This time last year I was smack dab in the middle of my 23rd year as a public school teacher. I spent those years teaching hundreds of kids from third grade all the way through twelfth.
It was the week before Christmas break, the day of our staff party to be exact. And since I was the teacher with a free period right before the big shindig, I was nominated to go pick up some last minute gifts and goodies.
I drove into town with the Christmas music blaring, glad to escape the craziness of holiday-hyped school kids for just an hour or so. Needless to say, I was taking my time and driving slowly, prolonging the peace and quiet.
On the right side of the road, I saw a tall, lanky figure approaching, against the flow of traffic. As I drew closer, I could see it was a young man in his mid to late twenties. He had on baggy jeans, a dirty black sweatshirt, but no jacket, despite the cold, cold weather.
As I passed him by, it hit me. I knew that face; it was one of my old students. I hesitated a moment and then did a U-turn, making my way back to him. I pulled my car in beside him, and he barely stopped walking long enough to glance my way. I jumped out of my car, moved toward him, and within seconds, he recognized me.
“Mrs. Lucius,” he cried. And then he ran toward me and gave me a bear hug, almost lifting my fat frame off the ground – just like he used to do in ninth grade when he was certain he had the world by the tail.
As we hugged, I noticed his tennis shoes, string-less, flapping up and down on bare feet. And I smelled him. It was an awful, gut-wrenching smell of stale drugs, poor hygiene, and hopelessness.
My heart broke. Here was one of my babies, a smart, handsome, popular athlete, a young man who had held such promise and potential. And a smile that could light up the darkness of any gloomy situation. What had happened?
I had no time to ask, no time to reprimand or philosophize or preach. He was shivering and freezing, and I could see he was hungry and tired. He needed so many things I could not give in that moment.
I asked, “What can I do for you? Tell me how to help you.”
“I need some pants that fit, Mrs. Lucius,” he showed me where he was literally holding his pants together with his hands. It was obvious they were miles too big, and I doubt they ever belonged to him to begin with since he had always been lanky and lean.
I remembered a bag of my younger son’s clothes in the trunk, so I popped the trunk button, rummaged through the bags of cast-off clothes, finding a suitable pair of gym pants. I also gave him a jacket and ten dollars. I probably should not have given him cash, but I told him to get some food at a nearby restaurant. I prayed that he would.
Then I hugged him and prayed over him and told him over and over that I loved him. That Jesus loved Him even more. I promised I would never stop praying for him. Then, I left him.
He could not or would not take anything more from me at that moment. He smiled and waved, telling me he loved me too. But he wanted to move on. So, I let him go. There was nothing else to do.
I got in my nice warm car and headed back to my safe little school, carrying all those goodies for our teacher celebration.
My principal met me at the school door to help carry the items in, and he immediately saw I was disturbed. He called me into his office, I dropped into a chair and burst into tears.
“Is anything we do worth it? Do we ever make a difference? Do we?” I cried.
“What in the world happened?” he asked, as he handed me a handful of tissues.
And so, I told him my tale.
He paused for several moments, and then he said, “Well, you definitely made a difference today. You gave someone a coat and a meal. You reminded him of who he really was, who he can be again, and you loved him.”
I sniffled a bit, and he continued, “We can’t save them all, Mrs. Lucius. We are not God; we are just teachers.”
I knew my principal was right. Only God can save, heal, and restore that young man. It just hurt so much to see my sweet, smiling football hero, shivering, without shoelaces, socks, a coat…or a home. It was a pitiful sight, and it is still disturbing to me as I think about it now.
Then a friend reminded me that the very first Christmas in Bethlehem wasn’t so pretty either. Yet, Jesus came to that manger with one objective in mind—our salvation.
So, please join me in praying for my student and for all the broken, hurting people we encounter in our daily lives during this holiday season. Let us make an extra effort to look for and see those in need, and let us share the Christ of Christmas. He is and always had been the hope for all mankind.