Little Mitch exited church in an outfit in which he could barely fit. As his father, I adored watching my tiny boy try to keep his shirt tucked in and his tie straight. Though Mitch was small in stature, he was always big in spirit.
I had just sat in my car, turned on the air conditioning, and began taking this series of photos through my partially open window. Mitch had no idea I was watching him. As my son waddled behind his grandfather, an enlightened and thoughtful man, he turned to my little boy and said, “Now Mitch, we’re going to my place to have lunch. You can come with me, or you can go with your mom and dad. Either choice is fine – it is up to you to decide.”
Mitch furrowed his brow and began to think carefully about the choice before him. I always admired my grandfather’s unique way of teaching my children; often, he’d present options and encourage them to make informed decisions. Natalie takes after her father’s style of teaching by introducing a choice, then encouraging them to consider their inevitable consequences: positive, harmful, or benign.
My heart melted as I saw my boy sort through his options and decide to go with Grandpa. I was so proud of him that day. As we followed them in our car, I saw Mitch look through the rear window to make sure we were following them. He smiled and waved his tiny hand, then turned around to talk to his grandpa. My heart was singing a song of joy the likes of which no human words can express.
I was grateful for my father-in-law who turned an otherwise mundane experience into a teaching moment. As far as I can tell, that is how he’s always been.
There’s a saying “when the student is ready, the teacher will appear.” In today’s world of mistaken attributions and loose plagiarism, the origin of that quote is unclear to me – but the truth of it is sound. I have spent the last 20 years of my life in training, education, and leadership development – and if there is one thing I’ve seen time and again, it is this: if a student isn’t ready to learn – no learning will take place, no matter how great the teacher. The moment we’re ready, however, everything can become our teacher.
When I lost my son, I found myself at an emotional and spiritual crossroad: I had the freedom to choose a path of inconsolable anguish … forever circling my hurt; or a path of growth, searching for meaning and purpose. To be clear, both paths were treacherous – laden with the pains of loss and the weight of grief. The struggle with grief is an inescapable part of being human, yet one path spirals downward, the other circles, up, and out.
For every grief moment, I’ve experienced, which are too many to number, I have sought meaning and purpose. I asked myself, “What am I to learn from this hardship? What is my Father trying to teach me?”
I believe life is filled with hard things, by design. They aren’t doled out by an uncaring God – but rather a master teacher, who knows that struggle begets growth. If we’re to become stronger, better, and more compassionate, we must walk through valleys of tears and in the shadow of death – among other hard things.
In many ways, this image serves as a metaphor for my own life – and if I’m listening to that still, small voice, I can almost hear my Father tutor me in matters of the soul. In truth, I feel like my little son – in an outfit I’m too small to occupy … ever trying to keep my shirt tucked and my tie straight.
In my heart, I always hope to be a ready student – for there are teachers who are plenty, and I have lessons yet to learn, which are many.