James 1:12 “Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised.”

As I approached my third year of teaching fifth grade, I knew it was going to be another year of adventure. As I rearranged some furniture in my classroom and put up new bulletin boards, I couldn’t help but smile. God had continuously blessed me with wonderful students, families, and memories that will last a lifetime. Each year presented its own challenges, but they were so little compared to the joy and laughter I experienced with my students and friends at work each day. Students came to know Christ. Bible class was indescribable. I fell in love with each group of students and kept falling in love with teaching.

Year three began, and I knew there would be some challenges presented in the classroom and among my students. As I prayed at the beginning of the school year, I kept hearing, “I am with you.” I love how God gives us such brief, yet meaningful sentences-short, sweet, and to the point. They always come at just the right time.

After my first three weeks of school, I already felt like I was on a rollercoaster. Thankfully it wasn’t the kidney stone rollercoaster like last year, but things were going to keep me on my toes. I was so thankful to be feeling healthy, have no pain, and just feel energized for a new year. I kept remembering, “I am with you.”

There quickly came to be some heartbreaking experiences among students in my own classroom. Many were things out of their control, and ones I did not quite know how to handle at first. I was surprised at how quickly I got attached to this group of students, and how quickly they seemed to come to me for things (like by August 31). These weren’t the typical, “I need help with my homework,” questions, but the, “Will you pray for…”, the  “_______ has cancer and I’m not sure how to handle it” or the “How do I know if I’m really a Christian?” requests. Requests to sit down at lunch, to call a family member that night on the phone, or to stop class and have a circle prayer up front. It was going to be a deep, meaningful year, and I knew this was already a special group of students.

Many days I left school and wondered how to handle these new situations. I remember praying and asking God how I should do this. Very quickly He reminded me, “You can’t do this.” I needed that reminder. I couldn’t do this without Him, and it was a good reminder to lean into Him more than I had (or felt that I needed to) in teaching.

By October I was praying and asking, “Why? Why were these things happening to my students? Why did it seem out of control at times? Were these students even learning anything from me?” One night I was out for a run. It was a beautiful evening. I boldly asked God, “Am I really the best teacher for these kids?” and then a bolder question to myself, “Why are you even doing this, Christine?” I remember tripping on the pavement and having an instant flashback to Applebees when I said, “I won’t teach” and then God threw me a curveball. I had to laugh (while tripping). That was really awkward out on Cornhusker when you know there’s someone who probably saw that in traffic. I heard the startling words, “One more year” (I’m not sure where from to this day). Those three words echoed in my mind and heart anytime I prayed about these school situations. What in the world did that mean? One more year of tough times for my students? One more year (even though this was really my first) of having a tough school year? I really didn’t know, but it wasn’t a phrase that frightened me. To be honest, it didn’t really catch me off guard at all (the bigger wake up call was me almost face-planting during the run that day).

I had daily reassurance from the Lord, from my bosses, and from my friends that this was exactly where God wanted me. I knew that deep down, and I was thankful for the numerous laughs, special times, and deep Bible conversations that quickly made me forget about the many “struggles” I could be focusing on. God is good.

Things calmed down a little before Christmas vacation, and I was so excited for this break. One, I was completely exhausted, and two, I still get just as excited as I did as a kid about the holidays. Over break at random times, I’d remember the words, “One more year.” I wasn’t sure why, but it was slowly starting to bother me. Why was I hearing this? I wasn’t even at school (or really thinking about school), and the words came. Instead of brushing it aside, I began to ask God to reveal this meaning (if any). I expected to be reminded often after that point, but instead, it completely escaped my memory for almost three months.

After Christmas break, I was really excited to go back to school. I usually am, but I was extra excited this year. I’m one of those teachers who cries the first night of Christmas/summer break simply because I miss the kids so much. I was ready to see them, and I felt that the second part of the year might more difficult, but I kept remembering, “I am with you.” I was so thankful for God’s peace no matter what.

