Amy sat across from Lilly’s teachers, who each showed legitimate concern. They told her that Lilly was at risk of failing. Her reading level was high but grades were poor. Her math scores showed she was a year behind. In science, she was struggling. Her grades were zeros, tens, and twenties.
They told her Lilly was “checking out”. During a test, she would be the first to finish but all the answers would be wrong. She wouldn’t bring her book home to read. She wouldn’t turn her homework in. More or less, she had turned to mush in her seat.
But, this was perplexing to them because she was so happy. As Amy put it, she asked them, “What’s the good news? What is Lilly doing right?” They were quick to tell her that Lilly was a terrific helper. She was always smiling. And, she was the first to welcome a new student to class.
What? Come on, is this the same girl? A “terrific helper” and failing? This made no sense.
Until they told Amy what they had all heard Lilly say. They agreed Lilly’s coin phrase for sinking in her grades was, “It doesn’t matter…I’ll be moving to Italy next year.”
That told us everything. It would explain the split behavior of happily failing. It would explain why her brain had turned to mush. It would explain why she wouldn’t sense an urgency to work now for the grades. Her excitement about going to Italy made her happy. And, at the core, Lilly is a helper. A helper at home and a helper at school. Lilly was not broken in the head — she was just already on the plane to Italy.
It didn’t matter to her. The grades. The homework. The tests. The failing. On a personal level, Lilly made a value call. The work that was assigned in the classroom was no longer relevant. People were, however. She dropped everything to help her teacher. She was strongly social with her classmates. That stuff mattered. But the work? It didn’t matter.
I thought I would never let myself forget what kind of student I was when I was Lilly’s age. What happened to me over the years that made me forget that I checked out in the classroom, too? How did I forget standing my math book on its end at my desk while reading a book I thought was more enjoyable during class? I was the one daydreaming, doodling, disengaged as my teacher tried her best to keep me interested. To hear Amy describe herself in school, chatting with friends usually took precedence over listening to the teacher. But, we forget this stuff when it happens to Lilly. It’s easy to be self-righteous when you’re the adult version of your attention-deficit daughter and you forget what it was like being her.
Plus, I do the same thing she’s doing in the classroom. Recently, Amy looked up from the laptop one evening, bleary-eyed. She’s been toiling all day over emails and packing and shipping. She asked me, “Do you ever just get tired of the rat-race?” I didn’t even need to answer. In my mind, I imagined myself in Italy, not answering to my current boss. Not having the irritation of one of my current deadlines. Being liberated from getting a call from the temporal job I have in exchange for the more fulfilling work of Italian-style disciplemaking. Ahhhh….
There’s a part of me, too, saying, “It doesn’t matter…I’ll be moving to Italy in a year.” And, Amy deals with it too. The only difference is money. We know if we checked out completely like Lilly has done, we would lose our jobs and our house. But, is this motivation healthy?
Something more spiritual helps us temper our readiness to go with our struggling to stay. We’ve been told through countless mentors and coaches through this process that what we do here is what we will do there. If we are not making disciples here, we will not make disciples there. If we are pursuing ministry here, we will pursue it there. If we check out here, we will most likely check out there. What a thought! To be in Italy, on the field, the place where in our imaginations we should feel most engaged and still checked out. This checking out is a mechanism that will follow us everywhere because it’s us.
This is why I stared at Lilly in the car and blew her mind the other night. I told her, “We are going to pass 3rd grade together.” This is a Williams family task. We started this race together; we are not going to finish it minus one daughter. We are going to be present while we are here though we long for the future ministry that is Italy. We will build here what we want to live there. For Lilly, that will be engaging in her class work and practicing good discipline. For me, that will look like finding purpose in the work I must do to pay the bills.
Lord, help the Williams family not to disregard what is happening now. It does matter. Amen.