to make more of myself available to our students. Sometimes this means more time, coaching track or baking cookies in the dorm. Always this means living openly and with integrity in our small community, showing our students not just how to write competent research papers, but also what it looks like to keep following God into Adulthood, the mysterious region where they’re quickly heading.

This spring, being a living example includes what it looks like to honor God and one another in a dating relationship. In our community, there is a wide gap between teenagers and those married for decades, with only a few younger couples in between. I remember quite clearly the young adults in my church who were dating when I was in high school, the ones who modeled for me what it looked like to place Christ at the center and foundation of a relationship. I had seen this in my parents, but there was something special about watching these couples from the very beginning, placing Christ first and trusting Him for guidance for their futures.

I’m honored and challenged to realize that this is the opportunity Timmy and I now have, to share this journey with our students in a way that brings honor to God. With this in mind we laugh about the teasing, giggling kids, because at the end of it are real and serious questions, times when both of us have been able to share and speak to the challenges they face in their own friendships and relationships. It is a new role for me, one that I undertake with a great deal of prayer and trust.

Bethany Community Church had a series earlier this year called “Every Square Inch,” a study of vocation and faith built on the premise that we can bring glory to God with “every square inch” of our lives. At BFA this applies to teaching, of course, where I worship God using the gifts of intellect and creativity He’s given me, but also the way I make decisions, plan for the future, and pour into relationships. Please pray with me in the coming months, for guidance in how to serve Christ in “every square inch” of this life in Germany, and continued wisdom for both Timmy and I in navigating this new and beautiful season of life in relationship.

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