Third quarter hit like a whirlwind and the days were fun, but tiring. God always gave me the exact amount of strength I needed, and continuously put an indescribable peace in my heart. Also in early January, I had another surprise. Zach and I found out we were pregnant! We have always wanted to have children someday, but both of us thought that would be “someday” and not now. We were so excited for this surprise blessing (we both also love surprises), and one of my first thoughts were, “I can’t wait to tell the kids!”

When I told my boss about about my early September due date (a 7AM meeting that truly had her worried at first), she was so excited! Shortly into our conversation and after looking at ultrasound pictures, she said, “So you won’t be coming back next year?”  It was at that moment that I realized I would have some things to think about. For three years I had given 100% to my students and my job. Could I still do that and give 100% to my husband and growing family? I knew the answer. It was again time to pray for more direction.

Over the weeks into later January and February, my mind was constantly preoccupied. I was so excited, tired, sick, and hungry, but God still gave me the strength that I needed for each day. God also used this time to shift my focus away from my current situations in the classroom, the situations of my students, and back to eternity and to the cross. He put a peace in my heart that I still cannot describe. Over those weeks, I saw an even more indescribable peace in my classroom. Yes, things were still “crazy” and there were situations that I did not fully know how to handle, but nothing felt out of control.

One afternoon during Bible class, I sat at my desk and just watched as my students had their prayer/devotional time. Each student had such a unique way that he or she chose to spend time with the Lord. Of the three years I’ve taught, this group has been the most playful, funny, sarcastic (at times), serious, and distracted. They are wonderful. Every time we stopped to pray, talk about what God was doing in our lives, or have Bible class, they were more focused/serious than I can describe. This was one of those times. Holding back tears, I remember thinking, “I can’t imagine my life without these kids and this classroom.” Immediately I was hit with, “You need to.” It  felt like a slam and then the tears really happened. A moment later I heard a, “Mrs. Goodsell, are you ok?” from a student. “Yeah, sometimes teachers just cry once in awhile. and need a piece of chocolate.” No more questions after that (especially after I was the only one eating chocolate).

After school that day, I spent some time in my room (it must have been a Wednesday or Friday because there was no track practice) cleaning, coloring (it just sounded fun), and listening to music. I put on my kids’ favorite worship playlist and found myself singing along. I thought about earlier and the, “You need to,” I felt in my heart. Before I had time to think, I once again remembered, “One more year.” I let out a sigh. Was this what God was meaning? Whether I wanted to admit it or not, this would be my last year teaching fifth grade for a little while. I cried for a few minutes, and as I left my room that day, my heart was at complete peace. There wasn’t a question. Teaching fifth grade was one of my dream jobs. These two and a half years had completely been that. There was still a little less than half the year to go and I knew it was going to be the best couple of months (even if difficult at times) with my students.

God’s way of pointing me in a different direction was a gift. He began to prepare my heart back in October through my conversations with Him and the circumstances around me. It allowed me to savor moments from every school day, and to enjoy all of what felt like “lasts”. Nation Notebook Day was the best I could have imagined. The way my students grew in their relationships with Jesus was astounding. The peace I saw in my classroom through difficult circumstances didn’t even make sense. The strength God gave me daily, even while coaching track, was incredible. As the school year came to a close, I knew without a doubt, that God had not only been preparing my heart, but also made me feel ok with not teaching fifth grade next year. He is good.

The last week of school was definitely emotional. I would miss many things next year, but remembered that the relationships, friendships, and memories I’ve made will not disappear. Three years ago I talked about teaching fifth grade as my dream job. God gave me more than I could have asked for and blessed me with a wonderful three years. I learned more in three years than I have in the last decade, and for that I am thankful.

Teaching was once “someday” for me, and then God surprised me with a “now”. Up until recently, being a mom was a wonderful “someday/hopefully”, and God surprised me with a “now”. God’s plans are good, and He never ceases to amaze and surprise me. Although I don’t fully know what’s ahead, I am so excited for what God has in store.

So thankful for this school year and all that He taught me. I wouldn’t trade a day of it and can’t wait to teach again!