Late at night, I open my laptop again and retrieve a Google Slides presentation. It looks eerily familiar, the same layout of a slide that used to gleam each morning at the front of my classrooms. On one side, a word of a orientation for those entering the room. Where am I? Language Arts 9! American Literature! Honors American Literature! What do I need? Some paper, a pencil, a book, maybe, and a bit of attention. Just the basics.
Only now, I’m reminding the room full of mothers who will arrive at church tomorrow that we’ve come to MOPS 2021-22, Alpha Week, and the adjacent announcements aren’t about homework or due dates, not about journals to get out or papers to pass back, but about volunteering in the nursery and submitting questions to our panel of “mentor moms,” wonderful women who’ve mothered a generation ahead of us. It’s a whole new season, this one.
Following that, I move the presentation for tomorrow’s speaker from Keynote, which I’m not sure our presentation system will support, to Google Slides, which I’m confident it will. I make sure that all the slides are on the same presentation, the one I’ll use tomorrow for our meeting, and I’m pleased when everything lines up, one long sequence of information we’ll need. I finish up by making a form to send out, soliciting more questions for those unable to come up with one on the spot. My administrative jobs done for the night, I snap the computer shut and return my whole attention to, let’s be honest, the rerun of a 90s sitcom that my husband and I are enjoying—after a very successful, babysitter-facilitated quest for pie—this late Valentine’s Day evening. It is, again, a whole new season.
It’s about six months since I agreed to help out with the leadership of our church’s Mothers of Preschoolers (MOPS) group. My role at the beginning was to be one of two speaker coordinators, entrusted with securing several guest speakers to teach the moms groups through the year. I’m still doing this, having spent the last half-year asking nearly every local mom who has inspired me lately to share with us on vital topics like feeding kids and meditation, and also I’ve recently agreed to share the overall coordinator role for the rest of this year and next. Suddenly, as if from nowhere, I find myself “busy” again once in a while, with emails to answer, documents to create, and actual responses to questions directed at me by adults. It’s a strange and wondrous thing.
I’ve written before about the journey of leaving teaching behind, at least for this season while my children are small, and the losses and gains associated with the transition. For years, the most urgent gap left behind was in identity, the extent to which I had defined myself as a teacher and felt I lacked definition without the role, even as I was learning, so slowly, to do and be something else. It has been hard and continuous work learning to root myself not in an occupation, but that my identity exists first and most importantly in Christ.
Lurking in the shadows of that, though, was the smaller sadness that there were gifts and skills I wasn’t using anymore, needling me like a signature party tricks in a season when I wasn’t invited to any parties. It wasn’t so much the content knowledge that bothered me; it is never hard for me to find someone to talk to about books, thank goodness. Like many other moms, I missed parts of having a job that I never imagined I could miss, like creating spreadsheets or bulletin boards, or sending well-written emails.
A few weeks ago, after one of my mentors finished teaching our group about the joys of reading with our kids through the tumultuous years of childhood and into adolescence, I sat on the edge of the room, hearing yet not listening as a pleasant, even familiar hum of conversation filled the room. The women around me, my peers and fellow mothers, were talking about books, their favorites and their children’s, engaged in life-giving conversation in the midst of a season that truly begs for this kind of rest and connection.
I was struck, in that moment, with a reminder, one that used to echo when I was asked to do strange things at Black Forest Academy, like coach long jump, or play viola in an orchestra, or teach journalism. Nothing is wasted. Nothing. Not those years I spent learning an obscure string instrument or the ninth grade spring I ran very fast and flung myself into a sand pit. Not the two years I taught kids to write newspaper articles at Ingraham High School. Not the hours spent mastering Google Drive and figuring out how a projector rightly connects to a computer. And not, even now, the eleven years I was a teacher before I became a mother.
This ministry that has somehow taken a central place in my free time hasn’t always been the most comfortable or natural to me. I’ve arrived at this group in all states: pregnant and unsure, new and skeptical, overwhelmed and bone tired. Somewhere along the way, this group of mothers became a fixture, the colleagues I hadn’t realized that I would be missing when I left the classroom nearly four years ago. Still, I laughed last year when they were looking for more leaders and someone approached me about it. “Me? On MOPS Steering? What on earth could qualify me for this kind of role?”
As I close my laptop, satisfied with the announcements and the email, the bio I’ve written for the speaker and anticipating the life-giving content from the speaker herself, my good friend, I realize that once again, nothing is wasted. Here is a small outlet for those dormant teaching skills, still so very deeply a part of me, a tiny way that I can serve the community I’ve loved being a part of. What a delight it is, even now, to invite someone to share something useful and beautiful, true and inspiring, and then listen to a group of people process, laugh and grow. I get to walk beside these women through these years we’re sharing, parenting young children, get to help create a space for rest and safety in the busy isolation of this season, and get to sit at the edge of vulnerable and grace-filled conversations, watching women meet one another in ways that have opened up space and light in my own journey as a mother.
It’s not a classroom, and we are not—thank goodness—teenagers, and we only spent that one week talking about books, but sometimes, just for a little while, this feels a little like teaching. And I’m reminded again that in God’s efficient generosity, nothing good that I’ve been given is ever wasted or forgotten.